Patchy

John Logan, “The labor-busting law firms and consultants that keep Google, Amazon and other workplaces union-free”.

A lack of effective federal reporting requirements means there isn’t a lot of data on this union-busting industry. We do know that a lot of companies are using it.

According to a Cornell labor expert, about 75% of all U.S. employers have engaged the services of a consultant or law firm to stymie efforts by workers to organize – and are spending an estimated US$340 million a year to do so.

The Labor Relations Institute, which has offered clients a money-back guarantee that it could prevent unionization, makes an appearance in the film American Factory.

Crooked CA watch: 5

Charles Wang has cashed out.

In 2004, after a four-year investigation that focused on backdated contracts and whether they artificially inflated profits, [Wang’s] Computer Associates reached an agreement with the Justice Department to avoid prosecution, which included paying $225 million in restitution to shareholders.

In 2006, [CEO Sanjay] Kumar was sentenced to 12 years in prison for orchestrating a $2.2 billion accounting fraud, mainly in 1999 and 2000. Mr. Wang was never charged with wrongdoing in the case.

But a year later, a 390-page report by the Computer Associates board, assisted by an outside law firm, found Mr. Wang culpable as well. “No significant decisions were made without his participation and approval,” the report said.

Human capital

When and how did GDP and other money-based metrics replace all other measures of well-being in this country?

Until the 1850s, in fact, by far the most popular and dominant form of social measurement in 19th-century America (as in Europe) were a collection of social indicators known then as “moral statistics,” which quantified such phenomena as prostitution, incarceration, literacy, crime, education, insanity, pauperism, life expectancy, and disease. While these moral statistics were laden with paternalism, they nevertheless focused squarely on the physical, social, spiritual, and mental condition of the American people. For better or for worse, they placed human beings at the center of their calculating vision. Their unit of measure was bodies and minds, never dollars and cents.

Eli Cook provides some history and perspective.

Donations

Applying market-oriented techniques to allocate resources where there is no market: how can we get food bank donations to the charities that need them most? Sendhil Mullainathan summarizes a points-based approach.

Markets report such dispersed information in the form of prices. Feeding America, for example, was surprised to see pasta at one point trading for 116 times the price of fresh vegetables. That was revealing data. In hindsight, it made sense: Vegetables spoil rapidly, which is why food companies donated them freely; pasta, with its longer shelf life, was a rarer commodity, as far as donations go.

NEW

The Economist‘s recent leader in favor of a revised metric of economic well-being is rather refreshing, surprising. Among the steps that it recommends be taken to improve on the slavish following of GDP, the piece leads with improving the measurement of what is already measured. But then the editorial pushes into measuring quantities that have never been systematically considered before: income inequality, negative externalities (like pollution), depletion of natural capital, and perhaps most importantly, the role of unpaid services like homemaking and caregiving. There are still other aspects of welfare that should be accounted for (e.g, crime rates, time lost to long commutes), but if we were to formulate a new metric along the lines suggested, it would be a big step in the right direction,

Letting go

In the first half of last year, The Guardian produced a very effective closed-end podcast about its reporting and advocacy concerning climate change. With no exaggeration, it can be called The Biggest Story in the World.

For me, the most important episodes consisted largely of interviews with Marc Morano, climate change heckler, and with Ben Van Beurden, CEO of Shell.

HowSound

The focus of the newspaper’s campaign was to persuade two large charitable foundations to divest from companies dependent on carbon-based fuel extraction—the big oil companies, in short.

Meanwhile, Joel Rose recently reported on stepped-up efforts by gun safety activists, asking pension funds and personal investors to drop gun-related stocks from their portfolios. Does divestment have an impact?

“Well, unfortunately, it does not have an effect,” says Paul Wazzan, an economist at the Berkeley Research Group in California. He has studied the divestment campaigns against companies that did business in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Wazzan says there was no measurable effect on their stock prices.

“But it does generate a lot of press and interest,” Wazzan says. “And the political pressure starts to build and that did ultimately have an effect. It’s not what our paper was about, but I think the political pressure ultimately did have an effect on these companies.”

That kind of pressure is harder to measure than a stock price. But divestment supporters say it’s still worth a try.

Sweat

Lynn Nottage’s Sweat (commissioned and produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) is a distillation of the frustrations and personal tragedies visited on the working class of Reading, Pennsylvania. The economic shocks of globalization generally and NAFTA specifically resound here on Route 422 as plant closings, lockouts, and busted pensions. Nottage dramatizes these Berks County stories with a strong ensemble of nine fully-realized characters, by turns striving, washed up, deluded, and occasionally successful. All of them, in one way or another, are trying to find a way to hold the line, be it against strikebreakers, addiction, or self-destructive violence. And through Nottage’s particulars she achieves a universal.

The main playing space is a local bar, designed by John Lee Beatty, meticulously tricked out with lamps advertising beer and a TV set playing news from the Bush-Gore campaign of 2000. It’s almost too good looking—one feels the need of a little grit and grime in the corners. It’s presided over by Jack Willis’s Stan, a veteran of both Vietnam and the shop floor; although partially disabled, he makes a worthy bartender, his voice a powerful deep bray of sardonic acceptance.

  • Sweat, by Lynn Nottage, directed by Kate Whoriskey, Arena Stage Kreeger Theater, Washington

In a note in the program book, Executive Producer Edgar Dobie calls out the importance of unions and collective bargaining to the artistic process.

Embracing a system of unions benefits both employees and employers; the production you are about to enjoy would not have been possible without several of the unions mentioned above, nor could it have transferred from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to Arena in its original form. We are indebted to the men and women who are represented within these unions, as they hold us accountable to our commitment to fairness and prosperity.

GR0133004177

A rather damning analysis by Adam Davidson of the failure of the market to accurately price bonds issued by Greece—alas, a market failure perhaps induced by government intervention.

The original sin of the Greek crisis did not happen in Athens. It happened on those computer terminals, in Frankfurt and London and Shanghai and New York. Yes, the Greeks took the money. But if I offered you €7 billion at 5.3 percent interest, you would probably take the money, too. I would be the one who looked nuts. And if I didn’t even own that money — if I was just watching over it for someone else, as most large investors do — I might even go to jail.

Some icons

David Warsh pens a good piece, a longish read (with a surprise in it) about the twin careers of America’s best-known economists of the latter third of the 20th century, Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman. They first overlapped at the University of Chicago in 1932.

three colors and blacksimple designMy textbook for Economics B01 (Macro) was the 9th edition of Samuelson’s Economics. The color scheme and overall design of that text retain their simple power. The book’s endpapers are something special: in the front, a line graph of per capita GNP* for the period 1870-1973 for the U.S., Germany, the U.K., the Soviet Union, Japan, and (creeping in at the very bottom) India; at the back, a family tree of schools of economic thought, from Aristotle through the Mercantilists down to the Socialists and post-Keynesians.

*Yes, that’s right: at the time, Gross National Product was the headline aggregate, not GDP (Gross Domestic Product). (What’s the difference?)