Published on 7 Apr 2015
Do unions raise wages for workers as a whole? If not, can unions raise the wages of some workers? The answer is, well, it depends. Unions have the ability to restrict the supply of labor to a job, which can increase wages for some workers. However, unions can also lower wages. For example, work stoppages and strikes supported by unions can slow down economic growth, lowering real wages. To illustrate this, we take a look at what happened to Great Britain’s economy during the 1970’s union strikes.
It’s important to note that unions are not just about wages — they can be helpful in protecting workers from arbitrary abuses and maintaining positive workplace relationships.
Finally, we ask — are there differences between professional associations and unions? How are they similar? Watch to learn more about how unions affect the economy.
June 30, 2016
While I’m eagerly awaiting the delivery of my copy of Garnet’s book, here is a report from the Local Xpress on Garnet’s upcoming appearance at the Canso Stan Rogers Folk Festival this Canada Day weekend:
The length of the journey to Canso, home of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, is no deterrent to the hardy hundreds who’ve packed the event every July long weekend for the past two decades.
But that winding Guysborough road is just a fraction of the journey that the festival’s namesake made with his brother and bandmate Garnet Rogers prior to Stan’s death in 1983. Many of those miles are chronicled in Garnet’s new book Night Drive: Travels With My Brother, which he’s launched in time for Stanfest’s 20th anniversary. The book stretches from their parents’ roots in Canso and Pictou County to the brothers’ final conversation at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. In between lies a rough and tumble tale of a furtive search for folk music glory, where it took more than talent to get ahead, and dreams seemed to get dashed on a daily basis.
“Somebody made the comment that parents should buy the book and give it to any of their kids who decide they want to become a musician or a folksinger […] It really is kind of a cautionary tale.”
Decades later, much of it has been romanticized, and writing Night Drive was an opportunity for Garnet to strip away the rose-coloured glasses, and also tell his side of the story.
“I got invited to this thing recently where the City of Hamilton is honouring Stan with a lifetime achievement award, making him a citizen of the city or something like that, sponsored by the Hamilton Spectator […] On the face of it, God bless them, but I felt like a bystander. There was no mention of the fact that I was there, or as far as Stan was concerned, 50 per cent of the equation.
“Stan handed over 49 per cent of his publishing to me, half ownership of the songs, that should mean something in terms of how he at least perceived my contribution, but the average person doesn’t know any of that. So part of writing this was simply to say I was there. I don’t want someone coming up to me and giving me some blather about how seeing Stan changed their life and they’ll never forget that concert, but they don’t remember that I was there, because I bloody was.
“So a lot of it was setting the record straight, but more importantly I wanted it to be funny.”
And much of the book is laugh-out-loud hilarious, as Rogers describes how he and his brother were performing the musical equivalent of “scrawling your name on a cave wall” while playing for distracted pit miners at a disco in Labrador City. Or in a pressure cooker of a bar in Jasper, Alta., where the audience was split down the middle between railway and oil rig workers who hated each other, which eventually erupted in a melee that nearly saw Stan charged with assault with a deadly weapon, in this case a mike stand.
“There was something in that ‘three young guys in a van together’ thing […] Whether the gig was good, bad or indifferent, you could always find something to laugh about. Like the opening chapter about the non-existent gig in Baltimore and that young woman sitting on the couch with no underwear, every damn detail of that story is absolutely true, not even remotely exaggerated.
“It was just as squalid as it sounds, and you come out of something like that, the worst disaster ever, but you’re laughing and laughing, and a few hours later you realize you’re miles from home and completely broke. But in the meantime you’ve got three young guys who are just dying with laughter because of the insanity of the situation.”
The US clothing retailer recently launched a new campaign aimed at a larger target market:
You can see the commercial logic, of course. America’s obese population is growing — both numerically and horizontally — and JC Penney sells clothes. Someone has made the brilliant decision to market this once-respected brand to women who wear fumigation tents as prom dresses, and who think of Cool Ranch Doritos as a food group.
In fact, realizing how easy it is to sell to fat women I might announce a line of tea biscuits called “Milo’s Virtuous Snacks” with inspirational quotes on the boxes, such as, “You’re amazing even though you ate the whole pizza,” and, “Don’t worry that your left arm is numb, that’s just your FIERCE shining through.”
They’re $19.95 for a box of 10, but you can’t put a price on a woman’s self esteem or wellbeing. Well, JC Penney has I suppose, but my point is I too can profit from your inevitable painful death via type 2 diabetes, alone in your married sister’s attic. Of course I’m a fair bit cleverer than JC Penney: fattening up these cows will just create inventory for my other business — safari parks.
(I’m lobbying to make it legal to hunt any man over 20% body fat. But only with tranquilizer darts — I’m not a monster.)
In the long run though, this sort of business strategy doesn’t work. JC Penney is joining the ranks of consumer products companies following a bizarrely quixotic business model — help your customers feel good about themselves until they drop dead from obesity-related illnesses. The problem? When they die, they stop buying your XXXL clothing.
Political and occult conspiracy theories can make for good propaganda and excellent satire (vide Illuminatus! or any of half a dozen other examples). As guides to action, however, they are generally dangerously misleading.
Misleading, because they assume more capacity for large groups to keep secrets and maintain absolutely unitary conscious policies than human beings in groups actually seem to possess. The history of documented “conspiracies” and failed attempts at same is very revealing in this regard — above a certain fairly small size, somebody always blows the gaff. This is why successful terrorist organizations are invariably quite small.
Dangerously misleading because conspiracy theories, offering the easy drama of a small group of conscious villains, distract our attention from a subtler but much more pervasive phenomenon — one I shall label the “prospiracy”.
What distinguishes prospiracies from conspiracies is that the members don’t necessarily know they are members, nor are they fully conscious of what binds them together. Prospiracies are not created through oaths sworn by guttering torchlight, but by shared ideology or institutional culture. In many cases, members accept the prospiracy’s goals and values without thinking through their consequences as fully as they might if the process of joining were formal and initiatory.
What makes a prospiracy like a conspiracy and distinguishes it from a mere subcultural group? The presence of a “secret doctrine” or shared goals which its core members admit among themselves but not to perceived outsiders; commonly, a goal which is stronger than the publicly declared purpose of the group, or irrelevant to that declared purpose but associated with it in some contingent (usually historical) way.
On the other hand, a prospiracy is unlike a conspiracy in that it lacks well-defined lines of authority. Its leaders wield influence over the other members, but seldom actual power. It also lacks a clear-cut distinction between “ins” and “outs”.
Eric S. Raymond, “Conspiracy and prospiracy”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-14.
June 29, 2016
Published on 28 Jun 2016
What I did on my holidays by The Mighty Jingles age 46 and a bit. TANKS!
The Tank Museum – http://www.tankmuseum.org/home
Upcoming Events at The Tank Museum:
Tanks in Action – 21 Jul – 02 Sep
Attack of the Daleks – 23/24 Jul
Warfare through the Ages – 06/07 Aug
Tank 100 – 17 Sep
Tank Experience Day – 30 Sep – 01 Oct
Access All Areas – 13 Oct
Pakistani religious law authorities announce support for (some) transgender marriages and civil rights
In The Telegraph, Mohammad Zubair Khan and Andrew Marszal report on a somewhat surprisingly liberal announcement on the part of a group of Islamic religious leaders:
Fifty top Pakistani clerics have issued a religious decree declaring that transgender people have full marriage, inheritance and funeral rights under Islamic law.
The fatwa stated that a female-born transgender person having “visible signs of being a male” may marry a woman or a male-born transgender with “visible signs of being a female”, and vice versa.
However, it ruled that a transgender person carrying “visible signs of both genders” – or intersex – may not marry anyone.
It is currently impossible for transgenders to marry in Pakistan, where gay marriage remains punishable by life imprisonment, and no “third gender” is recognised on official identity cards.
The new fatwa also declared that any act intended to “humiliate, insult or tease” the community was “haraam” (sinful), and that transgender persons should not be deprived of family inheritances, nor the right to be buried in Muslim ceremonies.
Muhammad Zia Ul Haq Naqshbandi, the Lahore-based head of the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat religious law organisation that issued the fatwa, said parents who deprived their transgender sons or daughters of inheritances were “inviting the wrath of God”.
Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat is not a political organisation, and its fatwas are not legally binding. But the group wields influence thanks to its tens of thousands of followers across Pakistan.
Scratch the surface of “Silicon Valley culture” and you’ll find dozens of subcultures beneath. One means of production unites many tribes, but that’s about all that unites them. At a company the size of Google or even GitHub, you can expect to find as many varieties of cliques as you would in an equivalently sized high school, along with a “corporate culture” that’s as loudly promoted and roughly as genuine as the “school spirit” on display at every pep rally you were ever forced to sit through. One of those groups will invariably be the weirdoes.
Humans are social animals, and part of what makes a social species social is that its members place a high priority on signaling their commitment to other members of their species. Weirdoes’ priorities are different; our primary commitment is to an idea or a project or a field of inquiry. Species-membership commitment doesn’t just take a back seat, it’s in the trunk with a bag over its head.
Not only that, our primary commitments are so consuming that they leak over into everything we think, say, and do. This makes us stick out like the proverbial sore thumb: We’re unable to hide that our deepest loyalties aren’t necessarily to the people immediately around us, even if they’re around us every day. We have a name for people whose loyalties adhere to the field of technology — and to the society of our fellow weirdoes who we meet and befriend in technology-mediated spaces — rather than to the hairless apes nearby. I prefer this term to “weird nerds,” and so I’ll use it here: hackers.
You might not consider hackers to be a tribe apart, but I guarantee you that many — if not most — hackers themselves do. Eric S. Raymond’s “A Brief History of Hackerdom,” whose first draft dates to 1992, contains a litany of descriptions that speak to this:
They wore white socks and polyester shirts and ties and thick glasses and coded in machine language and assembler and FORTRAN and half a dozen ancient languages now forgotten .…
The mainstream of hackerdom, (dis)organized around the Internet and by now largely identified with the Unix technical culture, didn’t care about the commercial services. These hackers wanted better tools and more Internet ….
[I]nstead of remaining in isolated small groups each developing their own ephemeral local cultures, they discovered (or re-invented) themselves as a networked tribe.
Meredith Patterson, “When Nerds Collide: My intersectionality will have weirdoes or it will be bullshit”, Medium.com, 2014-04-23.
June 28, 2016
Published on 27 Jun 2016
Douglas Haig is usually the centre of the Lions vs. Donkeys debate. Were the British soldiers “Lions led by Donkeys” during World War 1? Douglas Haig, the father of the Battle of the Somme, is often painted as the Butcher of the Somme but is that really the case? We took a closer look.
Today’s typical environmentalist and locavore fancies that he or she possesses more and better knowledge than is contained in market prices. He or she is mistaken in his or her arrogance. The environmentalist who moralizes in favor of recycling cardboard containers and the locavore who boasts that he helps the environment by paying a few cents more for locally grown cabbages and cantaloupes focus on a small handful of visible aspects of production and distribution – such as the wood-pulp contents of the cardboard container or the fuel used to transport agricultural produces over long distances – and leaps without warrant to the conclusion that sticking that used cardboard containers into recycling bins, or reducing the amount of fuel burned to transport produce, generates net benefits for the environment. But there is simply no way that the recycling champion or the locavore can really know what he thinks he knows.
How much energy is used to recycle cardboard containers compared to the amount of energy used to produce new cardboard containers? What is the environmental impact of the chemicals used to cleanse used cardboard of the residue from its earlier uses so that that cardboard can be recycled for another use? How much fertilizer and energy – and what sorts – does your local small-scale farmer use to grow kale and cucumbers compared to the amounts and sorts used by the more-distant, larger-scale farmer? What is the full environmental impact of using land in suburbs such as Fairfax, VA, and Dobbs Ferry, NY, to grow vegetables for sale a local farmers’ markets compared to the impact of using that land differently?
The above are only a tiny fraction of all the relevant questions that must be asked and answered with reasonable accuracy before anyone can possess enough knowledge to be confident that recycling or ‘buying local’ are in fact good for the environment.
Don Boudreaux, “Quotation of the Day…”, Café Hayek, 2016-06-16.
June 27, 2016
Published on 7 Apr 2015
Firms have an incentive to increase job safety, because then they can lower wages. In this video, we explore this surprising claim in much greater depth. Bear in mind that wages adjust until jobs requiring a similar level of skill have similar compensation practices. Why do riskier jobs often pay more? Why has job safety increased over the years? How does a firm’s profit motive play a role?
At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer explains why bureaucrats so often make what appear to be incomprehensible decisions and then double-down on the decision despite any irrational, economically destructive, or humanitarian consequences:
I want to take an aside here on incentives. It is almost NEVER the case that an organization has no incentives or performance metrics. Yes, it is frequently the case that they may not have clear written formal metrics and evaluations and incentives. But every organization has informal, unwritten incentives. Sometimes, even when there are written evaluation procedures, these informal incentives dominate.
Within government agencies, I think these informal incentives are what matter. Here are a few of them:
- Don’t ever get caught having not completed some important form or process step or having done some bureaucratic function incorrectly.
- Don’t ever get caught not knowing something you are supposed to know in your job.
- Don’t ever say yes to something (a project, a permit, a program, whatever) that later generates controversy, especially if this controversy gets the attention of your boss’s boss.
- Don’t ever admit a mistake or weakness of any sort to someone outside the organization.
- Don’t ever do or support anything that would cause the agency’s or department’s budget to be cut or headcount to be reduced.
You ever wonder why government agencies say no to everything and make it impossible to do new things? Its not necessarily ideology, it’s their incentives. They get little or no credit for approving something that works out well, but the walls come crashing down on them if they approve something that generates controversy.
So consider the situation of the young twenty-something woman across the desk from me at, say, the US Forest Service. She is probably reasonably bright, but has had absolutely no relevant training from the agency, because a bureaucracy will always prefer to allocate funds so that it has 50 untrained people rather than 40 well-trained people (maintaining headcount size will generally be prioritized over how well the organization performs on its mission). So here is a young person with no training, who is probably completely out of her element because she studied forestry or environment science and desperately wanted to count wolves but now finds herself dumped into a job dealing with contracts for recreation and having to work with — for God sakes — for-profit companies like mine.
One program she has to manage is a moderately technical process for my paying my concession fees in-kind with maintenance services. She has no idea how to do this. So she takes her best guess from materials she has, but that guess is wrong. But she then sticks to that answer and proceeds to defend it like its the Alamo. I know the process backwards and forwards, have run national training sessions on it, have literally hundreds of contract-years of experience on it, but she refuses to acknowledge any suggestion I make that she may be wrong. I coined the term years ago “arrogant ignorance” for this behavior, and I see it all the time.
But on deeper reflection, while it appears to be arrogance, what else could she do given her incentives? She can’t admit she doesn’t know or wasn’t trained (see #2 and #4 above). She can’t acknowledge that I might be able to help her (#4). Having given an answer, she can’t change it (#1).
Urging vague and unconstrained government power is not how responsible citizens of a free society ought to act. It’s a bad habit and it’s dangerous and irresponsible to promote it.
This is not an abstract or hypothetical point. We live in a country in which arbitrary power is routinely abused, usually to the detriment of the least powerful and the most abused among us. We live in a country in which we have been panicked into giving the government more and more power to protect us from harm, and that power is most often not used for the things we were told, but to solidify and expand previously existing government power. We live in a country where the government uses the power we’ve already given it as a rationale for giving it more: “how can we not ban x when we’ve already banned y?” We live in a country where vague laws are used arbitrarily and capriciously.
Ken White, “In Support Of A Total Ban on Civilians Owning Firearms”, Popehat, 2016-06-16.
June 26, 2016
In his latest column at the National Post, Colby Cosh wonders why Canadian pundits have been so strongly pro-EU when their other mode is to reject anything resembling an EU-style relationship with our own largest trading partner:
I might have voted Remain myself if my great-grandparents’ generation hadn’t lit out for the great plains, but isn’t there something obviously unusual about our view of the transatlantic frenzy? Canada is a political entity defined by its perpetual rejection of a continental political union. No one here, at all, ever expresses any doubt about the wisdom of that rejection. It costs us all hard cash, every day, to not be the 51st state. Yet we keep the Americans at bay, preserving the freedom to make arrangements on trade and defence on a basis (or pretence?) of mutual, separate sovereignty. We do this even though we share a common tongue with Americans, and they are much more similar to us culturally and ideologically than an Englishman is to an Estonian.
Look at the list of imprecations being hurled at Leave voters Friday, many of them by Canadians. They’re “small-minded,” “isolationist,” “short-sighted,” “fact-blind,” “racist” countryside boobs without vision or understanding. Couldn’t all these epithets be turned on us like a gun-barrel? Who speaks for, even contemplates, the discarded project of American Union — which was once a lively concern, actively advocated by some of the first people to call themselves Canadian in the modern sense?
If the sheer craziness of Canada’s Remain sympathies weren’t obvious enough, the intellectual leaders of the Leave camp are constantly upholding Canada as a model for immigration policy, with its self-interested, skill-privileging, but globally indiscriminate points system. They also cite us as an obvious potential partner for the kind of bilateral trade deal Britain will now be free to pursue on its own. Basically, the Leave campaigners didn’t put it this way or incorporate it into a slogan, but they want the U.K.’s relationship with Europe — a polyglot kaleidoscope of radically dissimilar nation states, some of them failing — to be the same friendly, wary relationship Canada has with the United States.
What in Hades could possibly be wrong with that, as a basic proposition?
Published on 25 Jun 2016
A slightly hangover Indy is sitting in the chair of Wisdom to answer your questions about the First World War.