Friday, December 6, 2013

Employers of Religion

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

People have freedom of religion guaranteed to them by the Constitution. Lately there has been controversy—for example, in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby—about whether corporations need such a freedom as well. I can help answer that: No. They do not.

People can already assert individual rights to religion. When a person creates a corporation, he no more needs additional religious rights for that corporation than a person with a megaphone needs additional free speech rights for that megaphone. A corporation is not a new and distinct human being.

Corporations are avatars that represent people, performing actions on their behalf, but with augmented strength. But, in so doing, they are like the “power loader” exoskeleton donned by the character Ripley in the movie Alien, or like the superhero armor worn by Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. These vehicles magnify the power of their wearers over others.

It all begins with an understanding that the ones with the brains, with the religion, with the political intent, and with the ethical responsibility are real, natural people who own these corporations. Everything else about corporations is just a vehicle for packaging and focusing power under their control. With rights come responsibilities, and if there is to be neither desire nor mechanism to hold corporations to the simplest social graces that we would demand of any civil person, then we must not think of them as we do civil people.

Consolidated and magnified power, unfettered by the social graces, does not require protection. Indeed, those without magnified power, those at the mercy of such power, are the ones needing protection. That's why we have rights at all—so that puny little people like any of us can stand up against bigger entities, like companies and governments. To say that then companies and governments need the same rights as ordinary people is to make a mockery of the very purpose of our rights. It is to diminish and dismantle human rights, not to extend them.

If a corporation imposes ethical choices upon employees, that's not the corporation protecting its natural rights. That's a person or a gang of people using the magnified power of employment to coerce other people not to follow their own religious beliefs. We've learned to recognize such coercion in the case of sexual harassment, and to understand that there is a responsibility of the powerful in an employment situation not to coerce the behavior of the weak. This is really no different.

The analogy may confuse you if you are comparing religion to sexual harassment, but that's not the right point of view. Both sex and religion can be beautiful things, but only when freely elected. Either forced sex or forced religion is an atrocity. An exercise of power, devoid of joy. A crime.

We allow an employer to use threats of firing to maintain a certain degree of order within a company, but only as long as that order relates to the business. We do not and must never allow employers to use any such threats to coerce behavior outside the scope of the business.

As a free citizen of the United States, you may choose what parts of your religion you like or don't. You can elect to be Jewish and yet perhaps you eat cheeseburgers. And yes, you can be Catholic and still use birth control. These are personal choices you make. Your religious advisors may even be offended. But that's between you and them, not between you and your employer. If your employer is allowed to intervene, even if he thinks he's just exercising his freedom of religion, he's using his magnified power to disallow you from exercising your own.

And that's the crux of it, the meta-rule of religion: Your religious rights stop when they start to infringe mine. We each must leave space for one another. Birth control is a personal choice, and something we each need to decide for ourselves. Employees do not make birth control decisions for their employers, and the same must be true in reverse. Any pretense that the company has a religious need separate from and beyond that of the owners just distracts from the fact that the owner's sphere of personal influence is being allowed to be bigger than by any right it should be.

Moreover, it will not stop there. The issues in question are not about the company being asked to pay for birth control, but merely about a company being asked to pay for access to a company that might pay for birth control. There is already an indirection in place. This indirection is really no different than the fact that the company is paying wages to a person who might pay for birth control, and the next natural step is to allow the company to control what happens with those wages.

It is simply not the company's business in either case. Health care is needed by employees, and it's up to each employee's sense of ethics and religion to elect what is appropriate, within the bounds of the law, to satisfy that need. For a company to dictate more is to either privately dictate a person's ethics and religion or to privately dictate the bounds of law. Either is unacceptable.

Corporations are not people. They do not get offended. Owners of companies get offended. And, if we let them, they'll use their artificial shells of power, like the image of the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, to make their sense of being offended more seem bigger, more important, and more menacing in order to coerce behavior. Corporations might dictate rules that must be followed by employees to keep their jobs. These powers may often be justified as needed for the correct function of the business, and the quality of its product. But there is no correct function of any business in play with the use of birth control—except, ironically, that some businesses might be adversely affected if the people working for them cannot avoid pregnancy and become distracted by an inability to plan the size and timing of their respective families.

Birth control must be the choice of the employee because it is an activity beyond the scope of employment. There is no defensible corporate interest in keeping employees from having control over family matters. It is a naked abuse of power by certain business owners over their employees and a perfect illustration of why corporations must not be accorded some artificially drawn freedom of religion.

Corporate religion is just institutionalized coercion trying to take hold.

We the Flesh-and-Blood People must draw a line.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This third and final part of a 3-part series was originally published December 6, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman. The first part was Corporations Are Not People. The second part was We The People (and Corporations).

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, incorporation, corporations, corporate personhood, legal personhood, legal person, legal personality, taxation, crimes, punishment, imprisonment, life, death, death penalty, urination, trickle down, census, social security, robbery, slavery, human trafficking, murder, pro-life, childhood, contracts, travel, passport, visa, home country, citizen, citizenship, speech, religion, freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, religious freedom, philosophy, ethics, vote, voter, voting, run for office, running for office, candidate, elect, election, elected, office holder


Note that even if you disagree with me, and think that a corporation really is a distinct person, the problem is that such so-called legal people are veritably required under stockholder theory to behave sociopathically. See my article Fiduciary Duty vs. The Three Laws of Robotics for an elaboration of why. In such cases, where legal people are neither asked nor expected to exhibit other-than-selfish behavior, special restrictions to hold that selfish behavior in check, not special encouragement to be as free as possible in the exercise of that selfish behavior, would seem more appropriate. The notion of a free society is based precisely in the assumption that most of us will not behave sociopathically. It is a calculated gamble that we will tend to do well by each other if allowed the chance. It would be irrational to make such a gamble situations where we do not have such an expectation.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

We The People (and Corporations)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Corporations are “legal people.” I explained yesterday why this made no sense. But it's our current jurisprudence, which is to say it's how we do things ’round here, and that sad fact dates back to the 19th century to some very old US Supreme Court cases, particularly the 1819 case Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward and the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. So, unfortunately, there's been a lot of time in the interim for this badly conceived legal philosophy to work its ugly tendrils into the fabric of our society.

Before Copernicus figured out that the planets revolve around the Sun instead of the Earth, the orbits of the planets were thought to twist and turn in baroque ways. It wasn't true, but it seemed that way to astronomers of the day because they were building on an inappropriate foundation. The change in law from a “person” being just a person, to a “person” being either a person or something that is really very clearly not a person, is like going back in time to those days when we thought planets didn't revolve around the sun.

Words are the foundation upon which we build our civilization. The specific words we use are arbitrary in origin, but once chosen and used, our brains become wired to have certain memories, associations, and intuitions about them. Although corporate personhood has existed for ages, the practice of asserting it in order to gain far-reaching political power seems more recent. It started out as a way of asserting the legitimacy or manner in which corporations sign contracts or pay taxes, issues one might reasonably want to clarify for corporations, whether they are people or not. But more recently it has been used to imply that we should give rights or make accommodations to corporations simply because “they are people.” After all, people have rights and corporations are people, so—voilà!—corporations have rights, right?

Well, no. Not right. We are wired to react in certain reflexive ways to primitive concepts. We learn and remember a great many lessons and promises in life using words. So if we can change the meaning of word, do all the sentences we've ever spoken using that word still apply?

We know things about “people,” for example. As speakers of English, we come to associate those things we know with the words “person” or “people.” We are taught that “killing” is wrong, but especially the killing of “people” matters. We have laws against killing “people.” We feel uneasy around someone who even might do that. But if learn that a corporation is a person, must we suddenly feel the same kind of revulsion about someone killing a corporation that we have been raised to feel about them killing a person? Should we feel personally at risk sitting at dinner next to someone has killed a corporation? Could we be next?

Words are all we have to describe the rules we've agreed to live by in our society. We guard the text of those agreements carefully, so someone doesn't just edit the words in the night and expect us to comply with a new set of rules. But if the meaning of the words in those agreements can change out from underneath us, we can end up with different rules even without the text of the rules changing. That must not happen.

We must know when shifts of meaning are happening. We must have the right to review and approve the consequences of changes in meaning. It's not sufficient for someone to tell us that such review has already happened under a different understanding of those words. When such tricks are played with words, our gut feelings are easily manipulated.

It occurs to me that I don't know why I'm even bothering to be upset. There's an easy way out of this, much easier than all this fussing. I should just talk to the writers of a few dictionaries and get the definition of “absurdity” changed to mean “brilliant idea” and then the absurdities that characterize the linguistic landscape of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, giving freedom of speech to corporations, and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, giving freedom of religion to corporations, would magically become brilliant ideas. And then, perhaps, I'll no longer care.

But can embracing and exploiting such drifts in meaning for tactical advantage really be the answer? Is the Dictionary to be our new battleground? It's too hard to control the Supreme Court, so why not just buy a few publishing houses and change the Dictionary? Is this how wars are now to be fought? If so, we need to call a halt to it before we hurt ourselves irreparably. Santa Clara County notwithstanding, this is no way to run a railroad.

And where are the peddlers of original intent when we need them? No doubt they're busy changing the definition of “original” to more flexibly suit some Machiavellian end, and haven't time or interest to help us. Because as it looks now, it's likely to be Scalias of the court, the self-professed keepers of original intent, who seem to me most likely to afford freedom of religion to corporations. What irony, or perhaps just good old-fashioned hypocrisy, in that.

We need to do something. We The People, I mean.

People People. Not corporate people.

If you catch my drift.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This second part of a 3-part series was originally published December 4, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman. The first part was Corporations Are Not People. The series concludes with Employers of Religion.

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, political, political battleground, santa clara county vs southern pacific railroad, trustees of dartmouth college vs woodward, corporation, incorporate, incorporated, corporate person, corporate personhood, legal person, legal people, copernicus, copernican, pre-copernican, killing a corporation, gut feeling, language, dictionary, original intent, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, corporate speech, corporate religion

Monday, December 2, 2013

Corporations Are Not People

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

[Liberty Bell]

Corporations are not people, my friends, no matter what Mitt Romney says.

Corporations are corporations. People are people.

If corporations were people, they would obey the same tax laws as regular people do. Instead, they have a separate set of rules. What an amazing irony, given that “legal personhood” arose, in part, from a desire for equal protection under tax law.

If corporations were people, when they broke the law, they would be punished, not just by fines but sometimes by imprisonment or death.

If corporations were people, they could not urinate in public. This would be a relief to the employees of certain corporations, who are presently asked to enjoy humiliating public displays of trickle down. We'd insist corporations use a rest room like everyone else. Although that would usually require knowing their gender. If something doesn't have a gender, that's a big clue that the something is not actually a person.

If corporations were people, they would be counted in the US census.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

 —13th Amendment
    to US Constitution

If corporations were people, some would be old enough to receive Social Security.

If corporations were people, taking money out of them would be called robbery, not profit or dividends. Owners would surely justify this robbery by saying the corporation was a dependent body, but we would see quickly enough that it was the owner that was dependent on the corporation, not vice versa.

If corporations were people, other people could not buy, sell, trade or own them. We don't let people own people in the US. We call that slavery. Every person controls his own destiny.

If corporations were people, they could not be dissolved by other people. We'd call that murder.

If corporations were people, then from the moment of their very conception, their ultimate existence would be assured—no backing out allowed. If any other person interfered with or otherwise aborted plans to sign articles of incorporation, pro-life groups would insist that was murder, too.

If corporations were people, they would have a childhood. During their first eighteen years, they would attend school and learn how to be good citizens. They would not be allowed to sign contracts.

If corporations were people, they could not exist simultaneously in multiple countries at the same time. We would know when they were in one country or another. They would need passports and visas to move around, just like people do.

If corporations were people, we'd give them freedom of speech, but no more such freedom than we give any other person.

If corporations were people, there would be limits on how much they could donate to political campaigns. Because people have such limits.

If corporations were people, some could even vote or run for office—if they were old enough and born or living in the right place. But if we caught them coercing the vote of another person, perhaps an employee, we'd throw them in jail.

If corporations were people, they might need freedom of religion. But not so that they could coerce the rights of others, and instead so that they could explore what they thought of life, death, and ethics, independent of the people who gave birth to them. Religion is a very personal choice we should each make for ourselves, not owners for corporations, nor corporations for employees.

If corporations were people, I wouldn't have to write this article. Because when two things are the same thing, so many questions like this just don't come up. And yet the questions keep coming and this list could go on. Corporations are not people in so many ways.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This first part of a 3-part series was originally published December 2, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman. The next part is We The People (and Corporations). The series concludes with Employers of Religion.

The public domain liberty bell graphic came from

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, incorporation, corporations, corporate personhood, legal personhood, legal person, legal personality, taxation, crimes, punishment, imprisonment, life, death, death penalty, urination, trickle down, census, social security, robbery, slavery, human trafficking, murder, pro-life, childhood, contracts, travel, passport, visa, home country, citizen, citizenship, speech, religion, freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, religious freedom, philosophy, ethics, vote, voter, voting, run for office, running for office, candidate, elect, election, elected, office holder

Monday, November 18, 2013

My Christian Sensibilities

As a kid, I went to church and Sunday school and even attended an Episcopal grade school for 3 years, which meant chapel 5 days a week in addition to normal Sunday school, so no shortage of religious guidance. We moved a lot, so I experienced quite a number of churches, and several denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, even generic Protestant—an Army accommodation to multiculturalism). At some point I asked my mom if I really had to keep going, and she said I didn't. I think she just wanted me to get to a place where I could decide such things for myself.

I spent a number of years after that getting used to not being religious. If you're curious, you can read a pretty good summary of how I think about religion in my article Hawking God.

But like so many things in life, religion comes bundled with many things that seem only accidentally associated, like how you might have to go to a ball game to have someone walk around selling hot dogs and peanuts. Nothing about hot dogs and peanuts that requires that they be sold at a baseball game. They could do it at bowling alleys or in churches for that matter. Sometimes they do it in movie theaters or on beaches. But the point is that often an activity comes bundled with an unrelated or only quasi-related item, like hot dogs and baseball.

It surprises me, for example, that there's no religion-free version of a church. A lot of people just like showing up and seeing friends and hearing an inspirational message. It doesn't have to come from the Bible. It could come from anywhere. It's always at this point that people tell me the Unitarian church is kind of like that. But really, my point is that I don't want a church, and other non-religious people don't either. And yet, I'm not against socializing.

And the same with morality. Members of religions often pick up a great deal of morality from their church. That's where I got a lot of mine, as it happens. I think sometimes that Christians worry excessively that people who don't have religion will therefore not have morality, since the place they would have learned it doesn't exist for people outside of religion. It turns out it can be learned in other ways, though, so they can rest easy.

Still, when I left religion, I didn't discard my sense of morality. It seemed useful enough, and I'm happy to learn things wherever they come up up. I was in JROTC (a military training program) in high school, too, and although I eventually decided I didn't want to go into the Army, I was glad I had been in that program. I like to think I learned important things about discipline and respect and leadership that I could carry with me even after I “retired.”

It's perhaps also fortunate that even in Sunday school when I asked hard questions of my teachers, they didn't get all dogmatic with me, but instead tried sincerely to answer the questions on the terms I was asking them. I was quite skeptical about the story of Jesus feeding a large group with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. But the response I got was that probably people were hoarding food and that once someone shared, others did, too. The question I was asked back was, “Is that any less a miracle?” Hard to know how to answer that last question, but it was certainly my kind of miracle.

Even being no longer religious, I'm still OK with believing in that kind of miracle. I don't find myself troubled by reclaiming some of the terminology of religion. It's fully of valuable words that one cannot afford to be expressionally without. Even words like “evil,” which for many years I had no place for. Over time I've come to believe the word is necessary not because I imagine there somehow to be some supernatural Satan sneaking around, tempting and outright sabotaging the affairs of the world, but simply because there exist great wrongs in the world for which it would be too gross an understatement to call them merely “bad” or “wrong.” Such words are too small, too pedestrian. When I speak of Evil, often capitalizing it for effect, I don't mean anything supernatural, but I do find it conversationally useful to have a word to express a systematically corrosive problem that commands priority attention by society. I'll spare you specific examples at just this moment, so we don't get too side-tracked. For now I just want to note I've reclaimed my right to use it notwithstanding my lapsed membership in organized religion.

I'm still working on what to do about the terminology of prayer. I don't find myself with an urge to consult some supreme being, but when bad things happen to others, or when they're just fearful, I wish there were a conversationally simple phrasing like “I'll pray for you” that expressed caring. I often just resort to “I'll think good thoughts.” But just because I don't believe in a supreme being doesn't mean I don't sometimes wish for one. I did read comic books, for example, and I do watch superhero movies, and even though I don't believe in Superman or Aquaman, it doesn't mean I think the world would be worse off if there were such folks. Well, probably. It probably wouldn't work out like people think, and perhaps we're better off just wishing.

Actually, praying for someone is a complicated issue, because it has always troubled me ethically. I was taught that the reason you couldn't put God's name before the word damn was that it violated the commandment about taking the Lord's name in vain. That is, you are asking Him to do you some petty favor of damning someone or something just because it offends you. He's not going to do it on your say-so, and so you're asking in vain. He's not your servant, you're his. And prayer seemed to me to be full of that. It's one thing to make requests, but prayers seem full of command form. “God, bless so-and-so.” That seems similarly pushy to me, so I never really understood why it wasn't much more polite.

I don't think it's a minor point, actually, because once one gets used to telling God what he should and shouldn't be doing, it seems contagious to other things. One starts to hear political leaders telling us what God likes and doesn't, as if they know. Even if there were a God, it seems really unlikely to me that these people who are so free with His name are really the ones God chooses to chat with. Frankly, it seems to me that if there were really a God, the evidence would be in the little piles of ash all over the place where brash politicians went around taking His name in vain in myriad ways that go well beyond merely asking God to damn them. It's as if they don't even have the faith needed to see if God is going to answer their prayer of damnation, and they have to find a way to make sure to damn them here and now, as some sort of offering to a God too feeble to handle his own affairs. Some faith.

Again not to lean too heavily on my long-since-lapsed Christian upbringing, but I was taught that God gave us free will so that we could make choices in life, not so we could go around telling other people they have no choice. Too often, of late, we see hyperevangelicals impatient at the fact that God is not acting in the way they want or expect and worried somehow that the world will come to an end if they don't act. That, to me, seems the very essence of faithlessness.

According to the moral training I received in my youth from the church, it should be our business here on Earth to love, care for, help, and accept one another. Even today, that seems to me like it should be right, God or not. Tolerance and compassion are just good ideas no matter where they come from, but if you're a Christian I just don't understand how you could not think they were requirements.

And yet the GOP, the self-appointed party of God, purports to care about “life,” even though—as far as I can tell—that sense of caring stops just about the time a person is born. GOP politicians hold their heads high and smile cheerfully as they explain why it's important to kill plans for health care, education, minimum wage and other employment standards. Frankly, if there's a form of common human decency, it seems safe to suppose there's a GOP plan to obstruct it. And, I have to admit, if there's a place I feel a need for a word like “Evil,” this is it.

Some days I really don't know what to do about such Evil. For now I guess I just wanted to make note of the fact that these things the GOP has been doing offend my Christian sensibilities.


One ray of sunshine, though, is Pope Francis. He's not likely to get me to believe in God again, but his willingness to take on the big money and power that has infected the church and his seemingly genuine desire to lead by example in teaching people to care more seriously about other people is at least restoring a bit of my faith in humanity. Maybe we could get him to moderate the 2016 Presidential debates. It's not that I think the GOP has to answer to him particularly, but he seems to know the right questions to ask.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

Originally published November 18, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, gop, republican, religion, love, love thy neighbor, tolerance, compassion, health care, minimum wage, living standards, employment standards, human decency, ordinary human decency, common human decency, pope, francis, miracles, loaves, fishes, matthew, church, sunday school, not religious, non-religious, atheist, atheism, agnostic, agnosticism, god, dogma, moral, morals, morality, philosophy, caring

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Offudio Project Concludes

The Beginning

In case you didn't read The Offudio Project Begins—or in case it was too long ago to remember—please allow me to briefly recap:

The Offudio Project was a plan to convert my home “office” into a “studio.” The term “offudio” was just a temporary name for the transition. The hope was that giving the planned result a new title, that of “studio,” would give me new power to reconceive my use of the space. As I wrote in the first article:

“I want a space that invites me to be other than I am now, to reinvent myself. For example, art and music aren’t really central to what I am or do now. Maybe they will figure more prominently in the redesign. I don’t yet know.”

—me, October 19, 2012

The project took longer than I expected, in part because I live in a small New England house. I needed a workspace and usually use my driveway. But there was lots of rain and snow for a long time, and I didn't want to do the work indoors. So I waited for spring.

The Transition

Our story today begins with a junky room and a ratty old wall-to-wall carpet. You can barely see the floor at all in this original arrangement. Every bit of the room was used, but even as that was utilitarian, it was also stifling.

The picture at right is borrowed from the first article, and gives you a sense of how much clutter we're talking about.

For a room to feel like it has options, I felt, it must feature unused, outright wasted space. Such space might never be intended to be used, but it sends the visual signal that there are ways it could be used. It invites forward thinking. It isn't the dead end result of long-abandoned hopes.

So the first step was just to remove all of the junk, and the plan was to allow back in only those things that really needed to be there.

As an intermediate matter, of course, that meant cluttering the rest of the house somewhat. In computer lingo, we call that “intermediate expression swell,” the notion that the middle of a project may grow to take up more space than is needed in the end. I was trusting it would fold back down, even elsewhere in the house. Mostly it has.

But it was also an opportunity to go through things I don't use and decide what needed to be there and what could be thrown away or put away into less accessible storage, such as the basement.

The picture below shows the floor after removing a lot of junk. You can see here the place I where soon I'd be putting in some real energy to replace that icky old carpet with hardwood. The carpet was old, dusty, stained, hard to clean, and just unsightly. It needed to go.

I tentatively peeled back the carpet:

It had a liner underneath that was in bad shape. And the floor beneath that was in pretty sorry shape as well:

But after a good scrub and an undercoat of Kilz stainblocking sealer, it looked a lot better. At one point I actually kicked over the can of paint, which was quite exciting. I wish I'd gotten a picture of that. It was like herding cats, but I realized if I just pushed the paint in the right way I could pretty much still paint the floor as I'd intended. I just barely managed to do it without painting myself into a corner, and everything came out fine:

Though if you look carefully you'll see I wasn't yet brave enough to remove the carpet going up the wall. It covered something of unknown nature that I later learned was cinder blocks. But for now I had enough to deal with. It was time to start laying subfloor, and fortunately there was a nice modular solution, called DriCore, available from Home Depot:

DriCore is designed to solve various moisture problems that happen in basements, and this wasn't actually a basement, but it seemed prudent to do it anyway. Pretty much all I had to do was snap it into place, leaving spacers around the outside for it to breathe:

It didn't take long to cover the entire floor:

For a lot of uses, the DriCore would have been fine. Some people just use that as actual flooring. But I was determined to have hardwood, And hardwood needs a certain depth to nail into. Since DriCore is too thin, I added a layer of plywood on top of it. I figured that would make it nice and sturdy anyway. And the DriCore is ridiculously strong, so it doesn't mind the weight:

It was finally time to peel back the carpet on the wall and see what was underneath.

It was cinder block with some 2x4's on top to cap it. They stuck out a ways from the wall, creating a bit of a ledge on some but not all the walls. That came to be another big problem: Every wall had completely different structure along the bottom, so whatever kind of trim was going to be used would have to be custom-made for each wall, and yet would have to join at the corners. I resolved to worry about that later.

I'd done hardwood floors before and I was dying to get to the part where I was laying out individual strips of board. That's the fun part, even if it's also a bit painstaking. And it's what I wanted to do next.

Boards come in different lengths and you have to custom cut the last board on each row to make the length work out:

What I really like about this is that every board is unique. It's like a jigsaw puzzle with no key. If you have the time and patience, it's fun to get the wood patterns from board to board to match up in interesting ways. Here the large knot is actually four boards chosen to come together in a way that looks somewhat coordinated. It's not a perfect fit. But it never really can be. It's just fun to try. Jupiter has its great red spot, and my floor has this:

The individual hardwood boards are tongue and groove, so they sort of snap together. Eventually you'd nail them but they go together well enough that you can cut all the pieces and lay them into place to see how they look before doing that. I was pretty picky about this part, so it took longer than it needed to, but at last I got to the other end of the room:

It looked like a floor at this point, but wasn't nailed together:

Doing nailing by hand is hugely difficult, not just because you have to hit so many nails in so short a time, but because you don't want to make mistakes. A bent nail can be a pain. So there are nail guns that help you manage that, and you can rent them from Home Depot. There are automatic guns that do almost all of the work for you, but they seem like an opportunity to shoot yourself accidentally, so I prefer the semi-automatic ones. They make you do more but are harder to set off by accident.

Click here to see what it looks like for someone who is used to it—this is not what it looked like for me doing it. I got pretty efficient at it after a while, but it still took a whole day. The guy in that video would have had it done in just a few minutes.

Basically, you have to go back and open up some space on one end so that you can nail in boards one at a time:

As each line is nailed in, the gap between what's done and what's yet to do slides across the floor:

And suddenly the floor part was done:

Next it was time to paint hat ugly cinder block. Of course, I had to be careful not to get paint all over, so I used the boxes the hardwood had come in to protect the floor, augmenting here and there where I needed extra width by repurposing some already-used Christmas gift wrap. Unfortunately, I had no substitute for using a lot of new, blue tape to cleanly mask the 2x4's:

Here I peeled all of that back up to see how the paint job came out and think about staining. I made a note that I'd also be needing to touch up the wall with a bit of patch to make sure it came all the way to 2x4. The bottom edge here is pretty messy where the two meet:

Now all that remained was the baseboard trim. This was a big puzzle for me, but I had all winter to think about it because it was clear I would need my driveway to do the work, and it just wasn't available. The hardwood instructions had said to leave a gutter around the edge for expansion due to moisture. I've used this room a long time, and it never has moisture, but I followed those instructions. Also, the gap was large, so conventional baseboard wouldn't cover it.

The cinder block itself was easy. I just painted that white. And I stained the 2x4 boards that sat on top of them. It was the gutter that continued to vex me.

I finally settled on the idea of using 2x3 and 2x8 boards. Not wanting to spend a lot, I went to the culled lumber section at Home Depot, where you can buy scrap lumber for pennies. I stained the wood, and then glued the boards to the cinder blocks with an adhesive that was designed to work on both wood and concrete. The gutter was also supposed to allow breathing for moisture from the concrete floor, so I didn't want to seal it in. I put the wood on felt spacers so that it didn't attach to the floor and the floor can slide back and forth if it needs to expand.

The overall look was exactly what I'd wanted. The baseboards are a bit more informal than you might want for some rooms, but this is a room off the garage of my house. This will never be a fine dining room. And yet even for its crude nature, it's got a certain elegance:

The baseboards stick out a bit from the wall and that makes it hard to put some furniture against it. But that has ultimately worked hugely in my favor because it's helped me resist the temptation to put heavy bookcases against the wall—things that would need something to lean against. Instead I've opted for lighter, more airy furniture, and that has contributed to the open look I was seeking for the room.

The Reveal

Finally I could move furniture back into the room.

Staples had chair mats made out of bamboo that were perfect for protecting the new floor from a rolling chair. A desk with a tempered glass top, an open riser to hold up a computer monitor, and a set of translucent stack trays contribute to the open look. I used an oversized cloth bag behind the desk to hide a lot of computer cords that otherwise would have had nowhere to go:

An old armchair, a door desk, and an open bookcase each have that open feel that contributes to the overall room look.

And out in the middle of the room, the floor is pretty and smooth and one can easily slide around in sock feet. It's a pleasant and inviting space where I can sit and read, play music, or even get up to dance when no one is looking, all in a studio that was, start to finish, my own creation.†

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

† In the end, it was my own creation, but nothing in the world ever really happens in isolation. Critical ideas and support that led to the creation of this space came from my wife and several dear friends. My wife also patiently suffered a lot of intrusion into other parts of the house by wayward furniture elements that had no home for a while. And, last but not least, my daughter contributed critical construction assistance at a key point in the process. I'm really happy for all of their participation. It wouldn't be the great new space that it has become without all of these inputs.

Originally published September 23, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

Tags (from Open Salon): aesthetic, recreation, creation, transition, building, hardwood flooring, hardwood floor, flooring, floor, hardwood, reconstruction, construction, retreat, escape, personal space, rethink, redesign, design, not politics, music, art, offudio, studio, office, home office

The first part of this two-part series is here:
The Offudio Project Begins

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Overtime Loophole

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

President Obama has been talking up the idea of raising the minimum wage. I would certainly support such a move. But until we require the minimum wage to always be a living wage, there's more work to do.

Author's Note: This is the last in a three-part series that began with Breaching the Social Contract and Lien Times for Startups.

“No one who works full-time
should have to live in poverty.”

President Barack Obama
in his State of the Union speech, February, 2013

People are having trouble making ends meet. There are signs of it all around, but it's not always spoken about. It's embarrassing, after all, and something people often just endure rather than talk about out loud. But shame gave way to outrage recently, and shy silence to loud cries of incredulity, when when McDonald's published a “Sample Monthly Budget”  (see excerpt at right).

What caught they eye of many was the unabashed acknowledgement, right up front, that McDonald's knows they are not paying enough for a person to live on, and that of course their employees will need a second job. That their pay is not a living wage was no surprise to anyone, but that McDonald's was willing to so casually acknowledge that fact was quite striking.

Not only that, but also striking was that the sample budget doesn't even mention obvious costs like food, clothing, and gasoline. And though it mentions health care, it seems to think $20/month is enough. That's not even a full copay for a doctor visit on most plans, much less a payment for the plan itself.

Curiously, the McDonald's 2012 annual report speaks proudly of its employees as part of its McFamily, and of their jobs as “a career.” I asked the all-knowing web what the difference was between a job and a career, and it referred me to Yahoo, which offered lots of talk about careers being things you build, things you work toward, or something that doesn't just pay the bills but is a passion. Merriam Webster defines career as “a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling.” Hmmm. A permanent calling that doesn't pay enough to live. What could possibly go wrong?

In fairness, though, we probably owe McDonald's a thank you for publishing this budget. It doesn't show them to be much different than I'd imagine many other employers to be. It's just unusually honest and invites public discussion with a new degree of specificity. We don't have to guess what they're thinking. They've spelled things out.

For example, what leapt out at when I saw this budget, was that it acknowledges an ugly reality of modern employment that everyone probably knows about, but that gets far too little open discussion: that Big Business has found a pretty reliable way around overtime laws.

In the McDonald's budget, it's plain that they expect employees to work additional hours to break even. That's the reason for the second job. But just as obviously, they're not offering to let their employee work those hours at McDonald's. Why?

Is it that they're not open that many hours a week? No, McDonald's has a lot of interest in being open late. Is it that they want their employees to be well rested? Well, obviously not. The budget says the company expects their employees will be working long hours, just not for them. So it's not about more hours to rest up.

Antitrust laws notwithstanding, I imagine what's really going on is something like this: Suppose I have a company where I want to employ 100 workers at very little money for 80 hours without overtime. And suppose you do, too. That would violate employment laws and maybe also make a mess of various corporate policies. So I get an idea. I call up my friend Donald, who has a business similar to mine, and we get together to brainstorm about this problem:

Donald has an idea: “How about I cut my workers to 40 hours a week and you do the same? Then I'll hire your 100 workers, also for 40 hours, and you can do the same for me. We'll each now have 200 workers instead of 100, each working at 40 hours instead of 80 hours. Presto. Problem solved: We each get what we want, 8000 hours of work a week, but with no messy overtime for the employees.”

I'm skeptical this is what's intended, but Donald is insistent: “Nonsense,” he says of my concerns, “if they didn't want us to do this, they'd pass a law against it. Instead, they've created an economic incentive for us to do this. Congress must know it happens, so since they don't make a law against it, they must want us to do it.”

“But this Congress doesn't want to pass any laws,” I reply, still not convinced.

“Not my problem,” Donald responds. “I can't be running my business based on made-up constraints that my competitors aren't shackled by. It wouldn't be a fair fight.”

“But what's fair about cheating workers out of overtime?”

Donald scowls at me. “First, it's not cheating. And second, they signed up voluntarily. They could have gone elsewhere if they didn't like the deal you were offering.

“Like where? To your company? You'll offer them the same rotten deal that you suggest I offer. What if everyone does that trick you're suggesting?”

I don't know if a conversation like that ever happened. It might have. If it did, I'm sure there are no records. But, conversation or not, it seems clear to me that the companies engaged in this practice know they are doing it.

If the reason people were taking second jobs was to reach for something extra—not something they need to live, but something nonessential—that might be okay. But the McDonald's budget is a clear admission that these companies know that they aren't paying any kind of living wage. A claim to the contrary wouldn't pass the laugh test.

Employees have no real choice but to work overtime to break even. And since they have to do the overtime with another company, they won't get overtime pay. That's called an externality: These companies get the benefit, and the cost is someone else's problem—the employee's, to be exact. If the companies were paying time-and-a-half for that overtime work, the employee wouldn't have to work as many hours for the same money, or the employee would make more money for working so many hours. That seems the clear intent of the overtime law, even if not the letter of it. But the companies have found a way around it.

So what's to be done? To get the discussion onto something concrete, I suggest a tax. There being no employer to collect the extra money from, I suggest the government can pay it—up to the level of a living wage. Then the government can tax the employers to recover the cost. In that way it's also “revenue neutral” and the anti-tax folks should have nothing to object to.

If a worker is paid so little that he must work 80 hours for two employers, he's due 40 hours of half-time pay because he was only paid a straight wage, not time-and-a-half. At tax time, he gets a credit for the half-time pay. The government then taxes the two employers for their share of the cost, based on the number of hours each employed the worker and how much they paid him below a living wage. For every hour they underpaid him, a bit of tax is held in reserve to cover the very likely situation that he'll file for overtime.

None of this keeps an employer from offering overtime work directly and honestly with their own company. That would avoid the tax. Or they can just pay a living wage. That would avoid the tax, too. I'm not suggesting a tax because I'm fixed on taxing people. It's just a tool of last resort to make sure employers can't find a legal loopholes to hide from what should be their responsibility.

Let businesses find another way to make their money than on the backs of employees. Let them offer good products and services at prices that more fairly incorporate all legitimate costs of those products and services rather than hiding those costs by pushing them onto workers and society.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This third part of a 3-part series was originally published August 10, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

The other articles in this series are:
Breaching the Social Contract (part 1)
Lien Times for Startups (part 2)

Original graphic created from data obtained at

Tags (from Open Salon): monthly budget, budget, necessities, essentials, paying enough, overtime, forced overtime, unpaid overtime, overtime law, antitrust, antitrust law, collusion, tax, poverty, jobs, employment, mcdonald's, sample monthly budget, loophole, overtime loophole, second job, another job, extra job, make ends meet, making ends meet, business, taxation, politics, social contract, minimum wage, living wage, externality

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lien Times for Startups

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Author’s Note: It became clear after writing this article and seeing some of the comments that my use of the word “startup” had been misinterpreted. I had not meant to imply anything so narrowly specific as Wikipedia attributes to this term, but rather to speak generally about any newly formed business, however owned, funded, or organized, that has not yet achieved its targeted, financially self-sustaining state. I'll thank you here in advance for respecting my intent and not getting side-tracked by my arguably poor choice of words.

We hear all the time how with great risk should come great reward. It's used as a way of justifying the flow of dollars to the founders of a company after it succeeds. These courageous benefactors of society have put their heart and soul into the company at great personal risk to themselves and their families, and so when the profits come rolling in, they deserve to share handsomely in the spoils.

Well, isn't that also what the people living at less than a living wage are doing? In my recent article Breaching the Social Contract, I noted that since the minimum wage is not tied to a living wage, minimum wage workers run a daily personal deficit as they struggle to survive. There's risk in that as well. They've put themselves out to make the company successful. Shouldn't they share in those spoils, too?

I'd like to see all workers paid a living wage, not just a minimum wage, but when discussing that idea, I often hear the concern that companies might not be able to turn a profit if wages were required to be so “high.” Funny how seldom one hears that same concern as those same companies think about paying their CEOs millions. “Just a cost of doing business. We'll find a way—we'll have to,” they mutter with steadfast determination, just as our nation's best schools have taught them to do. No problem too difficult for American ingenuity—other than finding a way to treat our most vulnerable citizens with dignity, I mean.

But, okay, suppose we accept that as a premise for this discussion that we need to ease cash flow for startups. Founders of a company, even if they'll later be paid millions, often do take a lower salary in exchange for stock, so let's say it's acceptable for workers in the company to be paid a minimum wage that's below a living wage while the company is getting going.

Even so, the founders are getting delayed compensation for taking their lessened salary. Why not delayed compensation for workers who are taking less than a living wage? We could say that before a dime of profit can be enjoyed by a company's owners, all workers must be making a living wage. After all, if there is profit to be paid out, then by definition there is surplus. So no one can claim that there is no money available for paying a proper wage at last.

And since it's really obvious that employees earning below a living wage have been making the largest sacrifice, risking their very day-to-day survival, it seems to me they should have a priority claim on money that might otherwise be deemed surplus, or profit.

Traditionally, the founders of a company will negotiate profit-sharing details as they form a legal partnership arrangement, but lower-wage workers rarely have the kind of clout needed to participate in that, so they need force of government to require that they're treated equitably.

One way government could help would be to maintain not just an official minimum wage but an official living wage. Everyone would always have to pay at least the minimum wage, but the difference between the living wage and whatever lesser wage they were paying would become a sort of priority debt that the founders were accumulating as they brought their company toward profitability. They could continue to continue to carry this debt while the company got up and running, but all the while there would be a sort of lien against the future profits of the company by the workers who had worked at this startup rate.

It seems to me that the only businesses that would not be able to accept rules like this are ones that could never break even without an ongoing tax on their employees' very ability to survive. If that's how a company is profiting, such businesses shouldn't exist anyway. If the company is profiting in other ways, there's no reason all workers who contributed to that profit shouldn't share at least to the degree of having enough money to live. Once a company is alleging any form of profit, that doesn't seem an unreasonable demand.

And anyway, if the debt to the workers ends up being huge, it certainly calls into question the claim so often heard that all the risk was on the part of the founders. Workers who've made a major sacrifices certainly deserve not to be overlooked.

Think of the decision to pay workers below the living wage as coming with a cost—the requirement to make such people a kind of temporary partner. Or think of it like members of a cooperative, where special priority shares get purchased by working at these lower-than-reasonable wages. Using one of these ways of thinking, a low-wage worker might finally be able to see their sacrifice as investment, and the founders could feel better that they weren't exploiting their workers.

Of course, if a company continues to lose money, it might legitimately claim that it can only ever afford a minimum wage. Perhaps it would never be able to make good. But that's a risk the founders take as well. And it's unlikely anyone would form a company with the intent in mind of never making money. So everyone is motivated to make things work: The owners will still want to make money. They'll just have to do it on the basis of an honest surplus based on product or service value provided, without the externality of a subsidy imposed on employees too poor or otherwise disempowered to defend the importance of their own contribution.

The ultimate purpose of this would be to assure that a company had not just a moral but a legal responsibility, once profitable, to treat its workers fairly, paying them a living wage. It doesn't require that a company profit—that would require magic. But it just says that profit must never come at the expense of someone's living wage. And it acknowledges risk that has always been there but rarely if ever spoken of—the risk of the day-to-day survival of the company's least well-paid workers.

And, yes, it does occur to me that companies might do creative tricks involving bankruptcy or splitting the sale of assets and debts to wash themselves of this kind of lien. I think that could be legislated around. After all, no one thought it too complicated to write laws that keep human beings from eliminating their education debt. Where there's a will, there's a way. It's amazing how obstructionist the capitalists can be when they think they're about to lose an entitlement to free flow of cash at someone else's expense. But I think we as a society can do it anyway.

Don't worry. In spite of their protests, the capitalists won't find any particular set of rules so onerous that they lose interest in making money. And if they did, others would surely step forward to take their place. It'll just mean whoever's in the game will have to find different and more fair ways to make money. Nothing wrong with that.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This second part of a 3-part series was originally published August 9, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

The other articles in this series are:
Breaching the Social Contract (part 1)
The Overtime Loophole (part 3)

Tags (from Open Salon): profit sharing, profit, cooperative, co-op, coop, partner, duress, inequality of bargaining, bargaining, deficit, unemployment, employment, jobs, cycle of poverty, poverty, penalty, punishment, reward, success, failure, entrepreneurship, entrepreneur, wealthy, poor, rich, inequity, investment, living wage, minimum wage, reward, risk, startup, social contract, politics

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Breaching the Social Contract

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

When discussing the really obscene amounts of money some rich folks have amassed in the world, the justification I always hear is: “It's their due. They are the ones taking the risk, so they should get the spoils.” I understand why they say that, but I still don't buy it. It's at best an oversimplification, and at worst just a clever lie designed to put a nice face on institutionalized inequity.

Of course, lie or not, I don't doubt that the rich believe the excuse. They need to believe this wealth is rightly earned through the risks they took. It soothes their conscience to believe that. So they repeat the excuse a lot, and they find after a while that they do believe it.

“They risked everything to get there,” say others, trying to vary the wording just a little. In this form, the parallel between “risk everything” and “get everything” makes it seem ever so fair, like a carefully balanced scale, with the same quantity on both sides: “risk everything, win everything.” What could be more obvious justice? Except the “everything” risked was only one's private fortune, if one even had one at the time—they may have had little to lose—and the “everything” to be won is a lot more.

The net worth of the Walton family, who inherited the Wal-Mart retail chain, was pegged earlier this year at $115.7 billion. I somehow doubt that they risked that much to get that much. Even the late brothers Bud and Sam Walton, who founded the company and I'm sure worked quite hard, still had human limits on what they could contribute. In present day, I'll bet the combined Walton family wealth exceeds the combined wealth of every one of their employees, probably every employee past and present. Did the family work harder than all of the other employess put together? That seems an unlikely truth.

If the rich really did have a way to take unbounded risk in exchange for unbounded reward, that might be a different matter. But bankruptcy laws generally place a bound on risk, preventing folks from having to pay back more than a certain amount in really extreme cases. This allows them to start over, sometimes even more than once. We coddle our rich in ways we don't our poor.

By “rich” here, of course I mean the class of folks that feel entitled to be rich, because even when they are without money, they are rarely without a whole social network who sees them as differently poor than those who were always poor, and who understand that these particular poor need to be made rich again before all is right.

Likewise, when I speak of the “poor” in this context, I mean those who are not similarly entitled to riches by virtue of birth or connection. Odd that these should be called the “entitlement class.” The reverse would seem more apt.

Poor folks often don't actually go bankrupt. They may just get stuck in a cycle of poverty that restricts their lives, but they may not have the luxury of time, money or knowledge to do a proper bankruptcy, or even know it's possible, so they never clear their debt.

In fact, we've done to this class of people something the rich would never tolerate: We've taken the primary longshot investment they could make that might raise them out of their poverty, education, and have written it into law that if this longshot fails, they may not clear their education debt. We would never do that to a rich person's longshot. And why? Because we want to encourage entrepreneurs, I'm told. But we don't want to encourage people to invest in education?

Closer to the truth, I fear, is that those people buying the lobbyists that write our policies are comfortable that their own kids are going to end up educated, and they really just can't find it within themselves to care about anyone else being educated. In fact, they'd probably rather we have a broad underclass of exploitable poor ready to work at junk jobs, since that offers a direct profit advantage to them. Right now they have to get their ultra-cheap labor from abroad, which means managing at a distance, dealing with foreign governments, and lots of transportation costs.

Just think of the Utopia the US would be for them if only they could achieve real poverty here at home. Once minimum wage is eliminated and overtime regulations are repealed, pay could drop to a level where the rich could afford to offer tons of jobs and get everyone to shut up about unemployment. A job for everyone—maybe two or three, actually, since the pay for any one of them would never be enough. Isn't that what the liberals have wanted? Jobs? Imagine the joy the conservatives would feel in being able to satisfy that request if allowed to do it on their own terms.

And when the rich do need a few educated folks to work for them, they can always import them from other countries. There are plenty who would love to come here, and they'll take lower wages than those in the US because they grew up in a part of the world where the cost of living and of getting an education was lower. In effect, we're now outsourcing education because many of the heirs apparent to our educated jobs have gotten their degrees elsewhere. The fact that the people who are thus educated may not be American citizens is a mere detail, irrelevant to the business. And anyway, a less-talked-about aspect of modern immigration reform is the desire to ease the path to citizenship for these people, so they'll be citizens soon enough.

And, hey, I'm not xenophobic. I don't mind people coming from the outside, especially if they're going to become citizens, commit to living here and invest in our society. But I do mind a great deal using that trend as an excuse not to educate those who are already citizens. Our first responsibility is to them. If education is too expensive or ineffective here, our priority should be to make it cheaper and more effective. We can't treat our existing citizens as expendable just because it's cheaper or easier to fill STEM jobs from the outside.

Now let me come back to risk, because we were talking about education as the big risk. An education is needed for a good job, but it's not a guarantee of a good job. There are lots of people with college degrees working at retail outlets and fast food places. So getting an education is actually a huge risk, and we've allowed Congress to eliminate bankruptcy protection for those whose investment utterly fails. When the money coming in from those low-paid jobs doesn't pay back the loans, there is no escape for them as there would be for the rich when their investments fail.

Nor is that the only risk. There's the day-to-day risk of not having enough food, health care, housing, heat or air conditioning, and so on. The sad truth is that the minimum wage, which many of these people make, is not a living wage. That's also true, by the way, for some making over the minimum wage—say, minimum wage plus a buck. They're still not breaking even either, but they just don't have a catchy title like “minimum wage worker” to describe their plight. They may even be made to feel guilty for not speaking appreciatively about being above the minimum. But really, they're all in the same boat until they're at the level of a living wage.

After all, the minimum wage doesn't measure anything related to anyone's ability to survive, so being above it doesn't really mean one is somehow surviving. It just measures, through its distance from a living wage, how much we as a public are willing to stand by and watch people sink before we finally decide to care. And whether a person works at minimum wage or barely above, if they're not making a living wage, they're still running a daily deficit. Yes, deficit. The “D” word. And although the Republican Congress worries a lot about deficits, they really only worry about public deficits, and only because they themselves might have to pay. They imagine these private deficits are the result of private choices, and they're well-practiced at chiding people about the need to take responsibility for their own actions.

Never mind that these others have taken responsibility. Many got an education. Most work every day. By and large, most folks do their part of what should be our social contract: Be a good citizen, improve yourself, contribute the skills and strength you have to the general good. That should be enough that society should treat you as one of its own without insulting you by suggesting in the end that you're asking for a handout or not taking responsibility. If anyone is not taking responsibility, it's Society. We asked these people to do these things. They did what they were asked and are now beaten up for it and told they must suffer.

Implicit in our request that people work full-time should be that they be given work that will support them. Implicit in our request that people educate themselves should be that we'll find something to do with that education. And if some jobs don't require education, let's not treat the people who go that path as if they've disappointed us. Society asks different things of different people, and we need to treat everyone who does their fair share with a certain baseline respect. We've got a ways to go on that.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the poor are stuck in situations they didn't freely choose. As Adlai Stevenson once aptly summed it up, “A hungry man is not a free man.” In bargaining for a way to survive, there is huge inequality of bargaining power. That, in turn, makes a mockery of any notion that the poor really elect their fate, and calls into question whether it's their responsibility to fix a problems they didn't create.

As Adam Smith put it in his book The Wealth of Nations:

“It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily; and the law, besides, authorizes, or at least does not prohibit their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work; but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes the masters can hold out much longer. A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, a merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment. In the long run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.”

It therefore falls to those of us who are not economically disempowered to speak in support of those who are, to acknowledge the legitimacy of their plight, and to stop insulting them by saying they should take responsibility for their actions. Of necessity, they take responsibility each and every day. They're not failing us. We're failing them. And it's time we took some responsibility.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This first part of a 3-part series was originally published August 4, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

The other articles in this series were:
Lien Times for Startups (part 2)
The Overtime Loophole (part 3)

The Adam Smith quote was borrowed from the Wikipedia entry, “Inequality of Bargaining Power.” It's quite a fascinating entry full of very instructive and powerfully-expressed quotations. If you have the time, I recommend that article as important reading.

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, social contract, bankruptcy, risk, reward, responsibility, entitlement, minimum wage, living wage, education, investment, inequity, walton, wal-mart, rich, poor, wealthy, class, entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, failure, success, reward, punishment, penalty, poverty, cycle of poverty, immigration, xenophobe, xenophobia, xenophobic, jobs, employment, unemployment, stem, college, degree, tuition, cost of education, deficit, congress, bargaining, inequality of bargaining, duress, adam smith, adlai stevenson