Sunday, November 20, 2011

Apparently growing food is not a "21st Century Skill"

Which -- in an era of ecological and economic meltdown -- might mean that eating isn't either.  (This is a headnote -- an idea abstracted from a legal opinion -- much like the one that first caused the corporate personhood zombie to start wreaking havoc on our country.)

West's Key78 Civil Rights
West's Key78II Employment Practices
West's Key78k1199 Age Discrimination
West's Key 78k1200 k. In General.
78 Civil RightsIn employment discrimination context, phrase "21st Century skills" refers to nationally-recognized skill set, the primary focus of which concerns the integration of modern technologies for research, organization, evaluation, and communication of information.
Marlow v. Chesterfield County Sch. Bd., 749 F. Supp. 2d 417 (E.D. Va. 2010)

The Growth Fantasy

In a bizarre, self-contradicting editorial, the Statesman-Journal manages, in the space of four paragraphs, to show that the paper's editorial staff, despite being in a great position to assess the situation realistically, believe that "growth is just around the corner" and that there is something that John Kitzhaber et al. could do to make that growth happen --- if they only wished to, apparently.

Moreover, the writer fails to explain why in the world, if "a cohesive and strategic plan to further grow private-sector jobs" is needed and can be produced, someone as smart as Kitz refuses to produce it.

Here's the paper, correctly pointing out that we're cutting public sector employment (which has a devastating effect on private sector hiring) before resuming the weird chant for government to "do something" about "private-sector jobs."
The encouraging news is that employment numbers are up 1.5 percent compared with last year.  Overall, Oregon is 13th nationally in jobs growth. But fewer jobs in the public sector and a slow recovery in the housing market are handcuffing economic growth in the state and nation.  The employment gains have come in the private sector as many local government agencies - such as the Salem-Keizer School District - have had to make deep cuts to balance their budgets.

Government's impact on the Willamette Valley explains why the region showed the largest job losses of any Oregon region during the third quarter. Year-over-year job losses were 3.4 percent in Marion and Polk counties, according to the forecast, the worst of the worst.

The governor and lawmakers can look for shiny hues in this forecast, but there's only one truth.

Oregon's economic picture looks ugly. And budget cuts don't address the reality that Kitzhaber and state leaders have not developed a cohesive and strategic plan to further grow private-sector jobs.
Before considering whether such a plan could even be created, it's worth pausing for a moment to consider what it says about the mindset of the people who call for such things:  these people, who reflexively oppose all tax increases (the SJ was reactionary in opposition to Measures 66 and 67, for example), seem to have zero self-awareness about what it means to call for government to produce "a cohesive and strategic plan to further grow . . . jobs."

Government acts in one of two ways:  with force or with money.   The video clips we've seen of government employees clubbing and spraying harmless kids and grandmothers in the face and eyes with pepper spray is one face of government.  Presumably the SJ isn't calling on government to use force on recalcitrant businesses who refuse to hire.

So that leaves the only other mode of governmental influence: the decisions about what to tax or not to tax, and the decisions about how to spend the money collected through taxation.  That is the only other way government works.  Government takes money from some or all and gives it to some or all.

In American history, the idea that government was responsible for creating plans to spur hiring was rare, and would have even been considered anathema for centuries.   The Founders surely and probably most lesser mortals believed that, while government had a role "to promote the general welfare," the idea of government acting directly and intentionally to spur hiring would have been considered a call for corruption, given that we know that employers only hire when it is profitable for them to do so.

One of the reasons that the New Deal worked as well as it did was that Roosevelt and his "New Dealers" didn't wait to spur "private sector jobs" as the SJ says we must -- rather, they looked at the very long list of needs -- the work needing doing -- and the very long list of people needing work, and matched the two directly.  Thus, instead of giving employers twice as much so that they would take on the work and hire some workers (as few as possible, for the lowest wage possible, as is the rule), New Deal programs concentrated on restoring the flow of money by hiring workers directly, to do things for the public good, while priming the capital spending pump with earned wages.

The bottom line, though it will likely be a frosty day in Lucifer's living room before this is discussed in the SJ, is simple:


What does that mean?  That means that no amount of word-stew, no stellar team of economists and other believers in illusions, no amount of hope or prayer can change the fundamental physical reality that we have long since passed the limits to growth, which is really just a shorthand for "consumption of material resources and use of energy."

Our vast store of wealth is really just the residue of the even vaster process of waste that we began when we figured out how to tap coal and then oil, even as we kept a 17th Century ("The world is empty") mindset while the years flew by, each one bringing about increasingly advanced tools for using more energy and materials faster and faster (for that is, physically, what "growth" means).  For about two and a half centuries now, we have found ever more clever ways to blow through aeons of stored solar energy ("fossil" fuels) while using the best, highest-grade, easiest to mine/capture/drain resources to produce ever more elaborate things -- some good, some bad, but every one of them more energy intensive than the tools they replaced.

Even the few devices that use less energy individually wind up using more collectively, as the net result of each advance means that more people will use the more advanced tool.  As Richard Register notes, you give an American a Prius that gets twice the mileage, the only thing that changes is that the American moves twice as far from work, so that he can afford a bigger house to fill with bigger screens.  Yes, that's hyperbole.  Also pretty accurate.

News flash for the newspaper:  There is nothing John Kitzhaber or all the mavens and gurus (and certainly all the economists put together) can do to promote "growth," thank god.  Now that we're past the limits of growth, we're like an insolvent business that still has a little money in checking -- sure we can spend faster, but that only makes the final reckoning harsher.  We've operated North America like a going-out-of-business concern for 250 years, and we've done such a good job spreading that gospel around the world that China and India have decided to join us in living as if there will be no tomorrow, that the books need never balance -- because who'll be here to audit them anyway?

The challenge for Salem -- and it will have to be done at this sort of local level -- is figuring out how to preserve the social advances of the last 250 years locally, even as the predicate that spurred and allowed all those advances (the unsustainable use of Earth's natural wealth) starts to reverse, remorselessly contracting year upon year, decade upon decade, ever faster.  If you think times are hard now, when the boulder has just barely stopped rolling up the hill, wait until it has some time to pick up speed.

The Occupy Wall Street folks, and their local variants, understand that the economy is not working any more.  Naturally, the pundits atop the media empires scorn the "unwashed hippies" and "60's flashbacks" camping in the parks.  What's most interesting is that the press either misses or pretends not to notice the really interesting problem that the Occupiers point out:  that the economy is producing over-educated people with crushing debts at a tremendous rate, even as we have stopped needing many people to keep the "business as usual" system going.   (Scarier still, most of these people are absolutely dependent on "business as usual" going on as usual, because they have no more knowledge of how to grow food to sustain themselves than they do of quantum electro-dynamics.)

When other countries have an excess of educated young people and no opportunities for them, our press pundits write about how these societies are in peril, because the disaffected youth will forever be harmed by having had no way to join the ranks of responsible adults.  Funny how the remaining few reporters and editorial scribes don't want to think about what it means that a frightening number of 15 - 30 year-olds in this country can not buy a decent job in their own home towns.

WORD: Occupy Bankruptcy!

Bankruptcy -- a debtor's ability to escape permanent shackles of debt -- is so fundamental to our system that it is specifically provided for in the US Constitution.

Unlike, say, corporate personhood, an invention of the railroad lawyers who ran the country during the Gilded Age (as their heirs do today in the guise of "textualist" Supreme Court justices who are expert at reading the invisible text that only they can see, the text that elevates piles of money -- which is all a corporation is -- into supercitizens).
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