Saturday, January 11, 2014

Are the unemployed worse than animals?

This article from the Financial Times is interesting - Let's treat the jobless like animals. It's behind the FT paywall, although you can read 8 articles a month if you register, and their copyright policy is insane, so I'll summarize.

It talks about the sheep and goats that were brought in to eat the weeds at the Chicago O'Hare airport (goats were also used at the Schlitz Audobon center here in Milwaukee). After the animals have done their job, they aren't ground into meat - they are given shelter and adequate health care - something we deny to "useless" human beings in American society. I think I can safely quote this from the article:
[...] several dozen goats, sheep, llamas and burros (as some donkeys are known) hired by the Chicago Department of Aviation to graze on 120 hard-to-maintain acres. They did their thing from August until mid-November and will resume their activities later this year when the growing season begins...[y]et their employers are making sure they will be in fine fettle for the spring. During their months of down time, they receive regular medical care, shelter from the elements and all the food they can eat – which, in the case of some of the bigger appetites in the group, is about 40 pounds of grub a day... [T]he airport project shows that when Americans extend themselves in this way, their love produces dividends. Productive uses are being found for animals that in many cases were once little more than nuisances...

The O’Hare grazers are now enjoying a leisurely winter at their home in a “no-kill” animal shelter called Settlers Pond. The facility – run since 1998 by a couple called Pinky and Roland Janota on a 60-acre farm in Beecher, Illinois, about an hour’s drive south of Chicago – supplied animals to the company with the landscaping contract....If I might throw in my two cents’ worth, I would suggest that the work being done by people such as the Janotas is worthy of emulation in Washington. As Congress gets back to business next week, it is my hope that our legislators will come to view unemployed Americans as if they were animals. It would be an improvement.
Sharp stuff for the Financial Times. Aren't we worried that we're "fostering dependance?"  I've quoted this before from Gregory Clark's book A Farewell to Alms:
“[T]here was a type of employee at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution whose job and livelihood largely vanished in the early twentieth century. This was the horse. The population of working horses actually peaked in England long after the Industrial Revolution, in 1901, when 3.25 million were at work. Though they had been replaced by rail for long-distance haulage and by steam engines for driving machinery, they still plowed fields, hauled wagons and carriages short distances, pulled boats on the canals, toiled in the pits, and carried armies into battle. But the arrival of the internal combustion engine in the late nineteenth century rapidly displaced these workers, so that by 1924 there were fewer than two million. There was always a wage at which all these horses could have remained employed. But that wage was so low that it did not pay for their feed.” (page 286)
Tying in to our theme of complexity, the article that cites the book makes some other salient points:
Most companies cannot culturally stomach denying health insurance to certain classes of worker. Apparently it is okay to pay the CEO 319X what the average worker gets, but it is not okay to tell low-skill workers “You aren’t important enough for us to buy you health care in the world’s most expensive and least efficient system.”

Most subtly, and perhaps most significantly, the potential cost of a mistake by an individual worker has skyrocketed. In industrial plants, the link between individual employee action and billions in losses is fairly obvious, e.g., with the Bhopal explosion. A tiny misstep in a chip factory and a wafer containing hundreds of valuable integrated circuits becomes worthless scrap. Computer networks, however, have made the potential costs of a clueless or careless office worker dramatically higher. Suppose that a company hires a low-skill not-very-alert office worker for $10/hour. This person accepts an email invitation to follow a hyperlink. One click later and the company’s network is infected with a virus. Best case: IT department spends $50,000 cleaning up; worst case: customer lists, customer credit cards, and other private data are compromised, costing millions of dollars.
So, put them out to pasture? Or is it the glue factory? Remember, almost any of use can be declared "redundant" at some point in time. I've often noted that the pets of the rich in America live better than the children of the poor, so I think this is an appropriate concluding article:
Summer 2009. Unemployment is soaring. Across America, millions of terrified people are facing foreclosure and getting kicked to the curb. Meanwhile in sunny California, the hotel-heiress Paris Hilton is investing $350,000 of her $100 million fortune in a two-story house for her dogs. A Pepto Bismol-colored replica of Paris’ own Beverly Hills home, the backyard doghouse provides her precious pooches with two floors of luxury living, complete with abundant closet space and central air.

By the standards of America’s rich these days, Paris’ dogs are roughing it. In a 2006 , Vanity Fair’s Nina Munk described the luxe residences of the country's new financial elite. Compared with the 2,405 square feet of the average new American home, the abodes of Greenwich Connecticut hedge-fund managers clock in at 15,000 square feet, about the size of a typical industrial warehouse. Many come with pool houses of over 3,000 square feet.

Steven Cohen of SAC Capital is a typical product of the New Gilded Age. He paid $14.8 million for his Greenwich home, which he stuffed with a personal art collection that boasts Van Gogh's Peasant Woman Against a Background of Wheat (priced at $100 million); Gauguin's  Bathers ($50 million); a Jackson Pollock drip painting (also $50 million); and Andy Warhol's Superman ($75 million). Not satisfied, Cohen spent millions renovating and expanding, adding a massage room, exercise and media rooms, a full-size indoor basketball court, an enclosed swimming pool, a hairdressing salon, and a 6,734-square-foot ice-skating rink. The rink, of course, needs a Zamboni ice-resurfacer which Cohen houses in a 720-square-foot shingle cottage. Munk quotes a visitor to the estate who assured her, “You'd be happy to live in the Zamboni house.”

So would some of the over 650,000 Americans sleeping in shelters or under highway overpasses.

By the time it was finished, Cohen's house had swelled to 32,000 square feet, the size of the Taj Mahal. Even at Taj prices, cost mattered little to a man whose net worth is estimated by the Wall Street Journal at $8 billion -- with an income in 2010 of over $1 billion. Cohen’s payday is impressive, but by no means unique. In 2005, the 25 hedge-fund managers averaged $363 million. In cash. Paul Krugman observes that these 25 were paid three times as much as New York City’s 80,000 public school teachers combined. And because their pay is taxed as capital gains rather than salary, the teachers paid a higher tax rate!
The Great Capitalist Heist: How Paris Hilton's Dogs Ended Up Better Off Than You (Alternet)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.