A Tale of Two Fast-Food Workers

Statue of LibertyThis morning, Charlie Pierce wrote a interesting article over at his perch at Esquire, American Exceptionalism. It follows up on a great bit of reporting by Liz Alderman, Steven Greenhouse, and Anna-Katarina Gravgaard in The New York Times yesterday, Living Wages, Rarity for US Fast-Food Workers, Served Up in Denmark. It compares two young men who work for Burger King — one in the US and one in Denmark. In Denmark, he makes $20 per hour and in the US he makes $9 per hour. And the guy in America is a shift manager. Moving on up!

The critical element of the story is this line, “Many American economists and business groups say the comparison is deeply flawed because of fundamental differences between Denmark and the United States.” And what are those differences? Basically, they are reasons why the situation is bad here. They aren’t reasons for keeping the current situation. For example, in Denmark, the workers are unionized. Well, yeah. There is also universal healthcare in Denmark. All these things mean is that fast-food workers in Denmark are doing even better than the wage comparison would indicate.

There is a kind of Catch-22 thing here. Because of our huge inequality problem in the United States, we have policies that take from the poor and give to the rich. And because we have these policies, we must have our high levels of inequality and they need to get even higher. That doesn’t indicate that we have to continue on with poverty wages. It just means that when one part of a political economy is screwed up, many other parts are screwed up as well. If we still had strong unions, we would doubtless have universal healthcare and higher wages. That doesn’t mean that because we have low wages we must therefore have no unions. Organizing can work wonders if we do still have a democracy.

What Pierce added to this discussion is that we have such a screwed up system because the business community has gone insane:

The other real, if unspoken difference between Denmark and the United States is that the members of the Danish corporate class are not trained from their adolescence to become public sociopaths. This is not a minor distinction.

Since the 1970s, the business community (and this includes business majors at college) have taken on this Ayn Rand kind of idea that by making as much money as they can they are by definition doing good. We’ve gotten so used to it that it is shocking to hear business owners in Denmark say things like, “We don’t want people living on the streets. If that happens, we consider that we as a society have failed.” But notice: that’s the kind of thing that you could imagine most humans saying. It is an aberration that this kind of talking is anathema to the American business community. I’m not even referring to what actual practices here. In the United States, the capitalist class has gotten to the point where they don’t even give lip service to the good of the society or even the country. Indeed, on that last item, the business position seems to be that if you can bilk some money from the government, it’s just great. Remember when Mitt Romney while running for President of the United States proudly announced that he would be unfit for the job if he had paid any more than the law required? Because, you know, freedom!

As we see, this kind of thinking has infected our entire society. When Mitt Romney made his vile comment, there was no outrage from the mainstream media sources. It was just taken as part of the continuum of acceptable discourse. And this is at the same time that the mainstream media are dismissive of the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour — a rate that would still be below its late 1960s rate if it had been raised at the rate of productivity increases. It’s disgusting and the journalism industry would be ashamed if it hadn’t lost the ability.

This is American Exceptionalism: the vast majority of the people live much worse than their peers in other advanced economies. I’m so proud.

See Also

Property Rights
Be a Patriot, Pay Your Taxes!
Conservatives and the Lucky Duckies

Congress Won’t Become Productive With a Republican Senate

Kevin McCarthyDanny Vinik wrote a great article over at New Republic, Republicans Have Big Plans for a GOP Senate. Here’s What Will Come of Them: Nothing. It is primarily about House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s claim that if the Republicans take the Senate, then they can show the people that they really can govern. Vinik’s article is one big eye-roll. He wrote, “The 114th Congress will probably look a lot like the 113th.”

According to McCarthy, the Republicans in the House and Senate will get together and grind out deals. But that makes no sense. By and large, the problem with the House Republicans has not been that they don’t agree with the Democratic Senate. The problem is that they don’t get along with themselves. To many, even most, House Republicans, the Senate Republicans are a bunch of sellouts. If the extremists in the party were not willing to compromise on anything when they only controlled one chamber, why would they suddenly be willing to compromise when they have both chambers?

Vinik made the excellent point that having control of both houses of Congress is going to make a Debt Ceiling debacle even more likely. And it sets up a very dangerous battle. They could easily put together a Debt Ceiling bill larded with a wish list of their usual demands so that the president is forced to either accept it or allow the government to default. And don’t kid yourself: there are a whole lot of Republicans in Congress who would love to see that happen. Remember, this is the party that continues to refuse free money to help their working poor and their economies just to “send a message” to the president. They are itching for a clear flight. In fact, they itching for nothing else.

There is still, however, the biggest liberal concern: Obama might start bargaining with the Republican Congress. But this seems unlikely for the same reason that the chambers are unlikely to get along. Any deal with Obama will be by definition selling out. Obama is, after all, the Antichrist. Remember back in 2011 when Boehner made a deal with Obama? By his own calculation, Boehner got 98% of what he wanted. Still, this was seen as heresy. I expect them to hold out for what they see as their ultimate rout in 2016 when they will hold all the levers of power and can get 100% of what they want.

But here is the ultimate state of things:

Republicans have been unable to coalesce around a plan for immigration reform among themselves, much less with the president. If they want to show they can govern, passing an immigration bill — any immigration bill — would be a good place to start. As with other major issues, though, Republicans find it easier to say they can govern than to actually do it.

That gets to a fundamental issue: the Republicans don’t actually have any ideas other than tax cuts and deregulation. They haven’t been able to come up with an immigration reform bill because they don’t want to do anything about immigration reform. They haven’t been able to come up with a replacement for Obamacare because they don’t want to do anything about healthcare. The list goes one. And Kevin McCarthy’s idea that they will show the nation that they can govern is just nonsense. When it comes down to it, everyone knows that the voters are not going to reward them for that even if the Republicans managed to do it. So they will fall back on what they do get support for: making high minded but meaningless political statements about how Obama wants to destroy America.

The only real change we are likely to see with Republican control of both chambers of Congress is that there will be more crises. They may be minor and they may be catastrophic. But they will come. And I’ll make a prediction: they will not be harmed by these crises. The media will portray it as a simple partisan issue. There will be many columns asking, “Why can’t they just get along?!” And if they manage to actually destroy the American economy going into the 2016 presidential election, the people will reward them with the White House. If that happens, we’ll get to see that the Republicans really can govern — like George W Bush.

2014 Is Shaping Up to Be a Very Close Year

Close Races 2004 - 2014

This remarkable graph comes to us from Sam Wang, In State Races, as Much Suspense as 2006 and 2010 Combined. For all the years before this year, it shows the number of Senate and gubernatorial races that that were won by less than three percentage points. And for this year, it shows the number of races that are this close based upon Wang’s aggregation of polling data. This isn’t a partisan breakdown. There are Democrats and Republicans and Independents on this graph. But the point is that the election is incredibly close by historical standards.

You probably already know that despite people constantly complaining about politicians, incumbents do really well. They tend to get re-elected at a rate just shy of 90%. That isn’t so much the case this time. Of course, as always, this is just about fundamentals. Four years ago, the Republicans had a wave election and a whole bunch of Republicans ended up as governors — including in states that aren’t red. So they are vulnerable. On the other side, six years ago, the Democrats had a wave election and a whole bunch of Democrats ended up as Senators — including in bright red states like Alaska. So they are vulnerable.

But a big part of what is going on is that Democrats are simply doing a lot better than they should be. We will have to see how the vote turns out. It may be that for some reason, all the polls are favoring the Democrats and that the races that look close aren’t. But I tend to think that these are close races. It will take some serious statistical analysis after the election to say whether we are seeing the edge of demographic changes. But I wonder if it isn’t just that the country is exhausted from years of the same old nonsense from the Republicans.

I understand that “the party of ‘No'” is just a Democratic talking point. But how long can a party continue to push the same ideas that don’t work before the voters just give up? We’ve been living in Reagan’s world for more than 30 years now. The only improvement in the lives of the middle class was under Bill “Socialist! He’s a socialist, I tell you!” Clinton. And no one can seriously look at Obama and think that he is the bogeyman. He most clearly isn’t that. He may be detached and too inclined to a world view that is divorced from the day-to-day struggles of regular Americans. I certainly think that. But he isn’t out to harm America. He’s the President of the United States, for Christ’s sake! No reasonable person is going to buy the whole Antichrist Manchurian Candidate ranting that is now well inside the Republican mainstream.

The close elections are a source of comfort for Democrats, because it could turn out that we do a lot better than is expected. But it also means that 2014 could be a rout for the Republicans, and we have to look forward to Obama talking about his “shellacking” — showing that he still doesn’t understand how politics works. But I have seven days to hope that things go reasonably well for the Democrats. (It would also be good for the Republicans too, but that’s long-term.) After that, we will all know — except for Georgia and Louisiana most likely.

Bride of the Witness of Elsa Lanchester by Death

Elsa LanchesterOn this day in 1902, the great actor Elsa Lanchester was born. She will always be associated with Bride of Frankenstein. She played both Mary Shelley and “the bride.” And she was wonderful. It’s kind of strange. I remember watching that movie on Creature Features with my older brother and sister when I was maybe 9 years old. I was terrified. Yet now it is a film I watch when I want to get cheered up. It’s so sweet — especially when “the monster” takes the hand of “the bride” and pats it gently. Of course, she doesn’t respond well.

Lanchester had a long and distinguished career. She received two Academy Award nominations for Come to the Stable and Witness for the Prosecution. What I’m most taken with is that she exudes fun up on the screen. Her role as the chatty nurse Miss Plimsoll in the second of these could easily have been annoying, but with Lanchester it is just a delight. She and Charles Laughton were married their whole adult lives until he died. They starred in nine films together. Here she is talking with Dick Cavett about Laughton, Isadora Duncan, and how to pronounce her last name:

Some nice person put together four minutes of clips from various movies, with the Bride of Frankenstein music on top of it. I think her personality comes across really well even without dialog:

Let’s just end with one of her very last films, Murder By Death. In it, she plays a Miss Marple parody, Jessica Marbles. At the end of it, Dora Charleston (parody of Nora Charles from The Thin Man) says, “I like her; I really like her.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Happy birthday Elsa Lanchester!