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Only in America

Posted: 2 August 2015 in Uncategorized
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Remember Gravity Payments, the company whose founder and CEO decided to the salaries of his employees and slash his own pay?

Well, according to the New York Times, the decision has generated dismay on the part of some customers, employees, and other CEOs:

a few customers, dismayed by what they viewed as a political statement, withdrew their business. Others, anticipating a fee increase — despite repeated assurances to the contrary — also left. While dozens of new clients, inspired by Mr. Price’s announcement, were signing up, those accounts will not start paying off for at least another year. To handle the flood, he has already had to hire a dozen additional employees — now at a significantly higher cost — and is struggling to figure out whether more are needed without knowing for certain how long the bonanza will last.

Two of Mr. Price’s most valued employees quit, spurred in part by their view that it was unfair to double the pay of some new hires while the longest-serving staff members got small or no raises. Some friends and associates in Seattle’s close-knit entrepreneurial network were also piqued that Mr. Price’s action made them look stingy in front of their own employees.

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Only in America

Posted: 1 August 2015 in Uncategorized
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What does exploitation mean in the United States?

According to Jon Schwarz [ht: sm],

Phil Gramm, a former three-term Republican senator from Texas who once ran the Senate Banking Committee, told the House Financial Services Committee yesterday that “it was an outrage” that his friend Edward Whitacre, the CEO of AT&T, only got “$75 million” when he retired in 2007.

“If there’s ever been an exploited worker” it was Whitacre, said Gramm, testifying on the fifth anniversary of passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Gramm appeared genuinely aggrieved by Whitacre’s shabby treatment and literally pounded the table while speaking.

Whitacre actually received a retirement package totaling $158 million.

Gramm attributed public anger at CEOs like Whitacre to “the one form of bigotry that is still allowed in America,” which is “bigotry against the successful.”

This is a clearly a long-standing belief of Gramm’s, who said almost the same thing, word for word, in 2001.

Gramm was co-chair of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and McCain’s top economic adviser until he was forced to resign after calling the U.S. “a nation of whiners.”

Transcript:

GRAMM: It’s the one form of bigotry that is still allowed in America, and that’s bigotry against the successful … My friend Ed Whitacre at AT&T, if there’s ever been an exploited worker, even though they made a big deal about him getting $75 million when he retired, the man added billions of dollars of value, he was exploited, it was an outrage!

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The other day, I expressed my doubts about Paul Mason’s arguments about postcapitalism. But others see his argument in a much more positive light, including some friends of mine, Jenny Cameron, Katherine Gibson, and Stephen Healy [ht: sk].

They, too, however, assert that “technology does not in and of itself guarantee a better future.” What are needed, and which they see emerging in the midst of capitalism today, are “explicit ethical commitments that are developed independent of online apps and cyber networks.”

Technology is augmenting relations of care for others. Technology does not bring these relations into being.

In our research on the diverse economic practices that exist outside the purview of mainstream economics, we find people are forging new types of economies around six ethical concerns:

  • What do we need to survive well?
  • What happens to surplus, or what is left over after our survival needs have been met?
  • How do we act responsibly to those whose inputs help us to survive well (whether other people or the environment)?
  • How much and what do we consume in order to survive well?
  • How do we care for the commons – the gifts of nature and intellect that we rely on?
  • How do we invest so that future generations can also live well?

I think they’re right: we do need to be aware of the ways the existing set of relations—the relations of capitalist commodity production—not only create capitalist subjects, but also noncapitalist subjectivities.

The way I’ve put it in my own writing, capitalist commodity production both presumes and constitutes particular kinds of individual subjects (which Marx referred to as “commodity fetishism,” i.e., particular notions of “freedom, equality, property, and Bentham”). But it also brings into existence new collective subjectivities—new ways of “being in common”—that can transcend capitalism.

A concrete example might help here. The existence of capitalist healthcare (of healthcare providers as well as healthcare insurers) both presumes and supports the idea that healthcare is an individual concern: we are supposed to take care of our own individual healthcare (whether through the established healthcare system or via “alternative” therapies) and purchase healthcare commodities (again, either established or alternative) if and when they are necessary. But it is also the case that the existence of healthcare commodity markets also brings together providers and consumers—nurses, doctors, and patients—who have an interest in a different kind of healthcare, one that is less interested in profits and more in the well-being of both providers and consumers.

That alternative subjectivity—that “being in common” in relation to healthcare—can serve as the basis of a noncommodified, noncapitalist form of healthcare. And, pace Mason, new kinds of information technologies might even be useful for connecting producers and consumers in postcapitalist ways. There’s nothing automatic about it, of course. Still, both new ethical commitments and information technologies signal the possibility of ways of moving beyond capitalism.

The key is to find ways to combine those emerging technologies and ethical concerns in a political movement that is inspired by a fundamental critique: both what is wrong with the existing order and an imagining of a concrete alternative.

That’s what comes next. . .

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As Emily Flitter reports,

For Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, there’s something awkward about the Harley-Davidson motorcycles that he has been posing on at presidential campaign stops: each one bears a sticker on its frame that reads “Union made in the USA.”

Walker has made the iconic American brand a centerpiece of his campaign kick-off tour this month, visiting four dealerships and sometimes showing off his own 2003 Harley Road King as he seeks to harness its appeal to older white male voters.

But there is another side to Harley that the Republican candidate has been less vocal about – it is a leading example of a successful company that has a strong relationship with labor unions.

Indeed, as Adam Davidson explained last year, Harley-Davidson’s resurgence has been on the basis of, not (like the rest of U.S. manufacturing) at the expense of, union labor.

But, in another U.S. irony, Harley-Davidson’s success has involved significant sacrifices on the part of its unionized workers:

Harley’s very existence was in question in 2009. Today it is a manufacturing role model, and that has a lot to do with its workers. The average tenure of a line worker at the York plant is 18 years, and these workers are extremely devoted to the company. (“How many factory workers have the company logo tattooed on their arm?” Dettinger asked me.) Magee said there was no question that the workers were earning their relatively higher wages. Costs have fallen by $100 million at the plant and quality has improved even more significantly. Customer demand is extremely high, especially now that people can get a bike within a couple weeks of ordering rather than waiting a year and a half. Harley’s stock price is back near the peak it reached at the top of the bubble in 2006. Craig Kennison at the research firm Baird told me that “it’s certainly the best turnaround I’ve ever seen.” Recently, the York plant won the Oscars of manufacturing: an IndustryWeek Best Plants award.

This sort of success wasn’t without a cost. The machinist union agreed to let Harley lay off 1,000 plant workers and implement a multiyear pay freeze. But every machinist I spoke with said that he understood that the alternative would be no jobs at all in York.

Yep, on both counts, only in America!