Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Friday, March 02, 2018

"Got a boss? You need a union." (Steve Earle)

Below is a chart showing coal mining fatalities in the US per 1000 coal miners. In 1930, the United Mine Workers finally gained representation rights for most miners in the US, In 1970, the Mine Safety Act was signed into law. It got through Congress because of a full-court press by the UMWA and their allies in the labor movement--not because the Nixon administration cared particularly. (During WW2, mine safety rules sort of got ignored...)


The 1968 spike was the Farmington mine explosion (; the mine was 12 miles away from Fairmont, WV, but the blast was visible there. 78 miners were trapped in the mine and died. There were 233 other mine fatalities that year...roughly the same as in 1967 and 1969.

From 1900 to 2017, 104,866 miners have been killed in coal mines in the US. Worldwide the death toll is many times than much. As a comparison, about 110,000 coal miners died in the UK from 1900 to 2010. It appears that more than 1,000 mining fatalities per year are still occurring in China...

Monday, February 26, 2018

On the Virtues of "Bourgeois" (White Cutural Vlues of the 1950s

I’m reading an extremely lengthy blog post that’s responding to an op-ed that asserts that bourgeois white culture is superior to other cultures.  The author of the blog post lists a set of features of bourgeois white culture found in the op-ed being responded to.  I’ve translated it into a set of bullet points:

1.  Rejection of non-marital childbearing
2.  Rejection of divorce for those who have had children
3.  Education
4.  Hard work
5.  Rejection of “idleness.
6.  Going “the extra mile” for your employer or client
7.  Being patriotic
8.  Being “neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable”
9.  Not using “coarse language” in public
10.  Showing respect for “authority”

11.  Rejection of “substance abuse and crime.”

[The op-ed’s author contends that this list of cultural “habits” represents the dominant (white) culture in the U.S. in the 1950s.]

How much there is in this list that I disagree with is hard to say.  (Or I thought it was when I started typing; the answer turns out to be, almost all of it.)  Leaving aside the question of whether this is a fair representation of the dominant (white) culture in the U.S. in the 1950s, I would say I find (1) and (2) difficult to respond to as (a) I avoided having children and (b) therefore did not have to face the question of divorce having had children.  With respect to (2), I have known a fairly large number of people with children, some of whom wound up divorcing and some who did not.  I frankly cannot see any particular difference in the behavior or success of the two groups.

Given what I did for a living (40-ish years in higher education), I clearly value education (3).  Support for and the opportunity to pursue and to achieve the education one wants seem to me to be cornerstones for an acceptable society.  Whether that is more true for a bourgeois culture…well, I rather doubt it.  Education has been, and ism esteemed by many such a wide range of cultures that making it a unique part of bourgeois culture seems, well, presumptive.

Hard work (which I think really means “working productively and diligently at one’s chosen work” and rejection of “idleness” (undefined) are hardly virtues recognized only by bourgeois (and white) cultures.  What might be a vice, though, is a single-minded preoccupation with them.  In fact, “idleness” may, in some ways, be a virtue, in that it provides us with time to unwind, to explore aspects of our lives that do not fall readily under the rubric of working hard.  After all, it was not some decadent, declining culture that originated the proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy;”[1] it was the nice bourgeois (white) English culture of the 17th century.  It was a recognition that “without time off from work, a person becomes both bored and boring.”

I really have trouble with (6).  There should be, in any relationship, mutual obligations, and this, which adduces a responsibility of the employee to act in the interests of the employer, customer, or client, does not seem to recognize a reciprocal responsibility of the employer (at least) to treat employees with respect and dignity, to pay them fairly, to provide them with safe working conditions, to provide opportunities for advancement, and so forth.  In any development of a set of cultural norms, it seems to me that the reciprocal nature of social (and economic) obligations cannot be ignored.

“Being patriotic” ((7) seems to me also problematic.  Everyone knows, of course, this one, attributed to Stephen Decatur:

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”[2]

Often, or course, misquoted as “My country, right r wrong.”  The number of times people have raised exceptions to the evocation of a mindless patriotism (which I’m willing to concede that the author of this list did not intend) is, well, quite long.  Personally, I like Carl Schurz’s re-working of it as

“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”[3]

As stated in the list of bourgeois cultural virtues, there seems to be no place for a patriotism that recognizes the failings and flaws of one’s society and works to correct them.  Particularly in the 1950s, treating an unthinking patriotism as a virtue would be to oppose the Civil Rights movement; in the 1960s, to demonize resistance to the war in Vietnam; in the 1970s, to treat as normal the actions of Richard Nixon; in the 1980s, to treat the Iran-Contra affair as a non-issue; in the 2000s, to accept unquestioningly the invasion of multiple countries in the name of objectives constructed from lies.

I’ll admit that I do not know what “being neighborly” means (8).  I try (and more frequently than I like, fail) to treat everyone as I would want to be treated.  That comes from a much older moral tradition than bourgeois (white) culture, as does being charitable.  In any case, these are not virtues unique to bourgeois (white) culture…far from it.

What to say about not using “coarse” language in public (9)?  If I were to try to enunciate a moral value here, it would be “don’t use language that you know is going to offend the people to whom you are speaking, unless your language is the only way to get your point across.”  Let’s get specific.  Is (was) calling someone a nigger using coarse language in public?  Was it in the 1950s?  I would say (a) it’s probably regarded as unacceptable now and (b) it was clearly not regarded as unacceptable in the 1950s.  How/why did that change?  Because people objected to the language.  That is, they were unpleasant (un-neighborly) to people who spoke like that.  Is (was) calling someone who was female and worked for you “my girl Friday” coarse language?  (Or simply infantilizing and demeaning?)  How did that change?  (Well, I don’t think we’re all the way through this process yet.)  To the extent that it did change, it’s because women (mostly, and a few men) objected—were not appropriately subservient to their bosses.

And (10), showing respect for authority.  Well, if we had all shown respect for authority, the Civil Rights revolution would never have occurred.  Thousands more would have died in Vietnam.  Millions of people who now have the right to vote (a right which is under attack, by the defenders of one sort of bourgeois culture) who once did not.  And had women respected authority in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, would women have the right to vote today?  If black Americans (and their white supporters) had respected authority in the 1950s and 1960s (and still today), would they have had the right to vote now?  I have always said, and it seems to me to be truer today than ever, the most important thing I learned (in college, as it happens) is “Question authority.”  An unquestioned authority destroys civil society.  It destroys the pursuit of knowledge.  It destroys personal growth.  Unquestioned authority comes as close to a definition of evil as I think I can get.

And rejection of “substance abuse” and “crime” (11).  Prohibition worked nicely, didn’t it?  And the extent of (quietly hidden, ignored, or denied) alcoholism in the 1950s is the ongoing stuff of history, literature, and television.  It’s OK for me to abuse a societally-approved substance (alcohol), but not one that the “authorities” refuse to approve (and, as I type, our Attorney General appears to have re-declared war on) (marijuana).  And crime…we are supposed to reject crime.  Meaning what, exactly?  Murder, rape, assault, theft?  What about creating unsafe working environments that kill people?  What about polluting the water and the air and destroying people’s lives?  Or do I accept your definition of what constitutes a crime?

So, it seems, I have managed to reject all eleven of these tenets of bourgeois (white) culture.  I have found them, frankly, to be tools for the suppression of women, or blacks, or Latinos, or environmentalists, of intellectuals (except for those approved by the patriarchy).  (One thing I certainly did not intend to do was to write nearly 1400 words about this…)

Yet I have lived and largely prospered within this bourgeois (white) culture.  It has given me—far more, in some ways than I have earned—a comfortable life that has allowed me to pursue my interests.  I don’t know quite what to say about that, except that I have tried, around the edges, to change it.  Perhaps without much success, and without taking many risks.  But I have at least recognized and acknowledged how privileged I have been

[1]All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, wikipedia,
[3] Ibid.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

On the Morality of Avoiding the Draft, 1965-1971

I have (I think this is pretty well known) little or no use for T. Rump. But in the late 1960s and (very) early 1970s, thousands, if not millions, of young men did whatever they could to avoid military service. I was happy to receive student deferments. After those expired, I didn't do anything particularly active, but the outcome of my pre-induction physical was that they didn't want me. (I had, however, applied to McGill University to do graduate work and was prepared to go.) I knew people who worked real hard at being exempt; I knew of doctors who would provide diagnoses that could get you exempted. 
All that had consequences. More of the burden of military service and of risk of serious injury or death in Viet Nam fell on people who wouldn't, or couldn't, game the system.

But I find it difficult to attribute any particular moral failing to people who did not want to be complicit in an unjust war in which literally millions of people--many of them "collateral damage"--non-combatants who had no place to hide--died.

I'm willing to suggest that T. Rump is a hypocrite for policies that force others to be subject to risks he avoided. But that he avoided the risks? Well, that I can't get too moralistic about.

Friday, February 02, 2018


I don't have a title for this, because I can't figure out what to call it.

I just spent 5 minutes of my life reading Devin Nunes's memo (it's here) alleging...something...What's interesting is that even the Wall Street Journal has reported that the FBI became interested in Page's contacts with/ties to the Russian government and businesses long before the 2016 presidential campaign began.  At least one report indicates he was under surveillance under a FISA order as early as 2014. Apparently whatever first lead the FBI to be concerned about Page's Russian contacts and dealings long predates the Steele dossier (which Nunes implies was the only reason the FBI asked for a surveillance warrant in October 2016).  The memo’s focus is on the final FISA warrant received by the FBI for surveillance of Page, despite evidence that his activities had attracted their interest much earlier..

I will admit to very mixed feelings about the FBI.  For most of its existence, it seems to me to have been a proto-fascist organization with an obsession with communism (and, as a result, with Russia).  In a geo-political context, the communism obsession strikes me as weird; the Russia obsession, not so much.  These days. of course, we have a proto-fascist as president--which would, I suggest, generally lead the FBI to look warmly upon him--with ties to and apparently (covert) political support from Russia--which would cause the FBI to be leery of him.  I suspect the FBI, institutionally, is confused by all this.

What seems clear is that the Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence are using the Russian connection to obscure proto-fascist inclinations of this president (and, I think, these Republicans).  (I would note, as well, that the memo was originally intended for the Republicans on the Committee--the "Majority Members" and is described as being sent by the Committee's "Majority Staff."  That is we have, not a Committee document, but a plainly and clearly partisan document.)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Blue Snow

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Contra Gerrymandering

My contention is that gerrymandering would be less of an issue—because it would be less possible—under the system (or something similar) I'm about to describe. To me, at least, it seems worth considering.

Apparently independent commissions don’t work all that well to prevent gerrymandering, largely because political parties (and incumbents) lobby the independent commissions against is [using, or course, arguments other than “protect my (party’s) advantage].  (  But what would work?

Indiana, for example, has a House or Representatives composed of 100 members, who run for election n single-member districts.  Drawing 100 coherent legislative districts is difficult under any circumstances, but especially in states with major population centers and several/many sparsely settled areas.  In Indiana, again, as an example, the 10 most populous counties have about 49% of the (2010) population, while the 10 smallest counties combine for about 1.6% of the population.  Or, the 10 largest counties “deserve” to elect nearly half the legislature, while the 10 smallest counties, between them, ”deserve” less than 2 members of the Indiana House (if we apportion representation strictly by population).  Creating 100 (roughly) equally populated legislative districts is both difficult and allows great scope for ingenuity.

What if we created multi-member districts, where all counties are comprised of whole counties?  What if we created 10 legislative districts composed of whole counties or contiguous groupings of counties, and, from each district, elected 10 members of the House?  (The one exception would have to be Marion County, which would get 14 Representatives; one implication of this approach is that we might have to increase modestly the size of the Indiana House of Representatives.)

For example, in Northwest Indiana, the legislative map could combine Lake and Porter Counties (both fairly strongly urban)—they, together, had 9.88% of the state’s population in 2010.  The north and east “collar counties” around Indianapolis had nearly 10% of the population as well.

Each “legislative district” would have as many representatives as it’s (approximate” share of the population, and each voter would have as many votes as there are representatives in their districts.  So (for example) voters in the Lake-Porter County district would have 10 votes.  They could, then, cast their 10 votes in any way they desire to divide them up (into whole votes)—1 vote for each of 10 candidate, 10 votes for 1 candidate.  And the 10 (or whatever number works) candidates with the most votes are elected.

It’s still essentially local representation.  But it also more clearly reflects the population distribution.  Many districts would be multi-county—but also with multiple representatives.  Having to apportion votes among those candidates is likely to lead to the election of at least a few minority party candidates in most districts, which would, in many ways, increase fairness of representation (e.g., a party whose adherents represent, say, 15% of a district’s population are likely, now, to have no representatives.  This would likely lead a minority party representative (probably only 1) from that district.

In Indiana, the State Senate has 50 members.  Using this system, it would be possible for the Senate and House districts to coincide (with 5 senators, for example, per district).  Or not.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

GDP and Employment Growth