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The Messy Link Between Slave Owners and Modern Management – Forbes

10 Oct

Sounds like animal husbandry:

Slave owners were able to collect data on their workforce in ways that other business owners couldn’t because they had complete control over their workers. They didn’t have to worry about turnover or recruiting new workers, and they could experiment with different tactics—moving workers around and demanding higher levels of output, even monitoring what they ate and how long new mothers breastfed their babies. And the slaves had no recourse.

“If you tried to do this with a northern laborer,” Rosenthal says, “they’d just quit.

”The widespread adoption of these accounting techniques is partly due to a Mississippi planter and accountant named Thomas Affleck, who developed account books for plantation owners that allowed them to make sophisticated calculations and measure productivity in a standardized way.

via The Messy Link Between Slave Owners and Modern Management – Forbes.

Work the Bottom Before You Work the Top

1 Oct

My father was an engineer who spent his life working for Bethlehem Mines, the mining subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel. He was a chemical engineer who was in charge of process design for coal cleaning plants, the plants that separated impurities from raw coal so that the clean coal could be used to make coke for heating blast furnaces.

In a word, he was a “suit.” Though he generally wore dress slacks and a sport coat to work rather than a suite. And he often wore a bow tie rather than a long one. A real bow tie, one of those where you had to tie the knot yourself.

Still, his job required that he go down into coal mines on a regular basis. I’m not sure just why this was, that is, I don’t know why he had to see where and how the coal was mined in order to clean it. But he did.

And that means he knew, first hand, that working in a coal mine was nasty, dirty work, and dangerous. On many occasions he told me that a man shouldn’t be given managerial responsibility for coal mines unless that man had had experience working in a coal mine.

That seems like a good principle to me. It’s not so much that working on the coalface down in a mine gives you knowledge you need in order to turn a profit but that working the coalface was necessary to secure empathy for the men who put their lives at risking working that kind of job year after year, and decade after decade.

Managers should be stewards, not simply of profits, but of the workers under their control.

An exercise to the reader: generalize the principle beyond coal mining.

How to Really End Mass Incarceration – NYTimes.com

15 Aug

This is a start, but let’s wait and see.

Starting in the 1970s, a domestic “war on crime” dominated by antidrug policies and racial profiling fueled a prison-building binge that is morally — and now financially — bankrupt. Both political parties embraced draconian policies like mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes laws and wide disparities in sentences for possession of crack versus powder cocaine. The result: by 2003, the United States had 4.6 percent of the world’s population but 22.4 percent of its prison population — even though violent crime started dropping in the 1990s. Prospects for reform looked bleak.

So I was elated when Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on Monday that the government would commit to reducing the bloated prison population. This is without precedent: the nation’s top law enforcement official directed all federal prosecutors to exercise their discretion toward ending the relentless warehousing of inmates — the vast majority of whom are minorities — in federal prison for low-level drug crimes.

via How to Really End Mass Incarceration – NYTimes.com.

Boom in Luxury Towers Is Warping New York Real Estate Market – NYTimes.com

19 May

“There are only two markets, ultraluxury and subsidized housing,” said Rafael Viñoly, the architect who designed the tower on Park Avenue at 56th Street, which is called 432 Park.

The rush to build these towers underscores the gap between rich and poor in New York City, said James Parrott, chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal research organization supported by unions. He said that median family income in the city had fallen 8 percent since 2008.

“Manhattan’s superluxury condo boom, along with rocketing foreclosures in Queens and record homelessness, present an unobstructed view of accelerating polarization in this recovery,” Mr. Parrott said.

via Boom in Luxury Towers Is Warping New York Real Estate Market – NYTimes.com.

Jeffrey Sachs on the stubborn, pathological intransigence of the 1% | Exopermaculture

10 May

Sachs described an environment of Wall Street influencing politicians with growing campaign contributions. In the 2012 election cycle, political contributions by the securities and investment sector hit $271.5 million, compared with $176 million in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“I meet a lot of these people on Wall Street on a regular basis right now,” he continued.

“I am going to put it very bluntly: I regard the moral environment as pathological. And I am talking about the human interactions . . . I’ve not seen anything like this, not felt it so palpably.”

“They have no responsibility to pay taxes; they have no responsibility to their clients; they have no responsibility to people, to counterparties in transactions,” he said. “They are tough, greedy, aggressive and feel absolutely out of control in a quite literal sense, and they have gamed the system to a remarkable extent.”

via Jeffrey Sachs on the stubborn, pathological intransigence of the 1% | Exopermaculture.

One in four US workers are “guard labor” | Phil Ebersole’s Blog

26 Apr

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.

via One in four US workers are “guard labor” | Phil Ebersole’s Blog.

The 1 Percent’s Solution – NYTimes.com

26 Apr

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.

via The 1 Percent’s Solution – NYTimes.com.

Well-off people soon to finally be inconvenienced by sequestration – Salon.com

23 Apr

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.

via Well-off people soon to finally be inconvenienced by sequestration – Salon.com.

Almost Half the Residents of New York City are at or near poverty – NYTimes.com

21 Apr

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.

via City Report Shows a Growing Number Are Near Poverty – NYTimes.com.

In Divided Market, the Bigger the Companies, the Better They Fare – NYTimes.com

15 Apr

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.

And:

“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.

via In Divided Market, the Bigger the Companies, the Better They Fare – NYTimes.com.