The problem is not unique to Oslo, a city of 1.4 million people. Across Northern Europe, where the practice of burning garbage to generate heat and electricity has exploded in recent decades, demand for trash far outstrips supply. “Northern Europe has a huge generating capacity,” said Mr. Mikkelsen, 50, a mechanical engineer who for the last year has been the managing director of Oslo’s waste-to-energy agency.
One fourth of the American work force is employed in “guard labor”, not producing anything themselves, but keeping the actual workers in line, according to a studies by economists Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute and Arjun Jayadev of the University of Massachusetts. Comparing nations, they reported that the greater the amount of inequality in a society, the higher the percentage employed in guard labor.
Thus, the average American is somewhat worried about budget deficits, which is no surprise given the constant barrage of deficit scare stories in the news media, but the wealthy, by a large majority, regard deficits as the most important problem we face. And how should the budget deficit be brought down? The wealthy favor cutting federal spending on health care and Social Security — that is, “entitlements” — while the public at large actually wants to see spending on those programs rise.
You get the idea: The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do.
The underground economy is two-trillion annually.
The U.S. is certainly a long way from, say, Greece, where tax evasion is a national sport and the shadow economy accounts for twenty-seven per cent of G.D.P. But the forces pushing people to work off the books are powerful. Feige points to the growing distrust of government as one important factor. The desire to avoid licensing regulations, which force people to jump through elaborate hoops just to get a job, is another. Most important, perhaps, are changes in the way we work. As Baumohl put it, “For businesses, the calculus of hiring has fundamentally changed.” Companies have got used to bringing people on as needed and then dropping them when the job is over, and they save on benefits and payroll taxes by treating even full-time employees as independent contractors. Casual employment often becomes under-the-table work; the arrangement has become a way of life in the construction industry. In a recent California survey of three hundred thousand contractors, two-thirds said they had no direct employees, meaning that they did not need to pay workers’-compensation insurance or payroll taxes. In other words, for lots of people off-the-books work is the only job available.
Sequestration has now hit air travel, with 10% of our air-traffic controllers being furloughed every day. And that means flights are being delayed all over the place.
I am guessing that over the next few days a lot of Americans are going to hear about these delays, or be personally inconvenienced by them, and think to themselves wait, the sequester thing is still happening? Well yes, it is, because so far it hasn’t been that bad, for certain Americans. Other Americans, though, have been aware of the cuts since when they went into effect.
Thus far, many of the people directly affected by sequestration cuts have been the sort of people whose desires and policy preferences are easily ignored by our political institutions. Larry Bartels has shown that politicians are quite responsive to the views of their rich constituents, but not particularly concerned with anyone else. “The views of middle-class constituents matter rather less, while the views of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent effect on their senators’ roll call votes.” Martin Gilens has found basically the same thing.
The rise in New York City’s poverty rate as a result of the recession has apparently eased, but not before pushing nearly half of the city’s population into the ranks of the poor or near-poor in 2011, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg administration.
That year, according to the city’s measure, about 46 percent of New Yorkers were making less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold, a benchmark used to describe people who are not officially poor but who still struggle to get by. That represents a rise of more than three percentage points since 2009, when the nation’s recession officially ended.
Citizen scientists charting the effects of climate change on birds in North Anerica:
Today’s birders are not exploring new territory geographically, as the early naturalists did; rather, they are contouring the frontiers of climate change. It’s April, and the kitchen-window bird observer is limbering up, too. Are the birds nesting early, nesting late? (Do they know something we don’t?) The reporting such observers do is crucial.
And what are today’s birds telling us? The Audubon Society estimates that nearly 60 percent of 305 bird species found in North America in winter are shifting northward and to higher elevations in response to climate change. For comparison, imagine the inhabitants of 30 states — using state residence as a proxy for species of American human — becoming disgruntled with forest fires and drought and severe weather events, and seeking out suitable new habitat.
The Audubon Society’s estimates rest largely on data supplied by volunteers in citizen-science projects like the Christmas Bird Count (first proposed in 1900, nine years after the first known use of the word “bird-watcher,” to set the hobby apart from the more traditional Christmas pastime of shooting birds). The birds in question have shifted an average of 35 miles north over a period of about 40 years — seemingly insignificant in human terms, but a major move ecologically.
Boys and their toys:
The alchemists of Wall Street are at it again.
The banks that created risky amalgams of mortgages and loans during the boom — the kind that went so wrong during the bust — are busily reviving the same types of investments that many thought were gone for good. Once more, arcane-sounding financial products like collateralized debt obligations are being minted on Wall Street.
Big seems to be better for the biggest companies, at least for the moment, but not for the rest:
“Big companies have found a way not just to survive but to prosper despite the broader economy and all the uncertainty,” said Howard Silverblatt, a senior index analyst at Standard & Poor’s. “There’s a disconnect between them and the rest of the world.” Investors are also looking farther ahead, discounting what economists are calling a spring swoon, and focusing on prospects for healthier growth late this year and into 2014.
After finally achieving what experts estimate was a healthy 3 percent annual growth rate in the first quarter of 2013, the American economy is expected to slow to half that pace in the next two quarters as higher payroll taxes and automatic government spending cuts begin to bite.
“It’s a bifurcated economy,” said William C. Dunkelberg, chief economist at the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small-business owners. “Corporate profits are at a record, but all the data we have say small business is dead in the water.” Last week, the group reported that its Small Business Optimism index declined in Marchafter rising for the previous three months.
Sounds to me like the Big Boys are vampires sucking the life out of the economy.