Friday, December 16, 2016

My Big Idea

Any non-unionized employee paid less than 3x minimum wage is considered a contract employee and has a minimum wage of ~2x federal minimum wage.  (possibly an addition about % contract employees allowed)
The first part deals with professionals and other higher paid workers who are less likely to need union protection.  The other part does a few things.  On the surface it discourages union membership by putting a higher salary floor for non-union workers, but it also makes them "contract" employees which changes lots of the other benefit structuring around.  It's actually still a pretty good deal for younger workers who aren't working as a career yet (college students) but for older workers, those with families, and those who see this job as a start point for their career, that higher pay isn't as good a deal as lower pay with benefits, more job security and union negotiating that will likely mean better pay down the road.

For employers, the ability to hire at a lower salary will help make unions more palatable, and the ability to pick up contract workers for seasonal jobs will allow for flexibility.

So basically employeers have 3 options: pay employees at least 3x minimum wage, encourage unions and hire union workers, or hire "contract employees".

This idea comes from this string of thoughts: wages have stagnated, but the minimum wage is a clunky tool to fix it (hurts smaller employers in less costly parts of the country, maybe doesn't do enough in NYC, San Fran...).  Additionally unions have shrunk to almost nothing and, most notably, as the employment profile of this country has shifted from manufacturing to service, it is service workers that are, broadly, not unionized.  There's no good reason for this, entry level manufacturing jobs 50 years ago were in fact not skilled positions, and the qualifications for those jobs was no more than the qualifications to work at a mall store, fast food restaurant and maybe lower qualifications required than some service positions (home care, university lecturer...).  Unionization would be a far more versatile way to address working wages and conditions.

The problem is that currently, the push is strongly against unions, and so we need a way to push back against that.  It needs to be structured in such a way that employers are less likely to fight against the formation and expansion of unions.  Making it possible to pay entry level union workers less sounds problematic for unions, but if those are the jobs avialable (and if you can be easily canned from a contractor position if someone does come in with the union) then they may not really seem to be the worse option.  Also, if yo have to pay full social security & medicare from your paycheck and aren't getting any paid time off and don't get to set your own hours and don't get any raises, then you may see that lower starting paycheck as not too bad a thing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Meadowlands Development

The project at the Meadowlands in NJ (formerly Xanadu, now American Dream) is one of Atrios's bugaboos and is fun to read whatever he digs up.

I'm a mall skeptic in the era of Amazon, but not a shopping and entertainment complex skeptic.  The particulars of this project do seem really bad.  The question should be how do people get around and how do they get there?  Mall of America in MN is surrounded by people who drive to get everywhere, and is in a fairly modestly populated area so driving to get everywhere works.

The Meadowlands is just outside of NYC in northern NJ in one of the most densely populated parts of our country.  Yea, some people drive, but more than half of NYC residents don't even own a car, and it's the only city in the US with >50% of people who commute via transit (if you just say "not by car" that number goes up quite a bit).  In addition, while there is more driving in Jersey and upstate NY, there is still far more train and bus riding that in the midwest.  In fact of the 6 cities to crack 20% transit ridership, Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia join NYC as northeast transit cities (Chicago and San Francisco are the remaining 2) with Baltimore just missing the 20% cut.  In the rest of the US, only Seattle, Portland and LA manage to top 10%.

If they want that place to work, they're going to need a dedicated train stop that is just outside the doors, not across a street and 1000 ft. of parking lot.  I'm not sure if that's going to happen, but even if it does, it's still a huge question mark because of the rest of the northeast.  There are mountains and an ocean, there are several major cities including NYC and DC.  There are plenty of amusement parks, and there is already a lot of shopping around (including plenty of high end).  Is a shopper really going to see that mall as better than NYC or even the existing malls around (including King of Prussia and multiple outlet malls)?  Is someone interested in the amusement park aspect going to find that a better option than any of the amusement/water parks in the area (including indoor options)?

The only way it works is that people who don't have easy access to various cities, parks, beaches, et cetera, can get here and the only way that happens is with good, easy transit access.  Even ignoring the "parking lots are a blight" aspect, if this place relies on drivers, its doomed.

Wind Farming

I'm glad to see the US finally has an offshore wind farm up and running. Yes, the hurdles to doing pretty much anything like this in the United States are (counter-intuitively) bigger than those in Europe, but there is one thing that didn't get mentioned: hurricanes.

I'm not a weather expert, but the US eastern seaboard gets hurricanes starting in the mid-late summer through fall, and then nor'easters can pop up through the winter.  I know that the north sea (and probably baltic) can get some winter storms but are they of similar magnitude?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Check Bag Fees

I am still of the opinion that checked bags should be free (at least the first) but people should have to pay for a large carryon (basically all the roller bags, but not briefcases, shoulderbags, small backpacks, purses...anything that can fit under the seat is free, if it needs to go in overhead or you have 2, you have to pay).

Still there is a bit of an odd info in this story.  It seems that there is evidence that the checked bag fees actually improve on-time departure by limiting baggage handling.  That sounds like something that could make sense, but it is also definitely true that the larger number of carry on bags makes boarding slower, in fact, in most flights now, there are at least a few people who must gate check, and that seems like it would be slowing things down worse than having a few extra checked bags to begin with.  So my question is: did the checked bag fees really improve on-time departure, or is the on-time departure related to other changes that happened in parallel (mostly fewer flights, but also better scheduling and increased time built in)?

The answer to the question in the lead should be obvious: airlines charge because they can.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Lead is My Concern

This Dara Lind post at Vox starts out with my real concern for the next 4 years: "It is entirely plausible that Donald Trump will succeed on his own terms, and will flourish politically for it."

I'm not so sure that I see it unfolding the same way--I think it is more likely that the economy is getting better and will largely continue to do so for at least the next 3 years despite any horrible things Donald does, and that the voting population doesn't care how or why but better means the person in charge stays.  The part that got me thinking, however, was a little lower down.  She states:
...arguments about how the Democratic Party can build a winning coalition again. They tend to bear a suspiciously strong resemblance to whatever the speaker himself thinks is most important.
I have a pretty strong feeling regarding climate change and science research being most important (the latter is very important for combating the former) but I don't think that has anything to do with building a winning coalition.  The only way science in general and climate change specifically get to be a winning coalition is if/when half of Florida finds itself underwater (literally).  Even then I'm not so sure.

I agree that economic populism is far more liberal than Democratic policy in general (and it can't even see Republican policy), but the general perception doesn't go that way.  If you ask people if rich should be taxed the same, more or less, most people say more, but far fewer people vote that way.  Similar issues arise with other economic issues, as well as with many other aspects that we talk about, like identity politics (people say racism is bad but lots of them voted for Trump).

I'm not sure how to win without pandering, or lying or disaffecting [millions] of Americans.  Those are all things that Donald did constantly, and it was pointed out by everyone, and he still won (yes, I know, he actually lost the popular vote by a fair amount, but even still).

The real difference between the parties' campaigning is that Democrats treat the voting public as intelligent, while Republicans treat them like rubes.  There isn't, therefore, anything that Democrats can do to change things short of having a better show.  So long as a sizable fraction of our electorate are, in fact, gullible rubes, it is very difficult to win them over without some form of pandering, lying, and/or showmanship.  The fact that an unqualified racist demagogue can win the presidency is proof positive that the show is of greater import than the message.  Looking back it's pretty easy to see that as a factor to Obama's victories.  It can also be easy to see it as a share of why Reagan, [Bill] Clinton and Dubbya won as well.  Their shows were better.

There is certainly a lot to blame to throw at the media for this (that is where and how the show plays out afterall) but it doesn't change the fact that looking back to recent history, the better showman wins the election.

My opionon since the start of this mess a year ago was that Hillary Clinton could be a very good president--possibly one of our best--but she was a horrible candidate.  No matter how well someone can do the job she has to win first.