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January 15, 2015

on upward mobility

I was reading this David Leonhardt piece on what we're now calling the great wage slowdown (and how to solve it), and a thought came to mind.  (Which was neat!)

It was triggered by this passage:

Already, Democrats and Republicans have signaled that the wage slowdown will be at the center of their campaigns. Hillary Clinton often says, "It feels harder and harder to get ahead," while Jeb Bush, in a nod to upward mobility, has named his fund-raising operation "Right to Rise." [Emphasis mine.]

So we all know that real wages have basically been frozen since the Reagan administration.  We're all working harder for less, and meanwhile the earnings at the top (the one percent, if you will) have exploded.  Presto!  No more middle class.

What needs to happen is that wages need to increase, for the bottom and middle tiers.  And while it's fun to listen to smart people talk about how the government can fix this, I'm coming to realize that the entire concept of upward mobility is... pernicious?

What we need is an increase across the board.  And what upward mobility is predicated on is the idea that there will always be a bottom, there will always be this untouchable class to escape from.  It's essential to the whole bootstrap mythos of the Republican Party.  To seek upward mobility is to validate the Republican self-regard as the Salvaged Remnant.

I'm just bringing this up because I think that in my head I had been conflating upward mobility with that bigger income redistribution that is required, when what I should have been doing is thinking that upward mobility is icky.  Well, it is until it is redefined as entire communities moving upward, and not just isolated individuals.

But anyhow, the article was written because the Center For American Progress today released their Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity, which I am adding to my reading list.  You should too!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:26 AM

January 14, 2015

uber under oof

Oh hey look the NYC City Council had a little hearing that would cap "surge pricing" in the taxi pimp industry at 100%, and Uber sent someone to say thee nay:
Uber said in a statement: "Dynamic pricing ensures Uber remains a reliable ride in communities during times of peak demand. Our in-app features are designed to communicate the pricing repeatedly and require approval by the user before any trip is requested."

Okay, we could probably spend the rest of our natural lives unpacking the doublespeak of the New Disrupters or the Silicon Alley Robber Barons or whatever we're calling them, but I really intensely dislike Uber and their dingbat Objectivism, so let's give this one a shot.

Let's start with an easy one: "dynamic pricing" is doublespeak for "price gouging," or, as others call it, "profiteering."  Yeah sure we live in a late capitalism world, no getting around it, but even in this relaxed free market we have price controls.  We forbid monopolies, and we frown on cornering the market.  And when it comes to certain transportation concerns, we regulate the hell out of them, up to and including how they can determine their price.  This is why Uber is bad: Uber skips all these regulations and then pretends that sunshine is streaming from its ass.  You say dynamic pricing, I say we have always been at war with Eastasia.

Moving on.  Use of the verb "ensures" is a deft little slight of hand — Uber's profit motive is not behind their naked price gouging, oh no!  Actually it ensures that Uber is able to provide a service and improve the quality of life to its happy endusers!  The sad thing is not that Uber feels compelled to deploy this sort of rhetoric, but rather that they actually think it true.  But this whole sentence hinges on the presupposition that Uber is currently a "reliable ride in communities."  Neat!  Not, a service available to potential customers, but rather reliable ride in communities.  So I guess that if you're looking for either one of those unreliable rides, or if you don't live in a community, Uber is not for you.

You know what's really reliable and really serving a community where I live?  Public transportation.  But that is a whole 'nuther I guess.

And then the final sentence, which is a shifty little The devil made me wear this dress!  Call it price gouging, call it the unmitigated charitable munificence of Uber, whichever: it ain't Uber's fault because the user (which is what we know call a mark instead of a customer) knew about it and agreed to it and paid for it.  So there.  Blaming the market demo — subterfuge!  But Uber is not being accused of fraud; it's being accused of price gouging.  Which charge stands whether the umbrellas sell during the downpour or not.

This is obviously the latest iteration of the newspeak that grew out of the age when people not only ran corporations but then started writing books about how to run corporations to the point that thinking about running a corporation is acceptable family dinner table conversation.  Certainly it will evolve further.  But there is a messianic streak that underlies these assertions, be it the protestations of Uber or Airbnb calling normal people like you and me to defend it from the depredations of the Attorney General.  These new own-nothing-but-code companies, valuated in the tens of billions, are not satisfied just to pretend like they don't care about making money — they insist on suffering the delusion that what they are doing is important, and they are making a difference.

Which is a load of hooey.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:50 AM

January 12, 2015

cop privilege

This op-ed from last week was perhaps the low point in public cop discourse.

Public cop discourse?  Well, here in NYC we have a little problem as every cop other than Chief William Bratton hates our mayor, Bill de Blasio.  Now, cops have historically shown distrust/disdain for Hizzoner, even to Rudy Giuliani, who is now Cop Apologist Number One.  But Bill de Blasio is a big old flaming liberal, so... well actually the op-ed is titled "Why We're So Mad at de Blasio" and it is written by a retired cop.  So, according to this retired cop, the reason cops don't like de Blasio so much is because, well, he hurt their feelings.

No, really!  He pals around with Al Sharpton, whom the cops hate, and after the Eric Garner non-indictment, the mayor mentioned how he's told his son, who is bi-racial, to be careful around the cops.  And every cop knows that's a fact of everyday life here in the five boroughs, but they're mad because, yes, the mayor sad it out loud.

To paraphrase, "Policing is hard, our wives worry about us, the mayor is mean to us and we're going to hold our breaths until we turn not-blue."  Yes, that is an intentionally snarky paraphrase.  But it is not off the mark.

The author, sounding like a character that walked out of a Mike McAlary column, also creates this fabulous straw man who is accusing the de Blasio haters of being self-pitying, and then takes a deep-ass dive into an Olympic-sized pool filled with actual self-pity:

The gestures of protest by many officers toward Mayor Bill de Blasio -- including turning their backs to him when he appeared at both officers' funerals -- have been characterized in some quarters as squandering the credibility of the department and reeking of self-pity.

When I hear this sort of thing, my blood pressure goes through the roof. Mr. de Blasio is more than any other public figure in this city responsible for feelings of demoralization among the police. It did not help to tell the world about instructing his son, Dante, who is biracial, to be wary of the police, or to publicly signal support of anti-police protesters (for instance, by standing alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton, a staunch backer of the protests). If there is any self-pity involved, which I doubt, it is only because we lack respect from our elected officials and parts of the media. It has taken two dead cops for some people to take a step back and realize what a difficult job cops have.

Look, let's all agree that being a cop is hard.  Even Andy Griffith had to make a tough decision now and again, and there was no telling when Otis was finally going to lose it and suicide-by-Barney.  But there ain't nothing written that cops have to be respected.  Oh wait there is!  From stop and identify statues to "interfering with a police officer" there are all sorts of codified respect for cops.  And as to that other sort of respect, well, that shit is earned, whether from the general public or from elected officials.  As far as the general public goes, NYPD may have Staten Island and white Brooklyn all wrapped up, but the rest of us go on results and not some "law and order" instinct carried over from the 1970s.

And as to the mayor, well the NYPD has been carrying on a sub rosa anti-de Blasio campaign since before the election.  The idea (conveyed in the op ed) that nothing changes until de Blasio makes some sort of gesture is ridiculous — PBA needs to stop spreading rumors about Bill's daughter.

I have no problems with cops.  I have friends who are cops, and whatever racist cadre of the PBA that thinks this is still Fort Apache The Bronx will hopefully retire and die off soon enough.  (A great New Yorker's perspective on awesome cops?  John Lurie's.)  But the source of this flap is this weird, kinda unmanly cop privilege, expecting hero worship for a (sometimes dangerous) day's work.  Think is, heroes don't demand respect.  Only bullies do.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:29 AM