Tag Archive | economics

And just what is a “weekend,” three-day or otherwise?

“30 days hath September, April June, and November, all the rest have 31, except for 2020 which has 5328”

Time has gown from being a river, to being a fog, to being a swarm of locusts…

I always feel guilty on days like Labor Day, because most of the people who work in the kinds of jobs that Labor Day is supposed to honor have to work on this day, while white collar office workers such as myself are goofing off. My father, for instance, was an oil field worker, and so far as I can remember he always had to work the holiday. Mom worked in retail, and since almost all of her positions were union jobs, she at least got paid more for working on the holiday (though management usually countered that by cutting her hours later in the week), but again, she seldom had the day off.

And as retail and other essential workers will all tell you, it’s not just that they don’t get a three-day weekend, most of them don’t get weekends. They get days of, but since they aren’t usually the same days that the rest of us think of a time when we could schedule fun activities with friends, it’s just not the same.

Thanks to the pandemic, and the huge number of us that are working from home, and all the school kids who are attending virtual classes from home, things get even more confounding.

So I think before I spiral down any rabbit holes, I will just repost this bit about what Labor Day is supposed to represent which I wrote a few years ago:

If you don’t know labor history, you’re doomed to repeat the bad parts

Originally post September 4, 2017

“Union Accomplishments: Safe working conditions; Safety regulations; No toxic dumping; No child labor abuses; Standard minimum wage; 40-hour work week; Overtime pay; Paid vacation; Pensions; Healthcare; Equal Pay for Equal work.”

“Union Accomplishments: Safe working conditions; Safety regulations; No toxic dumping; No child labor abuses; Standard minimum wage; 40-hour work week; Overtime pay; Paid vacation; Pensions; Healthcare; Equal Pay for Equal work.”

Both of my grandfathers were life long union workers. Dad moved in and out of union and non-union portions of his industry. When Mom re-entered the work force after my parents’ divorce, she became a union member and other then a few stints in management, remained one until she retired. I, on the other hand, work in an industry that has fought to keep unions out, and for various social reasons, the same co-workers who complain loudest about how everyone is classified as “professional” and therefore exempt from overtime pay and the like, are also convinced that unions would be a disaster.

Which is really sad. Mostly I blame the decades-long war on unions waged by mostly the Republican party. They have managed, somehow, to convince people to believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that businesses have always given out wages and benefits out of the goodness of their hearts.

I don’t understand how anyone who has worked for any business larger than a mom-and-pop operation can believe that.

“If unions are bad for the economy, why did America's greatest era of prosperity have more workers under union contract than any other time in history?”

“If unions are bad for the economy, why did America’s greatest era of prosperity have more workers under union contract than any other time in history?”

It’s not that profits are driving business decisions, it’s that maximizing benefit to business leaders while milking short-term profits without investing in workers and their skills for long-term benefits.

You can keep talking about the economic insecurities of angry white guys, but you have to recognize that the source of economic insecurity is not market forces, or immigrants, or equal opportunity laws. It’s the people in that top 1%. And somehow we’ve got to get those scared angry white guys to recognize that they are being duped.

“Did it ever occur to you that union workers aren't overpaid, maybe you're underpaid? Where are the gains going? From 1970 to 2010, in inflations-adjusted dollars, income of private sector workers fell from an average of $32,000 to $29,000, while income among 'job creators' rose from $2-million to $16-million.” Source: nyti.ms/saez-and-piketty-on-inequality

“Did it ever occur to you that union workers aren’t overpaid, maybe you’re underpaid? Where are the gains going? From 1970 to 2010, in inflations-adjusted dollars, income of private sector workers fell from an average of $32,000 to $29,000, while income among ‘job creators’ rose from $2-million to $16-million.” Source: nyti.ms/saez-and-piketty-on-inequality

Confessions of a packrat-haunted packrat

“We produce enough food for 10 billion humans to live comfortably, but capitalism throws almost half of it away for not being pretty enough, profitable enough, or because it simply rotted on a shelf. Scarcity, suffering are manufactured in order to maintain profitability.”

“We produce enough food for 10 billion humans to live comfortably, but capitalism throws almost half of it away for not being pretty enough, profitable enough, or because it simply rotted on a shelf. Scarcity, suffering are manufactured in order to maintain profitability.”

I’ve written more than once about being a packrat–specifically, a packrat son of packrats, grandson of packrats, great-grandson of packrats, great-great-grandson of packrats… and I’m sure it goes back further than that, but those are the ones I know. Growing up like that, many habits of thinking and perceiving and worrying become deeply ingrained in one’s brain, so that it is a constant struggle to keep from turning into a full-on hoarder. Any time I put something that we no longer use into the pile to take to Value Village or what-have-you, I hear a chorus of voices in my head admonishing, “You might need that some day!” With some side comments about how much money it originally cost, so that would be a waste and so on. This manifests in many other ways. If we don’t finish all the food we cooked for a particular meal and I even think about tossing the tiny portion of something that just isn’t really worth putting in a container to stick in the fridge, the chorus will talk about wasting food and people who can’t afford to eat (as if I could someone forward this tablespoon of vegetables that were already part of leftovers from a meal a few days earlier, to a starving child somewhere, right?). It really does feel, at times, as if I am haunted by a slew of judgmental ghosts.

One reason those ghosts are so strong is because they are really a manifestation of anxiety. Spend any part of your childhood or young adult life where food and shelter were in jeopardy because of money issues, and those anxieties get a lot of power. And because we survived some of those situations thanks to some packrat in the family who kept that old appliance when they bought a new one which we can now use after ours broke until we can afford to replace it, well, those anxieties can rightly remind us that “You might need that someday!” is true.

To get out of the abstract for a bit: one of the tasks that has been on my list for a while was to go through the closet and my chest of drawers to purge clothes that I don’t wear anymore. We last did that seriously two years ago while preparing to move… and we did it again when we unpacked, because after all that packing and moving we were both feeling that we had not been ruthless enough in the purge leading up to the move.

But we’re both also busy with work and chores and so on, so it is easy to put it off. I have also learned that those ghosts will enlist the aid of my inner procrastinator in interesting ways. Usually I distract myself with another chore or project that is important, but manages to grow into something bigger. The trick, I have learned, is to actually say out loud, either to myself or my husband, “I really want to go through the closet and drawers this weekend to get rid of the clothes that don’t fit me any more.” And even though whether they fit isn’t the only reason I plan to get rid of some clothes, if that’s the only part I admit out loud, it’s harder for my to procrastinate.

Yes, I just admitted that I have to trick myself. The funny part is that it works.

Weekend before last I started at the closet. One reason it had become urgent is that the closet is so full of clothes that it is difficult to put clean clothes away after I do the laundry. It’s a struggle to squeeze things in. The side effects of that are that it is difficult to find a particular garment when we want and that a lot of shirts especially get weird creases because everything’s jammed in.

Because I had been doing other housework that day, I didn’t get started on the closet until nearly 2:30 in the afternoon. As I pulled things out of the closet, giving them a look over and trying them on, it was easy to toss things that don’t fit (or don’t fit comfortably), or if they have another physical issue (there was one really nice dress shirt that I really like that got a coffee stain on it that resisted all my attempts to remove, and it wound up being put back in the closet because the packrat ghosts in my head convinced me that I could think of something to remove the stain later.

It was more difficult to put things in the “get rid of” pile that had no physical problems, but that I just know I’ll never wear again. There are a few reasons that I know I won’t wear something ever again. Sometimes it’s something that I bought because I thought it would go really well with something else and I either no longer own that other garment or once the outfit was assembled it didn’t look good or it had a major impracticality or whatever. Other times it’s just that while it looked good in the store, later I didn’t like how it looked on me. And other times it’s just, I’m over that–whatever look it was.

If I keep it, it will just hang in the closet. It will be looked at from time to time while I’m looking for something else, but I will never pull it out and actually wear it. I know that. No matter how much I know that, I feel a tide of guilt rising inside as I contemplate tossing it into the “give away” pile.

The trick I have used in that situation is to ask myself, “If my friend Kristin were here, what would she ask me?” And what I imagine Kristin (who I sometimes call “the Ruthless One” in these circumstances) would ask me is, “Are you really ever going to wear that, or is it just going to take up space that you could put to better use with things you actually do use?”

And once I have imagined Kristin saying that (or similar), the guilt recedes and I can put the shirt or whatever into the pile.

A bit over two hours later, I had pulled every shirt, sweater, pair of pants, jacket, and so on out of the closet, tried it on, put it into a pile, and then had re-hung all the clothes that I was keeping. I had an embarassingly enormous pile of clothes to go, and an impressive mass of empty hangers. And I was tired and sweaty and felt grungy and grumpy.

I checked in with Michael about how many of the hangers to keep, I bagged up the clothes and the hangers, and I hopped in the shower to wash the grunge and (mostly repressed) guilt away.

I looked at the chest of drawers–three of the six drawers so overfull that they couldn’t be fully slid in, looked at the time, and decided that it was not procrastinating to put that off until next week if I loaded up the car and actually took all the stuff we had in the get-rid of piles away. And it wasn’t just an excuse, between that and the other housework I’d been on my feet and moving for many hours. Value Village was only open until 8pm, and we were now past 5.

So we loaded up the car (which took longer than I thought), drove up to the donation center, dropped the things off, did a quick run through the store on my usual quests (I am trying to replace one decorative plate that got broken while we were hanging the set on the wall at the new place, I keep hoping to find a matching sixth cut crystal wine glass for one of my sets, and I have slowly been acquiring semi-matching bone china saucers to go with a small set of teacups that belonged to my late first-husband’s grandmother — and which, yes, I actually use!). And then we stopped at a nearby sushi place for dinner.

Then, this last weekend, I went through the drawers. Since taking things off hangers wasn’t involved, it went a bit faster. The pile of things to get rid of wasn’t nearly as impressive as the one I’d had the weekend before. But now I am able to easily open and close all six drawers on my side, and there is actually room in the drawers for some new things when they come along (because they will).

Michael, on the other, spent something like five minutes going through his drawers, and all he did was move heavy winter things to the drawers drawers in the bed pedestal (we decided after the move that they only we we’d remember to use them at all was keep seasonal stuff in them), because as the hot weather had come on, he’d started pulling summer clothes out of the drawer, but hadn’t transferred. But all the drawers on his side now easily slide closed, so, win!

Of course, while he was a lot of packrat tendencies, his are focused differently than mine. And he doesn’t have the same habits I have of, for instance, if I have to toss out a couple of socks because they wear out, I will replace the two thrown out pairs with six… and then a month later not remember that I have already more than replaced those “bunch of socks I had to throw out” and buy another six-pack.

One last trick for dealing with all of those ghosts. Whenever I win a little battle with them, I make an extra donation to either Northwest Harvest or True Colors United–gotta use that guilt for something useful, right?

Words and Images: untreatable case of I don’t give a sh*t

I keep finding myself writing either cranky and dark stuff, or fluffy weird holiday stuff. And then not wanting to post it. Meanwhile, the interesting images I swipe from various parts of the internet pile up. So here are a few of the more thought-provoking ones:

Carrie Fischer on stage speaking: “I'm what psychology journals refer to as batshit crazy. It's a delicate mix of bipolar disorder, which I'm able to control through serious medication, and a completely untreatable case of I don't give a shit. Unfortunately, for a woman, the side effects of this condition include: reduced employment, phone calls from terrified PR flack, and tremendous difficulty getting myself down to a weight that's acceptable to some 35-year-old studio executive whose deepest fantasy and worst nightmare somehow both involve me in a gold bikini.”

“I’m what psychology journals refer to as batshit crazy. It’s a delicate mix of bipolar disorder, which I’m able to control through serious medication, and a completely untreatable case of I don’t give a shit. Unfortunately, for a woman, the side effects of this condition include: reduced employment, phone calls from terrified PR flack, and tremendous difficulty getting myself down to a weight that’s acceptable to some 35-year-old studio executive whose deepest fantasy and worst nightmare somehow both involve me in a gold bikini.”

This next one was being shared several places but without the attribution of whose book is shown. Fortunately, feeding an entire sentence into Google got me the name of the author and the book in question.

“The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.  “We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.”  ― Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose

“The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.
“We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.”
― Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose

Click to embiggen, but I'm going to re-write it below...

Click to embiggen, but I’m going to re-write it below…

This one should more accurately say: “A banker and two working class people—one white, and one not—are sitting at a table with 20 cookies. The banker takes 19 cookies and warns the white worker: ‘Watch out, that other guy (who I bet isn’t even a real american) is going to take your cookie away.’” Because there is a long history of the rich pitting people against each other along color lines. The recent use of variants on immigrants are dog-whistles for the racism.

“News: Rich people paying rich people to tell middleclass people to blame poor people.”

“News: Rich people paying rich people to tell middleclass people to blame poor people.”

“Christians be like 'God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.'”

“Christians be like ‘God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.’”

And finally:

“I find your lack of cheer disturbing.”

“I find your lack of cheer disturbing.”

If you don’t know labor history, you’re doomed to repeat the bad parts

“Union Accomplishments: Safe working conditions; Safety regulations; No toxic dumping; No child labor abuses; Standard minimum wage; 40-hour work week; Overtime pay; Paid vacation; Pensions; Healthcare; Equal Pay for Equal work.”

“Union Accomplishments: Safe working conditions; Safety regulations; No toxic dumping; No child labor abuses; Standard minimum wage; 40-hour work week; Overtime pay; Paid vacation; Pensions; Healthcare; Equal Pay for Equal work.”

Both of my grandfathers were life long union workers. Dad moved in and out of union and non-union portions of his industry. When Mom re-entered the work force after my parents’ divorce, she became a union member and other then a few stints in management, remained one until she retired. I, on the other hand, work in an industry that has fought to keep unions out, and for various social reasons, the same co-workers who complain loudest about how everyone is classified as “professional” and therefore exempt from overtime pay and the like, are also convinced that unions would be a disaster.

Which is really sad. Mostly I blame the decades-long war on unions waged by mostly the Republican party. They have managed, somehow, to convince people to believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that businesses have always given out wages and benefits out of the goodness of their hearts.

I don’t understand how anyone who has worked for any business larger than a mom-and-pop operation can believe that.

“If unions are bad for the economy, why did America's greatest era of prosperity have more workers under union contract than any other time in history?”

“If unions are bad for the economy, why did America’s greatest era of prosperity have more workers under union contract than any other time in history?”

It’s not that profits are driving business decisions, it’s that maximizing benefit to business leaders while milking short-term profits without investing in workers and their skills for long-term benefits.

You can keep talking about the economic insecurities of angry white guys, but you have to recognize that the source of economic insecurity is not market forces, or immigrants, or equal opportunity laws. It’s the people in that top 1%. And somehow we’ve got to get those scared angry white guys to recognize that they are being duped.

“Did it ever occur to you that union workers aren't overpaid, maybe you're underpaid? Where are the gains going? From 1970 to 2010, in inflations-adjusted dollars, income of private sector workers fell from an average of $32,000 to $29,000, while income among 'job creators' rose from $2-million to $16-million.” Source: nyti.ms/saez-and-piketty-on-inequality

“Did it ever occur to you that union workers aren’t overpaid, maybe you’re underpaid? Where are the gains going? From 1970 to 2010, in inflations-adjusted dollars, income of private sector workers fell from an average of $32,000 to $29,000, while income among ‘job creators’ rose from $2-million to $16-million.” Source: nyti.ms/saez-and-piketty-on-inequality

Confessions of a penny pinching packrat

Every single penny accounted for…

A recent Tumblr post reminded me of one of the reasons that people who aren’t packrats don’t understand packrat behavior. Packrat behavior is sometimes clinically defined in terms of controlling anxiety. The biggest anxiety in question, and the one we mention least often, is economic anxiety. And the thing about economic anxiety that is most misunderstood is that it is not irrational.

Tumblr user Ignescent explained it really well:

This really locked into my brain when I was reading one of the declutter your space things and it suggested getting rid of duplicate highlighters and pens. /Pens/. It suggested that you needed one or two working pens, so if you had extra you should get rid of them. That was when I realized minimalist living was /innately/ tied to having spare money, because the idea was, of course you just went out and bought the single replacement thing whenever the first thing broke. You obv. Had the time and money to only ever hold what you needed that moment, because you could always buy more later.
—ignesecent.tumblr.com

There were several years of my life when every single dime of every paycheck was already allocated before I got it. This wasn’t because I was bad at money management or because I was living above my means (at least not the way that people who like to throw that phrase around use it) or because I was lazy, it was because I made very little money, period. I was attending college part time and working three jobs (three jobs). My mom was working full time (when for health reasons she shouldn’t have been working at all), lived in another state, and was trying to support my younger sister. My parents had been divorced for years at that point and one of my dad’s least awful behaviors was that he absolutely refused to even fill out financial aid forms for any of his five children, let alone send any support that wasn’t ordered by a court.

In that situation, any unexpected expense—no matter how small—meant skipping at least one meal during that pay period. I’m not exaggerating. At least half of my meals at the time were things like cheap boxed macaroni and cheese. Not the “expensive” kind with a picture of orange sauce-slathered pasta on the box. I’m talking the plain white box with black block printing that sold for 20-cents a box (and about four or five times a year would go on sale for 10 boxes for a dollar, so you’d buy five bucks worth when it did because that meant you had a cushion in case of an unexpected expense later).

And a good portion of my childhood was spent with our family living like that. I talk about the bullying in school, but that wasn’t the only horror that school sometimes visited upon me. You don’t want to know the terror and humiliation that comes over a kid from a struggling family if you are informed that this next assignment requires your parent to buy something unexpected. Or that there is a $10 fee required for this class activity that is part of your grade.

So, yes, when Michael and I were loading the last of the Christmas decorations out of the storage space at our old apartment this weekend and I discovered yet another old monitor that we had wrapped up and stashed when we replaced it years ago, I felt a bit of embarrassment, because that meant we had a total of six old monitors to get rid of, instead of the two that we had thought just a week ago.

But another part of me knew why it was there. Because things break. You have the money now to buy that new monitor you’ve been pining after for months, and you’ve double-checked, triple-checked, and quadruple-checked your bank accounts and all of your bills for the next few months before spending the money (because you always do that before spending money), and it’s nice and pretty and so much better than this old thing you probably should have replaced a year ago.

But you do not, repeat, do not dispose of the old monitor. You don’t donate it to charity. You sure as heck don’t throw it away! You put it away, because if some disaster happens and your shiny new monitor gets fried when lightning strikes your building (it happened to my ex- years ago, one lightning storm and half of her electronics were fried) or whatever, you can pull that old monitor out of the basement and keep working for however long it takes to save up to buy a replacement.

Yes, sometimes when we replace an appliance or a computer part or accessory, we will pass it on to a friend we know needs it. But the reason we are able to do that? Is because we know that we still have the older one that we replaced four years ago in storage, so if something goes wrong for us, we have that back up.

It doesn’t matter that for years I’ve been lucky enough to have relatively stable employment and the wherewithal to cover my bills without worrying about skipping meals if a tiny unexpected expense comes up. It doesn’t matter because I know I’ve had to live that way before, and I know that it could happen again. It isn’t about an irrational fear or lack of planning.

It is planning.

There are checklists in the back of my mind all time: do we have enough food in the cupboard to make meals for the next couple of weeks? Do I know which bills I have to pay in the next two months and the approximate total to cover them? Is the gas tank on the car full? Did I pay up the Orca card so my bus pass will work for the next two weeks? If the microwave or stove break do I have an alternate/backup means to cook until we can get something replaced or repaired? And yes, if my pen runs dry when my rent is due, do I have backups so I don’t have to make time to go buy a replacement before I can write the rent check and hand it in on time?

Those aren’t silly, or paranoid, or stupid fears. My living spaces haven’t been cluttered my whole life because I have a sloppy mind.

I understand that there are hidden costs to the packrat behavior. I know that storing all these extra things is using up space that could be used for something else. Packing items super tight into every available nook and cranny means you have to spend more time later looking for something. It can mean that you aren’t aware of a physical problem with part of the house because you can’t see that back wall over there and don’t know that some water damage happened because the neighbor tried to fix a sink themselves rather than call a professional, and they cleaned up their side, but not before some seeped through to your wall.

And I right now I am hyper aware of how much extra time, effort, and money it takes to move (or sort through and dispose of) all that extra stuff that I’ve been storing all this time.

Knowing this makes it a little easier for a time to tamp down that chorus in the back of my head that speaks in the voices of my grandparents and great-grandparents about not getting rid of things that we might need some day.

The truth is that the chorus isn’t wrong. We might need that some day.

I say this because I don’t want my recent self-deprecating comments about my packrat tendencies to be taken as justification to upbraid anyone for being a packrat. It’s one thing for me to decry my own issues, but it’s important to remember that the “ideal” uncluttered minimalist lifestyle is a product of economic privilege that not everyone has. Scolding someone for not being able to achieve it is just as wrong-headed as blaming young people for not owning a house on the occasional purchase of avocado toast.

(Click to embiggen)

%d bloggers like this: