The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd and Friedman

The Pasty Little Putz has produced an absolutely extraordinary turd called “A World Without Work,” in which he gurgles that our jobless future may be more sustainable than we imagine.  He should be horsewhipped, evicted from his home, and forced to live on the minimum wage for a year, then required to tell the truth about his experiences.  What a towering asshole this little shit is…  MoDo thinks she has found the “Pompom Girl for Feminism.” Feminism 4.0?  She says Sheryl Sandberg launches a book tour designed to make her the Betty Friedan of the digital age.  The Moustache of Wisdom has a question in “How Mexico Got Back Into the Game:”  Who knew our North American neighbor might one day become an economic rival to India and China?  Here’s the disgusting pile of excrement from The Putz:

Imagine, as 19th-century utopians often did, a society rich enough that fewer and fewer people need to work — a society where leisure becomes universally accessible, where part-time jobs replace the regimented workweek, and where living standards keep rising even though more people have left the work force altogether.

If such a utopia were possible, one might expect that it would be achieved first among the upper classes, and then gradually spread down the social ladder. First the wealthy would work shorter hours, then the middle class, and finally even high school dropouts would be able to sleep late and take four-day weekends and choose their own adventures — “to hunt in the morning,” as Karl Marx once prophesied, “fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner …”

Yet the decline of work isn’t actually some wild Marxist scenario. It’s a basic reality of 21st-century American life, one that predates the financial crash and promises to continue apace even as normal economic growth returns. This decline isn’t unemployment in the usual sense, where people look for work and can’t find it. It’s a kind of post-employment, in which people drop out of the work force and find ways to live, more or less permanently, without a steady job. So instead of spreading from the top down, leisure time — wanted or unwanted — is expanding from the bottom up. Long hours are increasingly the province of the rich.

Of course, nobody is hailing this trend as the sign of civilizational progress. Instead, the decline in blue-collar work is often portrayed in near-apocalyptic terms — on the left as the economy’s failure to supply good-paying jobs, and on the right as a depressing sign that government dependency is killing the American work ethic.

But it’s worth linking today’s trends to the older dream of a post-work utopia, because there are ways in which the decline in work-force participation is actually being made possible by material progress.

That progress can be hard to appreciate at the moment, but America’s immense wealth is still our era’s most important economic fact. “When a nation is as rich as ours,” Scott Winship points out in an essay for Breakthrough Journal, “it can realize larger absolute gains than it did in the past … even if it has lower growth rates.” Our economy may look stagnant compared to the acceleration after World War II, but even disappointing growth rates are likely to leave the America of 2050 much richer than today.

Those riches mean that we can probably find ways to subsidize — through public means and private — a continuing decline in blue-collar work. Many of the Americans dropping out of the work force are not destitute: they’re receiving disability payments and food stamps, living with relatives, cobbling together work here and there, and often doing as well as they might with a low-wage job. By historical standards their lives are more comfortable than the left often allows, and the fiscal cost of their situation is more sustainable than the right tends to admits. (Medicare may bankrupt us, but food stamps probably will not.)

There is a certain air of irresponsibility to giving up on employment altogether, of course. But while pundits who tap on keyboards for a living like to extol the inherent dignity of labor, we aren’t the ones stocking shelves at Walmart or hunting wearily, week after week, for a job that probably pays less than our last one did. One could make the case that the right to not have a boss is actually the hardest won of modern freedoms: should it really trouble us if more people in a rich society end up exercising it?

The answer is yes — but mostly because the decline of work carries social costs as well as an economic price tag. Even a grinding job tends to be an important source of social capital, providing everyday structure for people who live alone, a place to meet friends and kindle romances for people who lack other forms of community, a path away from crime and prison for young men, an example to children and a source of self-respect for parents.

Here the decline in work-force participation is of a piece with the broader turn away from community in America — from family breakdown and declining churchgoing to the retreat into the virtual forms of sport and sex and friendship. Like many of these trends, it poses a much greater threat to social mobility than to absolute prosperity. (A nonworking working class may not be immiserated; neither will its members ever find a way to rise above their station.) And its costs will be felt in people’s private lives and inner worlds even when they don’t show up in the nation’s G.D.P.

In a sense, the old utopians were prescient: we’ve gained a world where steady work is less necessary to human survival than ever before.

But human flourishing is another matter. And it’s our fulfillment, rather than the satisfaction of our appetites, that’s threatened by the slow decline of work.

He gives pond scum a bad name.  Here’s MoDo:

Sheryl Sandberg is not one to settle for being the It Girl of Silicon Valley.

Nor is the chief operating officer of Facebook willing to write a book that people might merely read.

One of her friends from her Harvard days told Vogue that the brainy, beautiful, charming, stylish, happily married 43-year-old mother of two, one of the world’s richest self-made women, has an “infectious insistence.” (She would have to, having founded Harvard’s aerobics program in the ’80s, wearing blue eye shadow and leg warmers.)

Now that she has domesticated the Facebook frat house, Sandberg wants to be “the pompom girl for feminism,” as she calls it. She has a grandiose plan to become the PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle boots reigniting the women’s revolution — Betty Friedan for the digital age. She wants women to stop limiting and sabotaging themselves.

The petite corporate star is larger than life, and a normal book tour for “Lean In,” which she describes as “sort of a feminist manifesto” mixed with career advice, just won’t do.

“I always thought I would run a social movement,” she said in “Makers,” an AOL/PBS documentary on feminist history.

Sandberg may have caught the fever to change the world from Mark Zuckerberg, or come by it genetically. She writes that her mother, at age 11, responded to a rabbi’s sermon on tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world, by “grabbing a tin can and knocking on doors to support civil rights workers in the South.”

The charmed Sandberg is no Queen Bee. Unlike some other women who reach the top, she does not pull up the ladder, or jungle gym, as she prefers to think of it, behind her. Many women found it inspiring when she said in “Makers” that she left work at 5:30 to go home to her kids, even while they acknowledged that you might have to be Sheryl Sandberg to get away with that.

Sandberg, who worked at the Treasury Department for her mentor, Larry Summers, and at Google before going to Facebook, started a group called the Women of Silicon Valley to listen to celebrity speakers and swap stories.

She knows there is slow evolution or even erosion in women’s progress in some areas, and that many younger women don’t want to be called feminists. Professional women often take their husbands’ last names these days without a thought.

Her book is chockablock with good tips and insights, if a bit discouraging at times. She urges women in salary negotiations to smile frequently and use the word “we” instead of “I.” And she encourages employers and women to talk upfront about plans for children, which employers may fear is lawsuit fodder.

She seems to think she can remedy social paradigms with a new kind of club — a combo gabfest, Oprah session and corporate pep talk. (Where’s the yoga?)

Sandberg has been recruiting corporations to join her Lean In Foundation, which will create the Lean In Community and Lean In Circles, which are, as The Times’s Jodi Kantor wrote, like “consciousness-raising groups of yore.” The circles will entail 8 to 12 peers who will meet monthly and use “education modules” to learn the skills to pursue equality. (Like how Rosa Parks used bus modules.) The debut assignment is a video on how to command more authority by altering how you speak and sit.

Women are encouraged to send in stories about leaning in, but no sad sacks allowed: “Share a positive ending about what you learned from the experience,” says the instructional material for Lean In Circles. And no truants: “Don’t invite flakes.”

That leaves me leaning out.

Sandberg has already gotten some flak from women who think that her attitude is too elitist and that she is too prone to blame women for failing to get ahead. (Not everyone has Larry Page and Sergey Brin volunteering to baby-sit, and Zuckerberg offering a shoulder to cry on.) Noting that her Facebook page for “Lean In” looks more like an ego wall with “deep thoughts,” critics argue that her unique perch as a mogul with the world’s best husband to boot makes her tone-deaf to the problems average women face as they struggle to make ends meet in a rough economy, while taking care of kids, aging parents and housework.

Sandberg describes taking her kids to a business conference last year and realizing en route that her daughter had head lice. But the good news was that she was on the private eBay jet.

Sandberg may mean well, and she may be setting up a run for national office. But she doesn’t understand the difference between a social movement and a social network marketing campaign. Just because digital technology makes connecting possible doesn’t mean you’re actually reaching people.

People come to a social movement from the bottom up, not the top down. Sandberg has co-opted the vocabulary and romance of a social movement not to sell a cause, but herself.

She says she’s using marketing for the purpose of social idealism. But she’s actually using social idealism for the purpose of marketing.

Yeah.  Well, I pretty much gave up on Facebook when everywhere I turned I was being importuned to “like” things like laundry detergent.  I want that stuff to get my clothes clean, not be my “friend.”  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Monterrey, Mexico:

In India, people ask you about China, and, in China, people ask you about India: Which country will become the more dominant economic power in the 21st century? I now have the answer: Mexico.

Impossible, you say? Well, yes, Mexico with only about 110 million people could never rival China or India in total economic clout. But here’s what I’ve learned from this visit to Mexico’s industrial/innovation center in Monterrey. Everything you’ve read about Mexico is true: drug cartels, crime syndicates, government corruption and weak rule of law hobble the nation. But that’s half the story. The reality is that Mexico today is more like a crazy blend of the movies “No Country for Old Men” and “The Social Network.”

Something happened here. It’s as if Mexicans subconsciously decided that their drug-related violence is a condition to be lived with and combated but not something to define them any longer. Mexico has signed 44 free trade agreements — more than any country in the world — which, according to The Financial Times, is more than twice as many as China and four times more than Brazil. Mexico has also greatly increased the number of engineers and skilled laborers graduating from its schools. Put all that together with massive cheap natural gas finds, and rising wage and transportation costs in China, and it is no surprise that Mexico now is taking manufacturing market share back from Asia and attracting more global investment than ever in autos, aerospace and household goods.

“Today, Mexico exports more manufactured products than the rest of Latin America put together,” The Financial Times reported on Sept. 19, 2012. “Chrysler, for example, is using Mexico as a base to supply some of its Fiat 500s to the Chinese market.” What struck me most here in Monterrey, though, is the number of tech start-ups that are emerging from Mexico’s young population — 50 percent of the country is under 29 — thanks to cheap, open source innovation tools and cloud computing.

“Mexico did not waste its crisis,” remarked Patrick Kane Zambrano, director of the Center for Citizen Integration, referring to the fact that when Mexican companies lost out to China in the 1990s, they had no choice but to get more productive. Zambrano’s Web site embodies the youthful zest here for using technology to both innovate and stimulate social activism. The center aggregates Twitter messages from citizens about everything from broken streetlights to “situations of risk” and plots them in real-time on a phone app map of Monterrey that warns residents what streets to avoid, alerts the police to shootings and counts in days or hours how quickly public officials fix the problems.

“It sets pressure points to force change,” the center’s president, Bernardo Bichara, told me. “Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. … First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.”

If Secretary of State John Kerry is looking for a new agenda, he might want to focus on forging closer integration with Mexico rather than beating his head against the rocks of Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan or Syria. Better integration of Mexico’s manufacturing and innovation prowess into America’s is a win-win. It makes U.S. companies more profitable and competitive, so they can expand at home and abroad, and it gives Mexicans a reason to stay home and reduces violence. We do $1.5 billion a day in trade with Mexico, and we spend $1 billion a day in Afghanistan. Not smart.

We need a more nuanced view of Mexico. While touring the Center for Agrobiotechnology at Monterrey Tech, Mexico’s M.I.T., its director, Guy Cardineau, an American scientist from Arizona, remarked to me that, in 2011, “my son-in-law returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and we talked about having him come down and visit for Christmas. But he told me the U.S. military said he couldn’t come because of the [State Department] travel advisory here. I thought that was very ironic.”

Especially when U.S. companies are expanding here, which is one reason Mexico grew last year at 3.9 percent, and foreign direct investment in Monterrey hit record highs.

“Twenty years ago, most Mexican companies were not global,” explained Blanca Treviño, the president and founder of Softtek, one of Mexico’s leading I.T. service providers. They focused on the domestic market and cheap labor for the U.S. “Today, we understand that we have to compete globally” and that means “becoming efficient. We have a [software] development center in Wuxi, China. But we are more efficient now in doing the same business from our center in Aguascalientes, [Mexico], than we are from our center in Wuxi.”

Mexico still has huge governance problems to fix, but what’s interesting is that, after 15 years of political paralysis, Mexico’s three major political parties have just signed “a grand bargain,” a k a “Pact for Mexico,” under the new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, to work together to fight the big energy, telecom and teacher monopolies that have held Mexico back. If they succeed, maybe Mexico will teach us something about democracy. Mexicans have started to wonder about America lately, said Bichara from the Center for Citizen Integration. “We always thought we should have our parties behave like the United States’ — no longer. We always thought we should have the government work like the United States’ — no longer.”

Well.  How nice that Tommy was able to get in a whack on his favorite tin drum, the “Grand Bargain” drum.  However, I doubt that the “Grand Bargain” that Tommy keeps howling for would look anything whatsoever like what he’s describing as the “Pact for Mexico.”


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