When the Future Doesn’t Exist

Robin’s Book Report #67
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein
-Letter from Me
-New Writing
-Reading List

Hello readers,   I hope everyone is doing well. Last week, I was temporarily laid off from my temporary job with two full weeks pay. This is nice, but I can’t imagine being called back into work in two weeks. I can only wonder what will happen next. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be isolated at home in Brooklyn. Email me! I’ll be desperate for social contact soon.   I’m not sure I have anything helpful to add to the economic analysis of the crisis right now. But I will say that even if everything resolves today, we’ll still have a problem. Everyday life requires lots of different debt tools to operate, which requires a lot of different future incomes to operate. Already, a lot of future incomes have failed to flow in.   The economic response in the United States, to just a few days of shuttered businesses, demonstrates how impossible the present is, if the future doesn’t exist or isn’t certain. How will I pay my credit card if my work stops paying me? How will my work pay their loans if customers stop showing up? Our world runs hot on the optimism of debt; the pessimistic winds of crisis cool it quickly. Absent bailouts and low interest loans, the businesses and people most reliant on debt (most highly leveraged) will fail first, then those with the least savings (most economically precarious), and then everyone else.
What kinds of observations/questions do you have the economic situation? What have you been reading? Let me know!

New Writing Alert:
I wrote an article in The New Republic that came out the same day as my last newsletter (two weeks ago). But I didn’t have any heads up from the magazine, so I am informing you about it now! It is about how deaths in middle age (usually very rare) for white people without a college degree are on the rise. Worse news, the deaths are primarily of suicide, drug overdoses, and alcoholic cirrhocis and liver cancer. It is hard to say why exactly, but employer-provided healthcare, coupled with the surging cost of healthcare, has driven down wages and encouraged firms to shed workers. The people affected the worse by this are precisely the same demographic that is dying these “deaths of despair.” Providing universal healthcare wouldn’t reduce the very high cost of healthcare, but it would reveal the true cost and allow the government to demand a more reasonable cost. In brief, the article is a case for uniting all classes against the common nuisance of our very expensive, cynically extractive healthcare system.

Reading list  

Passive Income Schemes For The Truly Passive” By Kelly Dickinson (The New Yorker)  

Very Funny:    “In willful denial of your impending workweek, stay up until 4 A.M. on a Sunday night watching a Hungarian life-style vlogger’s secondary ASMR channel. Be lulled into complacency by the skrit-skrit sounds of her application of viscous spreads to rustic slices of toast. Feel your eyelids grow heavy. In the middle of “Shhhh: Vegemite vs. Marmite,” fall asleep with your face pressed against your keyboard. Wake up to discover that you have inadvertently opened a Word document, written an e-book on how to be a “product ninja,” listed it on Amazon using S.E.O.-friendly keywords, sent a snappy press release to a curated list of key industry influencers, and shot to No. 1 in the “Product Management” category.”  

The Case for a Social Distancing Wage
Paying people to stay home will save lives in the near term, and aid the economic recovery in the long run. By Mark Engler and Andrew Elrod (The New Republic)  

Necessary:   “The effect of [our] tattered social safety net is a disuse and neglect that is now proving to be an obstacle in responding to the coronavirus crisis: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 74 percent of recently unemployed workers in 2018 did not apply for unemployment benefits.”   “Elected officials must insist that no business be bailed out unless there are guarantees in place to maintain the income of the people who are being temporarily thrown out of work”   “Rather than $1 billion, full replacement wages would come to something closer to $15 billion per quarter for every one percent of the labor force without work.”  

A $60 Billion Housing Grab by Wall Street” Hundreds of thousands of single-family homes are now in the hands of giant companies — squeezing renters for revenue and putting the American dream even further out of reach.
By Francesca Mari (The New York Times Magazine)  

What a fabulous article. During the last crash, many homeowners defaulted on the mortgages and lost their houses. Large private equity firms came in and bought those houses, often renting the houses back to the previous owners. This should be an excellent lesson about what happens when you bail out banks and leave individuals out to dry. Who is more to blame, banks who made risky bets on derivatives or individuals who made risky bets on property? When we decide who to rescue we make moral judgements about what lives and dies. Stabilizing banks without stabilizing homeowners practically guaranteed this outcome.  

An Open Letter to Leon Cooperman” We detect the rank smell of class warfare by Dave Denison (The Baffler)  

Dave Denison implies that billionaire Leon Cooperman’s griping about the class war reveals Cooperman’s political mind is a vast, empty canyon. Cooperman’s rich but he’s not smart. Actually, he’s quite stupid.   

Bank Workers Unionize for the First Time in 40 Years

More than 100 workers at a Tom Steyer-founded bank have won collective bargaining rights in an industry with the lowest unionization rates in the country. by Lauren Kaori Gurley (Vice)   Choice quote: “The banking industry has one of the lowest rates of union representation in any industry, at 1.1 percent. And it has an abysmal track record of discrimination, pay inequity, and unrealistic productivity quotas. One in three bank tellers relies on some form of government assistance. The median annual salary for bank tellers was $29,450 in 2019. Meanwhile profits at the biggest banks in the United States soared to record levels last year—thanks to a $38 billion Trump administration tax write-off.”  

Rebekah Neumann’s Search For Enlightenment Fueled WeWork’s Collapse By Moe Tkacik (Bustle)  

An article about the wife of WeWork founder Adam Nuemann.   Uma Thurman’s brother: “‘You can use the language of spirituality to revive a discredited idea,’ Thurman says. ‘And so, the yoga business is old-fashioned labor exploitation, and maybe WeWork was a Ponzi scheme.’”   “In a lot of office environments, ‘bad energy’ might be code for ‘old’ or ‘overweight’ or ‘knows too much about labor law,’ but one veteran WeWork employee said Rebekah’s firings were seemingly random and without obvious prejudice.”  

Rural America Doesn’t Have to Starve to Death” A predatory and extractive financial sector has hollowed out communities across the US.    By Nick Shaxson (The Nation)  

Finance has drained the life out of the rural United States.   “How Business Schools Fail Up” The rise of the STEM-obsessed, corporate-partnered university By David Sessions (The New Republic)   Choice quote: “The postwar academic entrepreneurs who championed the new institutes—Kerr at the University of California system, Penn president Gaylord Harnwell, and Samuel Hayes Jr. at the University of Michigan, among many others—saw the research university as a potential engine of economic development; liberal education and traditional academic research were of secondary importance, if not altogether obsolete”  

Shell Is Looking Forward” The fossil-fuel companies expect to profit from climate change. I went to a private planning meeting and took notes. By Malcolm Harris (New York Magazine)  

Malcolm Harris reports from a Shell leadership conference where the energy company attempts to reconfigure their image to appeal to millennials, while fundamentally changing nothing about their business. Pretty dark, but often funny.

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