Sarah Jarosz On NPR

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Yet another reason to love NPR: their “Tiny Desk Concert” series, which provides talented young singer-songwriters like Sarah Jarosz with an intimate, non-commercial, high-quality venue. Here Jarosz performs three tunes from her latest album, Build Me Up From Bones, with fiddler Alex Hargreaves and cellist Nathaniel Smith. The album is beautifully produced, but I love these cut-down versions even more-

David Simon On The “Horror Show” That Is America

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I’m a big fan of David Simon’s classic HBO series, The Wire, as well as his more recent project, Treme. He’s a clear-eyed, street-smart social critic who understands the limits of both capitalism and Marxism, and consistently avoids viewing individuals or groups as exclusively victims or victimizers. If Simon has an ideological commitment, it is to try to safeguard the intrinsic value of human beings against the devaluation that usually occurs when capitalists and capitalist institutions regard them merely as costs. His thinking isn’t particularly subtle, but it is refreshingly direct and to the point. Here’s an excerpt from a column he recently published in the Guardian, which is worth reading in its entirety-

I’m utterly committed to the idea that capitalism has to be the way we generate mass wealth in the coming century. That argument’s over. But the idea that it’s not going to be married to a social compact, that how you distribute the benefits of capitalism isn’t going to include everyone in the society to a reasonable extent, that’s astonishing to me.

And so capitalism is about to seize defeat from the jaws of victory all by its own hand. That’s the astonishing end of this story, unless we reverse course. Unless we take into consideration, if not the remedies of Marx then the diagnosis, because he saw what would happen if capital triumphed unequivocally, if it got everything it wanted.

And one of the things that capital would want unequivocally and for certain is the diminishment of labour. They would want labour to be diminished because labour’s a cost. And if labour is diminished, let’s translate that: in human terms, it means human beings are worth less.

From this moment forward unless we reverse course, the average human being is worth less on planet Earth. Unless we take stock of the fact that maybe socialism and the socialist impulse has to be addressed again; it has to be married as it was married in the 1930s, the 1940s and even into the 1950s, to the engine that is capitalism.

Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way. Capitalism is a remarkable engine again for producing wealth. It’s a great tool to have in your toolbox if you’re trying to build a society and have that society advance. You wouldn’t want to go forward at this point without it. But it’s not a blueprint for how to build the just society. There are other metrics besides that quarterly profit report.

The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It’s a juvenile notion and it’s still being argued in my country passionately and we’re going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I’m astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?

(Thanks Erik).

Wisconsin Underpays Its University Professors

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The Oshkosh Northwestern today published an informative article on the relatively meager wages Wisconsin pays its university professors. Of course, this is not news to those of us who work for the university, but since Gannett (the Oshkosh Northwestern’s owner) recently went to great pains to publish all UW employees’ salaries, it is somewhat gratifying to see them finally putting those figures into context.

The 11 smaller UW universities averaged $71,200 for a full professor. The UW study compared that average to 32 similar out-of-state schools, and the UW universities ranked 31st in that list. The UW average was 31 percent below the $93,100 median, larger than the 27 percent gap in 2011-12.

Data from the Chronicle of Higher Education paints an even bleaker picture. Compared to other master’s institutions nationwide, UW-Oshkosh’s full professors in 2012-13 were in the 15th percentile, UW-Green Bay was in the eighth percentile, and UW-Stevens Point in the seventh percentile. No category of professor ranked above the 40th percentile at the three schools.

It used to be that other forms of compensation (health care, pension benefits) helped to counterbalance the below-average salaries paid at UW campuses, and this could have been a decisive factor for new hires (such as myself) ten years ago. But Act 10, passed in 2010 by Governor Walker and the Republicans, changed that. Now the non-salary compensation, while still competitive, no longer makes up for the sub-standard salaries.

The article in the Northwestern makes many good points beyond these, and I recommend that you read it. It focuses largely on the danger of the system not being able to recruit the best new talent or retain the talent it recruited when the picture was not so bleak. I would emphasize as well a problem that will only get worse as the declines of the last five years continue to sink in: morale and motivation. The fact is, although they get paid on average only 73% of what they deserve (according to the “industry standard” outlined in the article), I know of not a single professor on my campus – UW Oshkosh – who puts in less than 100% effort at teaching their students – and, quite frankly, their students, many of whom are first-generation college students, need all of the dedication they can get from their professors. Does the Wisconsin government really think that, over time, the psychological effect of being undervalued by their employers will not cause a general decline in UW professors’ motivation… a decline that can’t help but diminish the quality of the education they provide to Wisconsin’s students?

Minnesota Versus Wisconsin (Redux)

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I recently noted that Minnesota, with its proactive implementation of the Affordable Care Act through its state-run exchange, enjoys significantly lower premiums for comparable insurance policies than Wisconsin, with its reluctant implementation of the Act through the federal exchange. Job recovery is yet another dimension of this Tale Of Two States, as Lawrence R. Jacobs noted in a recent New York Times Op-Ed

A month after Mr. Walker’s inauguration in January 2011, he catapulted himself to the front ranks of national conservative leaders with attacks on the collective bargaining rights of Civil Service unions and sharp reductions in taxes and spending. Once Mr. Dayton teamed up with a Democratic Legislature in 2012, Minnesota adopted some of the most progressive policies in the country.

Minnesota raised taxes by $2.1 billion, the largest increase in recent state history. Democrats introduced the fourth highest income tax bracket in the country and targeted the top 1 percent of earners to pay 62 percent of the new taxes, according to the Department of Revenue.

Which side of the experiment — the new right or modern progressivism — has been most effective in increasing jobs and improving business opportunities, not to mention living conditions?

Obviously, firm answers will require more time and more data, but the first round of evidence gives the edge to Minnesota’s model of increased services, higher costs (mostly for the affluent) and reduced payments to entrenched interests like the insurers who cover the Medicaid population.

Three years into Mr. Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth. Mr. Walker’s defenders blame the higher spending and taxes of his Democratic predecessor for these disappointments, but according to Forbes’s annual list of best states for business, Wisconsin continues to rank in the bottom half.

Along with California, Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business. Republicans deserve some of the credit, particularly for their commitment to education reform. They also argue that Minnesota’s new growth stems from the low taxes and reduced spending under Mr. Dayton’s Republican predecessor, Tim Pawlenty. But Minnesota’s job growth was subpar during Mr. Pawlenty’s eight-year tenure and recovered only under Mr. Dayton.

Republicans often argue, quite cogently, that the states should be the laboratories of democracy. Given these comparisons two such demographically and geographically similar states, progressive Democrats should certainly agree.