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Demographics of the New Gilded Age

[ 22 ] December 12, 2015 |

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The Institute for Policy Studies has a new report on income inequality:

America’s 20 wealthiest people — a group that could fit comfortably in one single Gulfstream G650 luxury jet –­ now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households.

The Forbes 400 now own about as much wealth as the nation’s entire African-American population ­– plus more than a third of the Latino population ­– combined.

The wealthiest 100 households now own about as much wealth as the entire African American population in the United States. Among the Forbes 400, just 2 individuals are African American –­ Oprah Winfrey and Robert Smith.

The wealthiest 186 members of the Forbes 400 own as much wealth as the entire Latino population. Just five members of the Forbes 400 are Latino including Jorge Perez, Arturo Moreno, and three members of the Santo Domingo family.

With a combined worth of $2.34 trillion, the Forbes 400 own more wealth than the bottom 61 percent of the country combined, a staggering 194 million people.

The median American family has a net worth of $81,000. The Forbes 400 own more wealth than 36 million of these typical American families. That’s as many households in the United States that own cats.

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Slavery Apologies

[ 40 ] December 12, 2015 |

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Regardless of the complex debate over reparations for slavery discussed here, I can’t help but say that I don’t want a black president issuing a national apology for slavery. It needs to be a white president.

Sports and the Sexual Double Standard

[ 44 ] December 11, 2015 |

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Even when female athletes become national heroes, as which happened with the U.S. soccer team, they receive second-class citizenship compared to male athletes. This isn’t just in pay or television exposure. It’s in working conditions. Whereas the U.S. men’s team flat refuses to play on artificial turf and grass is placed down when they play in turf stadiums, the women’s team is forced to play on turf during their victory tour. Or there at least until Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL on the practice field (which was actually grass but poorly maintained) and the conditions on the field in Honolulu were so bad that the team simply refused to play the match. This will probably end the women’s national team playing on turf, but it’s telling how deep sexism runs in the treatment of athletes.

Americans You Should Know

[ 65 ] December 11, 2015 |

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Yesterday in 1909, the great Lakota leader Red Cloud died. He’s someone you all might have heard of but probably don’t know very much about. Heather Cox Richardson helps you fill that gap:

In the summer of 1865, after winning a war to spread the northern system of individual enterprise to the American West, the U.S. government became determined to push back the Lakota who seemed to be standing in the way of that system. Miners, farmers, storekeepers, cowboys, and railroad men stood poised to rush into the rich northern plains. The Lakota promised to kill them if they tried. To break Indian resistance, General U. S. Grant put General William Tecumseh Sherman, fresh from his total war in the South, in charge of defending eastern emigrants from Lakota attacks.

In 1866, Sherman negotiated a treaty with some Lakota leaders. When Union reinforcements arrived during the negotiations, though, Red Cloud and legendary fighter Man-Afraid-of-His-Horse accused Sherman of bad faith and vowed to fight. Sherman misjudged the situation. He believed the angry Lakota were only a few outliers and that settlement would soon overrun the Indians. But Red Cloud was so effectively marshaling his warriors into resistance that the ensuing fights would be known as Red Cloud’s War.

While Sherman plotted to push Lakotas onto a reservation that would keep them away from the transcontinental railroad, soldiers marched up the Bozeman Trail and built forts to protect the miners and settlers pouring into the region. The army had established Fort Reno in 1865; soldiers built Fort Phil Kearny, then marched another ninety miles to the Bighorn River and knocked together Fort C. F. Smith. But Americans were tired of war, and the troops at the forts were understaffed, underequipped, and undertrained.

In December 1866, trouble erupted when an arrogant and inexperienced officer at Fort Phil Kearny, Lieutenant Colonel W. J. Fetterman, set out to whip the Lakota once and for all. Ignoring orders to stay close to the fort, Fetterman led his eighty men directly into an ambush. Red Cloud and his men killed Fetterman’s entire party. By summer 1867, the Lakota forces controlled the Bozeman Trail and the Powder River Country, keeping the troops holed up in their raw forts. In August, the Lakota attacked men haying near Fort C. F. Smith. The soldiers drove them off, but the next day, the warriors returned. They descended on a corral made of wagon boxes near Fort Phil Kearny, killing an officer and five soldiers. Within days of the “Wagon Box Fight,” Lakota warriors attacked a Union Pacific freight train in Nebraska, causing the president of the Union Pacific to warn the Secretary of War that construction on the road would have to stop unless the government protected the railroad workers.

Government officials decided they could not defend both the Bozeman Trail and the transcontinental railroad. In 1868, they decided to negotiate a treaty with Red Cloud promising to abandon the Bozeman Trail if the Lakota would leave the railroad alone. For his part, Red Cloud refused to talk until all the troops left Forts Phil Kearny and C. F. Smith. The government had little choice. It abandoned Forts Reno, Phil Kearny, and C. F. Smith, and agreed that the Lakota could follow the buffalo so long as they stopped attacking the railroad. By August, the troops had left the forts and Red Cloud’s people burned Forts C. F. Smith and Phil Kearny.

The Lakota had won their war against the U.S. Army. Red Cloud signed the treaty, but announced that, while he and his people agreed to stop killing settlers, they would not change their way of life.

It didn’t turn out well in the end of course. After the Lakota were put down in 1877, by which time Red Cloud had moved from a leading warrior to someone calling for peace with whites, he ended up at the Pine Ridge Reservation, which quickly became one of the poorest and most desperate places in the nation, and remains so to this day. He died old, blind, and deeply depressed.

It’s also worth noting that the very military methods we praise Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan for because they crushed the South and ended slavery were immediately used to commit genocide in the American West.

Slow Fashion?

[ 98 ] December 11, 2015 |

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In case you thought the Slow Food movement wasn’t white and elite and privileged enough, we now have the Slow Fashion movement.

So why not slow clothing? That’s what then-33-year-old weaving teacher Rebecca Burgess thought in 2011 when she challenged herself to wear garments sourced within 150 miles of her California home. It wasn’t as simple as only buying from local stores: She had to wear clothing with fibers, dyes, and labor exclusively from her region.

“What started as a personal project spiraled into a community of people who helped create this one-year wardrobe: artists, designers, ecologists from UC Berkley who were getting their PhDs in environmental science,” Burgess says. “They felt passionate about the reduction in the toxic load, and of the prospect of making clothes from organic natural fibers.”

The toxic load Burgess speaks of are chemicals and heavy metals generated from producing and dyeing textiles, according to the EPA. In addition, Burgess says the textile industry in California alone produces a tremendous amount of material waste. “After my one-year wardrobe challenge, [Fibershed] did an analysis and found over 3.1 million pounds of wool in the state,” she says. “Over a million pounds are thrown out every year.”

Burgess’ creation of Fibershed, a non-profit 50c3 that invests in locally-sourced clothing, was a direct result of her year-long local fashion experiment. A fibershed (a term Burgess coined) is a “geographical landscape that defines and gives boundaries to a natural textile resource base, engendering appreciation, connectivity, and sensitivity for the life-giving resources within our homelands.”

In the thick of her yearlong experiment, Burgess realized that for slow clothing to take off, there had to be something that everyone would identify with and be willing to wear. The staple she went after? Blue jeans.

She spent the next four years growing indigo herself and fermenting it as dye, cultivating a relationship with local cotton farmer Sally Fox, and employing Levi’s veteran Daniel DiSanto to design a pair of jeans that looked pretty close to the jeans that the public knows and loves. The aim was to combine the traditional jean with everything she loved about slow clothing: supportive of local artisans, using materials only from her region, and 100-percent compostable.

They solved the button and zipper problem that Burgess had experienced in 2011 by using buttons created from the horns of local sheep. They also found a solution to the thread issue, finding a capable mill in Kentucky.

Oh boy…

I should just let this go. No one is being hurt here. If people want to do this, fine. I guess it’s not that different than the knitting revival anyway, which makes people happy.

But let’s be clear–this is going to do absolutely nothing to create any sort of social change at all. It’s not going to help the poor people who are making modern clothing. It’s not going to impact the clothing industry. It’s not going to be something that the world’s billions can do for themselves. It’s not a movement at all. It’s just privileged people wanting to feel good about themselves. If it wasn’t for the self-regard, I suppose I really wouldn’t care at all. But there’s a lot of self-regard here.

Dilapidated Schools and Race

[ 148 ] December 11, 2015 |

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Kids in Dallas are staging walkouts over the terrible conditions of their schools.

About 250 students at South Oak Cliff High School walked out Monday to protest leaky roofs, unbearably hot or cold classrooms and other problems they say make learning difficult.

“We have been through so much and today we got fed up,” said David Johnson, a 17-year-old senior who helped organize the walkout.

For instance, he said, the heating and cooling systems don’t work properly, and some rooms get so hot and stuffy that teachers and students must hold class in the hallways.

Shortly after 3 p.m., Johnson and other students left the building and gathered on the front lawn as classes continued inside. They marched down one side of Marsalis Avenue and back up the other. They held signs that read “Fix leaks now,” “We need a new school,” and “Help!!! Call code compliance!!!”

Of course, nearly all the students in this school are African-American, another sign of the racism that plagues our education system that never integrated after Brown in the face of whites resisting actually sending their special snowflakes to school with large number of black kids. They justified it and continue to justify it in all sorts of ways. Some are actually racist. Some just benefit from structural racism and have the ability to get their kids out. Some are even parents of color who see no choice but to go along with the system of racism that forces their public schools into these situations and do what they can to get their kids out too.

And as for the many comments in my recent posts on structural racism and education, I am pretty disappointed in how many commenters were unwilling to reckon with or perhaps even understand the realities of structural racism. Just because you choose to send you child to a better and of course whiter school does not mean you are doing the wrong thing. It also means that you are contributing directly to inequality. The two are by no means mutually exclusive. We so often have this vision of racists being the worst people in the world, but that actually causes more problems than it solves because it allows us to point and say “It’s Those People!” because they are waving a Confederate flag. And that’s one part of a racist nation, no question. But as white people, you benefit from white supremacy every day, especially if you are middle or upper class, including in your ability to live where you want and send your children to better schools. And even if you say, I have black neighbors or whatnot today, remember that you as white children also benefited from this racism when you were children and federal housing policy ensured lily-white suburbs with good schools and tax-starved urban districts with all-black schools. Residential segregation and educational segregation are tied together and those inequalities last for generations and are repeated in the present. Admitting this doesn’t make you a bad person per se, even if it means that you are personally playing a tiny role in increasing inequality. It’s complicated, like most everything. I figured this was self-evident and not particularly controversial, but then I forgot about the special snowflake syndrome.

Climate Change and the Arctic

[ 10 ] December 11, 2015 |

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Despite a stupid line about climate change opening up “new economic opportunities for local communities,” this is a really good run-down of the impact of climate change in the Arctic as the planet will set another record for warmth in 2015.

Arctic Ecosystems

Climate change has already had an impact on Arctic terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. Many of the adaptations that Arctic plant and animal species have acquired to survive the harsh conditions also limit their ability to respond to warmer climates and other environmental changes.

Some species, such as grizzly bears, have started moving northward and showing up in areas usually occupied by polar bears and Arctic foxes. But other species, like whales, seals or polar bears, may not adapt quickly enough to the changing conditions.

Wetlands make up about 11 percent of the terrestrial surface of the Arctic. They are the summer homes of millions of migratory birds, including the common eider that breeds in the Arctic and winters in more temperate zones. But wetlands – and other freshwater ecosystems – are vulnerable to warmer temperatures, changes in precipitation and thawing permafrost. Ponds and lakes can disappear if the permafrost beneath them thaws.

The ocean occupies nearly two-thirds of the Arctic territory. The sea ice provides important habitat for seals, walruses and polar bears on top of the ice, and for plankton production and plankton-eating fish that live beneath the ice.

The marine ecosystem supplies food – fish and marine mammals – to northern coastal residents. But accelerated climate change is also releasing environmental contaminants, such as mercury, from permafrost zones into the marine environment, where they accumulate in food webs. Arctic communities are vulnerable to the effects of these toxins because they consume a lot of fish and marine mammals.

It’s always important to bring these impacts back to humans. Not that humans are going to do anything about it in any case.

Adventures in Rhode Island

[ 97 ] December 10, 2015 |

On my way to the office this afternoon, I stopped for lunch. The following conversation occurred after I placed my order.

Warwick Lunch Guy with major Rhode Island accent: “I’m going to call you Bill Clinton.”

Me: “Oh yeah, why?

WLG: “Because you sound just like him. I love southern accents.”

Me: “Well, I’m from Oregon, not Arkansas.”

WLG: “Oregon, that’s pretty much the South, right?”

Me: “Sure, OK.”

WLG: “I sure love the South. I wish I could move there.”

Me: “Good luck!”

Television

[ 159 ] December 10, 2015 |

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Back in June, I asked people what show I should watch. After some consideration, I briefly started watching Orange is the New Black, which I found basically fine but never got super into. I’ve watched 7 or 8 episodes at this point. I may well go back to it.

But over the past month, I did watch two series. The first was Narcos. This I find, well, OK. As a dumb evening entertainment, it totally works. As something that’s actually interesting, it’s far less effective. Really, it’s a wasted opportunity. It was originally designed to be a long movie in the recent famous international gangster biopic genre that has included Carlos and Mesrine. But despite the added time a television show offers, both of those films are a lot better than Narcos. They decided on two seasons. The first covers almost all the time Pablo Escobar is around, up to the point where he flees his private prison. The second will evidently cover the chase and eventual killing of Escobar. That seems a bit skewed to me and I wonder whether the chase will really be enough for a season. So when I say it’s a wasted opportunity, the makers of this show could have slowed this down consistently, moved it over 4 seasons, and actually said something interesting about Colombia. But there is almost nothing revealing about Colombia at all. The show is framed through an exceptionally boring character as the American DEA agent who describes all of this as Colombian magical realism where anything can happen. That’s a total fail. First, there were actual understandable political, economic, and cultural reasons why drug lords like Escobar rose up. It’s not that we can’t understand that story, it’s that the show creators chose not to tell it. Second, there’s nothing magical realism about this show. It’s just a gangster doing gangster things, if on an exceptionally violent scale. The politics of the show, which basically come down strongly in favor of the Reagan-era War on Drugs aren’t great either. This is a particularly damning indictment of the show.

But again, as a kind of dumb entertainment in the evening, it’s enjoyable enough if you don’t think about it and I’ll probably watch season 2.

I also went back and finally watched the John Adams HBO miniseries. I found this to be mostly alright. I can nitpick it–Franklin and Jefferson are almost stereotypes with the former being so witty and the latter using his tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of patriots in line in general conversation, there aren’t a lot of well-developed characters outside of Adams himself. But it’s hard to see how it could really be better than this. It shows Adams to be the unpleasant crank that was his nature. There is a very Third Way atmosphere around the show as it portrays him as the reasonable leader splitting the difference between the revolutionary Jefferson and the megalomaniac Hamilton, suggesting Adams provided the real leadership this country needed, if only we could have such independent thinkers today, etc. But whatever. The last episode was highly unnecessary as watching his daughter die, Abigail die, and then Adams himself die is not very interesting and the rekindling of the correspondence with Jefferson not interesting enough to sustain it. Adams basically didn’t do anything in the last 25 years of his life. The show could have ended in 1801. But I am being too critical. Giamatti was excellent (and actually looked like Adams) and while at times Laura Linney didn’t have enough to do, she was of course quite good as Abigail. Tom Wilkinson was fine as Franklin and Danny Huston as Samuel Adams the same. So I enjoyed it a good bit.

I suppose this means I should pay attention to the Hamilton thing, although I am highly skeptical of venerating the creator of the Alien and Sedition Acts, one of the worst and most dangerous laws in American history. As I have said before, there is no leftist Hamilton for us to follow, although that’s more because we shouldn’t be taking 250 year old men out of context instead of finding more recent inspirations. But for Adams or Hamilton, it’s just useful to have people genuinely thinking about the Federalist Era through different forms of popular culture.

I guess I’m going to try this Jessica Jones thing starting tonight. The genre is not very interesting to me as I have no interest in comic books, but the reviews are positive and it’s only one season so a low investment. Although if this show ends with Bryan Cranston watching her choke to death on her own vomit, I’m not going to be able to deal. Will probably watch The Americans and Show Me a Hero after that.

Make Workplace Safety Violations Felony Offenses

[ 32 ] December 10, 2015 |

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In the aftermath of Don Blankenship getting off almost scot free after murdering 29 of his workers at the Big Branch mine in 2010, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch calls for making workplace safety violations felony offenses:

The guilty verdict was returned on a misdemeanor conspiracy charge that carried a penalty of up to a year in prison as well as a fine. The charges of which Blankenship was acquitted involved securities fraud and making false statements, both felonies. If convictions had been returned on all three counts against Blankenship, the maximum penalties could have added up to 30 years in prison. The false-statement and securities fraud charges had to do with allegations that Massey issued a statement after the mine explosion that falsely said the company did not condone safety violations and strove to comply with all safety rules at all times. Prosecutors charged that the statement was intended to stop a sharp drop in Massey stock prices.

As some legal and mine-safety advocates noted after the verdicts, the punishments associated with the crimes appear out of whack. Tony Oppegard, a longtime mine safety advocate in Kentucky, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that violating safety standards should be a felony. “If that were changed, maybe (coal company officials) would look at operating their mines a little differently,” he said. Putting it another way was Pittsburgh lawyer Bruce Stanley, who has represented miners’ families in other fatalities at Massey mines: “Sadly, when it comes to prison time, Congress has decided that lying to Wall Street is a much more grievous sin than conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws.”

Congress should work to change that. Just as Blankenship was accused of putting “profits ahead of people” by his critics, the mine-safety laws seem to be following a similar pattern. West Virginia’s congressional delegation should start working to change that immediately.

I completely agree. Now, the Herald-Dispatch knows that there is no way the West Virginia congressional delegation is going to do that as they are totally in the pocket of the coal industry and have long-standing ties to Blankenship himself. But this is the progressive position on workplace safety issues. As I’ve stated many times before, if we want to tame corporate behavior, we have to use the stick more than the carrot. If you make executives personally liable for what happens in their mines, on their shop floors, and in their supply chains, then you will see these problems get fixed very quickly. But right now, even when American law does impact a workplace (unlike an outsourced factory in Bangladesh), the regulators are far too few and the punishments far too light for many employers to figure that it’s worth the risk to not create a safe workplace. Prison time would change that attitude.

This Day in Labor History: December 10, 1789

[ 25 ] December 10, 2015 |

On December 10, 1789, Moses Brown, a Rhode Island businessman, hired Samuel Slater to build an English-style factory in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. This began the Industrial Revolution in the United States.

Samuel Slater was a farmer’s son in England who started working in an early cotton mill in 1778 at the age of 10. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, there was room for fast learners to rise rapidly. Slater became close to the mill’s owner, who trained him in its various workings. As the British developed this mill technology, it sought to protect its advantages by banning the transporting of this knowledge outside of its borders. But Slater had a great memory. Once he knew how the mill ran, he decided to go to the United States to make his fortune in that new nation.

Moses Brown was a Rhode Island businessman who decided to start a spinning factory in Pawtucket along with other members of his family. They wanted to use the Arkwright system developed in England but could not figure out how to operate the technology. Hearing of this, Samuel Slater, who had just arrived in New York looking for an opportunity to build his own mill, offered his services. The contract between Slater and Brown combined the former’s technological skills with the latter’s money. It made both of them very wealthy.

Slater began constructing his new factory in early 1790. By December, it was partially operational, with about 10 employees. In 1793, the factory opened in full. Slater then used his own education to train the new mechanics in how to operate these industrial machines. Slater relied very heavily on child labor, again borrowing from his own personal life. Given the close-knit New England family economy, this was not a particularly difficult transition to make. Slater soon split from his original partners, opening mills around southern New England.

This, along with the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, transformed the New England and broader American economy. The cotton gin drastically reduced the labor necessary in the cotton mills, allowing for more spinning and thus higher production rates. The British still held the majority of the world’s spinning production during these years but the growth of American industry was spurred by the tensions with the British during the Early Republic, including Jefferson’s Embargo of 1807 and 1808 and the War of 1812, lasting until early 1815. By 1815, there were 140 mills within 30 miles of Providence, employing 26,000 people.

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The growth of this industry made Americans nervous, for they feared the Dickensian industrial cities of Britain. Slater built his own company town, Slatersville, that attempted to create a ruralesque village around a factory. It included a company store and tenement housing for workers. These concerns also led to experimental towns like Lowell which would allow American industry to grow while retaining its fundamentally rural values. But growing competition undermined Lowell, creating some of the first strikes in the United States and eventually leading to the importation of largely Irish labor to replace the native-born women in those factories. The awful conditions of British cities would indeed be replicated in the United States, with social problems and unrest that would mark American industry through the New Deal unionization of the industrial workforce.

The rise of factory work would transform American labor. While this could not be predicted in 1789 or 1793, a process had begun that would bring Americans in from the fields to the factories, from the farms to the cities, and from relative control over their own labor to an increasingly centralized and deskilling work under control of managers. For decades after Slater’s Mill opened, Americans primarily believed that in the principle of controlling their own labor, whether in urban shops or on farms, with large-scale factory labor something of an afterthought or something that could be done by the Irish. But in fact, it, and the profits it engendered in the hands of the very, very few, would come to define American work and create the proletariatization of the working class. It would lead to rapid advances in transportation technology, including the canals of the 1820s and the beginning of the railroads by the late 1830s. And it would create a new legal regime that would allow an ideal of “progress” to run roughshod over the rights of workers or property owners, as the mill owners demanded the right to dam rivers in order to power the mills, even if it caused erosion to farms upstream or ended shad runs that interior communities relied on for both food and trade. The also demanded the right to not take responsibility for workers’ getting hurt on the job, which Massachusetts would encode in law in 1842 and would continue largely unchallenged by the American legal system until the early 20th century.

Samuel Slater died a millionaire in 1835, in an age when there were very few.

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Slater’s Mill in Pawtucket and the company town of Slatersville are part of the new Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park and should help to tell the story of American labor within the National Park Service more effectively once the sites are fully transformed into NPS locations. Already, Slater’s Mill is well worth a visit.

This is the 164th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Job Retraining

[ 46 ] December 9, 2015 |

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This is an interesting piece on job retraining program, using Appalachian coal miners as an example. The reality is that job retraining programs are usually disastrous because there aren’t actually decent paying jobs in the places these people live. Yet politicians love them because it makes it sound like government cares about these workers and is preparing them for some good old fashioned bootstraping. But then they finish these programs and where are the jobs? They aren’t in Kentucky or West Virginia. Or Flint or the Oregon timber towns for that matter. But can the government do more to make these programs effective? Possibly:

It would be wrong, however, to write off coal country completely, or to underestimate the abilities of former coal miners. In a fascinating article in Matter, Lauren Smiley highlights an intriguing initiative in Kentucky to offer specialized job re-training to former coal miners in a well-paid, in-demand field that doesn’t necessarily require relocating: coding. Smiley’s piece focuses on BitSource, Kentucky’s first Web development firm that was founded by the former owners of a land-moving company. BitSource is still new, and small—the first trainee class included only 10 former miners (out of 900 applicants)—but if the model can be scaled, miners might just have a shot at landing high-paying jobs without having to move or wait for a new industry to set up shop in Appalachia. Efforts are also underway to expand other tele-working opportunities in the region, although coding generally offers higher wages.

Coal mining, as Smiley notes, involves more than pure physical labor. Miners “calculate daily shock reports, operate complex machinery, and draft plans to get coal out of a mountain”—all tasks that make them better-suited to coding than one might expect. BitSource’s coders underwent an intensive, 22-week training program (during which time they were paid $15 per hour, from federal funds). The start-up pieced together the open-sourced curriculum from websites like Lynda.com. BitSource is hoping to again train a new group of former miners early next year.

Well, maybe? A job retraining program needs to do two things. First, it needs to train workers for existing jobs. Second, it needs to train workers for jobs in the places where they live. You can’t expect mass migrations out of West Virginia to Texas if there are more jobs there. That’s not realistic and many workers simply can’t leave for reasons ranging from family to poverty. So maybe the coding thing makes sense. Despite stereotypes, these aren’t stupid people. They are just regular people. No doubt a lot of them could be retrained for something like coding.

Also, direct subsidies of workers’ income should happen, especially in circumstances where industries have shut down because the government decided environmental protection is more important:

The TAA program includes a feature designed for older workers who chose not to undergo job re-training, but were able to find a lower-paying job: a wage subsidy. “I think it’s an interesting alternative to job training for older workers that may not have the time to reap the benefits of training in a new occupation,” Berk says.

Barnow, the George Washington University economist, points out that such a program might be particularly sensible for coal workers suffering the health effects of decades of coal mining. “A lot of them have lung damage too, so taking a lower-paying job that’s indoors might make a lot of sense,” he says. “The subsidy would help cushion that.”

I would certainly support this, although no doubt those who freak out about “welfare” will call this process of keeping 60 year old men with black lung out of poverty a giveaway we can’t afford. I would say that it’s a question of doing the right thing by people who have given up their lives and their health to heat American homes.

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