Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lazy me, lazy you

I've been plugging away on an essay I need to finish before school starts. No time or energy to write silly things on this blog.

But this is funny: Fortune magazine runs an article called "Are Americans Too Lazy?" (the blurb runs:
New research suggests that, contrary to popular perception, we’re actually working less than we used to. If so, what does that mean for our country? Instead of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., should we all be working 8 to 6?
So this is hilarious, for many reasons. But then they have a reader feedback forum, and the reader response is all over the place--from indignant denials to kids-these-days tut-tutting to UN conspiracy theories.

I read quite a few of the responses, and didn't come across anyone saying "Hooray for laziness! It's about time Americans got over their work obsession!" Whether Americans are working less or not (I suspect not--the article's data is pretty tenuous--see more at MaxSpeak), they certainly haven't lost their deep emotional attachment to working like dogs.

Here are some excerpts from the reader comments:

I think whats gone down the hill is also competence and willingness to perform. In my opinion thats a more serious issue to consider.
Americans have become lazy, and obese. The majority want their wealth handed to them and the younger generations, like mine, generation Y, want to live off their parent’s wealth. If our economy wants to stay competitive, we need to wake up and work for what we desire. As my friend said it, who grew up in China and came here to go to college, “A salary of $40,000/yr is a lot of money for me, American students expect $60,000/yr for the same position. Why would corporations pay more for an American student when they can save $20k and get an employee with an equal if not greater than GPA?” Americans need to wake up and realize history repeats itself, all civilizations come to an end, if we don’t want to fall, we need to work to stay ahead.
Screw that. How about the ceos start making a normal wage and shut up for once. They have no right blaming Americas woes on the workers. Its all CORPORATE GREED thats ruined this country.
The U.N. has never produced an unbiased report, and it never will. It was founded on anti-American sentiment. It never loses an opportunity to bash America in any way, shape, or form. The assertion that Americans are relatively lazy is so dishonest that it is beyond the pale. As one who has lived and worked overseas in more than one country, I have seen with my own eyes who has the famed work ethic.

24/7/365 is the new matra of the business world. Blackberry’s busing, cell phones ringing, wireless connections buzzing away… Why? Just because somebody else wants to earn more money for themselves? If the rest of the world wants a 24/7/365 way of life, they are entitled. Personally, I’d rather go hungry than subject myself to such an out of control life perspective. When work life fails to serve the society, we become slaves. That is when it needs to be replaced with a more intelligent economic system.

Yes. More American Men, Women, and Children are slackers. My wife and I are 29yrs of age. The small percentages of people in this nation that “work harder” are the people that will live the American dream: nice home, nice schools, nice cars, and nice retirement fun. Hard work pays off. The new generations of America want all their “bling” for very little work. Wake up America. The hard workers will prosper while the lazy will sit back in envy.
(That one is my personal favorite, I have to say.)

I thought the point of developed economy is to increase quality of life, which includes being able to enjoy life more instead of laboring 60 hours a week. And decreasing work hours over the last century has been the fruits of developed economy. The accuracy of facts and the conclusions drawn from this article is also very shady. More people retiring then before is not because we are on average more lazy but because the baby boomers are reaching retirement age. [...] In general, it is a gross misapplication of the market theory if it so happily results in bringing US workers to the level of Chinese or Peru laborers, whether in terms of compensation or hours. Market idealists should realize that the goal of the economy is not market per se but improved quality of life.

As they say on the nets: sadly, no! The wealth of nations has always been held out as if it were an increase in the quality of life, but the first lesson of capitalism is that you never get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. That's why I vote for laziness. Be lazy. Work less. You may not get ahead, but you might actually have a life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on the good Dr. Clark

Via Ezra Klein, I see that Andrew Sullivan is all hot and bothered about A Farewell to Alms. I have to agree with one of Klein's commenters: "Easily Sullivan's most obnoxious tic - far worse than his know-nothing brand of big pharma advocacy - is his excitement at the possibility of reinvigorating eugenic science."

On a related note, it is worth mentioning that another place where Clark's book is getting a warm welcome is VDARE--a racist gorup of the decidedly Anglophilic variety. Clark's claims that a) the population of England is largely decended from the medieval aristocracy and that b) this aristocratic lineage bestows an economic advantage upon Anglo-Saxons is exactly the sort of pseudo-scientific race-baiting that has legs on the Right.

I predict that Clark's hogwash will join The Bell Curve in the stable of right-wing "science" references. As I recall, Sullivan (a Brit) is a big fan of Charles Murray, too.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The prison-industrial complex

Read this whole article from The Boston Review: (via Ezra Klein)

According to a 2005 report of the International Centre for Prison Studies in London, the United States—with five percent of the world’s population—houses 25 percent of the world’s inmates. Our incarceration rate (714 per 100,000 residents) is almost 40 percent greater than those of our nearest competitors (the Bahamas, Belarus, and Russia). Other industrial democracies, even those with significant crime problems of their own, are much less punitive: our incarceration rate is 6.2 times that of Canada, 7.8 times that of France, and 12.3 times that of Japan. We have a corrections sector that employs more Americans than the combined work forces of General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart, the three largest corporate employers in the country, and we are spending some $200 billion annually on law enforcement and corrections at all levels of government, a fourfold increase (in constant dollars) over the past quarter century.

No comment needed

Dean Baker:

"Given the gravity of the situation, the hedge fund crew is doing what all good capitalists do when things go badly: run to the government."

The Hegemony of "Common Sense"

Glenn Greenwald:

The Number One Rule of the bi-partisan Foreign Policy Community is that America has the right to invade and attack other countries at will because American power is inherently good and our role in the world is to rule it though the use of superior military force. Paying homage to that imperialistic orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining Good Standing and Seriousness Credentials within the Foreign Policy Community.

Conversely, one who denies that premise reveals oneself to be deeply unserious and unworthy of meaningful discourse. While differences on the "when" and "how" are permitted, there is virtually no debate within the foreign policy establishment about whether the U.S. has the right to continue to intervene and attack and invade and occupy other countries in the absence of those countries attacking us. Hence, to Cohen and his colleagues, it sounds perfectly normal and natural to say that the U.S. has "good reasons" to start wars against a whole host of countries because -- as bizarre and abnormal and unfathomable that idea is for most of the world -- it is an implicit, unexamined belief among our foreign policy elites that the U.S. is entitled, more or less, to use military force even in the absence of being attacked or threatened with attack.

This orthodoxy is not merely passively accepted, but actively enforced. The principal goal is to ensure that it remains a bi-partisan view so that, in turn, the question of America's role in the world is never subject to any real debate. The three "crazy, insane, wacko, fringe" presidential candidates are Ron Paul, Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kucinich. Yet the only thing they have in common (other than having been elected multiple times to the U.S. Congress) is a belief that the U.S. has been using its military force illegitimately by using it against other countries that are not attacking us. But that belief, standing alone, is enough to eject one from the mainstream, because it violates the central consensus of the establishment.

I heartily recommend the whole article.

It reminds me, also, of my all-time favorite quote from Thomas Friedman, that doyen of nonsensical common sense: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." (NYT, March 28, 1999)

That pretty much says it all right there.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Adios Karl

I especially like this take on Rove's departure. It stresses the underlying incompetence and stupidity that, because of the bluster and media fawning, were mistaken for omnipotence and omniscience.

This is a growing theme: the people and institutions that seem godlike in their power are actually paper tigers, drawing much of their actual power from the appearance of power. Just teh other night I saw The Bourne Ultimatum with Hasana and a friend. Hasana made the argument afterwards that even highly critical depictions of the CIA and associated security apparatus increase the awe with which those institutions are regarded, since, for example, all of the Bourne movies paint a paicture of a ruthlessly effective and powerful CIA, which can only be undone by its own most ruthless and powerful creation.

Meanwhile, the reality is much more like what is shown in Matt Damon's other CIA critique, The Good Shepherd, where the CIA is full of misearble, lonely men who spend most of their time botching operations and are only truly effective at screwing up their lives and the lives of those around them. For substantiation, check out Chalmers Johnson's review of the new book, A Legacy of Ashes (via MaxSpeak).

That's the Rove/Bush/Cheney style to a tee: massive over-reaching motivated by delusions of infallibility and resulting in abject failure. I find it hard to believe that there are still conspiracy theorists on the Left seven years into the reign of these yahoos.

UPDATE: Here's more on the same theme from Digby.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The good Dr. Clark and his "Theory "

OK, the three-day gap between “in a bit” and now proves that quotidian stress beats righteous indignation. (I just need a third term—on that beats quotidian stress, but is beaten by righteous indignation, and I could patent a highly abstract version of rock-paper-scissors).

Nonetheless, I shall revisit the cause of my earlier discontent.

The review got me annoyed with the first paragraph: “For thousands of years, most people on earth lived in abject poverty, first as hunters and gatherers, then as peasants or laborers. But with the Industrial Revolution, some societies traded this ancient poverty for amazing affluence.”

  1. Most people on earth right now live in abject poverty! Half the global population lives on less than $2 a day. (That’s a World Bank statistic, and it was cited by none other than that galloping class-warrior George W. Bush: “A world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just, nor stable” [quoted in the NY Times, July 18, 2001].)
  2. What sense does it make to say that hunter-gatherers have always “lived in abject poverty”? In a non-monetarized economy (gift, potlatch, etc.), what does poverty mean? Anyone care to define it? The article hints that poverty is to be measured by average caloric consumption (“By 1790, the average person’s consumption in England was still just 2,322 calories a day…”), but since the UK Department of Health currently recommends 1940 calories per day for women and 2550 for men, I’m a bit confused by what this metric is supposed to show. Is a nation where average caloric intake exceeds 3000/day wealthy, or is it just fat?

This myopic self-satisfaction is nothing special, however. You can come up with many examples every day—things are getting better all the time in every way!

What is special is the thesis of the book under review: natural selection explains why the Industrial Revolution took place when and where it did—18th and 19th Century England.

By analyzing old wills, the good Dr. Clark came upon some startling thoughts: “Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed. That meant there must have been constant downward social mobility as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the progeny of the rich took over their occupations. “The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages,” he concluded. As the progeny of the rich pervaded all levels of society, Dr. Clark considered, the behaviors that made for wealth could have spread with them.” And what are those behaviors? “The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save,” the good Dr. Clark and his stenographer at the Times are happy to tell you.

OK, so apparently medieval England was populated by a violent, stupid, lazy, and spendthrift peasantry, held at bay by a thrifty, learned, and hard-working aristocracy, who also, luckily enough for posterity, bred like rabbits. And wore bowler hats and ties. And went to church every Sunday. And subscribed to The Economist. They looked something like this.

Seriously, does the good Dr. Clark and the noble NY Times expect us to swallow this? The kicker is that “Dr. Clark said he set out to write his book 12 years ago on discovering that his undergraduates knew nothing about the history of Europe.” They knew nothing about history, do you hear? History? The good Dr. Clark wouldn’t know history if it bit him in the backside.

For some real history, Dr. Clark should consult someone with a tad more historical sense, someone who is not so interested in projecting respectable bourgeois morality back onto the medieval lords and ladies. I’d suggest he start here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Provocation

So I'd toyed with the idea of starting a blog for a while, but have finally taken the plunge because I read something so infuriating that I had to have an imaginary worldwide audience hear my incredulous yawp of rage and indignation at the whole thing.

What has so provoked me?

The NY Times' review of Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms.

Why has this provoked me?

I'll tell you in a bit...

Is this thing on?