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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

May 18, 2004
No, no, no

I think it's bogus to act like Afghanistan, our invasion of Iraq, and the Israel-Palestine conflict are all one topic but hearing Tom DeLay make the attempt doesn't surprise me.

I object to saying that the Children of Bush's America were over in Iraq torturing prisoners because there weren't jobs for them here at home. This isn't Bush's America any more than it's anyone else's and most of those kids didn't join the military in the last three years since Bush was given the White House. I dislike the Bush Administration's policies as much as anyone, but let's not be ridiculous.

On the other hand, there's interesting stuff in the article that will help anyone undecided decide why not to vote for Bush.

Some jobs, however, are more responsive than others to the power of positive presidential thinking. More than 82% of the jobs created in April were in service industries, including restaurants and retail. The biggest new employers were temp agencies. Over the past year, 272,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. No wonder the president's economic report in February floated the idea of reclassifying fast-food restaurants as factories. "When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a 'service' or is it combining inputs to 'manufacture' a product?" the report asks.

It's the fundamental dishonesty of considering the reclassification that appalls me.

Also? If Bush approves the IRS giving the military contact information to track down former soldiers, re-activate them whether they like it or not, and send them into war, and lots of those soldiers live in Texas, how will Texas vote in November?

And does anyone except me eye the high percentage of enlistees from Texas and wonder if they're the ones who couldn't find other jobs that the previous article was referring to? As I understand it, Texas has been in pretty bad shape since the Bush-plays-governor years and the (yes, there is a big Bush connection) Enron debacle.

Let's not lose sight of the atrocities we've committed in Iraq or here in the name of fighting terrorism and protecting freedom and democracy.

But I have a smackinthehead for those of you who think Rumsfeld and Bush knew about and approved the tactics in Abu Ghraib.

Of course they didn't know precisely what could happen, or was happening, as a result of orders they sent down the food chain. I'm quite certain they made darned sure they didn't know. Have none of you ever heard of "plausible deniability"?

I disagree that "meal preferences" and e-mail addresses of airline passengers are critical for fighting terror. I disagree with the EU's decision to give that information to the USofA for passengers flying to this country.

I don't really approve of mean-spirited attacks and childish name-calling. There's a place for humor and for satire in the political process but for some of these sites, the cheap shots are the sole reason for existing.

Others, of course, have much more to offer, but it's all part and parcel, in my mind of the increasing trend toward "merchandising a product" instead of fielding a candidate with a platform. Positive and negative "ad campaigns" get in the way of us being able to hear candidates say what they believe and consequently interfere with our ability to make an informed choice.

I also don't approve of engineering votes in Congress just to make a presidential candidate look bad, either.

Sonia Ghandi is refusing the PM post in India. I didn't expect that and it looks like it's taken a lot of people by surprise.

The foundation of the modern "conservative" movement in this country is worth considering. I'll add it to the list of fifteen other things I'm going to learn about when I have the time.

About taking action. I'd support the May 19 "gas boycott" if I thought it would actually make anyone involved use less gas but I suspect people will just gas up today or wait until Thursday.

In any case, it's pointless to blame the Bush Administration or the oil companies for the fact that Eastern countries with burgeoning economies have increased their demand for fuel by some outrageous amount like 40% over the past four or five years or so, increasing competition for available oil, causing OPEC to be producing, already, at over their self-imposed daily "cap" and driving USofA gas prices up to, what? Half of what they are in Europe?

You want the price of gas to go down? We have to Use. Less. Oil.

One word. Plastics.

As you drink from your plastic coffee cup and type on your plastic computer keyboard or wiggle your plastic mouse, and your plastic phone is ringing from where it sits next to your plastic tape dispenser, plastic stapler, plastic sticky-note dispenser, and plastic penholder, you might want to try and tot up just how many plastic bags your family uses in a year between food storage and waste disposal.

Go ahead. Rip the plastic shrink-wrap off your plastic calculator and try to figure it out.

How much petroleum and natural gas are used to fuel our plastic economy every year, completely aside from the question of gasoline for automobile engines?

Posted by AnneZook at 11:41 AM


"It's the fundamental dishonesty of considering the reclassification that appalls me."

I'm sure that my contempt for Bush's economic policies are at least as intense as anyone else's on the Left, but I am surprised at how many of my friends have a deeply felt reaction against reclassifying fast food workers as industrial workers. Jeff, over at Notes On The Atrocities, has also expressed deep disdain for the idea. I assume the resistance to the idea arises from its political nature and this being an election year. Still, if Kerry wins in November, then after he's in office it seems like a reasonable issue to consider (when it's less political).

Fast food chains have, in recent years, seen the kinds of dramatic improvements in productivity that formerly we might have associated with industrial work. Fast food companies can now afford to pay $12 an hour and still make a profit, which is a good wage for unskilled labor. Of course they don't pay those kinds of wages in America (though McDonalds does pay those wages in Europe) but that's because American labor unions are weak. When I think "service jobs" I tend to think of bellhops in a hotel - the kind of jobs where there is no way to improve productivity. Fast food jobs are very different from that.

Please understand, I'm making an economic point, not a political one. Politically, I understand that it is manipulative of Bush to push for such a reclassification right before an election.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 18, 2004 09:11 PM

"You want the price of gas to go down? We have to Use. Less. Oil."

Well said. Really damn well said.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 18, 2004 09:24 PM

I don't think the disdain is associated with this being an election year. The issue may be 'hotter' for that fact, but my objection to the idea is more fundamental.

Traditionally this country has quoted "manufacturing jobs" as a measure of economic health. If we're no longer a manufacturing country and need to change that standard, that's one thing, but shoving non-industrial jobs into the classification to create the artificial impression of growth is dishonest.

It's nice that companies "can" afford to pay $12/hour although I doubt that. I'm not questioning your honesty, just questioning that the industry can really afford it. The current profit margin in food service is, as I understand it, very, very slim.

In any case, they don't and in a poor job economy like this one has been for a while, the chances of line workers at McDonald's trying to unionize is slim to none.

Under those conditions, I continue to think that lumping a $5/hour McDonald's job, held by a 16 year-old high school kid, in with a $18/hour job held by a man with 15 years of training and experience in an actual manufacturing facility is a cheap gambit to inflate employment statistics and create an artificial perception of economic growth.

Posted by: Anne at May 19, 2004 08:21 AM

I agree that it is a cheap political move to try something like this right before an election. And I'm not attached to the idea reclassifying such workers. I do think, as an economic point, it's worth considering. I think a lot of our official classifications got calcified a long time ago and are in desperate need of revamping. We continue to treat education as an expense instead of an investment, and when corporations offer training to their workers, GAPP requires the expenditure be treated as an expense rather than an investment. The reason why industrial jobs have the reputation as being especially valuable is because productivity gains used to be concentrated in the industrial sector. But when there are dramatic productivity gains in other sectors, say fast food, we need to revamp how we think of those sectors. I believe that the productivity of a waitress, in a normal diner, has not changed in the last 100 years. But in fast food the productivity of the workers has risen a great deal as more of the work has become automated. If you read a history of McDonalds, one striking fact is that even back in 1939 people remarked at the astonishing number of hamburgers a McDonald's worker could serve in an hour. But now a McDonald's worker can serve a whole lot more per hour. Can a waitress serve dramatically more than a waitress in 1939? Probably not.

I don't really care about this issue so I shouldn't dwell on it. I'll leave it simply with the thought that waitressing hasn't changed much in the last 70 years, but fast food work has.

By the way, America officially became a service economy in 1956. That was the first year that service crossed the 50% of GDP mark.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 19, 2004 09:28 AM

I didn't know exactly where to put this comment but I think it would fit in anywhere. You leftish biased liberal freedom hating bloggers never report the good news, such as this one (straight from the White House):

Miami Reserve Unit Brightens Smiles of Iraqi Children

Posted by: Bengt O. at May 19, 2004 10:50 AM

Lawrence Krubner - You said:

The reason why industrial jobs have the reputation as being especially valuable is because productivity gains used to be concentrated in the industrial sector. But when there are dramatic productivity gains in other sectors, say fast food, we need to revamp how we think of those sectors.

I disagree. Just because one sector is experiencing gains doesn't mean we need to reconsider how we view that sector unless other fundamental changes have taken place in the sector.

We're talking about dead-end, low-paying fast-food jobs. Nothing can justify reclassifying those with actually-pays-a-living-wage-or-better manufacturing jobs.

Except industry reforms, of course. When and if the day comes that a job in a fast-food outlet is actually desirable instead of last-ditch desperation, then it will be time to reclassify that sector.

Today, jobs that pay enough to live on are being replaced by temp jobs or part-time jobs or just, plain lousy jobs that barely pay employees enough to rent a squalid apartment somewhere.

Hiding the number of people trapped in minimum wage drudgery doesn't do anything but make the Bush Administration look less inept than it is. It does nothing but sweep the problem under the rug.

Decent jobs...even the sort of minimal job that allows you to spontaneously take in a movie one evening without skipping a meal to pay for it, are disappearing.*

Someday, as I said before, it may be desireable to reclassify how we look at different employment sectors, but reclassifying this one sector, at this particular time, is not a good-faith effort toward that kind of reform.

As for the rest of your post, I entirely agree that we need to rethink the entire classification system, but it needs to be done for a better reason than Bush's numbers tanking in election polls.

And, yes, we need to reclassify how we categorize spending. (We could just change how we spend. How about a Constitutional amendment requiring that domestic programs be fully funded before any money can be allocated to defense spending?)

( * Which nearly leads me into a whole different line of thought about "desirable" versus "undesirable" jobs but it also leads to contemplation of an even more segregated society with the "labor units" at the bottom and the small percentage of workers trained for desirable jobs at the top and that's more than I have space here to get into.)

Posted by: Anne at May 19, 2004 12:07 PM

Bengt - Thanks for the link. Feel free to post anywhere.

As for the article...well, I think this freedom-hating blogger had better think twice before she posts her first response to it. Heh.

Posted by: Anne at May 19, 2004 12:10 PM

I don't want to be a wet blanket or anything, but I don't think the "living wage" or advancement potential is really a factor in the decision, except perhaps is a sly perception manipulation sort of way. The service sector includes people at both high and low wage jobs, as does the manufacturing sector. They want the economy to look better, and in most people's eyes, that means making real things. But that's not where the value is anymore.

For a long time, cooking was considered a service, it seemed very personal and individual. It's hard to argue that fast food cooking is a service, but it's also hard to distinguish the cooks from the customer service people. I can see how this is an interesting question: I also think that there's great value in dividing the service sector, which is far too broad a category, into smaller categories, for more meaningful analysis.

But fundmentally, I think you're both right: it's a political stunt, and a clumsy one at that.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at May 20, 2004 08:06 PM

Anne, you wrote: "Except industry reforms, of course. When and if the day comes that a job in a fast-food outlet is actually desirable instead of last-ditch desperation, then it will be time to reclassify that sector."

You're arguing, if I understand you right, that the classification should be made on mostly political grounds, taking into account things like people's perceptions of the sector. That is, if people traditionally think of a sector as being dead-end and low wage, it should have a category label consistent dead-end low wages. I agree with you if you mean such a publicity stunt shouldn't be done right before an election. If you didn't mean that, then I'll have to think about it. I know that I don't think hard enough about the way public perceptions should influence public policy professions.

There are a lot of classifications in economics that are the way they are simply because they've traditionally been done that way. There is an element of tradition in economics that I strongly dislike and which I think introduces all kinds of distorting biases into the profession. However, it's nice to have a set of statistics that one can compare over the decades, and so perhaps things should keep their old categories no matter how much they change, simply so we can make viable comparisons in the future to the past.

By the way, is it true that people's perceptions are such that service jobs pay less than industrial jobs? Accountants are in the service sector and they are well paid. Nurses are in the service sector, and start at $16 to $24 depending on the state. Meanwhile, I met a fellow who worked at a furniture factory in North Carolina and he was only getting $8.50 an hour - not a living wage. Industrial jobs don't often pay well, and service jobs often do. The only reason some industrial jobs pay well is because some industrial sectors have enough labor union activity that wages across the sector, including in the non-union shops, gets driven up.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 20, 2004 10:23 PM

Lawrence, my words may have been political but my intention was economic. Regardless of how politicians talk about "service sector" jobs, my meaning in that post was completely literal.

When the day comes that your child comes to you and announces that they have a job in the fast food industry and you're pleased that they will be self-sufficient instead of instantly foreseeing a dead-end future for them. When hearing that someone has a job in fast-food doesn't make us all mentally classify them "failure." When the idea of working in fast-food ourselves is...maybe not our first choice, but not a signal that we're one step from collecting welfare.

When and if the day comes that a job in a fast-food outlet is actually desirable instead of last-ditch desperation, then it will be time to reclassify that sector.

I should point out that the man making $8.50 an hour ("not a living wage" you said) is comparatively wealthy compared to many people in the fast food industry.

It does strike me as odd than an accountant is "service" but not that "nurse" is service. As a traditionally female occupation in a system designed to measure men's jobs, it's quite natural nursing was classified as "service" instead of "professional."

In any case, I do agree with you that the meanings of "service" and "manufacturing" have changed over the years and that it may be time and past time to do some reclassifying.

As I said in an earlier comment, I wouldn't be opposed to that. What I'm opposed to is making this single reclassification at this time. The rationale is dishonest and there's no getting away from that.

Posted by: Anne at May 21, 2004 08:11 AM

Jonathan -

It's precisely the "sly perception manipulation" that I was originally objecting to.

They want the economy to look better, and in most people's eyes, that means making real things. But that's not where the value is anymore.

And that's probably what Lawrence meant we he talked about the traditional in economics. We need a new measure of economic health.

I also think that there's great value in dividing the service sector, which is far too broad a category, into smaller categories, for more meaningful analysis.

Well, let's look at the fundamental work being done and what it takes to do that work.

In today's society, being an "accountant" can mean a lot of things but I promise you that a "tax" accountant requires a four-year college degree and a substantial amount of additional training, not to mention (most of the time) certifications within the field of accounting. This is a professional job. Ditto nursing. Neither of these belong in the "service" category and they should have been moved out a long time ago.

The longer we leave clearly inappropriate jobs in incorrect categories, the less any measure we offer of economic health really means. We wind up measuring the wrong things, the wrong way.

The application of some common sense and then additional subdividing by the more arcane economic rules that I don't know or understand :) would be a good place to start.

Posted by: Anne at May 21, 2004 08:20 AM

"When the day comes that your child comes to you and announces that they have a job in the fast food industry and you're pleased that they will be self-sufficient instead of instantly foreseeing a dead-end future for them"

That is, despite how you begin your comment, you want these classifications made on political grounds - on how people (the public) feel about an economic sector, not what economists think is the sector's productivity level. You feel that emotionally charged issues such as the success or failure of a person's child are valid guides towards making this kind of classification. You feel that the public's emotional responses need to take precedence over what classifications professional economists might find intellectually convenient?

I think you may be right but I'll have to think about it. As I say, I am aware that in the past I haven't given enough importance to the public's view of those issues which filter into public policy decisions.

However, if I might make a point about the emotionally charged nature of the hypothetical situation you set up - any of the middle class parents I know would be horrorfied if one of their kids came home and said "Today I got a job at the unionized Ford factory and it pays $16 an hour and has many kinds of benefits." That is because there is a very strong cultural bias against blue collar work among the white collar middle class. White collar parents do not want their kids working blue collar jobs, not ever. They see it as "dead end work" (your phrase) no matter how much it pays.

Therefore, there is something dishonest about the hypothetical situation you set up. The issue is whether fast food jobs should be reclassified as industrial jobs - the test shouldn't be my reaction as a parent to my child getting such a job, because if I'm the average white collar parent, I will not be happy about my child getting any industrial job - regardless of how well the job pays.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 29, 2004 12:16 AM

To a certain extent, you're right. Even as I typed that last comment, I was vaguely uneasy about it and the thought did cross my mind that if I'd ever gone to my parents and announced that I'd chosen a manufacturing job as my "future" they would have been appalled.

At the same time, I have to object to the introduction of "class" into the discussion, which was not what I intended by the wording of my comment. I was discussing the economic viability of each position and didn't intend for you to interpret my example quite so literally.

There is a "class" in this country for whom becoming a professor at a university would be considered quite a come-down, so there's no sensible way to include class perceptions in an analysis of economics.

Let's lay aside perception of the desirability of a job from a 'class' perspective and just consider the economics.

At $16/hour, a parent might not be thrilled by a manufacturing job, but they also wouldn't have been sitting there predicting a future of monthly handouts to keep their offspring's rent paid.

In a fast-food environment, they would have been expecting just that. That if the child weren't actually living in their basement for the next forty years, it would only be through financial assistance from them (or by living in a slum) that it was avoided.

Purely from an economic standpoint, a manufacturing job is much more desirable than a fast-food job.

It has nothing to do with "politics" or "feelings" at all. It's a purely economic reality. You can live, not graciously, but you can live, on $16/hour. Trying to live on minimum wage is like living on the edge of a precarious, insecure cliff.

Posted by: Anne at May 29, 2004 12:05 PM