There Is No Labor Shortage, Only Labor Exploitation

by Sonali Kolhatkar 


For the past few months, Republicans have been waging a ferocious political battle to end federal unemployment benefits, based upon stated desires of saving the U.S. economy from a serious labor shortage. The logic, in the words of Republican politicians like Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, goes like this: “the government pays folks more to stay home than to go to work,” and therefore, “[p]aying people not to work is not helpful.” The conservative Wall Street Journal has been beating the drum for the same argument, saying recently that it was a “terrible blunder” to pay jobless benefits to unemployed workers.

If the hyperbolic claims are to be believed, one might imagine American workers are luxuriating in the largesse of taxpayer-funded payments, thumbing their noses at the earnest “job creators” who are taking far more seriously the importance of a post-pandemic economic growth spurt.

It is true that there are currently millions of jobs going unfilled. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just released statistics showing that there were 9.3 million job openings in April and that the percentage of layoffs decreased while resignations increased. Taking these statistics at face value, one could conclude this means there is a labor shortage.

But, as economist Heidi Shierholz explained in a New York Times op-ed, there is only a labor shortage if employers raise wages to match worker demands and subsequently still face a shortage of workers. Shierholz wrote, “When those measures [of raising wages] don’t result in a substantial increase in workers, that’s a labor shortage. Absent that dynamic, you can rest easy.”

Remember the subprime mortgage housing crisis of 2008 when economists and pundits blamed low-income homeowners for wanting to purchase homes they could not afford? Perhaps this is the labor market’s way of saying, if you can’t afford higher salaries, you shouldn’t expect to fill jobs.

Or, to use the logic of another accepted capitalist argument, employers could liken the job market to the surge pricing practices of ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. After consumers complained about hiked-up prices for rides during rush hour, Uber explained, “With surge pricing, Uber rates increase to get more cars on the road and ensure reliability during the busiest times. When enough cars are on the road, prices go back down to normal levels.” Applying this logic to the labor market, workers might be saying to employers: “When enough dollars are being offered in wages, the number of job openings will go back down to normal levels.” In other words, workers are surge-pricing the cost of their labor.

But corporate elites are loudly complaining that the sky is falling—not because of a real labor shortage, but because workers are less likely now to accept low-wage jobs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce insists that “[t]he worker shortage is real,” and that it has risen to the level of a “national economic emergency” that “poses an imminent threat to our fragile recovery and America’s great resurgence.” In the Chamber’s worldview, workers, not corporate employers who refuse to pay better, are the main obstacle to the U.S.’s economic recovery.

Longtime labor organizer and senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies Bill Fletcher Jr. explained to me in an email interview that claims of a labor shortage are an exaggeration and that, actually, “we suffered a minor depression and not another great recession,” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In Fletcher’s view, “The so-called labor shortage needs to be understood as the result of tremendous employment reorganization, including the collapse of industries and companies.”

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US Justice Groups Release Blueprint ‘To End the Torture of Solitary Confinement’

We strongly believe that the reforms outlined in this blueprint will go a long way towards eradicating much of the senseless and counterproductive harm that has been caused,” said the director of ACLU’s Stop Solitary Campaign.

KENNY STANCIL

48-year-old Anthony Torres, who is serving a life sentence for murder, sits inside his cell at security housing unit B at the California State Prison Sacramento on March 5, 2014 in Represa, California. (Photo: Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

A criminal justice coalition on Monday provided a roadmap detailing specific steps the United States government can take “to end the torture of solitary confinement in federal custody.”

“The debilitating, dehumanizing, and even deadly effects on incarcerated people are an ongoing stain on the American legal system.”

—Tammie Gregg, ACLU

Described by the Federal Anti-Solitary Taskforce (FAST) as the “first-ever” document of its kind, “A Blueprint for Ending Solitary Confinement by the Federal Government” outlines how the White House and Congress can use executive, administrative, and legislative action to fulfill President Joe Biden’s “promise to stop this tortuous practice,” as the American Civil Liberties Union, a member of FAST, put it.

“There are a growing number of states that have taken a stand against the torture of solitary confinement,” said Johnny Perez, a survivor of solitary confinement and director of the U.S. Prisons Program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, another member of FAST.

In 2021, 70 pieces of legislation have been filed in 32 states “to end some aspect of solitary confinement in state prisons and jails,” according to FAST.

“It is time for the federal government to lead by ending the practice once and for all and incentivizing states to do so,” said Perez. “We are hopeful the Biden-Harris administration will follow through with their campaign promise to end solitary by any name and in all forms.”

In addition to the release of the FAST blueprint for ending solitary confinement, more than 130 civil rights, public health, and social justice groups signed a letter to the White House’s Office of Public Engagement made public Monday urging Biden to “end the pain, torture, and trauma of tens of thousands of people languishing in harsh and harmful conditions.”

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Amazon Prime Is an Economy-Distorting Lie

A new antitrust case shows that Prime inflates prices across the board, using the false promise of ‘free shipping’ that is anything but free.

Matt Stoller

Last week, the Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed an antitrust suit against Amazon. The point of the suit is simple, but not stated explicitly – to unravel Amazon Prime, which at this point has at least 126 million members, roughly the same number of households in America (128.5 million).

I’ve read a bunch of the coverage, but no one has hit that point yet. So that’s what I’m going to write about today.

Photo by Marco Verch, licensed via Creative Commons.

“Happily and Deeply Intertwined”

It’s a fascinating moment in the political fight over big tech. On the one hand, the four dominant tech firms have never been more powerful or profitable. On the other hand, there is increasingly a consensus that our political leaders have to do *something* about their power. As a result, Google and Facebook are facing government litigation, and Apple has been fighting off legislative attempts to rein in app stores. Nothing has yet breached the castle walls of any of these firms, but we’re getting closer all the time.

This week, it was Amazon’s turn. On Wednesday, Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine alleged that Amazon was using its power to manipulate online retail prices. But there is something a bit different about this case than the ones targeting Google and Facebook. As Shira Ovide put it in the New York Times, Racine is making the claim that Amazon isn’t just crushing competitors, but *raising* consumer prices in the process.

It’s a longstanding claim by some of the independent merchants who sell on Amazon’s digital mall that the company punishes them if they list their products for less on their own websites or other shopping sites like Walmart.com. Those sellers are effectively saying that Amazon dictates what happens on shopping sites all over the internet, and in doing so makes products more expensive for all of us.

The reason this case is considered important is because higher consumer prices fit within the orbit of the consensus for antitrust. While there are possible problems with the case, Racine isn’t going outside the orthodoxy of modern antitrust the way enforcers are with the Facebook case. Against Facebook, enforcers are trying to claim that Facebook is engaged in more surveillance than consumers would otherwise prefer, and that this choice is akin to a price hike. That’s true, but it’s a somewhat novel antitrust claim. In this case, Racine is saying Amazon raised consumer prices using monopoly power. This case is not pushing the boundaries of antitrust law, it’s straightforward consumer harm.

That said, I think there’s another important aspect of this case that has gone largely unmentioned, which is that the Amazon Prime program, the keystone that holds Amazon’s dominance over retail together, is effectively being subsidized by the scheme Racine laid out. If you get rid of Amazon’s ability to force sellers to keep their prices high, then Prime, and its promise of free shipping, falls apart, as does much of the Amazon Marketplace business model. Other parts of Prime, such as Amazon’s ventures in Hollywood (like its recently announced purchase of MGM), may also not make sense if Racine wins.

To understand why, we have to start with the idea of free shipping. Free shipping is the God of online retail, so powerful that France actually banned the practice to protect its retail outlets. Free shipping is also the backbone of Prime. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos knew that the number one pain point for online buyers is shipping – one third of shoppers abandon their carts when they see shipping charges. Bezos helped invent Prime for this reason, saying the point of Prime was to use free shipping “to draw a moat around our best customers.” The goal was to get people used to buying from Amazon, knowing they wouldn’t have to worry about shipping charges. Once Amazon had control of a large chunk of online retail customers, it could then begin dictating terms of sellers who needed to reach them.

This became clear as you read Racine’s complaint. One of the most important sentences in the AG’s argument is a quote from Bezos in 2015 where he alludes to this point. In discussing the firm’s logistics service that is the bedrock of its free shipping promise, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), he said, “FBA is so important because it is glue that inextricably links Marketplace and Prime. Thanks to FBA, Marketplace and Prime are no longer two things. Their economics . . . are now happily and deeply intertwined.” Amazon wants people to see Prime, FBA, and Marketplace as one integrated mega-product, what Bezos likes to call ‘a flywheel,’ to disguise the actual monopolization at work. (Indeed, any time you hear the word ‘flywheel’ relating to Amazon, replace it with ‘monopoly’ and the sentence will make sense.)

Why would FBA be the glue here between Prime and Marketplace? Shipping and logistics is extremely expensive, far more than the membership fees charged by Prime; Amazon spent $37.9 billion on shipping costs in 2019, and much more in 2020. No matter how amazing your logistics operation, you can’t just offer free shipping to customers without having someone pay for it. Amazon found its solution in the relationship between Prime and Marketplace. It forced third party sellers to de facto pay for its shipping costs, by charging them commissions that reach as high as 45%, according to Racine, merely to access Amazon customers. That’s nearly half the revenue of a seller going to Amazon! And this high fee isn’t just because fulfillment or selling online is expensive; Walmart charges significantly less for its fulfillment services and access charges to its online market, and eBay’s market access fees are also much lower than Amazon’s.

[Read On]

Greed and Plutocracy Are Destroying America

By Frank Fish

FILE - In this May 1, 2020, file photo, a protester carries a sign that reads "Unionize Amazon Tax Bezos," in reference to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, while riding a bike during a car-based protest at the Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle. Mary's Place, a family homeless shelter located nearby inside an Amazon corporate building on the tech giant's Seattle campus, marks a major civic contribution bestowed by Amazon to the hometown it has rapidly transformed. But the Mary’s Place family homeless shelter also serves as a stark display of have-and-have-nots, given that some blame the tech giant's explosive growth over the past decade for making living in Seattle too costly for a growing number of people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In this May 1, 2020, file photo, a protester carries a sign that reads “Unionize Amazon Tax Bezos,” in reference to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, while riding a bike during a car-based protest at the Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle. Mary’s Place, a family homeless shelter located nearby inside an Amazon corporate building on the tech giant’s Seattle campus, marks a major civic contribution bestowed by Amazon to the hometown it has rapidly transformed. But the Mary’s Place family homeless shelter also serves as a stark display of have-and-have-nots, given that some blame the tech giant’s explosive growth over the past decade for making living in Seattle too costly for a growing number of people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

I consider myself a good American with lots of international experience, seven years consulting in Italy, France and the UK; 15 years as vice president of product design and sales for a major software company involving set up and supervision of offices in more than 40 foreign countries.

Those are my international bona fides. I will now attempt to describe why the rest of the world sees the U.S. as a corrupt falling star.

The U.S. became world leader after much of European and Japanese infrastructure and youth were destroyed in World War II. No European I have met recently thinks that ranking is still justified. We no longer have the biggest economy. Based on purchasing power parity, China has surpassed us. We have the biggest external debt and the biggest current negative trade balance in the world. If the U.S. were an individual, we would be in debtor’s prison.

We should be No. 1. We have the most usable agricultural land in the world. We led the world’s industry for 75 years after World War II. We don’t have the largest population, but plenty of well-educated residents and lots of well-educated would-be immigrants. So, where do many Americans think we are No. 1 but the world thinks otherwise?

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How the World’s Richest Defend Their Wealth, with Help from a Dedicated Industry

By Brenda Medina

When Chuck Collins was 26 years old, he gave away his entire inheritance to groups working for social justice.

Born into a wealthy family (his great-grandfather, Oscar Mayer, founded a prominent national lunch meat company in the United States), Collins says he was exposed early in life to the world of wealth managers and came to realize the inequalities they help perpetuate. Now an author and senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., Collins draws on his personal experience, extensive research, interviews with industry professionals and ICIJ’s own investigations for his latest book, “The Wealth Hoarders.”

The book, subtitled “How billionaires pay millions to hide trillions,” offers insiders’ accounts of what’s described as the “wealth defense industry” — made up of a coalition of professionals from advisors to lawyers and accountants — and how it deploys anonymous shell companies, family offices, offshore accounts and trusts to help the world’s richest people shield their wealth from tax collectors.

We asked Collins about the wealth management industry and what’s changing in the world of wealth inequality, fair taxation, and more.

You begin your book with a fascinating anecdote from a conference for people with inherited wealth in the 1980s. You were considering giving your inheritance away, and someone asked you: What would you prove by committing class suicide? A recent headline also described you as an “upper-class traitor.” What does this mean, the idea of ‘class suicide’?

I think what happened to me in my mid-20s is I got an understanding of how the system worked, where the rules were tipped in my favor, where there was this group of trusted advisors who were there to help the very wealthy preserve their existing wealth and pass it on to the next generation. And I just was like, Oh, well, this is not good for me. And this isn’t good for society, you know, I don’t really want to benefit from the system of inherited wealth dynasties. So yeah, it was unusual to give away assets, and that’s where I kind of crossed the line. You can be kind of quirky, and you can do whatever you want with the income, but when you start to give away assets — and, as I did, give them to groups working for social change — then you’re betraying your class interests. That’s how people would look at it.

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How Greedy Corporations Turn the Black American Dream into a Nightmare

By Lynn Parramore

The plight of white blue-collar workers is well-known, but Blacks in that category were feeling the squeeze long before their white counterparts.

It’s 2021, and Black Americans still struggle harder to climb the socioeconomic ladder compared to whites. For many, the trip is now downward, a situation worsened during a pandemic that has impacted them disproportionately.

Economists William Lazonick, Philip Moss, and Joshua Weitz have been researching the key economic forces that have disadvantaged Black men for decades. In a new study focusing on those with only high school diplomas or less, they find that corporate greed – abetted by government policies designed by the wealthy – turned the dreams of once-upwardly mobile citizens into ashes.

[Read On]

Ten Solutions to Bridge the Racial Wealth Divide

The deep and persistent racial wealth divide will not close without bold, structural reform.

by Inequality.org

The deep and persistent racial wealth divide will not close without bold, structural reform.  It has been created and held in place by public policies that have evolved with time including slavery, Jim Crow, red lining, mass incarceration, among many others. The racial wealth divide is greater today than it was nearly four decades ago and trends point to its continued widening.

In this report, we offer ten bold solutions broken into three categories: Programs, Power, and Process. These solutions are designed to strike at the structural underpinnings holding the racial wealth divide in place while inspiring activists, organizers, academics, journalists, legislators, and others to think boldly about taking on this incredibly important challenge. This summary outlines the ten solutions, gives a snapshot of the latest racial wealth divide data, and offers a warning against false solutions.

[Continue Reading]

The Big Scary “S” Word and Climate Change

A Virtual Discussion with the filmmaker and activists on socialism, climate change and the fight for a Green New Deal 

Wednesday, June 9 at 8 ET / 7pm CT / 6pm MT / 5pm PT  

After you sign up, look for an email with information for joining the call on June 9.

____________________________

Join the Democratic Socialists of America Fund, Dissent magazine, DSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group and Green New Deal Campaign Committee, Sunrise Movement, Verso, Haymarket, Lux magazine, and In These Times for the second installment in a series of virtual events inspired by the film The Big Scary “S” Word. This month’s discussion will focus on climate change and the fight for a Green New Deal.

The Big Scary “S” Word, a new documentary feature from director Yael Bridges examining the past, present, and future of socialism in the United States, connects the dots between many of our social and economic crises and focuses on American socialists’ responses.  

On June 9, the filmmaker will join us to show a clip from the film and answer questions about the movie. The panelists will discuss and respond to your questions about how we get where we need to go now to combat climate change and fight for a Green New Deal.

Yael Bridge is an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker. She produced Left on Purpose, winner of the Audience Award at DOC NYC. She was also the director of productions at Inequality Media, making viral videos that tackled complex political issues and gained over 100 million views in 2016. She holds an MFA in documentary film and video from Stanford University and an MA in media studies from the New School. She resides in Oakland, where she works as a filmmaker and film educator.

Marquita Bradshaw is a single mom who grew up in South Memphis. She is an alumna of the University of Memphis. After graduating, she worked in grassroots organizing around a military landfill. While doing that work, she learned from her parents, Doris and Ken, the relational organizing model that secured her Senate nomination. Marquita’s career and service have spanned labor, environment, education reform, tax reform, trade policy, and social justice work. After making history in the state of Tennessee as the first black woman nominated for a statewide position, Marquita formed Sowing Justice, a non-profit dedicated to increasing civic engagement in communities experiencing environmental racism and injustice.

Rep. Ruth Buffalo is a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. She is originally from Mandaree. Ruth has served in various capacities focused on building healthy and safe communities. Ruth was elected into the North Dakota House of Representatives in 2018 and proudly serves the people of District 27 in south Fargo. 

Rep. Jeanné Kapela serves in the Hawai’i State House of Representatives, where she is the Vice Chair for the Committee on Education. Before holding elected office, Jeanné served her community as a board of directors member for the Kona Coffee Farmers Association and Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. She has also worked as a service provider for survivors of sexual exploitation. She is the first woman and Native Hawaiian to represent her district. Jeanné is committed to strengthening racial, gender, and economic justice throughout Hawai’i and pursuing Green New Deal policies that uplift people and our planet.

 Javier Miranda is a Venezuelan-American and is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. He lives in a small apartment in St. Paul with a broke-ass car. He installs solar panels for a living, and hopes to see a world free of borders.

Thea Riofrancos is an associate professor of political science at Providence College, an Andrew Carnegie Fellow (2020-2022), and a Radcliffe Institute Fellow (2020-2021). Her research focuses on resource extraction, renewable energy, climate change, green technology, social movements, and the left in Latin America. These themes are explored in her book, Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador (Duke University Press, 2020) and her co-authored book, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (Verso Books, 2019). She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and serves on the organization’s Green New Deal Campaign Committee.

 Ashik Siddique is an organizer with Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America, and serves on DSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group steering committee.

This event could go as late as 9:30pm Eastern.

[Register Here]


More opportunities for working with and supporting sponsors of this event:

Learn more about and donate to The Democratic Socialists of America Fund.

Subscribe to Dissent. 

See the trailer and learn more about upcoming film screenings of The Big Scary “S” Word.

Get involved with DSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group and Green New Deal Campaign.

Join the Sunrise Movement.

Read Verso books and attend their events.

Read Haymarket books and attend their events.

Subscribe to Lux.

Subscribe to In These Times.

When Did Democracy Begin To Die?

Published by tristero 

RN and LBJ—An Overlooked Relationship »

When did it all start? When did democracy in the United begin its death spiral?

It’s arguable, of course, but for my money, the beginning of the end was in 1968. That’s when Republican Richard Nixon committed treason, Democrats Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey learned he had… and they decided to say nothing publicly.

The lesson was not lost on Republicans. Ever since, they have assumed — correctly — that they could get away with it. That Democrats and the press would keep their pieholes shut while the GOP relentlessly (and eventually, even openly) conspired with foreign powers to subvert American interests, systematically suppressed voting rights, and fomented civil war.

The January insurrection and now, General Flynn’s outrageous statement that a Myanmar-style military coup “should happen here” are auguries of an imminent catastrophe. It’s like watching a train crash in slow motion, inevitable and horrible. But back in ’68, when Nixon betrayed his country, there was ample opportunity to nip the Republicans’ penchant for anti-democratic behavior in the bud.

But that would have required Democrats to forcefully speak up and expose Nixon. And they didn’t.

[Source]

The Greatest Danger to American Democracy

By Robert Reich

democracy-congress-tipping-falling-off-cliff-0528211.jpg (1692×1142) (salon.com)

The greatest danger to American democracy right now is not coming from Russia, China, or North Korea. It is coming from the Republican Party. 

Only 25 percent of voters self-identify as Republican, the GOP’s worst showing against Democrats since 2012 and sharply down since last November. But those who remain in the Party are far angrier, more ideological, more truth-denying, and more racist than Republicans who preceded them. 

And so are the lawmakers who represent them. 

Today’s Republican Party increasingly is defined not by its shared beliefs but by its shared delusions.

Last Friday, 54 U.S. senators voted in favor of proceeding to debate a House-passed bill to establish a commission to investigate the causes and events of the January 6th insurrection. This was 6 votes short of the number of votes needed for “cloture,” or stopping debate – meaning any further consideration of the bill would have been filibustered by Republicans indefinitely. 

So there will be no investigation. 

The 54 Senators who voted yes to cloture – in favor of the commission – represent 189 million Americans, or 58% of the American population. The 35 who voted no represent 104 million Americans, or 32% of the population.

In other words, 32% of American voters got to decide that the nation would not know about what happened to American democracy on January 6. 

Furthermore, the 35 who voted against the commission were all Republicans. They did not want such an inquiry because it might jeopardize their chances of gaining a majority of the House or Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. They also wanted to stay in the good graces of Donald Trump, whose participation in that insurrection might have been more fully revealed. 

Eight of these Republicans voted against certifying Joe Biden as president on January 6. Some of their constituents were responsible for the insurrection in the first place. 

The Republican Party is also pursuing new laws in many states making it harder for likely Democrats to vote and opposing voting reforms in Congress.

It is actively purging any Republican who has temerity to criticize Trump. They have removed from her leadership position Liz Cheney, who called Trump’s efforts to overturn the election and his role in inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot the greatest “betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” 

Local Republicans leaders have either stepped down or been forced out of their party positions for not supporting Trump’s baseless election claims or for criticizing the former president’s role in inciting the deadly Capitol riot.

American democracy is at an inflection point. 

Senate Democrats must get rid of the filibuster and push through major reforms – voting rights, as well as policies that will enable more Americans in the bottom half – most of them without college educations, many of whom cling to the Republican Party – to do better. 

In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt noted that the survival of American democracy depended on the adoption of policies that comprised the New Deal. In that Depression decade, democracy was under siege around the world, and dictators were on the rise. 

Joe Biden understands that America and the world face a similar challenge. And like FDR, Biden is making a strong case that the adoption of his policies will buttress democracy against the forces of tyranny, not only as an example to the rest of the world but here at home. 

[Source]