Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

Happy 85th to the Great Depression!

[ 17 ] October 30, 2014 |

Black Tuesday was 85 years ago yesterday.

I went on the Rick Smith Show to talk about its legacy and how we are tearing down the institutions that ensured working people would not have their lives destroyed by corporate greed enacted in the following decades.

Listen to my interview here.


What Causes Deforestation?

[ 19 ] October 30, 2014 |

The global deforestation problem is primarily one of a post-colonial economy, with rich nations importing the raw goods of developing world nations for their own luxurious lifestyles, leaving poverty and ecological catastrophe in their wake:

Four commodities produced in just eight countries are responsible for a third of the world’s forest loss, according to a new report. Those familiar with the long-standing effort to stop deforestation won’t be surprised by the commodities named: beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products (including timber and paper). Nor will they be very surprised by most of the countries: Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay.

“The trend is clear, the drivers of deforestation have been globalized and commercialized”, said co-author Martin Persson with Chalmers University of Technology.

“From having been caused mainly by smallholders and production for local markets, an increasing share of deforestation today is driven by large-scale agricultural production for international markets,” said Persson.

This means that much of the deforestation in question is actually driven by consumer demand from abroad.

“If we exclude Brazilian beef production, which is mainly destined for domestic markets, more than half of deforestation in our case countries is driven by international demand,” confirmed Persson.

The biggest importer of these deforesting commodities was China, linked largely to wood products (timber and paper) from Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia, as well as palm oil imports from the latter. The EU was the second biggest importer of the four commodities, due to imports of palm oil from Indonesia, beef from Brazil, and soy from Latin America. India came in third, largely due to palm oil imports from Indonesia.

The U.S. was not a major importer, mostly because it produces the bulk of its own beef and soy.

It is interesting that the U.S. is not a leading driver of this, but that’s only because we have own natural resources to use. Europe doesn’t and for their talk about being more green, which is in some ways true, cutting down tropical forests for palm oil is not exactly a sustainable national ecological footprint.

Obviously there are no easy answers to any of these problems. But problems they very much are indeed.

Operation Record Private Republican Speeches Continues

[ 65 ] October 30, 2014 |

In the wake of Romney’s 47% comments in 2012, the much needed recording of private Republican speeches continues, this time catching Lindsey Graham making some choice remarks:

According to the CNN report Wednesday, Graham confirmed the veracity of the recordings. Graham was speaking to the Hibernian Society of Charleston, a charitable group with an all-male membership.

In the recording according to CNN, Graham is heard saying: “I’m trying to help you with your tax status. I’m sorry the government’s so f——- up. If I get to be president, white men in male-only clubs are going to do great in my presidency.”

And if there’s one thing we know, it’s that this is Lindsey Graham speaking from his heart, such as it is. I have no doubt a Lindsey Graham presidency would be excellent for elite white men. And horrible for everyone else.

Buff Bobby Jindal

[ 81 ] October 29, 2014 |

It says plenty about the Republican Party in 2016 that Bobby Jindal sees his path to the Republican presidential nomination going right through the gym.

I’m a congenital pessimist, so don’t give me too much credit for drawing attention to this pending debacle-cum-comic-relief. Instead, all praise should go to National Review’s Eliana Johnson, who reported Monday evening that a source “close to” Jindal was willing to confirm that the “slight” governor “has gained 13 pounds over the past few months” because he’s “looking to beef up” now that the 2016 campaign is “on the horizon.” Yes indeed, the guy whose political future began to unravel as soon as people noticed he sounded like Kenneth from “30 Rock” seems to think he can revive his flatlining career by reminding everyone that he doesn’t exactly reflect the Republican Party base’s particular vision of rugged masculinity.

Before reading the National Review piece, I assumed Jindal would run, fare poorly and then lobby the ultimate GOP nominee to pick him as vice president. There’s nothing wrong with that; it can often lead to a cabinet position in a future administration, and is a very traditional course for a second- or third-tier presidential aspirant to take. But now that I know Team Jindal is oblivious enough to think his career can be salvaged by cultivating mass? Well, I think it’s time we ready ourselves for a campaign that’s so lost in the Tea Party twilight zone that anything could happen.

Clearly, Bobby Jindal defeating Hillary Clinton in the all important arm wrestling portion of the 2nd debate will put him over the top.

The Worst Band In America

[ 225 ] October 29, 2014 |

No band in America makes people with decent taste want to punch themselves in the face like Florida Georgia Line, the Nickelback of country music.

Exhibit A:

Ebola causes you to leak fluids from your body’s orifices and bleed internally until your body starts to slowly shut down. Then you die from a combination of low blood-pressure and organ failure. If you have the misfortune of being an American who catches this vile disease, the media will ruthlessly invade your privacy and reveal every minute detail of your life to the public. This is a horrid fate for anyone unfortunate enough to catch this terrible malady.

And I would gladly endure it all so long as I never again have to suffer the experience of sitting seven rows back from the stage while Florida-Georgia Line and Jason Aldean gleefully danced on the grave of one of the most purely American forms of art to the tune of cheers from 9,999 very intoxicated people.

Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line looks like country music’s take on Scott Stapp, with his flowing hair and affinity for bare skin and crosses. While on stage he and Brian Kelley and the rest of the band all sported one of their own band’s T-shirts. Yes, they’re an entire band of “that guys.” Hubbard also handled most of the band’s singing duties, including occasionally dropping into a rap-like cadence while Kelley stood around playfully strumming an acoustic guitar that’s nowhere to be heard in the mix. Congrats bro-country, you have your Limp Bizkit.

Florida-Georgia Bizkit’s performance came to a giant apex of overtly stitched denim, explosions and smoke when the band launched into their current hit song “Dirt.” This is not said lightly, but “Dirt” might be the single worst song to be a No. 1 hit in the history of country music, though we’re about 5 years away from Axl Rose going country in a cash grab. Accept it, America: We’re getting a pedal-steel version of “Patience” and the country audience is gonna eat it up.

“Dirt” contains lyrics like “We all came from it” and “Build your corn field, whiskey bonfires on it” and for the love of everything I swear it’s like the people who love these songs don’t realize that none of them are actually farmers. It took everything in me to not turn to the dad sporting Puma branded golf gear and point out that driving a truck does not autocratically make one the Marlboro Man. Oh, and the band played “Dirt” twice just in case you were wondering how hard they were pushing the single.

Exhibit B:

Congratulations Justin Moore and Outlaws Like Me, you’re officially off the hot seat. Because right here, right now, I am unilaterally declaring that Florida Georgia Line’s new album Anything Goes is the worst album ever released in the history of country music. Ever. Including Florida Georgia Line’s first album Here’s To The Good Times, including anything else you can muster from the mainstream, including a 4-track recording made by a head trauma victim in a walk-in closet with a Casiotone keyboard and an out-of-tune banjo. Anything Goes can slay all comers when it comes to its heretofore unattainable degree of peerless suckitude.

In a word, this album is bullshit. Never before has such a refined collection of strident clichés been concentrated in one insidious mass. Never before have the lyrics to an album evidenced such narrowcasted pseudo-mindless incoherent drivel. Never before have such disparate and diseased influences been married so haphazardly in a profound vacuum of taste, and never have all of these atrocities been platooned together to be proffered to the public without someone, anyone with any bit of conscience and in a position of power putting a stop to this poisoning of the listening public.

Shiny objects and fire also seem to excite and distract Florida Georgia Line and fill them with a profound sense of wonder, and so soliloquies to these things also show up occasionally, as does the word “good.” They really like that word.

“Got on my smell good.
Got a bottle of feel good.
Shined up my wheels good.
You’re looking real good.”

That verse pretty much sums up this entire album. And no, these are not lyrics to the song that is actually titled “Good Good.”

Florida Georgia Line is serving the same role for music critics as Guy Fieri does for food critics: as the prime example of why we can’t have nice things. Of course, the people who like Florida Georgia Line and Fieri, who I basically assume are the exact same people, don’t care. They are happy to spend $25 on a terrible burger covered with Guy’s Fiery Awesome Sauce and then drink 13 Michelob Ultras while listening to the worst music this nation has ever produced, a genre about trucks and rural life and being tough for a bunch of people who live in Round Rock or Cobb County who wouldn’t know corn from wheat or a bulldozer from a combine.

And is it my role to be a snob and look down on these people? Yes. Yes it is.

Racism in the Restaurant Industry

[ 17 ] October 29, 2014 |

This probably won’t surprise you, but Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, the labor organization fighting for labor rights in the restaurant industry, has released a report showing the vast racial disparities between whites and African-Americans in the restaurants of several cities:

The study from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, based in New York, concluded that workers of color in New Orleans who have the same qualifications as white workers receive “living wage opportunities” 62 percent as often as white workers.

It found 61 percent of minority servers and bartenders earn less than twice the poverty level, while 48 percent of white workers fall to the same level. A quarter of black workers in the industry and 23 percent of Hispanic workers are unemployed while only 3 percent of white workers are left out of jobs, the study said.

The group used federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data to count a total of 57,000 restaurant workers in New Orleans, Metairie and Kenner and conclude that six of the 10 lowest paid occupations in the metropolitan area are restaurant jobs.

In addition to compiling labor and Census data, the study included sending equally qualified white and black testers to apply for jobs in 90 “fine-dining” establishments in New Orleans. Researchers also interviewed workers and employers and visited restaurants to observe “visible occupational segregation.”

My wife, who has deep connections in the Mexican migrant community in her home area, attests to this very issue in restaurants there. She notes to me repeatedly that servers and cooks are chosen primarily by color, where the whitest Mexicans are out front and dark Mexicans are in the back. This is just one of many areas where race and work intersect to make the lives of darker skinned people in this nation harder.

How Many Products That You Buy Drive Human Rights Abuses? Many.

[ 24 ] October 29, 2014 |

This Vox piece on 5 products you buy that drive human rights abuses is good enough. I talk about the shrimp industry at some length in my forthcoming capital mobility book. If you are buying frozen shrimp, just assume you are either supporting slave labor or something way too close to it. The apparel industry is of course notorious for its exploitation, as is chocolate production.

But the larger point that the author doesn’t make is that most of the products you buy engage in outright exploitation because the system of capital mobility allows corporations to exploit workers and destroy ecosystems around the globe with impunity and the outsourcing and subcontracting system further makes protects corporations from accountability. So sure, these are horrible industries but if we want to do anything about them we have to think systemically about the system of modern global capitalism that creates these horrors. And the article doesn’t really do that.

A World of Dams

[ 20 ] October 28, 2014 |


Plumer has a good rundown of the complexity of dam building around the world
. The world’s rapidly growing demand for energy means that every way we can turn the natural world into power is going to be considered. Given how many of those methods of energy production also transform the climate in horrible ways, hydropower seems smart. But hydropower also has its own major problems. It forces sometimes hundreds of thousands to move from their homes. It drastically transforms aquatic ecosystems, imperiling fish and other species. It may well create unintended consequences that undermine its clean energy reputation. Building dams also reflects power differentials in society as a whole. Thus you have a nation like Chile seeking to dam rivers over the desires of the people who occupy the land, i.e., the Mapuche. So dam building becomes another round in the 500+ year history of colonialism and racism against indigenous peoples in the Americas.

And mostly, we don’t really know what we are doing when we build dams. In the U.S., this led to a lot of bad dams that provided little power but had significant negative consequences for people and ecosystems. That’s almost certainly happening around the world today.

As with all energy questions, there are no easy answers. But hydroelectric is not a panacea either and should be expanded with the kind of caution one would want to see with gigantic projects that will reshape entire parts of the world. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.

He. Didn’t. Even. Try.

[ 128 ] October 28, 2014 |

If only Obama had given one more speech, the Democratic caucus in the Senate would have totally supported a Swedish-style single payer health care system:

One of the most interesting examples of the reform effort are the “copper plans” being proposed in the Expanded Consumer Choice Act, which is being pushed by seven moderate Senate Democrats: Mark Begich, Mark Warner, Heidi Heitkamp, Tim Kaine, Mary Landrieu, Angus King, and Joe Manchin.

The bill has been around for a few months, but it’s gained more attention in recent weeks because Begich — one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the 2014 election — is using it as proof that he really does want to fix Obamacare, rather than just protect it. If he wins his election, it could become a model for Democrats trying to run on Obamacare going forward. It might even end up being part of a Republican reform package.

Copper plans cover 50 percent of expected health costs (or, as the health wonks put it, they have an “actuarial value” of 50 percent). That means premiums are cheaper than the platinum, gold, bronze or silver plans — the consulting group Avalere Health estimates that copper plan premiums would be 18 percent lower than bronze plan premiums.

But if you get sick, the deductibles and co-pays are much higher. Larry Levitt, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, says that the deductibles would have to be in the range of $9,000 — which would make them higher than the $6,350 out-of-pocket maximum that the law currently allows.

In other words, a significant percentage of the Democratic caucus is looking to fix the ACA by making it a lot worse for poor people.

When someone tells me how Obama was supposed to get votes 53-60 for a better health care bill–in a Democratic caucus that was worse in 2009 than in 2014, let me know.

Slavery and Higher Education

[ 11 ] October 28, 2014 |

It’s hardly surprising once you think about it, but you probably don’t think about it, so it’s worth noting the role slavery had in building so many of our older institutions of higher education. Finally, some institutions are becoming serious about remembering that history and commemorating the unfree labor who worked on these campuses. Brown University is probably the most famous case, but the University of South Carolina has also done good work on this. It’s important stuff and we need more of it.

Surely We Can Strive for 1929 by 2015!

[ 33 ] October 28, 2014 |


Good times:

The debate over inequality often focuses on income, or how much money people earn. But perhaps even more important is wealth, or how much money people have. A person’s income can vary significantly from one year to the next, but wealth tends to be more durable, not just from year to year but from generation to generation. In this paper, the authors construct a new time series on wealth from Federal Reserve, Internal Revenue Service and other data. They find that wealth inequality, like income inequality, has increased significantly in recent decades. In 1978, the richest 0.1 percent of households held about 7 percent of all household wealth; in 2012, they controlled 22 percent. (The top 0.1 percent in 2012 comprised about 160,000 families with net assets above $20 million.) But wealth inequality still isn’t as high as it was in 1929, when the top 0.1 percent had 25 percent of all wealth. Overall, the authors find that the bottom 90 percent haven’t seen any increase in wealth since the mid-1980s after adjusting for inflation.

Daddy Warbucks for President!

This Day in Labor History: October 28, 1793

[ 29 ] October 28, 2014 |

On October 28, 1793, Eli Whitney submitted a patent for his invention known as the cotton gin. Perhaps more than any technology in American history, this invention profoundly revolutionized American labor. Creating the modern cotton industry meant the transition from agricultural to industrial labor in the North with the rise of the factory system and the rapid expansion and intensification of slavery in the South to produce the cotton. The cotton gin went far to create the 19th century American economy and sharpened the divides between work and labor between regions of the United States, problems that would eventually lead to the Civil War.

People had long known of the versatile uses of cotton. This plant produced fibers that could be used for many things, but most usefully clothing, which in the 18th century was often scratchy and uncomfortable for everyday people who could not afford finer fabrics, including cotton. The problem was the seed inside the cotton boll, to which the plant’s fibers stuck. Thus, the labor it took to process it made it a luxury good. The cotton gin solved that problem by mechanically separating the fibers from the seeds. This made cotton a universal product and the production of it an international business that would radically change the entire United States and transform work.

Whitney, from Massachusetts, became interested in the problems of cotton production while visiting a plantation in Georgia. Helping out the plantation’s owner (the widow of Revolutionary War general Nathaniel Greene), he created the cotton gin. On October 28, he send his patent application to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. He hoped to make a lot of money on it but American patent law was weak at the time and others copied him. Quickly the invention spread around the South.


The cotton gin immediately transformed the South. By 1815, cotton became the nation’s leading export, tying the Southern elite to the factory owners and investors of Great Britain. By 1840, it was worth more than all other American exports combined. The system of chattel slavery that had under-girded the colonial tobacco economy had become heavily strained during the 18th century. Declining soil fertility and the expansion of tobacco production around the British empire meant that the plantation owners were not making the money off of slavery that they did 100 years earlier. The lack of an economic imperative for the institution went far toward the abolition of slavery in the North after the American Revolution. In the South, it combined with Enlightenment ideals to at least make plantation owners question the institution. Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry both admitted the institution was bad but could not imagine freeing their slaves because of the lives of luxury the system provided them. Others were slightly less selfish and either freed their slaves in the 1780s or freed them upon the master’s death, such as George Washington. The general assumption though was that slavery was going to disappear, even if Georgia and South Carolina wouldn’t like it much. As Oliver Ellsworth said at the Constitutional Convention, “Slavery in time will not be a speck in our country.”

The cotton gin ended this equivocation on slavery among the plantation elite and destroyed the myth of disappearing slavery in the North. Combined with the conquest of rich land in the hot climates of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana over the next few decades, the planters found new ways to make money using slaves. The southern discussion of slavery transformed from a “necessary evil” to a “positive good.” Thus we would enter the “classic” period of American chattel slavery, replete with the large plantation agriculture you probably think of when envisioning slavery. The lives for slaves were terrible under this system, with rape, beatings, whippings, murder, and the breaking up of families normal parts of life. Further advances in cotton farming created breeds that incentivized working slaves as close to death as possible while keeping them just alive to pick more. As the nation moved toward the Civil War, the southern labor system wrought by the cotton gin was becoming only more entrenched and more brutal for the laborers. Slaves would resist this in any number of ways–breaking tools, running away from masters, even revolt, such as Nat Turner’s revolt or Denmark Vesey’s supposed conspiracy. But by and large the system of racialized violence that kept the labor force in place doomed slaves to miserable lives. In 1787, there were 700,000 slaves in the United States. In 1860, there were 4 million and rising. Around 70 percent of those slaves were involved in cotton production.


In the North, the revolution caused by the cotton gin was just as profound. Samuel Slater had opened the United States’ first modern factory, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a couple of years earlier. The textile industry would explode in the next several decades with all the newly available cotton. By the 1820s, New England had already undergone a massive economic shift toward textile mills that moved this region from rural to urban, with courts and politicians serving the interests of the industrialists over workers, farmers, and fishers. At first, this transformation was along the region’s copious waterways–at Pawtucket, Lowell, and Manchester. But further technological advances would for steam power meant owners could build factories anywhere and they dotted the region after the Civil War.

The impact upon northern workers was truly revolutionary. The agricultural economy certainly did not disappear but it soon became secondary to the textile factories in much of the region. The wealth spawned by textiles created other industries and new transportation technologies like the steamship, canal, and railroad, and by 1860, the growing northern industrial might had reshaped the nation. It took workers out of the farms and small shops that defined 18th century work and into giant factories. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution that the cotton gin brought to the U.S. meant that workers would lose control over their own labor, the ability to set their own hours of work, the possibility of drinking on the job, and the artisanship of American craft labor. Replacing it would be the factory floor, the time clock, and the foreman. This is largely in the relatively distant future from 1793, but the transformations began soon after.

Cartoon or Sketch of Mill Woman_0

It also brought women into the economy in new ways. Supposedly because of their nimble fingers but really because employers could pay them less, women became desirable workers in the cotton factories. This upended gender roles and when American women resisted the treatment they faced in the factories, spurred the migration of immigrants from Ireland and then eastern and southern Europe to fill these low-paid jobs. In the early factories, work was hot, stuffy, and exhausting, with 14-16 hours days not uncommon. The creation of textile work as women’s work and thus highly exploitative never ended and continues today in the sweatshops of Bangladesh, Honduras, and many other nations. The fight to tame the conditions of industrial labor wrought, in part, by the cotton gin, remains underway today.

This is the 123rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Page 98 of 357« First...102030...96979899100...110120130...Last »