Why the minimum wage should really be $24/hr

Robin’s Book Report #64
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

Agenda
-new article
-what you’re reading
-reading list

***As always, Please drop me a line with what you have been reading recently. Love to hear from newsletter readers! ***

New Article Alert
Last week, I published an article on the Baffler about start-ups. It was fun to write, mainly because it touched on something I have felt for a long time: that companies like Away, Warby Parker, and Dollar Shave Club told us that they were changing the world, but didn’t seem to change anything.

Founding a start-up, as I mention in the article, is often just research and development that major corporations have outsourced to individuals. My problem is that it privileges the people with canyons of time and money to spend on getting a start-up going, meaning that it is unlikely that anyone but the wealthy will become the owners of billion-dollar brands. That’s how the upper class reproduces itself!
Read my twitter thread about it, including my observation that the majority of my generation’s brain power has gone into making new things out of plastic.

What you’ve been reading
Please drop me a line with what you have been reading recently. Here’s what some reader said last week:
Katherine:

Hi blob! I’m reading The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth Cline. Fascinating book about clothing, fast fashion, the environment, etc. highly recommend.

Doris:

I just finished The Yellow House by Sarah Broom, a terrific genre-bending memoire that deals with race, class, economics as lived and climate from the point of view of a large extended Afro-American family in New Orleans during the years before and after Katrina. I highly recommend it to you and your readers.

Book Report

This is What Minimum Wage Would Be If It Kept Pace with Productivity

by Dean Baker (CEPR)

Main point:

If the minimum wage did rise in step with productivity growth since 1968 it would be over $24 an hour today

Colossus Wears Tweed

A number of recent books blame the rise of neoliberalism on economists. But the evidence suggests it is still capital that rules.

by Quinn Slobodian (Dissent)

“By putting the burden of historical change on Friedman and his minions, we miss the real storyline.”

” a position that is not seriously entertained by the other three books, but accords well with our world from Davos to Silicon Valley: the proposition that neither politicians nor economists but ‘corporate managers . . . were the true guardians of the public good and the proper stewards of the state.'”
American Factory (Netflix)

dir. by Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar

A GM parts supplier in Ohio is shut down, and in its place a Chinese automotive glass manufacturer, Fuyao, opens. This documentary is about the culture clash between the Chinese management and the U.S. workers, many of whom used to work at the unionized GM plant. The film crew also follows a team of U.S. workers as they visit Fuyao’s Chinese plant. The Chinese workers talk about working 12 hour days, and often through the weekend to meet quotas. Some don’t see their children more than one or two times a year. In a company sponsored talent show in China, a group of young people sing a song about the virtues of lean manufacturing, an ode to the violent managerial upheavals of the last half century. The Americans sing “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People.

The documentary implies that extreme nationalism motivates Chinese workers, and a culture of militant managerialism drives ruthless efficiency, something that can’t translate to the U.S. workplace because the workers here are slow and concerned with safety. The conclusions to take from the film are potentially dangerous. Is autocracy the path to productivity in a globalized world? Have we traded freedom and obesity for industrial power? The conflict between Chinese management and U.S. workers, to me, is not as much of a clash between national identities but a general conflict between management and workers, the same of which could be reproduced in any other U.S. factory. The Chinese owners, in this case, were accustomed to total managerial power, but this isn’t so different from the way that the Koch brothers run their paper plants or the way Amazon runs its warehouses. Surely it says something about the way that Chinese culture has embraced managerial power, but doesn’t say a lot about the U.S. workforce.
Riding for Free in Kansas City

Big cities have shunned free public transit. Now, KC’s free-fares push may provide transit systems across the country with a ‘how-to’ guide.

by Gabrielle Gurley (American Prospect)
Kansas City has implemented free fares for all of its public transit, prompting free-fare questions in other cities. The obvious problem is how to fund it. However, when you compare the contribution of fares to the total operating budget it is clear that the question is not whether the government will pay for public transit, but how much:

Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Metro Transit, where fares generate about $100 million or 22 percent of its budget, has already expressed some skepticism about launching a free-fare program. Boston fares bring in nearly $700 million, or about one-third of the MBTA’s annual budget. But years of poor MBTA service and growing traffic congestion fuel insistent demands for fare-free buses. For the New York MTA, where only the Staten Island Ferry is free, fare revenues make up 50 percent of its operating budget. In the largest metros like New York and Boston, a special fare for low-income residents is more likely to be the route to a more equitable system than free fares for everyone.”

The difference in fare funding between the Twin Cities and NYC is notable; it is a huge difference between 22 percent of the budget and 50 percent. Why does NYC rely so heavily on fares to fund its operations? It’s a wealthy city, why is it not subsidizing its transit more? The New York City subway, for the first 44 years of its existence, kept the fare artificially low, at 5 cents. This was a subsidy that benefited workers and industry; people could cheaply and easily get to work. Now, the high cost of public transit shows an indifference to workers and industry, one that ultimately causes workers (and to some extent, tourists) to shoulder the function of public transit. To me, this implies that the state of New York sees the transit system as an amenity instead of as a public utility, or a tool to reduce carbon emissions, or a device that redistributes locational power.

In NYC, the failure to raise property taxes on real estate surrounding public transit has meant that there isn’t a great way for the city to capture the benefits of transit for property owners, which ends up being a big problem for the system at large. The cost ends up being shouldered by riders.  So, how much should the state subsidize public transit? A little or a lot? Who benefits and who pays for a functioning city?

NY lawmakers propose real estate tax on investors to boost public housing funds

By Denis Slattery (New York Daily News)

Could be good.
Law and the Future of Gig Work in California

by Veena Dubal, Sanjukta Paul (On Labor)

The policy debate about how freelance and contracted work should be regulated has, thankfully, started. Here, some proponents of a law in California try to dispel some objections to the law that cab drivers might have. One concern is over flexibility, and that new regulations might force companies to make their workers work set schedules or wear uniforms. Fortunately, this isn’t true, rigidity in the workplace is something like a historical accident and companies like Uber and Lyft could offer their employees the same amount of flexibility in scheduling while employing them. Plenty of workplaces have flexible, dynamic schedules (oftent to the detriment to employees, but whatever).

Making freelancers into employees will also further worker empowerment, as the authors argue: “employee status will necessarily increase the bargaining power of these workers, putting them in a much better position to negotiate an increase in overall schedule flexibility.

Student debt is over $1.6 trillion and hardly anyone is paying down their loans

by Jeff Cox (CNBC)

College enrollment is down since 2011, something like 11 percent. But this study from Moody’s shows that balance of total student debt (now at $1.3 trillion) has grown in that time, almost 74 percent. Why? No one is paying their debt down.

The amount of balances that are getting paid off is 3 percent, with most balances just not being paid down at all.

Student loan debt problems for the nation are worse, and getting worser.

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