Tag Archives: GDP

SYNDICATED COLUMN: You’re Not Underemployed. You’re Underpaid.

The Case for Shiftlessness

No bank balance. Nothing in your wallet.

“I’m broke,” you say. “I need a job.”

Or:

Perhaps you have a job. Then you say:

“I’m broke. I need a better job.”

You’re lying. And you don’t even know it.

You don’t need a job.(Unless you like sitting at a desk. Working on an assembly line. Non-dairy creamer in the break room. In which case I apologize. Freak!)

You don’t need a job. You need money.

We’ve been programmed to believe that the only way to get money is to earn it.

(Unless you’re rich. Then you know about inheritance. In 1997, the last year for which there was solid research done on the subject, 42 percent of the Forbes 400 richest Americans made the list through probate. Disparity of wealth has since increased.)

It’s time to separate income from work.

For two reasons:

It’s moral. No one should starve or sleep outside or suffer sickness or go undereducated simply due to bad luck—being born into a poor family, growing up in an area with high unemployment, failing to impress an interviewer.

It’s sane.

“American workers stay longer at the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more over the year,” according to a 2009 U.N. report cited by CBS. Thanks to technological innovations and education, worker productivity—GDP divided by total employment—has increased by leaps and bounds over the years.

U.S. worker productivity has increased 400 percent since 1950. “The conclusion is inescapable: if productivity means anything at all, a worker should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours a week,” according to a MIT study.

Obviously that’s not the case. American workers are toiling longer hours than ever. They’re not being paid more —to the contrary, wages have been stagnant or declining since 1970. Numerous analyses have established that, especially since 1970, the lion’s share of profits from productivity increases have gone to employers.

Workers are working longer hours. But fewer people are working. Only 54 percent of work-eligible adults have jobs—the lowest rate in memory. Which isn’t surprising. Because there are fixed costs associated with employing each individual—administration, workspace, benefits, and so on—it makes sense for a boss to hire as few workers as possible, and to work them long hours.

This witches’ brew—increased productivity coupled with higher fixed costs, particularly healthcare—have led companies to create a society divided into two classes: the jobless and the overworked.

Unemployment is rising. Meanwhile, people “lucky” enough to still have jobs are creating more per hour than ever before and are forced to work longer and harder.

Crazy.

And dangerous. Does anyone seriously believe that an America divided between the haves, have-nots and the stressed-outs will be a better, safer, more politically stable place to live?

Sci-fi writers used to imagine a future in which machines did everything, where people enjoyed their newfound leisure time exploring the world and themselves. We’re not there yet—someone still has to make stuff—but we should be closer to the imagined idyll of zero work than we are now.

If productivity increases year after year after year, employers need fewer and fewer employees to sustain or expand the same level of economic activity. But this sets up a conundrum. If only employees have money, only employees can consume goods and services. As unemployment rises, the pool of consumers shrinks.

The remaining consumers can’t pick up the slack because their wages aren’t going up. So we wind up with a society that produces more stuff than can be sold: Marx’s classic crisis of overproduction. Hello, post-2008 meltdown of global capitalism.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Ford warns that the Great Recession is just the beginning. In his 2009 book “The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future” Ford, “argues that technologies such as software automation algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotics will result in dramatically increasing unemployment, stagnant or falling consumer demand, and a financial crisis surpassing the Great Depression,” according to a review in The Futurist.

The solution is clear: to guarantee everyone, whether or not he or she holds a job, a minimum salary sufficient to cover housing, transportation, education, medical care and, yes, discretionary income. Unfortunately, we’re stuck in an 18th century mindset. We’re nowhere close to detaching money from work. The Right wants to get rid of the minimum wage. On the Left, advocates for a Universal Living Wage nevertheless stipulate that a decent income should go to those who work a 40-hour week.

Ford proposes a Basic Income Guarantee based on performance of non-work activities; volunteering at a soup kitchen would be considered compensable work. But even this “radical” proposal doesn’t go far enough.

Whatever comes next, revolutionary overthrow or reform of the existing system, Americans are going to have to accept a reality that will be hard for a nation of strivers to take: we’re going to have to start paying people to sit at home.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: A Tsunami 100 Times Worse Than Japan

Apocalypse Looms in Landlocked Central Asia

The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan last week has killed at least 10,000 people. It is terrible. It may be a sneak preview of something 100 times worse.

The next Big Flood will probably be the worst natural disaster in history. It could easily be avoided.

Yet no one is lifting a finger to save the lives of one to five million people.

Lake Sarez, in the eastern Pamir mountains of eastern Tajikistan, is known to Central Asians as the region’s “Sword of Damocles.” A mile wide and 600 feet deep, Sarez is one of the biggest high-altitude bodies of water on earth, at an elevation of 11,200 feet.

Lake Sarez was created just over 100 years ago in a remote corner of what was then czarist Russia. On February 18, 1911 a 7.4-scale earthquake, common in the Pamirs, shattered a mountain adjacent to the Murgab River. The resulting landslide formed a half-mile high natural dam that blocked the river. Today the lake is 37 miles long.

Geologists have been warning about the Sarez threat since Soviet times. Now it’s urgent. Due to climate change the clock on the Sarez time bomb runs faster every year. During the 1990s the water level was rising eight inches a year. Now it’s one or two yards.

Scientists say the dam is going to burst. Whether a quake dislodges a rockslide that creates a wave that crests the dam, or melting glaciers brings the water to the top, computer models predict a devastating inland tsunami sooner rather than later.

Seventeen cubic kilometers of water will be instantly released. A wall of water 800 feet high will cascade down a series of river valleys in four countries.

In 2007 I trekked up to Sarez in order to research a magazine article for Men’s Journal. The following is from that piece:

“The 75-mile Bartang Valley, cultural and spiritual heartland of the Ismaili Muslims, would lose 30 villages and 7,000 people. The Bartang empties into the Pyanj, a large river that marks the border with northern Afghanistan, then Uzbekistan, then Turkmenistan. Six hundred miles downstream from Lake Sarez, the flood would cross into another time zone. Even this far downstream, Scott Weber of the U.N. Department for Humanitarian Affairs told New Scientist in 1999, ‘the wall of water would still be as high as a two-story house.'”

“The city of Termiz in southern Uzbekistan is home to 140,000 people, the Uzbek-Afghan Friendship Bridge that the Soviets used to invade Afghanistan, and currently a German airbase with 3,000 NATO troops. Termiz would be obliterated. The water would keep going. The Pyanj is a tributary of the Amu Darya, which Alexander the Great knew as the Oxus. The flood path would continue along the Amu Darya, roughly marking the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, before emptying into the shrunken Aral Sea, 1,200 miles downstream of Sarez.”

“Five million people—mostly residents of landlocked deserts that routinely reach 125 degrees—would be drowned by snow melt.”

That will only be the beginning of the misery.

Most of the arable land in Central Asia will be destroyed by silt. Tens of millions of Turkmen, Uzbeks, Afghans and Tajiks could starve.

This might happen in 10 years. Or next week. It could be happening now.

We can prevent it.

The dam can be shored up. A bypass to release pressure can be tunneled through bedrock around the left flank of the natural dam. Liberal cost estimates of such an engineering project run around $2 billion.

Tajikistan is desperately poor. Over a third of its GDP comes from Tajiks who have moved to other countries and send money back home to their families. The Tajik government doesn’t have the cash.

However, $2 billion is small change to Western countries. The U.S. spends that to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan for one week.

When Men’s Journal published my piece on Lake Sarez in 2008 I hoped it would prompt the U.S. to act. Aside from preventing the worst natural disaster ever, couldn’t we use five million new best friends in the Muslim world?

I sent copies to Presidents Bush and Obama, members of Congress, the U.N., the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and other international organizations. No one replied.

Interestingly, Japan is one of the few donor countries to have taken interest in Lake Sarez, having coughed up a few million dollars for a monitoring station. But there’s still no way to evacuate people living downstream in the event of a breach.

Why don’t the U.S. and other wealthy countries care about Lake Sarez? Maybe they’re just not paying attention. Also, the Tajiks don’t have oil or natural gas.

Whatever the reason, a flood that will make the current disaster in Japan look tiny by comparison is becoming increasingly likely. And it will be mostly our fault.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

Teen Unemployment Panic

Teen unemployment is 21%. But why do we care? Kids shouldn’t work anyway. It adds to adult unemployment and reduces their attention to their schooling, which should be their top priority.