Economy

A More Perfect Union

E mily Dopper and her boyfriend, Willem van Leeuwen, tourists from the Netherlands, were on their way to lunch at the Boathouse restaurant in New York’s Central Park when they encountered the picket line. Clay Skaggs, a striking waiter, intercepted them. “We’re asking you not to eat here,” he said in a tone of polite explanation. “They practice sexual harassment, and they stole $3 million in wages over two years. They also got a C-rating on their health inspection.” Dopper looked dejected and unconvinced. “We came here to Central Park all the way from Europe,” she said. “There are lots of other great places nearby,” Skaggs continued. He handed them a foldout flyer. One side featured a detailed map of the park and its myriad paths and attractions, displaying locations and write-ups of other restaurants and a big red circle with a slash around the Boathouse. On the other side was an explanation of the issues in the strike, with summaries in 19 languages. Adopting his best waiter’s...

Woe Is Europe

A week of credit-rating downgrades and skyrocketing interest rates fuels fears the monetary union is doomed.

(AP Photo/Michael Probst) T hings are now hanging by a thread in Europe. In a disastrous auction of two-year bonds and six-month bills on Friday, Italy was forced to pay interest rates of 7.8 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively—levels far higher than those that sent Greece into the arms of its troika of lenders. Spain, despite the emphatic election a week ago of a new right-wing government committed to austerity, on Tuesday paid an average yield of 5.11 percent on three-month bills and 5.23 percent on six-month bills. The three-month yields were more than double what the country paid a month ago, while the six-month bills had cost it only 3.30 percent in October. Rumors have begun circulating that the new government is planning to ask for some form of outside help to service its debts. Belgium’s credit rating was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s and Portugal was downgraded to junk by Fitch. Even Germany felt the tremors of market turbulence, managing on Thursday to sell only 3.64...

Thanks, But No Thanksgiving

Employees and consumers fight back against "Black Friday," which increasingly starts on the holiday itself.

It may feel as traditional as leftover turkey, but it’s only been since the 1960s that retailers have named the day after Thanksgiving, when bargain shoppers hunt for discount goods like big game, "Black Friday." But this year, black could just refer to the pall cast on store employees’ holidays, which have been increasingly cut short in an effort to start the sales earlier and earlier. In Nebraska, rumors of a Thanksgiving midnight opening at the Omaha North Target store where Anthony Hardwick has worked for the past three years first circulated on Facebook. By the time store managers confirmed that employees were scheduled to start their shifts at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, the part-time parking attendant had taken matters into his own hands. “There was a sense of inevitability about the whole thing,” Hardwick said. “Initially, I thought I’d like to start a petition to give to corporate to show how many team members and customers are against this.” Hardwick argued that all hourly and...

Ivy League Brain Drain

At Yale, OWS-inspired protesters target recruiters for the country's major finance firms.

Joseph Breen Student protesters and attendees—both from Yale—at a Morgan Stanley recruiting event. S he was tall, blond, standing in the lobby of a swanky hotel in downtown New Haven. She came for the recruitment seminar by Morgan Stanley, the banking and investment firm. Like the other Yale University students who attended, she came to learn more about starting a lucrative career on Wall Street. And like most of the people I interviewed that evening, she seemed afraid. "Thanks for talking with me, Ally," I said. "Can I have your last name?” "I don't know if I can say," she said. "I'll be right back." She never returned. Perhaps it was all the noise outside. To get to the hotel, Ally and dozens of other would-be recruits had to get by a phalanx of demonstrators, also from Yale, who were protesting the Morgan Stanley event. They were raising awareness of what they call the "brain drain" of American society. While Yale graduates who become entrepreneurs, artists, teachers, and...

What to Read Before You Unwonk Tonight

Jonathan Chait wrote a truly excellent essay in this month’s issue of New York that refuses to sympathize with the liberal journalists and scholars who have been writing damning commentary on Democratic presidents since the early 20th century. Instead of adding to the journalistic canon of how Obama is a traitor to his 2008 campaign, he turns his sight back on the Drew Westens and Patrick Caddells and Doug Schoens of the world and tries to explain why liberals are never satisfied with the people they elect: For almost all of the past 60 years, liberals have been in a near-constant emotional state of despair, punctuated only by brief moments of euphoria and occasional rage. When they’re not in charge, things are so bleak they threaten to move to Canada; it’s almost more excruciating when they do win elections, and their presidents fail in essentially the same ways: He is too accommodating, too timid, too unwilling or unable to inspire the populace. No one should be surprised that the...

What Happened to the Tea Party?

When the 2012 Republican nominating contest was getting underway earlier this year, it was widely predicted (I predicted it myself) that the race would eventually come down to a contest between an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, and a Tea Party candidate more appealing to the party's base. It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time; after all, the Tea Party had energized the GOP and propelled it to the historic 2010 congressional election victory. With its anti-Obama fervor, the Tea Party was the focus of all the GOP's grassroots energy, to such a degree that nearly every Republican felt compelled to proclaim him or herself a Tea Partier. Once the Tea Party's champion was selected, we would discover just how much strength the party establishment still held in our decentralized political age. Yet with the Iowa caucus just six weeks away, it appears that there will be no grand battle between the establishment and the insurgents, the old guard and the new. There...

Super-Duper Failure

As many of us have been hoping and praying, the Super Committee fell of its own weight, making room for a much better debate about where budget cutting fits into a recovery strategy (if at all), and how to raise taxes progressively in order to finance the investments and jobs that America needs. President Barack Obama was unwise to make this devil’s bargain in the first place; he has since moved on to emphasizing jobs and recovery. The Super Committee crack-up should be the last gasp of the “bipartisan” folly about deficit reduction as key to recovery—which the president himself gave a big boost with his appointment of the late Bowles-Simpson Commission. Now, mercifully, the Republicans stand exposed as the party that would ravage Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other valued social outlays in order to spare the richest 1 percent any tax increases. Republicans have been in their own echo chamber for so long that they don’t quite grasp that most of the voters oppose this idea...

The Establishment Strikes Back

Protesters in front of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday.
Occupy Weekly: The Establishment Strikes Back. This was the week that Occupy Wall Street faced its greatest pushback and pulled off its largest action yet. Sunday’s surprise police raid on Occupy Portland turned out to be one of several around the country, as mayors sent cops to clear occupations in cities including Chapel Hill, Salt Lake City, and New York. Some raids were marked by violence against protesters and press (including reporters from the right-wing New York Post and Daily Caller ). Occupy Boston has secured a preemptive restraining order in hopes of warding off a similar eviction, and Occupy Los Angeles is seeking one as well. Post-raid occupations face new choices and challenges going forward. But the crackdown seems to have swelled the numbers for Thursday’s Day of Action , which opened in New York with protesters and police surrounding the New York Stock Exchange. By day’s end, New York occupiers had staged a student walk-out, shared personal stories in subway cars,...

What to Read Before You Unwonk for the Weekend

Rejoice! Congress won at not ruining the Constitution today! The Super Committee won at doing nothing . NERD FIGHT. Round Two. Or three. This has been going on for a while. The Monkey Cage’s John Sides added his two cents to the Economics v. Campaigns election forecast debate, saying that it’s difficult to assess how effective campaigns are while we’re watching them unfold. Maybe it’s time to bench this topic and bring it back for round three after next November. Nate Silver also tried to find out which economic factors have been most consistent in predicting electoral outcomes. Turns out the ISM manufacturing index is a better predictor of whether an incumbent will re-win the White House than the change in unemployment rate or GDP. Yay data. As an addendum to the “Do Campaigns Matter” debate, the “Do Debates Matter” debate might also become a thing soon, followed inevitably by the, “Do the Party Elite matter” and “Do Superdelegates matter” debates that close every primary season. I’m...

Unemployment and Underemployment Over Time

I'm not the only nerd here in the room, right? Phew. Check out Remapping Debate's new graph of Bureau of Labor Statistics data of unemployment and underemployment, by state, over time. Don't miss the widget that lets you examine how the data differs by year. In brief: It looks grim. Do use the data for good.

Occupy Wall Street: Seattle Redux?

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
As in the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, today’s nationwide Occupy Wall Street actions come in many shapes and sizes. There’s the enraged confrontations we’ve seen around Wall Street itself. There are the pre-arranged arrests we’ve seen in the banking district of downtown Los Angeles. There are permitted rallies sponsored by unions, which, as evening falls, will shift their locales to bridges around the nation in an attempt to loop the rebuild-the-decaying-infrastructure issue into the mélange of progressive causes that OWS champions. There’s an action for every mood and strategy –- though some strategies make a lot more sense than others. This afternoon, activists from unions (most particularly, SEIU) will march across bridges in Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, L.A., New York (the granddaddy of all urban bridges, the one-and-only Brooklyn), and damn-near any American city that has a creek, an overpass,...

Post Hoc Fallacy

Wednesday’s Washington Post deserves some kind of perverse award for advocacy journalism—in this case, for advocating the proposition that dire economic consequences will ensue if the congressional Super Committee fails to cut a deal for drastic deficit reduction. This is, of course, one side of an argument. Those on the other side, including myself, have argued that austerity in a deep recession makes no economic sense and that as a matter of politics, the Obama administration would be far better advised to let the automatic sequester formula take effect, knowing that it would have to be reopened because of Republicans’ horror of deep defense cuts and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Moreover, Social Security does not belong in this conversation, and Democrats are better off, substantively and politically, defending it against Republican proposed cuts rather than lumping it in with budget talks. But I digress. The Post has been an editorial champion of the Super Committee and...

Now What?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
E arly Tuesday morning, surprised by a violent police raid on Zuccotti Park, dozens of Occupy Wall Street activists stayed and accepted arrest, a few chained themselves to a tree (which was cut down by police), and others fled, though not all fast enough to escape tear gas. Later that morning, protesters returned expecting the city would yield to a temporary restraining order allowing their camp, but police ignored the order. Tuesday evening, defeated in court, occupiers returned to Liberty Plaza, filing in one or two at a time past watchful police. There were new signs (“Curfew 10 PM”), new rules (no lying down), and a newly urgent question: What’s next? For the two months since its birth, Occupy Wall Street -- and the international movement it’s inspired -- has been defined and driven forward through confrontations. Just as earlier threats to its existence helped make “Liberty Plaza” a teeming village and a household name, the latest attack could galvanize and inspire –- and keep...

The Robots Are Coming!

Google, we learn from Monday’s New York Times , has a secret lab in an undisclosed location in the Bay Area where it is developing robots. We don’t know what the Google-oids are working on there, but we do know that the company has developed and built a driverless car that has already traversed 100,000 miles on California roads without getting either a ticket or a scratch. Surely, though, there are innumerable now-human activities that could be performed efficiently, and eventually more cheaply, by robots. On Tuesday, the Robot Report (“Tracking the business of robotics”) ran a story that Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturer that employs roughly one million Chinese workers who assemble all of Apple’s products (and many of Dell’s and other high-tech companies) has broken ground on a factory in Taiwan to manufacture robots. Foxconn hopes to replace 500,000 of its Chinese workers, the Report says, with 1 million robots. If Foxconn succeeds at this venture, it will be yet another...

Bending the Rules

Congress keeps finding new ways to attack farm-bill reform.

Yesterday, the House and Senate released their final appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. Like the House bill passed in June , the bill, which provides funding to the Department of Agriculture, cuts a number of programs. The National Sustainable Agriculture coalition discusses the programs most hurt in a detailed blog post. One of the areas most hurt is conservation: On the whole, programs that help preserve land were cut by almost $1 billion. But the most senseless provisions were, perhaps, the ones that prevent the USDA from finishing revisions to the rules that govern how meat markets work. The rules, which are enforced by a division of the USDA known as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, regulate the markets through which chicken, hog, and cattle farmers interact with meatpacking companies. Food advocates have long described the ways in which power has consolidated among meatpackers so that a handful of companies control the...

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