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Out of Sight Reading Group – Only you can save mankind from capitalist scum

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Extra credit – Identify this fellow.

This is the final Out of Sight virtual reading group type thing. Loomis is around to take your questions.

A random thought on corporations after finishing the book: This has become, or perhaps it has always been, about power, with profit as an excuse. At least, that’s the only way I can explain corporations’ constant assault on their consumer base. Who, in a world of an underpaid, unhealthy workforce, is supposed to buy all of the crap these companies produce? The handful of white collar sub-C suite drones who haven’t had their jobs outsourced? Good luck.

Maybe the idea is that when things get that bad, U.S.-based corporations will go to its pet Congress and demand a bailout. More likely, the average multi-national corporation is run by a bunch of dim-witted leeches and they haven’t thought that far ahead.

At any rate, it also made me wonder if there’s been any attempt to connect the consumer protest efforts with employee protest efforts. And what has become of the union/environmentalist collaborations of the past. Are those completely dead or is there a chance to bring that back?

As an aside, I’ve been staring at excel spreadsheets for the past three days so I apologize for any typos or gibberish. (Just this once.)

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  • Woodrowfan

    Robert LaFollette Sr

    • N__B

      Wrong! Christopher Walken.

      • tsam

        FALSE: Bill Clinton in anaphylaxis

      • Woodrowfan

        or Marvel’s The Collector!

        • benjoya

          bzzt! David Lynch

  • ddworak1

    Good God! Hallelujah!Finally someone else points out that you can’t sell $30,000 cars to lineworkers making $10 an hour with no benefits!

    • Yep. Even Nazi-symp Henry Ford said workers needed to be paid enough to buy the product.

    • Ronan

      True, but how much has the (global) market they now sell into compensated for undermining their domestic consumer base ? (And access to cheaper credit for those on lower incomes)

  • CP

    This has become, or perhaps it has always been, about power, with profit as an excuse.

    This has been my conclusion for a while now.

    My amateur psychologist pet theory: the people running the corporations, whether they were born into it or “built that,” are all fucking loaded. There are very few things they can’t buy anymore, certainly no real “needs” that they can’t satisfy, so paradoxically money doesn’t matter as much anymore. Or if it does, it’s as an abstraction, a way of keeping score, rather than something that’s related to your own well being. Beyond that, they care more and more about the intangible things – they have money, but they also want respect and gratitude and recognition of their awesomeness by all the rest of us, and the power to punish those of us that they think are looking at them funny and keep us in our proper place.

    TL/DR, they’d rather be the Big Boss of a third world nation lording it over a population of serfs, than be an even wealthier man than that but have to share their world with a bunch of healthy middle class people they consider their lessers. It’s practically “Paradise Lost: The Reality Show.”

    • N__B

      I have far more sympathy for Lucifer, as portrayed in Paradise Lost, than I have or ever will have for the C-suite assholes. Milton’s Lucifer had actual grievances (whether or not you agree with them) and actually tried to do something about them (whether or not you agree with his efforts).

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        Corporations make much more sense if you analyze them using the old, old, categories. That is, as DEMONS.

        No body, no soul, no morals, immortal, acting in many places at once, speaking only through their thralls.

        Yeah, Lucifer is a stand-up guy in comparison.

        • CP

          I was basically just going for that one “better to reign in hell” line, but I’ve always liked the fact that in Christian mythology, the devil is basically a banker (of the predatory lending variety). He offers you a deal that’s too good to be true, usually when you’re down on your luck and at a vulnerable moment, but demands something extremely valuable as collateral and, when things inevitably fail to work out, swoops in to repossess it. And then he owns you forever.

          • cpinva

            actually, it’s an even trade, your soul belongs to him, no matter how your life turns out. ask Robert Johnson.

        • Hogan

          Neither a soul to damn nor an ass to kick.

    • njorl

      I had known for a while that the wealthy did better in absolute terms under Democratic administrations than they do under Republicans. I had assumed that they preferred to maximize relative wealth gains over absolute wealth gains, and that Republicans delivered on this preference. It turns out they don’t. Inequality has been increasing faster under Democrats than Republicans.

      Everybody does better under Democrats, but the rich benefit the most.

      I think the only benefits the rich get from Republican politicians are enactments of “sticky” legislation like tax cuts, which endure through Democratic administrations, and deterrence against the Democrats moving to the left if they have too much electoral success.

      Either that, or the rich hate the poor so much that they would forego $2 to prevent a poor man from earning $1 more.

      • CP

        Either that, or the rich hate the poor so much that they would forego $2 to prevent a poor man from earning $1 more.

        And I think they do. Comes under “keeping them in their place.”

        As for tax cuts, they also fall under “intangible” as much as they do “tangible” – sure, they get to save a little money, but it’s also a demonstration from the government that it recognizes their awesomeness and specialness and wants to demonstrate that through this gesture.

        (That, and/or what Tolkien was talking about when he wrote about “the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted.” Rich people can be petty too).

        Also, forgot to mention this before, but… tribal affiliation. Wealthy elites have it just as much as the rest of us do. And “rich people vote Republican, because that’s just how it is” has been a thing in this country for over a hundred years – much longer than other such ties like “white Southerners vote Republican” or “black people vote Democrat.” That, alone, is probably a fairly significant factor too.

      • sonamib

        Either that, or the rich hate the poor so much that they would forego $2 to prevent a poor man from earning $1 more.

        That isn’t completely insane. Say your rich person has a gardener, a chauffeur, a house cleaner and a baby-sitter. If each of them loses $1 and the rich person loses $2, the rich person still gets out ahead.

        I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, wondering why Brazilian middle classes were so damn conservative*. I’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t care about economic growth because they already have everything they want. If you have access to cheap labor, you can live a very comfortable life, often better than what you would get in a developed country. Why would you want a dishwasher if you can pay some serf to clean your own dishes?

        *Edit : of course racism is also a big part of the answer. And surprise, surprise, black people are the overwhelmingly majority of domestic workers.

  • gawaintheknight

    I’ve assumed it’s a collective action problem. I want to pay my workers as little as possible and hope that other people’s workers are well enough paid to buy the stuff I produce. But of course I can only control what I pay my own workers, so….

    But it’s also entirely possible that it’s about power and not money. Hell, that’s what Marx would say, right?

    • Gregor Sansa

      I agree about the collective action thing.

      Separately: thanks to Shakezula and to Loomis for doing this. Don’t have much to add but I think that letting international workers use US (and Spanish, &c) courts is one of the better ones for reining in corporate excess. They still wouldn’t be trustable but it would be a step forward.

    • Brett

      I think it’s money, mostly. Modern CEOs aren’t in it for the long-term with any particular firm – they just want to enrich themselves. Same goes for investors, many of whom aren’t even “people” in the flesh-and-blood sense anymore (they’re various funds).

    • mikeSchilling

      Well, we can assume that people are responding to incentives, or that they’re all evil bastards.

      What fun is the first one?

    • sonamib

      That doesn’t explain why they’re against minimum wage hikes, which affect all competing businesses equally.

      • CP

        Cause it’s a concession to the peons who are beneath them.

        On general principle, @$%# that noise.

      • Pseudonym

        Is there good data on which businesses and business leaders are for or against minimum wage hikes? I wonder if some of it’s just bias towards weighing immediate visible effects higher than invisible ones: a higher minimum wage is guaranteed to raise costs (pretty much every business is going to have at least a cleaning staff whose contractors aren’t paying much), but no guarantee of a corresponding increase in demand.

        For all that Silicon Valley and the tech world likes to talk about disrupting the economy, you’d think that there’d be more support for these kinds of disruptions. A sudden increase in the minimum wage would have a good chance of upsetting existing businesses and providing opportunities for new ones. Of course some of those new ones might be in the form of automation to replace workers that are suddenly more expensive, but the consensus seems to be that modest increases in the minimum wage are neutral overall when it comes to unemployment.

  • mutterc

    An interesting perspective I got from a former manager: some of the short-term-ism is driven by lack of job security amongst CEOs and other executives.

    That is, golden parachutes aside, they’re disposable employees like we are. They’re pretty certain to, in a few years, neither to be working for the company nor to be drawing a pension from it. So they have no incentive to care about the long-term health of the company.

    • erick

      Yeah, but the Golden parachute means once they land one CEO job their set up for life.

      When we went from the scandal plagued Mark Hurd and hired Leo what’s his name who only lasted 9 months and got dumped after almost blowing up the entire company and still got like 20 mil or so I told my boss I’d happily be CEO for the next 9 months and only ask for a 5 mil payout. I figured I’d do nothing for 9 months and that would be way less damaging

      • mutterc

        It was always my dream to get paid to leave a job. Finally realized it in 2010 or so. (Ordinary severance pay from an ordinary layoff but it still counts, dammit!)

  • cpinva

    “More likely, the average multi-national corporation is run by a bunch of dim-witted leeches and they haven’t thought that far ahead.”

    this, and I can even tell you when it started. back when I was in college (mid 70’s) taking accounting classes, “long-term” was defined as anything extending out a year or more. planning was done in 1 year, 5 year and 10 year increments. we were taught to think long-term, as was everyone majoring in finance, marketing, etc. no more, not since the Reagan administration, and the changes in tax laws that encouraged short-term thinking, on the part of both management and shareholders.

    LBO’s and 337 elections, coupled with massive stock options predicated on inflated short-term earnings and profits pretty much destroyed the whole concept of actually investing in a company for the long haul. shareholders and the market were taught to demand ridiculous quarterly ROI’s and dividends, and any CEO who didn’t deliver found themselves on the hot seat. mergers & acquisitions helped some, but the real saving grace was being able to outsource your production operations to countries with cheap, non-union labor, and little to no regulatory structure. WOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! profits/earnings per share literally road that wave on into the beach!

    and it’s just gone downhill since.

    • AMK

      From Silicon Valley a few weeks back:

      Richard, do you know what our product is?

      The box?

      No

      The platform?

      No

      The algorithm?

      No Richard. The stock. The product is our stock.

    • Pseudonym

      I think the Koch brothers have said similar things in explaining why Koch Industries is more successful as a private company, actually.

  • First, I want to thank Shakezula for putting these together. I really appreciate it.

    Unfortunately, even liberals and the left pay very little attention to these issues of global exploitation and so I’m glad this book has received a little attention. Hopefully some of you found it useful.

    As to Shakezula’s questions on linking up protest movements. On connecting consumer and labor movements, there’s been a little bit of this. The most famous example is the United Farm Workers’ grape boycott. Another example is the 1973 Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers strike over workplace safety at Shell that convinced environmental organizations to ask consumers to send their Shell credit cards back to the companies. But there’s not a lot of this, and I think the example I use about pesticides on food is telling. In that example, chemical companies responded to concerns about pesticide residue in food by developing new pesticides that worked very fast and then disappeared. The problem with these new pesticides is that they are very powerful and the farmworkers bear the brunt of them. But it worked in that consumers stopped caring about this issue once they weren’t affected. So it’s depressing.

    On the worker/environmentalist alliances that I also mentioned above in the OCAW strike, it’s complicated. There are groups working on these issues like the Blue-Green Alliance. They do good work. It’s tough though in an atmosphere of few good working class jobs, where you see unions like the Laborers bitterly denouncing environmentalists for getting in the way of jobs constructing dirty power plants now. It’s hard to blame LIUNA for this, but they could tone down their rhetoric a whole lot. On the other hand, environmentalists have done a very poor job demanding that green energy projects be constructed from union-made products in the United States. Were that to happen, I think you would see a lot more connections between those movements.

    • Brett

      I feel like LIUNA could square that problem if they coupled support for the environmental side of it with support for jobs programs for their members (possibly in cleaning up environmental damage and other work). But they don’t – they just go for the low-hanging illusionary fruit.

      And definitely environmentalists could help with that link too.

    • cpinva

      “The problem with these new pesticides is that they are very powerful and the farmworkers bear the brunt of them. But it worked in that consumers stopped caring about this issue once they weren’t affected. So it’s depressing.”

      yes, this. what needs to be done (and this goes back to long-term vs short-term planning, etc.) is to educate consumers in the fact that, even though that pesticide doesn’t affect them right now, that it’s affecting those workers will, eventually, affect those consumers in the long-term, by jacking up the cost of that produce, because of the ultimate extra cost to the company from lawsuits, bad PR, etc.

      yeah, it’s a tough road to slog, but that’s the only way to get their attention, for more than 30 seconds at a time.

  • libarbarian

    Does this mean you’re expanding the brand with an “Out Of Sight” Choose Your Own Adventure series?

    • All the scenarios end with the reader dying from unsafe working conditions.

      • Linnaeus

        You could mix it up a bit and have the reader be attacked or fired for trying to organize her/his workplace.

        • N__B

          There were a number of women who were fired (for organizing) from the Triangle Shirtwaist Company after the big strike that took place shortly before the fire. So they lost their jobs, but didn’t die, but watched their friends die.

          IOW, Erik’s right that there are no good scenarios.

        • Plenty of people are merely crippled by unsafe working conditions.

      • njorl

        There has to be a way to get beaten to death because you complained about the unsafe working conditions.

        • Hogan

          I’ll give you something to die about!

      • Surely a few people must make it to retirement only to find their pension fund is two pennies and a moth.

      • cpinva

        “All the scenarios end with the reader dying from unsafe working conditions.”

        similar to all of Shakespeare’s dramas, everyone dies at the end.

  • Linnaeus

    It’s funny – I read Steve Fraser’s Age of Acquiesence before Out of Sight, and combining the two in my head sometimes gets me pessimistic about the prospects of doing what Erik suggests in OoS. The structural factors that contribute to the present situation are certainly massive, but I wonder if cultural factors are even bigger; enough people are willing to accept that this is just how it is.

  • Brett

    Who, in a world of an underpaid, unhealthy workforce, is supposed to buy all of the crap these companies produce?

    Discount Retail! More seriously, there’s a massive consumer base of low-income people out there who buy stuff – and I’m not just talking about low-income by American standards. Even the companies aiming for a middle- and upper-middle-class consumer crowd have been feeling the pressure to branch out and sell to a larger population.

    Gawaiintheknight pointed out the other reason, which is that there’s a collective action issue at work. Any particular firm can profit from skirting regulations or shifting production elsewhere, even if collectively the industry might suffer from its consumer base deteriorating. And while firms can benefit “efficiency wage” style to some degree from having higher wages, this clearly has limits – otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about problems with stagnant wage growth. It doesn’t help that if said firm is publicly traded, it will be punished by investors for doing so (look at the crap McDonald’s has gotten from some of their investors because they raised their wages slightly).

    • libarbarian

      Even the companies aiming for a middle- and upper-middle-class consumer crowd have been feeling the pressure to branch out and sell to a larger population.

      For the past few years I’ve read consistent reports that companies are feeling the squeeze on “middle-tier” products and that the market growth is strongest in both the extreme low-tier and high-tier segments.

    • cpinva

      “It doesn’t help that if said firm is publicly traded, it will be punished by investors for doing so (look at the crap McDonald’s has gotten from some of their investors because they raised their wages slightly).”

      the interesting part of this is that, after a share of stock has been authorized and issued, it makes zero difference to the company what its market value is, it doesn’t get a cut of any profits made on that share, when it gets sold subsequently. it’s all sh driven.

      • Aardvark Cheeselog

        after a share of stock has been authorized and issued, it makes zero difference to the company what its market value is

        But it makes a great deal of difference to management whose compensation is in the form of shares, options, or warrants.

  • Hogan

    Who, in a world of an underpaid, unhealthy workforce, is supposed to buy all of the crap these companies produce?

    Newly rich Indians and Chinese.

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