July 22 Sources: Americans Work Too Much?

Americans work more than the people of any other developed country. We get less paid vacation time AND most of us do not even use all the paid vacation time we get. So obviously, we do not do it only for money and people with higher incomes are the ones who work the most hours.

Americans define themselves by what they do for a living. Europeans claim that they work to live, while we Americans live to work. The way I see it is that you have to work at least 1/3 of your life so you better get some feeling of fulfillment out of it. I think it is kind of sad to spend so much time doing something you dislike just so you can get to do something else later. But maybe that explains why higher income people work more than lower income people. Presumably, the higher wage earners are doing work they rather enjoy and it is more an integrated part of their lives.

There is a problem with defining yourself by your work however. The day you leave that job is the day you are an ex-whatever you were. Life is like a portfolio. It should be balanced. Work is a big part of fulfilling life. I do not think it is possible to have a meaningful life w/o meaningful work, but meaningful work is not enough to make a life meaningful. You need things like family, faith, health and work.

Other sourcs are below.

Environment & Energy

Tuna Collapse Making Waves - Over fishing, competition from fish farms, water pollution, and government subsidies to fishermen have brought bluefin tuna stocks to near collapse.

Commercial Wind Insurance in the Gulf States: Developments Since Hurricane Katrina and Challenges Moving Forward - Summarizes the 2005 hurricane season’s impact on the market for commercial property insurance in the Gulf States, proposes goals and challenges for a wind risk insurance system, and identifies where further research is needed.

U.S. Society & Politics

A Digital Education - The Internet puts you a few clicks away from the best college lectures in America.

Workaholics - Americans are obsessed with work--a conclusion made evident by data. Erik Hurst and Mark Aguiar, two economists with the National Bureau of Economic Research, recently used five decades' worth of surveys to measure trends in American time use. They found that the time the average American dedicates to leisure activities increased 6.75 hours per week over four decades, between 1965 and 2003.

2008 May Come Down To Ohio — Again - Presidents aren’t elected by nationwide vote. They’re elected state by state, by piecing together a winning coalition with at least 270 electoral votes. And looking at the race this way, Election 2008 appears to be just as close as the 2000 and 2004 elections were.

Unbought, Unbossed, and Unbelievable - The substance of their positions--not the source of their money--is the real problem with most self-financed campaigns.

White House 2008 – Republicans - John McCain's campaign meltdown has affected the other GOP presidential hopefuls.

Digital Democracy: YouTube's Presidential Debates - On Monday, CNN and YouTube will host a presidential debate with a new twist: the forum will feature video questions submitted by YouTube users that will be broadcast and answered by the candidates. David Bohrman, executive producer of CNN, discusses how sites like Youtube are changing politics, and who is likely to benefit.

World Youth Building a Future - This edition of eJournal USA, "World Youth Building a Future," opens a window on the real life experiences of young people who have participated in an international exchange program.

Is the Fairness Doctrine Fair Game? - The rule requiring broadcasters to balance views aired on controversial subjects was repealed 20 years ago. Yet in recent weeks, debate about the Fairness Doctrine has re-emerged in media circles – especially on talk radio.

Clinton Teases the Media - The Democratic front-runner is still staying off the airwaves, instead turning to unconventional new media platforms. This time, it's a DVD on the Iraq war sent directly to Iowa voters.

Fred Thompson Now Leads Rudy Giuliani While Hillary Clinton Maintains Lead Over Barack Obama - Fred Thompson, while still not a declared candidate, has edged marginally ahead of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. On the Democratic side, the top contenders have not changed. Senator Hillary Clinton is still in the lead, as over one-third (35%) of those who would vote in a Democratic primary or caucus would vote for her, while 28 percent would vote for Senator Barack Obama.

How Money Is Adding Up - Successful presidential candidates now seem to be those who amass a plethora of small donors through wide-reaching messages.

A Comprehensive Cure: Universal Health Care Vouchers - The Universal Healthcare Voucher System (UHV) achieves universal health coverage by entitling all Americans to a standard package of benefits comparable to that received by federal employees.

Florida is Test Bed for Medicaid Overhaul - Halfway through a two-year test run, Florida's nationally acclaimed pilot program to introduce competition to its Medicaid program has met mixed success.

The Left's "Inequality" Obsession - The rich are getting richer faster than the poor are getting richer. So what?

Who's Wild About Harry? - The latest News Interest Index survey finds that, at least so far, most of the public isn't especially interested in news about the final installment in the Harry Potter series or the release of a new Potter movie; but an astounding number say they plan to buy Deathly Hallows when the book goes on sale on Saturday.

The Younger Generation Finds Religion - Recent articles have reported that young adults are turning to religion to the surprise — and sometimes chagrin — of their less observant parents. Guests discuss God and the generation gap, and why parents aren't always thrilled when their children become more observant.

Hugs and Kisses – And Help with the Dishes - What makes a marriage work? A new Pew survey finds that "sharing household chores" has moved way up on the charts.

Cracking the complexity code - Executives should treat complexity as a challenge to be managed and potentially exploited, not as a problem to be wholly eliminated. Managed cleverly, it can generate additional sources of profit and competitive advantage.

The Progressive Movement and the Transformation of American Politics - Although material circumstances and politicians' self-interest helped to make America what it is today, the most important cause was a change in the prevailing understanding of justice among leading American intellectuals and in the American people. Today's liberalism and the policies that it has generated arose from a conscious repudiation of the principles of the American founding.

International

In the News: Competing in Latin American banking - Citigroup announced today an agreement to acquire up to 50 percent of the company that controls Banco de Chile, that country's second largest bank. This new Quarterly article looks at how recent changes in the Latin American banking sector have given rise to new opportunities there, attracting the attention of multinationals. The future prospects of both local and multinational players will be decided largely by the bets they wager now.

The European Security and Defense Policy: A Challenge to the Transatlantic Security Alliance - The militarization of the European Union through the European Security and Defense Policy embodies the worst elements of European animosity toward the United States and would fundamentally undermine the NATO alliance and the Anglo-American Special Relationship. NATO must remain the cornerstone of the transatlantic security alliance in addressing the 21st century's most pressing security challenges.

How to Let China Know We're Serious - If Congress wants to show China the United States is serious, it should focus on domestic issues like reducing the federal deficit.

Safety of Chinese Imports - Testimony on steps the U.S. government is taking and should take to ensure that imports from China are safe for American consumers.

Many American Consumers Worry About Product Safety - Numerous safety problems with goods produced or manufactured in developing countries such as China and South Africa have occurred over the past several months. According to a new poll, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults lack confidence in the safety of a variety of products produced in developing nations

The Asian Financial Crisis 10 Years Later: Time to Reaffirm Economic Freedom - The Asian countries should use this 10-year anniversary to solidify their ongoing recovery by bolstering their commitment to greater economic freedom, and the U.S. should reinforce its vision of economic freedom and prosperity in Asia by supporting these countries' efforts to increase their economic freedom and by congressional action to renew the President's expired trade promotion authority.

The Truth About the Arab Media – In the wake of last month's terrorist attack in Glasgow and foiled plots in London, newspapers like the Guardian and the Independent, as well as members of the liberal-left intelligentsia, have placed the blame, not on Muslim extremism, but on British foreign policy.

Iranian Public Ready to Deal on Nuclear Weapons, Not Uranium Enrichment - The Iranian public is ready to support a deal committing the Iranian government to renounce the development of nuclear weapons and allow full inspections. Iranians are not willing, however, to support giving up the enrichment of uranium for nuclear energy.

Public Opinion In Iran - Kenneth Ballen, the president of Terror Free Tomorrow, presented findings from a nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians. CSIS experts Jon Alterman and Anthony Cordesman gave their thoughts the survey.

Iranians: Do They Say They Want a Revolution? - Are the Iranian people deeply dissatisfied with their current system of government? Is the general public actually pro-American contrary to the position of their government?

Interrupting a History of Tolerance – Part I - External forces promoted anti-Semitism in the Arab world

The Iraqi Kurdish Question

Iraq: U.S. Military Operations

Turkey’s Existential Election - The results of Turkey’s July 22 general elections don’t seem much in doubt, but in a Muslim country pointedly questioning the foundations of its secular constitution and considering an invasion of northern Iraq, the vote assumes a greater meaning.

Iraq’s Sunni Insurgents: Looking Beyond Al Qa’ida - The mix of Iraqi insurgent groups is as complex as ever. Al Qa’ida in Mesopotamia is only one part of a mix of different Sunni Islamist Extremists and more nationalist groups. There is a wide mix of Shi’ite extremists and militias.

The World’s Stupidest Fatwas - No central authority controls doctrine in Islam, one of the world’s great religions. The result? A proliferation of bizarre religious edicts against targets ranging from Salman Rushdie to polio vaccinations. FP collects some of the worst examples here.

Women in Islamist Movements - Islamist women are increasingly involved in political processes and could spawn a full-fledged Islamist movement for women’s rights.

Iraq-Turkey Border Crisis - A week away from crucial parliamentary elections in Turkey, relations between the United States and Turkey have been severely strained over Turkey’s concerns over the PKK separatist group given safe haven in the Kurdistan area of northern Iraq.

A Middle East Peace Conference - President George W. Bush has announced an international conference this fall to help restart Mideast peace talks. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who attends a meeting of the Middle East Quartet—the U.S., European Union, United Nations, and Russia—in Lisbon, Portugal this week, will preside over the session which would include Israel, the Palestinian authority and some of their Arab neighbors.

Al Qaeda: A Continuing Threat - According to a new National Intelligence Estimate, the U.S. will continue to face "a persistent and evolving terrorist threat" from al Qaeda. The report states that al Qaeda has regenerated key elements of its attack capability by reestablishing a haven in Pakistan and reconstituting its top leadership. Additionally, al Qaeda has been able to recruit and indoctrinate operatives in Iraq to mount an attack on the U.S. homeland.

Posted by Jack at July 22, 2007 9:01 PM
Comments
Comment #227163

Millions of Americans don’t use sick leave when they are sick, either. Primary reason: Fear of losing their job. Thank you Republicans for all those “right to work” laws, which gave business unprecedented power to intimidate workers into working longer, and millions into working overtime without compensation. Remember the Republican Congress passing the bill to recategorize hourly employees as salaried - exempt from overtime pay?

There’s your answer Jack, to why so many Americans are working so hard and long and being forced to neglect child supervision, charitable volunteer work, and better management of their health through exercise, which of course requires rest and motivation which 55 to 60 hours a week at work does not permit when there is a family and home also making demands on one’s time.

And while the wealthier workers do work the most hours as a group, they can well afford nannies, tutors for their kids, plumbers for the toilet, someone to wash their car, a valet, and many other services which the less wealthy salaried employees cannot afford despite their also working many more than 40 hours per week.

I know one person who has worked literally more than 60 hours per week for months, and many weeks with just one or no days off, for a salary of $69,000 per year. When I asked why they do it, the reply was simple, “I wouldn’t be able to find as good a paying job anywhere else”.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 23, 2007 10:40 AM
Comment #227167

Jack, given the number and size of your posts, one has to wonder if you aren’t spending too much time being a blogger, and neglecting the rest of your life..:)

Seriously, you bring up an interesting trend in the US. Why do we work more than we should, and what is the effect of that? I do not believe David’s response is the entire answer - part of it yes, but not all. I think the truth is much more complex and lies on the following lines:

1) Being pushed by corporate America to “Do more with less”. I have heard this line so many times, I just laugh it now. Pretty soon, we will be “Doing everything, with nothing”. This is just an attempt by execs to make their numbers look better at our expense.
2) Greed: Simply put, we Americans want it all. We want the big house, the luxury cars and SUVs, the boat or vacation home, the expensive vacations, etc. Not that in themselves, anything is wrong with any of that, but when it consumes your life to get all that stuff, at the expense of family and leisure activities, then that is harmful. We have been led to believe that we MUST have all these things to be happy. Part of this is advertising, part of it is just simple greed.
3) Fear: As David puts it, there is a fear that if we as workers do not work hard enough, then our jobs are gone. Whether this is true or not, the fear is there. This is even great for those of us closer to retirement: we tend to fear losing our jobs as we near retirement as we see how we could be replaced by a younger, cheaper worker. Thus we work harder and longer to prove our worth. Losing your job at 50 is far worse than losing it at 25.
4) Our willingness NOT to sacrifice. There seems to be a trend in America to not sacrifice short term for long term. We want it all and we want it now. We have lost our willingness as a nation to sacrifice, and we have lost that as individuals as well. We are more concerned with what is best for us today, and not over a longer stretch. Much of this comes from our political leaders - both parties. No one wants to fix long term issues like Social Security and Medical care issues. We are not asked to sacrifice for the “War on Terror”, or the troops in Iraq. The rich are given tax breaks, and the poor continue to get ever rising subsidies. In short, no one is being asked to sacrifice anything, as if sacrifice is a bad word.

As for me personally, I made a decision this year to spend more time with my kids, more time exercising, commit to losing weight, etc. In short as I am about to turn 50, I have decided that it is time to spend more time on ME, and less on my job. There is of course risk with this. But I have taken the approach that I am happy where I am, and the level I have obtained, and that the effort to go higher and get more is not worth the loss of my “life” and my family. It takes a conscious decision to do this, and a willingness to give up “things”. Not an easy task for most Americans. I realize this may cause some financial hardships now, or maybe in the future. But the reward of seeing my son play Little League or my daughter play violin is far greater.

Posted by: Steve K at July 23, 2007 11:29 AM
Comment #227172

“Americans define themselves by what they do for a living.”

Jack,

I have to plead guilty on that charge. I first fell into that trap while I was self employed from 1985 through 1991. From ‘91 up until my disability began in 2002 my average work week was 72 hours.

In retrospect my love affair with work, and the financial rewards thereof, was just insane. And, with the exception of Social Security Disability, my “value” at the end of it all was basically equivalent to that of a race horse with a broken leg. Glue factory time………sigh.

Group disability, in spite of ERISA laws: WORTHLESS! Nebraska work comp laws (shaped to be employer friendly): WORTHLESS! My contract with American society (thanks to FDR): PRICELESS!

I learned the hard way that “no man is a rock, nor an island”!

Posted by: KansasDem at July 23, 2007 12:29 PM
Comment #227187

Jack,

Interesting post. I have friends in Europe who are complaining about their current work schedule of 38-42 hours per week. Their vacation was cut back by 10% to only 5 weeks per year after 3 years of service.

I must admit, like KanasaDem, I was caught in the postion trap in an earlier life. It’s easy for me to say now that I live comfortably, but I made more than my share of mistakes when prioritizing my life back then—hence, the divorce. Divorce is an inevitable byproduct of overwork. Even the most committed of couples can’t keep up with the pace of the modern two-earner households.

David is right to an extent. Certainly Repubs have nurtured the pro-business environment to the detriment of the rank-and-file worker, and the American family. But they do not shoulder all of the blame. We Americans must shoulder an equal amount for 1) electing them 2)not having the intestinal fortitude to resist the tempation of money over our families 3) as corporate citizens, valuing profit over health.

Eventually, even the strongest can snap. And when it happens, it happens big and ugly. Lines get crossed out of desperation and fear—pronounced Enron. Unfortunately, that line is one way only. There is no going back.

My boss, the owner, has learned some of these lessons the hard way, over time. I have been with this company, more or less, for 20 years now and have seen the evolution of my boss—brought on from pressure from some of his more productive managers and employees, and from a renewed sense of family. In this case, I mean corporate family. I consider myself among the lucky ones.

Posted by: Chi Chi at July 23, 2007 4:25 PM
Comment #227190

Using sick leave for one’s children or self, strikes fear into far too many workers of lower and middle class incomes, and as a result, children and workers don’t go to their doctors for preventive care, and too many don’t go for non life-threatening illnesses. Doesn’t bode well for corporate America if some kind of debilitating bug begins to circulate around the nation.

The American people are the greatest asset America has, aside from the geography. It seems logical that both business and government would act as if that were true. Then their is that big, ever present BUT.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 23, 2007 5:04 PM
Comment #227193

Half of my family are Europeans. One of the things i notice most about them as it relates to worklife is that they have absolutely no problem walking away from a job when it no longer suits their lifestyle. I guess socialised medicine and other benefits they have make that easier than here to just walk away.
A six week vacation, all at once is pretty standard for a one year employee and in some countries in Europe it is the law. Also a 40 hour work week is a long work week. I think one of the tradeoffs that people fail to use in these comparisons is that Europenas tend to be much more spartan in accomodations and luxuries. If we all lowered our standards a little here, we could work less too. These are just my opinions based on my family.

Posted by: John in Texas at July 23, 2007 5:19 PM
Comment #227201

“Using sick leave for one’s children or self, strikes fear into far too many workers of lower and middle class incomes”

David,

Very true and what I hated the absolute most about that was everyone having to battle the inevitable bugs at work. If a person suspects they’re contagious they should stay home! The same is true of school age children.

I was lucky to have almost never been ill between my teens and 50’s. I guess I was just lucky to have been blessed with a strong immune system………..that is against everything but the fumes from manufacturing a certain variant of DuPont Teflon common to the data / telecom industry.

What a person must realize is that it’s all of you that pay for the freedoms enjoyed by employers that take advantage of the “right to work” laws, weak Workers Comp. laws, etc.

Posted by: KansasDem at July 23, 2007 6:30 PM
Comment #227202

Jack
Every time you bring up how hard rich people work I think of that scene in the Simpson’s with Mr. Burns in the bubble bath complaining to his aid,Smithers, “Will this day never end?”

Actually you do need some resting up for the difficult task ahead of you. Good luck trying to defend Bushcos comming attack on childrens healthcare.

Posted by: BillS at July 23, 2007 6:42 PM
Comment #227212

David et al

From what I know of absenteeism around where I live, nobody is afraid to take sick leave. A lot of people treat their sick leave like extra vacation time and I find it tends to fall in the lower skilled workers. That is one reason they work fewer hours.

BillS

In America we do not have many idle rich. You know who wrote some good stuff on that is Robert Reich. He is a liberal, but a sensible man. He postulates that the better paid workers work more because their time is more valuable. If you are making $100 an hour, you are more likely to seek more hours than if you are paid $10. It is just worth more.

Kansas

I agree that people who are sick and could pass it should not come to work, but many people just get headaches etc. I think that also has something to do with income. I do not think it is the fear that David talked about but we do need reliability. I just finished hiring a new manager. I took one of the applicants out of the running because he was not in the office too often. I have nothing against him besides that, but I need more reliability.

re work life in general, I think it is important to have balance. I work around 9 hours a day, but I have lots of other interests, among them blogging like this. Glad to have you as part of my community, BTW.

Posted by: Jack at July 23, 2007 8:49 PM
Comment #227219

Jack, the lower waged workers without dependents, Jack, have the least to lose and the greatest choice of alternative job opportunities. Lower wage jobs held by parents are a different matter. With dependents, taking a few weeks to months off to find another job is not healthy for children or other dependents. Middle class jobs paying over $35 to 40 thousand per year are more difficult to replace near one’s home. And this is why I referred to Middle Class sick leave as well. More to lose by taking sick leave, hence, it is not taken.

It is important to not fall into the trap of overgeneralizing broad groups when discussing behavior. Sociology requires discovering and acknowledging the significant differences of groups in understanding differing behaviors between and amidst groups.

The wealthy can afford more time at work, because they can afford more servants to tend the other needs in their lives. The less wealthy must tend both work and the myriad of other tasks in their lives to a much greater degree all on their own.

Hence, the lower the pay, the less average time one can spend at work, unless forced to by fear of losing income altogether. A fear very sophisticatedly exploited by far too many American businesses and Republican sponsored legislations like that most fallacious of concepts “right to work” laws. Everyone has the right to work in such jurisdictions if they are willing to give whatever the employer asks of them, even if what is asked is illegal.

I worked for an insurance company in Texas that had EEOC laws posted throughout the building. That company routinely had claims adjusters working overtime on a weekly basis without compensation. I took them to task, they conformed to the law in the end, after threat and bluster by management directed toward me, and my ultimate visit to the EEOC office for formal complaint papers.

Sorry, I was coerced by the settlement agreement between the company and their employees to not reveal this happened at the named company. So, I can’t tell you the name of the company. But, they are now one of the top 5 insurers in the United States. Then Republicans came along and passed legislation that permitted this company to classify workers as managerial and salaried despite the fact that they don’t supervise other employees.

All that trial and tribulation for nought. I hope Democrats undo this wrong done American workers by the Republican party.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 23, 2007 10:21 PM
Comment #227249

David

There are crooks and cheaters everywhere. There are problems and inperfections everywhere. Some people have a hard time of life and perhaps deserve better.

My experience with my own misfortunes and observing those of others comforms to the old Polish saying that “misfortunes usually enter by the door left unlocked for them”. When something bad happens to me, I can usually trace it back to something I did, or failed to do. It is not always my fault, and I do not always “deserve” it, but I almost always had the power to affect the outcome.

We seem often to disagree on this notion of casusality. I will not characterize what I think you believe. I believe that life is to some extent random. You do not get get what you put in. Outcomes are often wildly unrelated to inputs - both good and bad. BUT life is only random to SOME extent. Our choices make a big difference. It is possible to make the right choices and be unsuccessful - but unlikely. It is also possible to do all the wrong things and be successful - but unlikely. If you try to protect against all these misfortunes, you end up compromising liberty to much too great an extent and if the government does it, it can be disaterous.

The best system insures against the very worst outcomes - to the reasonable extent possible (REASONABLE extent possible is important, there is not perfection) - but does not attempt to equalize them. Personally, I would rather face the risk of failure than be denied the chance of success. I do not want to have equal outcomes with others.

Posted by: Jack at July 24, 2007 7:30 AM
Comment #227302

Personally, I would rather see people live fulfilling lives than be stuck working all the time. I know plenty of people who are just stuck in the system. Friends who would have started their own businesses, if only they could afford the healthcare and retirement savings issues. Anyway, it’s not true that Americans work harder. Studies show we are much less efficient than the French, for instance. We don’t work harder, just longer and dumber.

Posted by: Max at July 24, 2007 6:02 PM
Comment #227306

You know, we don’t really teach our children how to live well. Permeating our culture is the notion that big bucks equal high quality of life, but pursued under those terms the goal is often a chimera.

We don’t need most of what we’ve got, but we think we do and think we need more, and thus we sacrifice ourselves to the gods of Money and Consumption.

I’m reminded of a quote of Seneca’s: “If I have money, I buy books. If I have more money, I buy food.”

Posted by: Gerrold at July 24, 2007 6:52 PM
Comment #227310

Jack said: “BUT life is only random to SOME extent. Our choices make a big difference.”

And so do the choices of our government’s regulations and policies and laws and foreign relations, make a HUGE difference in our lives. Hence, when regular folks see their savings wiped out in the Savings & Loan Debacle, or the failed levees of Louisiana wipe them out, or foreign trade policies that foster the loss of jobs to overseas populations, the government has an obligation to provide its citizens with a safety net for its decisions which harm its citizens.

When our school systems graduate High School students with A’s, B’s and C’s, and 40% of them fail and drop out of Freshman year college, the government is failing to prepare them adequately and the government owes it to the people to correct this, rather than pass laws allowing corporations and businesses to seek qualified employees or, universities to seek able students, from foreign countries.

Government (i.e. politicians) have a monumental responsibility for its citizens when it takes their money in exchange for campaign promises to improve their lot, and what politician doesn’t make this promise?

But, the voters too have a responsibility to reject voting for politicians during times when the voters are NOT seeing the contract for their last vote honored. And it is not sufficient that a politician says “Well I tried but, the other politicians wouldn’t let me.” That is a declaration of failure and ineptitude in keeping their bargain with the voters. And voters must stop rewarding these failures with their vote based on the pitiful rationale that their representative is the only viable choice due to party affiliation or some other loyalty reason.

Voters must give their vote for results, and give their vote to someone else if results are not forthcoming, if they are unhappy with government performance. The logic is inescapable. The excuses for voting for incumbents expecting different results are many, but, not worth a hill of beans.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 24, 2007 7:11 PM
Comment #227329

Max

That study re the French is needs context. The French work fewer hours and have a much higher unemployment rate. If you eliminate hours and workers, you tend to eliminate the most inefficient first. Think of yourself running a race. Are you feeling better in the first ten minutes or the last?

David

You are asking too much of government. You are right that government encouraged people to live in unsafe lowlands, but people chose to live there. Everybody knew that New Orleans was unsafe. I have been watching PBS documentaries on that subject my entire life. Usually they were made by liberals who complained that the levies were not well made and destroying nature. I agree with all that. Why after 50 years of predicting just such a disaster is anybody surprised?

Posted by: Jack at July 24, 2007 8:56 PM
Comment #227334

Jack asked: “Why after 50 years of predicting just such a disaster is anybody surprised?”

That is not the relevant question. The relevant question is why voters continued to vote for politicians who never corrected the situation?

About 3 of 4 Americans are disappointed with how government is being run. Yet, in 2008, well over 50% of them are going to vote to return their incumbent representatives to the Congress. That is the issue to be addressed, if anything about government is to improve from its disappointing performance today.

Sending the people responsible for bad government back to serve another term is insane and a gross indictment of our form of democratic process and political culture in America.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 24, 2007 9:23 PM
Comment #227343

David

To correct the problem in New Orleans, for example, we would not rebuild those bigger levies and we would allow the low lying areas to revert to swamp and forest. Yes, we should elect leaders who can tell people the hard truth. No, we will not because politicians pander and voters are easily bribed with their own money. We agree on some of the problems, but not the sources or solutions.

We SHOULD elect people who will tell those on flood plains just not to rebuild. We SHOULD elect people who will tell the people of the 9th ward that they will not be getting any money to rebuild there. We SHOULD elect politicians to tell the people that gas should be more than $5 a gallon. We SHOULD elect people who will tell people that they should be a little more responsible for their own mistakes. But we won’t. It is not the fault of big business.

Posted by: Jack at July 24, 2007 11:09 PM
Comment #227359

Jack, insurance is Big Business. Insurance underwrites all manner of risky behavior and in subtle ways encourages it. Very much like safer cars and insurance encourages riskier driving behaviors on our roads.

If folks didn’t have accidents, insurance companies and their investors would lose a huge share of their profits. AllState tells potential customers to don’t worry about an accident, you are in good hands with AllState. Don’t worry about an accident? The entire motivation for defensive driving is concern over an accident. Their advertising undermines safe driving in very predictable and well researched sociological and psychological studies.

Some other insurance company says “accidents will happen”. They are fated, predetermined, therefore avoiding them is futile. Just buy insurance so you are prepared for the inevitable. Big Business is responsible for a lot that is not commendable in our nation, and of coarse, for a lot that is commendable as well, but often the commendation is muted by their motive for such commendable behavior, which is desire for profit. Ronald McDonald Houses for example. Or, BP’s investments in Green technologies. Commendable, but not as commendable if profit and market share were not the ulterior motive or reciprocal benefit.

But, I disagree with you entirely on who we should elect. You say we should elect people who will tell us what to do. I think we should elect people who will do what we collectively want them to. Solve problems with the American people and nation’s future as the beneficiaries of those solutions. Not small subsets of wealthy investors and controllers of capital.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 25, 2007 3:02 AM
Comment #227362

David

I did not make my point clearly. I do not want politicans to tell us what to do. That is why I do not believe in the government planning you advocate in the other column.

What I want government to do is be truthful about what it cannot do. Government cannot and should not try to protect those who build on low places like the 9th ward in New Orleans, flood plains, barrier Islands. I made it unclear when I said the government should tell them not to rebuild. I meant the government should tell them that if they do rebuild, there will be limited help from government.

Government underwrites very much stupid behavior. People would not be able to build on some of these places w/o government backing. Government backing allows them to risk their fortunes and destroy the environment.

We actually have backed into a potentially very bad situation where we have encouraged behaviors that are destructive and then back those making the bad decisions with government.

I am not a believer in socialism, but where socialism works (more or less) it works because it socializes many individual decisions. Governments pay for options, but limit options to those they will pay for. In our free market we allow more freedom of choice. The bargain is that you get freedom because you undertake the responsibility that goes with it. In the last generation, we have developed the bad habit of bailing out bad decisions for firms and individuals. We have socialized risk, but allowed individuals the choices. This is an unsustainable situation.

Ironically, it creates the danger of limiting choice. When someone pays for you, they have a right to have a say in your choices. We see that with things like smoking and fatty foods. Governments are arguing (with some validity) that since they pay health premiums that they have a right to regulate behavior.

I prefer a more limited approach. Government should build infrastructure, provide for rule of law and common defense, and come to our aid in the event of really rare events. But if we expand government responsibilty, we expand its power and soon its interference.

Remember that you do not have the government you want - ever - and some of the time it will be run by your opponents. Before you give these guys too much to do, remember who they are and what are their limitations.

Posted by: Jack at July 25, 2007 6:36 AM
Comment #227369

I love all this crap about how the lower paid workers work less hours. If this is a trend, I have never seen hide nor hair of it. I took a good look into the link above and it does not seem to take multiple jobs into account I have never worked more than 40 hrs/week…. for a single job. On the other hand, I have had my share of 60-70hr weeks, just because I was holding down 2 jobs at a time. Surveys can show exactly what the surveyors want to show. Don’t believe me? Then you didn’t take Probs and Stats in high school.

L

Posted by: leatherankh at July 25, 2007 9:58 AM
Comment #227389

Leatherankh

Some of those low income workers who actually work spend lots of hours at the job. Many of the poorest people do not work at all or only sporatically.

Surveys can show a variety of things, but if you do not believe that higher paid workers tend to work more, you have to question a variety of surveys. It might be that some low paid workers are not reporting their earnings to avoid taxes. The lowest 20% of the income distribution essentially pays no net tax.

My father was a cement worker. He was once offered a management position. I remember him turning it down. He said that when he came home from work, he did not want to think about it. There is also that difference.

Posted by: Jack at July 25, 2007 5:47 PM
Comment #227390

Jack said: “I did not make my point clearly. I do not want politicans to tell us what to do.”

Guess I got confused about that when you said:

We SHOULD elect politicians to tell the people that gas should be more than $5 a gallon. We SHOULD elect people who will tell people that they should be a little more responsible for their own mistakes.

I agree with you Jack that one of the most important functions of our government is to INFORM the people. Something Republicans have failed at inordinately these last 10 years.

But, it is common sense and supported by current polls that the American people want government to make the best possible decisions and develop the best possible solutions on their behalf for the challenges facing the nation. Wealthy special interests via our campaign finance and lobbying system are preventing our government from fulfilling that expectation of the people.

It is why Republican voters are leaving the Republican Party, and Democrat voters left the Democratic Party in 1992 and 1996.

You said: “I meant the government should tell them that if they do rebuild, there will be limited help from government.”

While I agree with your intent to solve a problem, the solution solves nothing. Adam Smith in excruciating detail in Theory of Moral Sentiments, lays out why your solution solves nothing. Telling them there will be little or no assistance should catastrophe strike, is a false statement of fact and false promise government cannot live up to.

Adam Smith says quite correctly: “We either approve or disapprove of the conduct of another man according as we feel that, when we bring his case home to ourselves, we either can or cannot entirely sympathize with the sentiments and motives which directed it.”

Government is elected by the people. If government turns its back on people in need resulting from catastrophe, those politicians won’t be returning to government in their next reelection bid, since voters will have ‘brought the victims case home to themselves’, which means they will empathize with the victims of the catastrophe, not the politicians that turn their back on the victims in distress.

That is the reality, Jack, and underscores the word democratic in the term ‘democratic republic’, which defines our government. Your Republican ideology fails to accommodate and take into account the reality of human moral sentiments which are part and parcel of human nature. It is why Republicans spent so much time in American history over the last 60 years as the minority party, and have been relegated back to that role, yet again in 2006.

You say: “Government underwrites very much stupid behavior.”

To which I must add, much of that stupid behavior emanates from the the requirement that government reflect the nature of its constituents. If you wish to deny stupid citizens the right to representation of their stupidity in government, you cannot honestly support the concept of a democratic republic, but, rather, you must support a more authoritarian style government in which the authority decides what is stupid and not, and can enforce its decisions regardless of the sentiments of the citizenry, ‘for their own good’.

You said: “When someone pays for you, they have a right to have a say in your choices.”

Another way of looking at that relationship is this: If you live in a community in an interdependent fashion, you must defer to the community at large regarding personal decisions as a responsibility for sharing in the benefits of security and plenty which that community provides.

I think the latter view is more instructive and detailed regarding the reality of social arrangements in a democratically elected society.

You said: “But if we expand government responsibility, we expand its power and soon its interference.”

You make an assumption in this statement that I don’t think is necessarily valid. First let me address the word responsibility. If Americans define the word as it rightly should, as “ability to respond appropriately”, your comment does not ring true. For if government responds appropriately, its exercise of power will be lauded by the people, and not perceived as interference except by a minority disaffected by the consequences of government’s response.

And in any decision which government, or for that matter, any individual in an interdependent community makes, there will always be a minority disaffected by that decision. Which is why our government, except for its codified and enumerated individual rights, can never act without at least a minority dissent. In a democratic republic, however, minority dissent to a government decision lauded by the majority, should be heard and noted, but, not allowed to dictate to the majority a change in government decision.

The million prisoners in this country are a disaffected minority by government’s decisions. But, they, as a disaffected minority, should not be permitted to alter the laws which put them into prison lauded by the majority of society.

I empathize with Republicans, I truly do, as a minority disaffected by the majority view that the wealthy should NOT be permitted unlimited freedom to use their wealth to amass as much of the rest of the wealth of the society as they choose. But, Republicans views on estate taxes, capital gains taxes, and progressive taxes shall always remain a minority view. Republicans are to be commended for their ingenuity in 1992 in drafting a plan to temporarily deceive the public into thinking unbridled amassing of wealth by a minority would actually benefit everyone (trickle down economics).

But, that deception was inevitably going to be exposed and rejected by the majority as it was in 2006 in conjunction with a majority rejection of the Iraq War in perpetuity strategy, on the grounds that borrowing against the future tax payer’s income to support amassing of wealth by a minority today, is not appropriate behavior and is harmful to our children’s and our own futures.

Republican economic theory can only thrive if ‘democratic’ is removed from the phrase ‘democratic republic’, leaving only republic with them in charge. The American people and our Constitution will not tolerate that scenario, Jack. It is one of the fundamental strengths of America that Republican views on wealth cannot survive long in power, always being forced to yield power back power to the majority view that we are all in this together and individual effort is never solely responsible for one’s good fortune, but, rests as much on the benefits and protections of the whole of society which all participate in and contribute to.

The majority view defined constructed by Smith’s universal moral sentiments also holds that privileged wealth must be shared and distributed in various ways if 1) the nation’s economy is to remain strong and vibrant, 2) freedom of choice is preserved for the greatest number possible which shared wealth fosters, and 3) with motivation to aspire to wealth intact, while insuring poverty and destitution are minimized to the extent humanly possible through redistribution of wealth.

Adam Smith was quite correct about human sentiments, when he pointed out that the average person cannot long look upon poverty and destitution if the means to rid it from view are available. Redistribution of wealth and opportunity allows the average person the means to rid their community of having to view with painful empathy, poverty and terrible want.

It is a major flaw of conservative economists that they build their theories on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, without understanding or, reading Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments which sets the human passion parameters for, and limitations on, wealth accumulation, as moderated by the psychology and sociology of the people in democratic societies.

Theory of Moral Sentiments goes to great lengths to demonstrate that for a nation, wealth is but one of many motives which stir the human heart and passions of the people, and empathy for one’s neighbor and their plight is every bit as powerful a motivator as the aspiration to wealth, and can easily trump wealth as a motivator, especially when the propriety of the motives that drive wealth accumulation are diminished, or beneath that which empathy would dictate in the average person.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 25, 2007 5:49 PM
Comment #227398

David

It depend on how much you can reasonably anticipate. If you are hit by a tornado or an unexpected meteor strike, I think you may have a case. Most other things are calculatable risks. That is why you buy insurance. Some places are too risky for a prudent person to build. Some places are actually bad to build. If you build a house on a barrier island or a unstable cliff overlooking the ocean, frankly I hope you house DOES fall in. You are wantonly destroying nature. The government surely should not bail you out.

Government needs to be constrained and sometimes it just cannot do what people want. You cannot repeal the laws of supply and demand, for example. Neither can you repeal the laws of physics. And every decision has consequences.

You know that I favor limiting CO2 emissions. It does not really matter if most people do not want to do that. They can vote to keep fuel prices low, but they cannot vote not to suffer the consequences.

What I find ironic about leftist ideologies is how materialistic they are. Conservatives are always accused of being greedy, but we are often willing to make the hard choices. I always find it interesting when I advocate carbon taxes or not building on flood plains and the liberals give me a hard time implying that if the government simply decrees people can have all their cakes and eat them too.

I understand that wealth is only one motive. You need wealth, however, to accomplish most other things. The other irony I find in my personal life is that the poor are often more aquisitive than the non-poor. Their desire for quick gratification is one thing that keeps them poor. They always have an excuse not to save for tomorrow and to consume today.

Posted by: Jack at July 25, 2007 8:53 PM
Comment #227424

Jack
To paraphrase John Edwards,”There are two words that should never be used together in America and those two words are’working poor’.”Whats wrong with that?
Wages have not kepy pace with productivity gains. The wealth from those gains has go to the upper percentiles. There is a cost to this that will weaken us for a long time. One example is the housing mess. Wages did not keep up with cost and the result may well turn into a prolonged recession and no it is not just subprime stuff. People are starting to walk away from homes worth less than they owe at all price ranges and credit schemes. That is why your portfolio is worth less this week BTW.

Posted by: BillS at July 26, 2007 1:36 AM
Comment #227457

Jack I concur completely on leftist economics as practiced which tends to fail to recognize finite resources as a reality of economic practice. Liberals do indeed promise that people can have what they want and the cost will not harm them.

But, I found it a bit of a shock back in the late 1980’s to discover that leftist economicians suffered under some of the same false fantasies about what economics and government should be as Republicans, and some fantasies that were different but, still not reflective of the real world we live in.

When Democrats argued their policies are good because the benefits of public policy are experienced by all, as the government is nothing more than the people’s will, and the people would not harm themselves, I about crapped my pants. And I quit being a Democrat.

Government can and often is onerous. The Iraq War and the entitlement crisis are prime examples of that. And politicians, Democrat or Republican, DO NOT put the needs of the people and the nation in the front seat when drafting legislation. They put their reelection and campaign funding in the front seat, and the people end up in the back seat if not the trunk.

You said: “You need wealth, however, to accomplish most other things.”

Which precisely supports the argument that distribution of wealth throughout the society empowers the people of that society. And in a democratically elected society, allowing too much wealth to accumulate into too few hands, limits freedom of choice by the majority of people.

Poor people don’t save because just sustaining life from paycheck to paycheck consumes all the wealth they have. The Mississippi Delta is filled with poverty that would shock America if aired on prime time TV.

Then there is the attendant factor to poor people, they are on average not educated in art of accounting and financial services. Hell, much of the entire Middle Class is not versed in these disciplines and fail to save as a result, even though they could. And lastly, many folks would say, with what I make I could save, but, with what I make, saving could never make me wealthy, therefore, I will enjoy what I make while I can and not worry about being wealthy.

And its a valid argument, up to a point. Valid for today, and ignorant with regard to tomorrow, as in ignoring the adversities that could be diminished by having savings on hand. Adversity is not something people wish to dwell on or contemplate if they can avoid it. It’s why insurance is such a big seller. It frees one from worry about future adversity, sort of. I say sort of because insurance also breeds riskier behavior. But, we have discussed that before.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 26, 2007 3:34 PM
Comment #227468

DR
Mostly not too bad.You might want to check Edwards newly announced plan to bolster savings accounts for the poor and improve the EIC.These are both things that might appeal to Jack,if he can get past that stupid haircut.Edwards just might be authentic as there is no great political payoff with much he is proposeing.Face it,the middle class does not really care about the poor and the upper class could’nt care less.

Posted by: BillS at July 26, 2007 5:38 PM
Comment #227495

About 3 of 4 Americans are disappointed with how government is being run. Yet, in 2008, well over 50% of them are going to vote to return their incumbent representatives to the Congress. That is the issue to be addressed, if anything about government is to improve from its disappointing performance today.
Posted by: David R. Remer at July 24, 2007 09:23 PM

Being from Illinois, I’d vote Obama and Durbin out in a heartbeat, but it won’t happen. Chicago is just too dumb, and has too much control over the rest of the state. Why, even our Gov. Rod Blagojevich flies back and forth daily from his home near Chicago to the Statehouse in Springfield at a pretty hefty sum to taxpayers from what I’m told. I guess Springfield’s just a little too downstate for the Chicago city boys who don’t have to worry any, so long as they can lap up their cash and votes from the aptly named “windy” city!!

JD

Posted by: JD at July 27, 2007 12:14 AM
Comment #227508

BillS said: “Face it,the middle class does not really care about the poor and the upper class could’nt care less.”

Regretfully, that is true, but, it’s not due to not caring directly, but, indirectly. I mean, most of us ignore the homeless with their hands out on street corners. Is it because we don’t care about them? Or is it because of a natural tendency to avoid that which is painful or hurtful to look upon, which might pull us into that other person’s pain or misery in a direct relationship that could cost us time, money, and risk to engage in?

Many a sociological study has been done, and says it is the latter case. To really help poverty, one must engage it. Most who are better off prefer not to engage it, as their aspirations and goals lean in the other direction, acquiring more, time, freedom, money, stuff etc.

This is why private charitable giving can never address poverty in any significant way. Not a broad enough approach, and just giving money does not address the many other factors which cause and maintain poverty.

Poverty if it is to be addressed must be addressed through an organizational approach in which not only the causes and reasons are understood through research and science, but, also where the systemic remedies can be developed and implemented. That is the right and proper role of government, since, no other organization has the capacity to fund and reach the systemic causes of poverty.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 27, 2007 1:25 AM
Comment #227521

David

In your response to BillS re private giving.

It is not either or. Government has a role and so does the private sector. If you eliminate government, you get chaos. If you make government too strong you get tyranny.

Private charity has evolved a great deal in recent years. In fact, we need to make a strong distinction between charity and philanthropy and not what we might call investment philanthropy.

Charity addresses an immediate need. You give someone that fish. Philanthropy addresses the root cause. You teach that guy how to fish. Investment philanthropy address the supply of fish and how to get them. Take a look at the Index of Global Philanthropy.

The other problem that I have with government is that it is run by government. This is not a joke. Government does lots of good things. Most government workers are competent and honest. What they are not is entrepreneurial. Beyond that government is subject to continual political pressure. Politics is all about influence and getting more for your constituents. This is not the best way to allocate resources. You decry lobbyists and crooked politicians. I agree. But I recognize that such things are part of the nature of government and the reason you have to limit it. There are plenty of crooks in private industry too. The difference is that they have limited resources and if they steal enough or cheat consumers too blatantly, they go out of business – UNLESS they can get government protection, which they can do if government is big and powerful.

Re the private sector addressing poverty – it has. Poverty in the U.S. is largely gone if we were to use the standards of a couple of generations ago. We define it up as we get more prosperous. Living in poverty today probably includes air conditioning, color TV and a car and the one of the biggest problem among the poor today is obesity. This would come as a really big surprise to anyone familiar with traditional poverty. I am not saying that living poor is good. I am saying that we cannot eliminate what we call poverty.

The other transformation of poverty in recent generations is the role of choice and decision. A general rise in prosperity and useful government programs have made it possible for most people to avoid poverty if they make decent choices. The problem is that they do not. Please be aware that this is not “blaming” them, but merely reflecting that it is hard to address poverty in the macro sense when it is caused by individual decisions. We probably need to address the incentives and information people face.

BillS

The economy is dynamic. A stock portfolio gains money or loses money every day. Over the long run, it has returned around 11% a year. People always predict collapse. One day they will be right, but probably not today.

Posted by: Jack at July 27, 2007 7:31 AM
Comment #227546

Jack

That we cannot eliminate poverty is an axiom I cannot accept. Please take the time to look into Edwards proposals. He wants to incentivise savings for example. I would be interested in your opinion of his proposals if you can dump the partisan blinders.
My grown children were amazed when I told them that when I was growing up there were no homeless people outside of a very few hobos. It was also possible for one parent to stay at home to raise children for the most part.Now nieghborhoods look like ghost towns during the work week. We can do better.We have before.

Posted by: BillS at July 27, 2007 1:49 PM
Comment #227548

Jack, your definition of poverty is different than mine. You define it in dollar terms. I define it by Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

In the Mississippi Delta, there many, many thousands of elderly citizens living in abject poverty by Maslow’s Hierarchy. They have shanty houses, with broken windows, boarded up doors, and rooms infested with every manner of insect. Their roofs leak, and foundations, if they have one, cracked and shifting.

You would say they have a roof over their head which millions in the world have not. I would argue that precisely BECAUSE they have a TV, they are acutely aware of their poverty on a daily basis, and feel their poverty all the more.

Poverty is, in large part, relative to the internal norms of a society, not relative to other societies. An African living in a grass hut raising cattle, with no phone, TV, computer, but with 20 cattle and 15 neck rings may be considered very affluent in his tribe and view himself very fortunate indeed. Compare that with the man in the Mississippi Delta with no health insurance, no vehicle, and family which has left him for the cities where the promise of milk and honey is greater.

The comparison breaks down. Poverty is not about money or the things it can buy. Poverty ultimately is a state of condition, including health, freedom, choice, and opportunity. In America, poverty is growing. And trying to compare American poverty to that of other nations, is only trick of the mind to ease one’s conscience.

In Darfur, an extremely poor place on the planet, poverty is horrible. But, poverty there brought on by drought, lack of food, scarcity of water, and armed bands attacking convoys trying to bring relief, is morally understandable. Poverty in the wealthiest nation on earth, is far less understandable and far more morally unjustifiable.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 27, 2007 1:53 PM
Comment #227563

12 hours in a cushy office … 8 hours in a foundry in the summer… it isn’t just longer hours, it’s working conditions!

Posted by: Rachel at July 27, 2007 5:38 PM
Comment #227576

David

If you use Maslow, we have virtually no poverty. They have their basic needs satisfied in the Maslow hierarchy. That is Maslow is not relative to anything else.

Yes, they do not get into the self actualization part. Many do not, BTW.

But you agree with my point, that poverty definition is fluid and relative. Therefore, you can never eliminate poverty. The lowest 10% will always be in poverty.

Rachel

You are right to some extent, but most of these real hard work jobs are now gone. I used to work in a cement company where we loaded 94lb bags 12 hours a day. Today most of those jobs are reengineered away and the bags are now only around 50lbs. AND hardly anybody lifts them all day anyway.

We need to update our poverty paradigm. The days of the hard working guy sweating from sun to sun in some factory for subsistence wages are mostly found in the movies these days.

Posted by: Jack at July 27, 2007 8:41 PM
Comment #227585

Jack
You avoid the point like a dog turd on a pathway. Of course the stock market has ups and downs. Point is that the current major weakness is caused directly by wages falling behind peoductivity gains. The increases went mostly to the top percential. If they had been more evenly distributed there would be no housing bubble. People still need houses. They just cannot afford them.There is a cost to us by not having more equitable wages. Lets get away from financial markets and look at social cost. We have a very high devorce rate. Most devorces involve finances. Higher wages would help. Same with abortion. Sadly many decisions involve money. Better wages would help. How about education? Better wages would help.Again,there is a cost,a high one, for wages not keeping up with productivity.

Posted by: BillS at July 27, 2007 10:15 PM
Comment #227592

BillS

I am not much worried about this supposed weakness. I do not know that it is weakness. People have been seeing this weakness since 2003. If you were foolish enough to take the advice to stay out of the market in 2003, you would be a lot poorer today and the market will have to go down a long way before that equation will change.

Housing went up too much. You are right that they went up beyond what many people can afford, but you are mixing up causality. Housing price rise has been a GLOBAL event. The U.S. actually was behind many others.

When housing prices come down, they will be more affordable. Nothing wrong with that. We have been here before. You may recall the S&L crisis in the early 1990s that was supposed to destroy our prosperity forever. Maybe you do not remember it. It is easy to forget, since it turned out to be nothing much.

re wages - I wrote a post on that. Wages were in a long term down trend because of population bulges, new entrants to the work force and globalization. This trend began to reverse around 1997. Wages will rise. This may or may not be a good thing, but it is happening.

Posted by: Jack at July 27, 2007 10:41 PM
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