October 10, 2015


Will self-serve beer render bartenders obsolete? (Andrew Khouri, 10/01/15, LA Times)

A small but growing number of gastropubs and fast-casual restaurants are going self-serve, installing systems that enable drinkers to draw their own taps, similar to the soda fountain at McDonald's but far more sophisticated.
Establishments in the notoriously low-margin restaurant industry say the technology not only cuts labor costs but also boosts revenue by encouraging customers to sample what can be a bewildering array of Belgian quads, India pale ales or oatmeal stouts on a menu.
The technology has another attraction: It can measure and charge literally by the sip...

The Forces Against Organized Labor (RUTH MILKMAN  OCT 1, 2015, Pacific Standard)

Contrary to popular belief, de-unionization is not primarily due to globalization or new technology: Successful attacks on organized labor have affected many place-bound low-tech industries, like construction or hospitality, nearly as much as manufacturing. The primary driver of labor's decline is the growing power of corporate employers who are fiercely determined to weaken unions where they already exist and to prevent their emergence elsewhere. That determination is reinforced by the ideology of market fundamentalism, for which both unionism itself and governmental protection of the right to organize are anathema.

Many factors determine unionization rates. All else being equal, if employment declines in a non-union (or weakly unionized) sector, unionization levels will fall. Conversely, if employment expands in a sector where unionism is absent or weak, they will rise. Actively recruiting new members is the main way unions themselves can raise membership. But since labor market churning is an inherent feature of capitalist economies, with new jobs constantly being created and old ones being destroyed, simply maintaining a stable unionization rate requires a great deal of new organizing; increasing the rate requires even more extensive effort. In the contemporary U.S., where unionization is now concentrated largely in legacy industries that are no longer growing, de-unionization is inevitable unless labor organizers can recruit on a massive scale. 

Driverless robot taxis to be tested in Japanese town (Justin McCurry, 5 October 2015, The Guardian)

Dozens of people in Japan will be whisked to the local shops in driverless taxis from next year in an experiment with robot technology that could be fully commercial by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020.

Why it will be almost impossible for the TPP to help U.S. workers (Jeff Spross, 10/09/15, The Week)

A fundamental thing to understand about international trade is that countries do not compete with one another. They cooperate. If Japan is better at making cars than the U.S., and we're better at growing wheat than they are, then instead of us making our own cars and them growing their own wheat, we'll trade. This is what's called "comparative advantage," and at the aggregate national level it's a win-win. The overall economic performance of both sides goes up.

Because people in the upper world of capital live off the aggregate performance of the economy, the TPP and other free trade deals look great from their perspective. But people in the concrete world live off their particular part of it. So if you're a worker in a part of the economy in which the other country does your good or service better, you're toast.

This dynamic is extremely important to understanding how globalization has played out. The relatively egalitarian economy we enjoyed mid-century was built on a network of public investment, union power, and job benefits -- all entangled with the companies in big middle-class industries like manufacturing. That network ensured that, when money flowed up from the concrete economy into the world of capital, a lot of it flowed back down again. That didn't make both worlds equally free and fluid, but it did bring them closer together.

But that network was also fragile, built on the assumption that the concrete world would remain as it had always been. As soon as globalization and free trade started picking off various parts of the concrete economy, everything fell apart. Money kept flowing up, but it stopped flowing down; inequality spiked, and incomes for the middle- and working-class stagnated. The only other way to ensure a strong downward flow of money from the world of capital was to bypass the market proper entirely: Use the government to distribute money to the world of concrete economic activity. Other Western countries have gone that route. But the American welfare state was never that robust, and obviously a rewrite of it is not in the cards.

Now, in fairness to the TPP, it's not obvious how much more damage it can do in this regard. The U.S. places duties on just 20 percent of the exports from the other 11 countries in the deal, and the TPP will phase out around 18,000 hurdles they've put on our exports. It will also establish consistent rules across all 11 countries for everything from collective bargaining, minimum wages, and excessive hours, to unsustainable logging and protections for endangered species.

On the flip side, the most optimistic estimates are that the TPP will increase aggregate American economic growth by a paltry 0.03 percentage points a year. That the U.S elite are still gung-ho about the deal suggests they're pretty confident they can capture every last dollar from that extra 0.03 percent. 

Posted by at October 10, 2015 8:36 AM

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