Using Captain Beefheart style to explain it.
For PBS, Pulitzer winners Donald Barlett and James Steele were on hand to explain their new book, “The Betrayal of the American Dream.”
When I lived in Pennsy I read the Inky daily. Barlett and Steele were the team of investigative journalists who defined income tax reporting, most spectacularly in “What Went Wrong,” a Pulizter-winning piece on “How the Influential Win Billions in Special Tax Breaks,” published in 1988.
DONALD BARLETT, Co-Author, “The Betrayal of the American Dream”: The “Advertising Age” has written off the middle class in this country. They say the age of mass affluence is over. And now you’re going to have to learn to cater to the super rich and the affluent in other countries, because the middle class in China, Brazil, India, that’s the source of the coming wealth, not the U.S. middle class …
DONALD BARLETT: On the surface it sounds great, open trading, other countries. What’s to be against? The problem is, when the theory was developed back in the early 1800s, it was envisioned as countries operating comparably.
The incomes of the United States and China are so disparate that it would never work. It’s always going to be cheaper to go over to China to build what you want to build.
PAUL SOLMAN: As manufacturing jobs migrated aboard, Barlett and Steele point out, the Middle American standard of living sank steadily.
JAMES STEELE: If you’re going to get the smart jobs in this country, the brain power, and it is not working out as everybody said it would, because now many of those jobs are starting to go offshore faster than the old manufacturing jobs did.
PAUL SOLMAN: The job drain, especially to China, has become a staple of both presidential campaigns.
NARRATOR: Under Obama, we have lost over half-a-million manufacturing jobs. And for the first time, China is beating us.
NARRATOR: Romney’s never stood up to China. All he’s done is send them our jobs.
DONALD BARLETT: The real bottom-line question is, what kind of a society do we want? Do we want a society built on the principle that the only thing that matters is the lowest possible price or a society built on the principle that everyone should have a living wage?
And those are going to be two very different societies. And this goes back again so what we’re talking about. The people up here, they don’t want everyone to have a living wage.
PAUL SOLMAN: So, you actually think we could have an economy in this country in which lots of Americans would simply be not part of the economy at all?
DONALD BARLETT: Irrelevant.
JAMES STEELE: You know, they will have jobs, but these are going to be jobs that don’t pay much.
JAMES STEELE: Maybe things will have to get a lot worse before people realize that there are some things, some positive things that government can do. These things didn’t use to be so partisan in this country. We used to be able to get together and do things for the benefit of everybody. And we hope one of these days we’re back to that. We’re definitely not there now.
Finally, most of the US citizenry gets this.
However, Mitt Romney built his expanded fortune on shipping jobs to China and destroying middle class livelihoods. This fact has allowed the Democrats, and the President in last night’s debate, to tag him as an “outsourcing pioneer.”
He is, in other words, the vulture mega-businessman who most Americans should be running away from as fast as they can.
In fact, Romney was trashed on his reputation vis-a-vis jobs and China last night, causing him to emit one of the more fatuous quotes of the night.
Romney: “They hack into our computers.” Yes, definitely, that’s why all the jobs went there.
Barlett and Steele are essentially arguing that you can’t have an economy for most Americans where the only stuff made is artisan goods for the very wealthy and portions of emerging upper middle classes in other countries. It’s a point I’ve made numerous times under the Made in China tab.
Another facet of the economy that produces nothing is the phenomenon of jobs which pay virtually nothing, all built on the model of using computer code and the web to make virtual task bidding bazaars like Jeff Bezos’ Mechanical Turk.
Mechanical Turk, and others like it, allow corporate America to get around the minimum wage by making more and more work — which is all service and task oriented — free-lance labor where people are paid pennies.
In this smartphone applications are used make life worse by speeding up the leveraged destruction of the ability of average people in the street to make a living.
It is a world of all pitted against all.
When Fernando Navales lost his job last June, things looked pretty grim.
His efforts to find gainful employment proved futile until he downloaded an app called Gigwalk, where companies offer small amounts of money for small tasks that take little time. (Users simply swipe to “accept” the task and complete it within a set time period.) Within days, he was earning more than he had in his previous position.
Navales threw himself into the work, taking between 30 and 40 “gigs” per day (often photographing restaurants for Microsoft’s (MSFT) Bing search engine). Over the past year, he has completed about 750 gigs – and this new kind of employment has changed his perceptions of the working world.
“It’s a large part of my life,” he said. “I actually turned my brother onto it. He’s in Ohio, but we flew out to New York together and we basically took a working trip to NY taking pictures of restaurants.”
Not included: The part where the journalist asks the man and his brother how much they actually netted after deducting living expenses and two round trip air tickets from Ohio to NYC.
While there have been businesses catering to this audience for some time, it was the advent of the smart phone that allowed them to take off.
“But as these services now get pushed to your phone … it’s more convenient for the task consumers to receive the jobs when they’re out already,” said Henry Mason, head of research and analysis at TrendWatching.com.
Beyond Gigwalk, there are a few leaders in the business-to-consumer tasksumer space, including TaskRabbit and Mechanical Turk, a division of Amazon (AMZN) …
“What you’re starting to see is a higher degree of comfort with the concept,” said Ariel Seidman, CEO and co-founder of Gigwalk. “Where [it] really shines is when you get to places that are hard get to, like Kalamazoo, MI or Kodiak, AK. Those types of places, you can all of a sudden reach into them with the same efficiency and speed in which you can reach into a Chicago or LA …”
Other firms bring people together in a different way. PleaseBringMe acts as a handshake service between travelers who can volunteer to bring things like hard to find items to someone at their destination.
“My wife is pregnant and craving In-n-Out,” wrote one user. “We used to live in CA but are now in the NYC area. If anybody would be willing to buy 4 Animal Style cheeseburgers and bring them on a plane to me in NYC, that would be awesome.”
Another user, from Brazil, is on the hunt for a drink that’s only sold in Greece. “I want Mythos beer!!!!,” he pleads.
It’s difficult to get past the brainlessly towering odiousness of a request for fast food cheeseburgers to be flighted, in passenger, from soCal to NYC, which — of course — has no cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers.
One begins to wonder if it’s even real or just another among millions of Internet trolls and pranksters posting something vile to see how many people are crushed and stupid enough to jump at it.
Most people with sense instantly recognize things like Mechanical
Turk as mechanisms for an economy mediated by vultures and predators, using trivial mass computing applications and bad economic conditions to slice more flesh off a shrinking active labor force with few ways to protect itself.
One comment, chosen from many — all of them pretty supercilious — on the GigWalking brothers:
If their total income from this is under $400, they wont [sic] need to report it as self-employment income.