Sunday, December 26, 2021

OSHA vaccine-or-test mandate is smart public policy [feedly]

OSHA vaccine-or-test mandate is smart public policy

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for employers to cope with the health dangers posed by COVID-19. The centerpiece of the ETS is a vaccine-or-test mandate for employees working at firms with over 100 employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The mandate is good public policy: it will reduce deaths and hospitalizations, and it will also increase economic growth and reduce the main inflationary pressures facing the U.S. economy.

The proposed ETS has spurred a large legal battle and its eventual fate is uncertain, even though exemptions for religious and health reasons are possible, and a version of these standards is already in effect for federal government employees, government contractors, and health care workers. In early November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed the ETS pending judicial review. However, over this past weekend, the stay was removed by the court with current jurisdiction over the case (the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit).

The lifting of the ETS stay is welcome news. The vaccine-or-test mandate is a key plank in an effective public health response to the continuing havoc wreaked by COVID-19. For example, a recent paper examining the introduction of vaccine mandates at the provincial level in Canada, France, and Germany found "that the announcement of a mandate is associated with a rapid and significant surge in new vaccinations (more than 60% increase in weekly first doses)…" Higher vaccination rates will contribute meaningfully to reducing deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19.

Despite broad availability, the United States lags far behind dozens of countries in vaccination rates, and a mandate would likely boost the U.S. rate in a significant way. Recent research examining the international experience of vaccine mandates by Karaivanov et al. (2021) finds large increases in vaccination rates (up to 5 percentage points) driven by mandates.

The mandate would have large economic effects as well, even beyond the considerable economic value of deaths and hospitalizations averted. Overall economic growth over the past year has been largely driven by the fall and rise of COVID-19 cases. In the first six months of this year, as case growth fell sharply, gross domestic product (GDP) rose at a 6.5% annualized rate—an extraordinarily fast pace of growth. However, in the third quarter, as the Delta variant surged in the United States in August and September, GDP growth decelerated to just 2.1%.

Further, from February to July—the six months prior to the Delta variant hitting the U.S. economy—job growth averaged 710,000 per month. However, since August and the rise of the Delta variant, job growth has fallen to a monthly average of 405,000—a respectable pace compared with previous recoveries, but a pronounced slowdown.  

Looking more granularly at state-level data in the major sector most affected by social distancing requirements—leisure and hospitality—we also see that employment growth in the first 10 months of 2021 was positively correlated with a state's vaccination progress over that time. Figure A below shows that states with higher total vaccination rates in October 2021 also saw faster leisure and hospitality job growth between January and October. These links between faster economic growth, greater job creation, and virus control are generally well-understood. Less well-known, however, is that the economic effects of COVID-19 are by far the largest drivers of the acceleration in U.S. inflation in 2021. Inflation rates are higher than usual because the pandemic has reallocated consumer spending away from services and towards goods, exacerbating supply chain problems.

Figure A
Figure A

As we have noted elsewhere, the inflation acceleration in 2021 is not happening because the U.S. economy's underlying productive capacity has been overwhelmed by too much spending—whether private or public spending. In fact, measured "output gaps"—the difference between actual GDP and the economy's underlying productive capacity measured by potential GDP—remain negative, a fact usually associated with mild disinflation. But even as aggregate spending remains below the economy's underlying capacity, the allocation of this spending has changed radically, shifting away from face-to-face services and towards goods (particularly durable goods). This is clearly an effect of COVID-19; households still feel uncomfortable doing as much face-to-face service consumption as they did before March 2020, yet fiscal relief measures substantially supported incomes (until this fall).

An unanticipatedly large share of this income has been thrown into the goods sector. This, of course, does not simply mean that less aid should've been provided overall. In the set of realistic choices facing policymakers in January 2021, providing less aid than was provided by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) would've been the wrong choice. Even with the inflation acceleration of 2021, household incomes are higher at the end of the year because of the ARP aid.

Policymakers with perfect foresight about the sui generis problems that would emerge in 2021 with supply chains and the reallocation of household spending following a once-in-a-century pandemic could perhaps have tweaked the pandemic fiscal relief in ways that would've led to less-pronounced inflationary pressure. For example, households could have been provided two sets of vouchers instead of cash relief. One of the vouchers could be used immediately, but only to purchases services. The other set of vouchers could be spent on goods, but could only be used slowly over time, starting small and rising in value each month. Of course, just writing out how pandemic aid could have been structured differently to avoid inflationary pressures highlights how politically unrealistic all of this would have been, and how unreasonable it would be now to judge policymakers for not providing it in this way.

On the supply side, goods production is far more affected by global events than services. Globally, the rise of the Delta variant this summer caused rolling shutdowns of ports and transport facilities around the globe, snarling supply chains. This is threatening to repeat itself with the rise of the Omicron variant.

Despite rhetoric in the United States blaming inflation on fiscal relief efforts following COVID-19, the acceleration of core inflation across countries is unrelated to the size of these relief efforts. Outside of clearly global energy markets, core inflation (inflation excluding the volatile prices of energy and food) has accelerated across a range of countries that undertook widely varying levels of COVID-19 fiscal relief. Figure B below shows the relationship between the increased spending or decreased taxes resulting from discretionary fiscal relief aimed at blunting the economic shock of COVID-19 across countries, and the acceleration in core inflation in September 2021 relative to pre-COVID-19 trends. As can be seen, there is no relationship at all.

Figure B
Figure B

However, there is a slight but significant pattern of core inflation accelerating more in countries with larger COVID-19 shocks, as shown below in Figure C. For the same countries examined in Figure A, there is a positive correlation between cumulative COVID-19 cases and the acceleration in core price inflation.

Figure C
Figure C

Dividing the 37 countries into three groups—the 12 countries with the lowest cumulative COVID-19 case count, the 12 countries with the 12 highest case counts, and the 13 countries in the middle—reveals another striking pattern, as shown below in Figure D. The countries with the lowest case counts (New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Mexico, Norway, Iceland, Canada, Germany, Denmark, and Greece) saw an acceleration of core inflation of just 0.4 percentage points. Countries in the middle of case counts (Italy, Poland, Chile, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Turkey, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, France, and Costa Rica) saw an acceleration of 1.0 percentage points, while the countries with the highest case count (Sweden, Belgium, Latvia, Netherlands, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and the United States) saw an acceleration of 1.5 percentage points.

In short, the extreme distortions caused by COVID-19 in the United States—a sharp reallocation of spending away from services towards goods and supply chains bottlenecks—are also associated with inflation in other countries as well. One reason why U.S. inflation has been more pronounced than in other countries is because our COVID-19 case counts have been higher. As a result, public health policy is clearly the most effective economic policy we have to tamp inflation back down. Vaccines, in turn, are by far our most powerful public health measure against COVID-19. Maximizing vaccination rates both domestically and globally hence will pay huge economic returns. Domestically, an employer mandate is an invaluable tool for maximizing vaccination rates.

Figure D
Figure D

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Friday, December 24, 2021 Amazon Reaches Labor Deal, Giving Workers More Power to Organize

From The New York Times:

Amazon Reaches Labor Deal, Giving Workers More Power to Organize

The agreement's national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous settlement that the e-commerce giant has made.

Amazon Reaches Labor Deal, Giving Workers More Power to Organize

The agreement's national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous settlement that the e-commerce giant has made.


A labor activist and his son encouraging motorists to sign union authorization cards outside Amazon's JFK8 distribution center on Staten Island in May.Credit...Dave Sanders for The New York Times
By Karen Weise
Published Dec. 23, 2021Updated Dec. 24, 2021, 12:42 a.m. ET

SEATTLE — Amazon, which faces mounting scrutiny over worker rights, agreed to let its warehouse employees more easily organize in the workplace as part of a nationwide settlement with the National Labor Relations Board this month.

Under the settlement, made final on Wednesday, Amazon said it would email past and current warehouse workers — likely more than one million people — with notifications of their rights and give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings. The agreement also makes it easier and faster for the N.L.R.B., which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, to sue Amazon if it believes the company violated the terms.

Amazon has previously settled individual cases with the labor agency, but the new settlement's national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous agreement.

Because of Amazon's sheer size — more than 750,000 people work in its operations in the United States alone — the agency said the settlement would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history. The tech giant also agreed to terms that would let the N.L.R.B. bypass an administrative hearing process, a lengthy and cumbersome undertaking, if the agency found that the company had not abided by the settlement.

The agreement stemmed from six cases of Amazon workers who said the company limited their ability to organize colleagues. A copy was obtained by The New York Times.

It is a "big deal given the magnitude of the size of Amazon," said Wilma B. Liebman, who was the chair of the N.L.R.B. under President Barack Obama.

Amazon, which has been on a hiring frenzy in the pandemic and is the nation's second-largest private employer after Walmart, has faced increased labor pressure as its work force has soared to nearly 1.5 million globally. The company has become a leading example of a rising tide of worker organizing as the pandemic reshapes what employees expect from their employers.

This year, Amazon has grappled with organizing efforts at warehouses in Alabama and New York, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters formally committed to support organizing at the company. Other companies, such as Starbucks, Kellogg and Deere & Company, have faced rising union activity as well.

Compounding the problem, Amazon is struggling to find enough employees to satiate its growth. The company was built on a model of high-turnover employment, which has now crashed into a phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, with workers in many industries quitting their jobs in search of a better deal for themselves.

Amazon has responded by raising wages and pledging to improve its workplace. It has said it would spend $4 billion to deal with labor shortages this quarter alone.

"This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action," Jennifer Abruzzo, the N.L.R.B.'s new general counsel appointed by President Biden, said in a statement on Thursday.

Amazon declined to comment. The company has said it supports workers' rights to organize but believes employees are better served without a union.

Amazon and the labor agency have been in growing contact, and at times conflict. More than 75 cases alleging unfair labor practices have been brought against Amazon since the start of the pandemic, according to the N.L.R.B.'s database. Ms. Abruzzo has also issued several memos directing the agency's staff to enforce labor laws against employers more aggressively.

A sign encouraging workers to cast a ballot in a union vote at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Ala., in March.Credit...Charity Rachelle for The New York Times

Last month, the agency threw out the results of a failed, prominent union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, saying the company had inappropriately interfered with the voting. The agency ordered another election. Amazon has not appealed the finding, though it can still do so.

Other employers, from beauty salons to retirement communities, have made nationwide settlements with the N.L.R.B. in the past when changing policies.

With the new settlement, Amazon agreed to change a policy that limited employee access to its facilities and notify employees that it had done so, as well as informing them of other labor rights. The settlement requires Amazon to post notices in all of its U.S. operations and on the employee app, called A to Z. Amazon must also email every person who has worked in its operations since March.

In past cases, Amazon explicitly said a settlement did not constitute an admission of wrongdoing. No similar language was included in the new settlement. In September, Ms. Abruzzo directed N.L.R.B. staff to accept these "non-admission clauses" only rarely.

The combination of terms, including the "unusual" commitment to email past and current employees, made Amazon's settlement stand out, Ms. Liebman said, adding that other large employers were likely to take notice.

"It sends a signal that this general counsel is really serious about enforcing the law and what they will accept," she said.

The six cases that led to Amazon's settlement with the agency involved its workers in Chicago and Staten Island, N.Y. They had said Amazon prohibited them from being in areas like a break room or parking lot until within 15 minutes before or after their shifts, hampering any organizing.

One case was brought by Ted Miin, who works at an Amazon delivery station in Chicago. In an interview, Mr. Miin said a manager had told him, "It is more than 15 minutes past your shift, and you are not allowed to be here," when he passed out newsletters at a protest in April.

"Co-workers were upset about being understaffed and overworked and staged a walkout," he said, adding that a security guard also pressured him to leave the site while handing out leaflets.

In another case on Staten Island, Amazon threatened to call the police on an employee who handed out union literature on site, said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer who represents the company's workers in Staten Island.

The right for workers to organize on-site during non-working time is well established, said Matthew Bodie, a former lawyer for the N.L.R.B. who teaches labor law at Saint Louis University.

"The fact that you can hang around and chat — that is prime, protected concerted activity periods, and the board has always been very protective of that," he said.

Mr. Miin, who is part of an organizing group called Amazonians United Chicagoland, and other workers in Chicago reached a settlement with Amazon in the spring over the 15-minute rule at a different delivery station where they had worked last year. Two corporate employees also settled privately with Amazon in an agreement that included a nationwide notification of worker rights, but the agency does not police it.

Mr. Goldstein said he was "impressed" that the N.L.R.B. had pressed Amazon to agree to terms that would let the agency bypass its administrative hearing process, which happens before a judge and in which parties prepare arguments and present evidence, if it found the company had broken the agreement's terms.

"They can get a court order to make Amazon obey federal labor law," he said.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Rally in Times Square for Staten Island Amazon workers attempting to unionize

TIMES SQUARE — Wednesday night's rally in Manhattan gave Amazon employees high visibility in their continued efforts to unionize the company's Staten Island warehouse.

The group — known as the Amazon Labor Union — tried unsuccessfully in October to get the required number of signatures in order to trigger a vote.

This time around, the group's president, former Amazon employee Chris Smalls, says they now have enough signatures to move forward.


He's fighting for improved working conditions, especially as it related to COVID-19.

The signature rules are set by the National Labor Relations Board, which has an established, elaborate process for employees trying to unionize.

The next step involves the NLRB reviewing what's called, the group's "showing of interest," followed by an order for an election among employees at the Staten Island warehouse.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Dean Baker: Plans to Save the Local Newspaper -- a little socialism to save yr community news??

 Plans to Save the Local Newspaper

As we all know, local newspapers have been dropping like flies over the last two decades. Even major regional papers like the Chicago Tribune and Cleveland Plain Dealer have fallen on hard times, sharply cutting back their staff and coverage. In many cases, hedge or private equity funds have done the downsizing or closures. They continue to circle like vultures over the ones they have not already bought. It is reasonable to ask whether anything can be done to reverse this decline.

My friends, Robert McChesney and John Nichols, have put forward the “Local Journalism Initiative (LJI)” to answer the call. (A fuller version is available here.) Their proposal would set out a pot of money to be distributed to local newspapers, based on votes at the county level. They propose elections take place every three years, with each person given three votes. The money would be distributed to news organizations in proportion to the votes received, with a cutoff of 1.0 percent required to get any funding, or 0.5 percent in large counties.

They envision the total size of the pot to be equal to 0.21 percent of GDP or roughly $46 billion in the 2021 economy. This is their estimate of the size of the subsidy from the Postal Service to newspapers in the 19th century, when it was required to deliver newspapers at a loss.

The logic of the LJI is that organizations that provide news provide an essential pubic service in informing the population. There is a need for a public subsidy, since the service will be grossly underprovided in the market as currently structured.

They point to the postal subsidy as a recognition of this need. Like the postal subsidy, their proposal leaves the government neutral as to the content of the news. Voters will decide which organizations they believe are worth their support and the money would be divided accordingly.

They do set out criteria for qualifying for eligibility, a news organization must meet the following:

  • Be formally identified and      understood as non-profit;
  • Be functioning for six months      prior to the election, so voters can see what the applicant actually does;
  • Be based in the home county with      75 percent of its salaries going to employees based in the home county;
  • Be completely independent; not a      subsidiary of a larger nonprofit group;
  • Produce and publish original      material at least five days per week on its website;

To my view this is an interesting proposal that deserves serious consideration. It is also worth noting in this context a proposalthat was included at one time in the Build Back Better (BBB) plan, which would give subsidies to local news outlets for employing reporters.

These subsidies would be much smaller, coming to around $340 million a year. They also are intended to go to existing for profit newspapers, including newspapers that are owned by large chains. Although the sum of the money involved in the BBB proposal is two orders of magnitude smaller than the amount in the LCI, it at least is an explicit recognition of the desirability of subsidizing the provision of local news.

A Tax Credit System: A Third Option

While I think the LJI would be an enormous gain, if we could win it, I continue to prefer the tax credit system that I have been pushing for several decades. This is a proposal for an amount of money to be allotted to every person (e.g. $100) to be given to the creative worker or organization of their choice. This funding would not be restricted to news organizations. It would instead go to whoever the person designated to get the money. (I describe the proposal in chapter 5 of Rigged [it’s free].)

I would have only three conditions for receiving the money. First, that the person (an individual writer, musician, singer etc.) or organization (publisher, newspaper, recording company etc.) must register with the I.R.S. saying what it is they do.

Second, whoever registers is ineligible for copyright protection for a substantial period of time, say three to five years after being in the system. This is to prevent people from getting money through the tax credit system and then establishing a name for themselves and earning really big bucks in the copyright system (more on this in a moment). We give people one subsidy for their work, not two. It also follows from this that all material produced in the system is fully open and cannot be subject to any sort of paywall.

Third, a person or organization must get a certain minimum amount, say $3,000, to collect anything. This is to prevent against the most obvious type of fraud, where one person gives their friend their $100 credit, and in turn their friend gives them their $100 credit. It would still be possible to coordinate 30 people giving the same person their $100 and then rebating the payment to each one, but that would be a lot of illegal coordination for very little potential payoff.

Simple, Simple, Simple: The Key to the Tax Credit System

My preference for the tax credit system is both that it applies to a much broader range of material than just news, and that I think it would be far easier to implement and enforce. I would also add that it can in principle be sliced and diced so that it can be phased in incrementally at the national level or put in place at the state or even local level.

Before getting into some of the logistics, it is important to make an often overlooked point about copyrights. McChesney and Nichols are right to point out the postal subsidy in the 19th century as an explicit recognition that newspapers filled an important public purpose. In the same vein, copyright monopolies are established by Congress for the public purpose of promoting creative work.

This is stated explicitly in the constitution where the issuance of patents or copyright monopolies is laid out as one of the powers of Congress, in Article 1, Section 8, just like the power to tax or the power to declare war:

“To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;”

It would be difficult to envision clearer wording. Copyright monopolies are given to promote a public purpose, which may not be adequately met without some form of government subsidy. They are not a right of individual creators included in the Bill of Rights.

Issuing copyrights is a power that Congress may or may not choose to exercise, just as it is not obligated to impose taxes or declare war. It can also set whatever terms it deems appropriate for copyright, making the monopoly longer or shorter or stronger or weaker.

This is the context in which it makes sense to exclude recipients of tax credit money from copyright protection. If the government is giving a person one subsidy through the tax credit system, it doesn’t make sense to give them a second subsidy in the form of a copyright monopoly. We also want to ensure that the public gets the full benefit of its tax credit subsidy by requiring that any material produced through the system is fully open and can be freely distributed all around the world.

This also fits with the “simple, simple, simple” requirement. The ban on recipients getting copyright protection is self-enforcing. Anyone can claim a copyright, but if they tried to enforce it for material they produced when they were in the tax credit system, the alleged infringer need only point out that they were in the tax credit system at the time the work was produced. Therefore, there is no valid copyright. The government does not have to do anything in this story.

The model for this tax credit system is the tax deduction for charitable contributions. Under this provision, a wide range of organizations, including churches, charities for the poor, and cultural and scientific organizations, can effectively receive a subsidy from the government by registering with the I.R.S. as a non-profit organization.

For a person in the top tax bracket, this subsidy comes to almost 40 cents on the dollar. This means that if a wealthy person wants to give $1 million to a particular church or cultural organization, the government reimburses them for $400,000 of this sum.

The I.R.S. makes no effort to determine whether a particular charity is an efficient way to provide services to the poor, or whether a certain religion is a good religion. The only question is whether the organization does what it claims to do.

The same principle would apply with registering to be eligible for the tax credit system. An individual or organization would have to indicate what it is they claim to do (e.g. write, perform music, report on local news etc.). The I.R.S. would only have the responsibility to verify that the organization does in fact do what they claim.

From the individual’s standpoint, using the tax credit would be as simple as taking the charitable deduction, with the distinction that the credit would be available to everyone, not just people who had tax liabilities. And, unlike the charitable, the government would be picking up the full amount, not just reducing tax liabilities by some fraction of the amount contributed. (If we wanted to make the use of the credit system very simple, we can have a unique number for each person or organization registered. Taxpayers could then indicate on their tax forms the amount of their credit they want to go to them.)

Tax Credits vs. Local Journalism Initiative

This tax credit system is obviously much broader than the LJI, but even though promoting local journalism may not be its primary purpose, it may actually be more effective in meeting this goal. The main point here is that local journalism gets nothing if there is not a measure that can gain political support. By making the target of the tax credit creative work more generally, and not just local journalism, there is potentially a much wider range of supporters.

It is also important to recognize that it is not just newspapers that have suffered in the digital age. The money spent on recorded music has also plummeted over the last quarter century. In 2000, people spent $19.1 billion on recorded music, an amount equal to 0.18 percent of GDP. This had fallen to $2.3 billion by 2020, just over 0.01 percent of GDP. The bulk of this money goes to a small number of big-name singers and musicians, leaving almost nothing for the vast majority of recording artists.[1]There is a strong argument for creating an alternative mechanism of support in this area as well.

Making a broad target also gets the government out of the business of defining what is a local news organization. In the digital era, we are talking primarily about on-line new sites, with physical newspapers playing at most a very secondary role. Is the government going to police these sites and disqualify ones that make fiction, cartoons, or music available on their sites in addition to local news? These additions would likely make them more attractive to the people voting on where their money goes, but don’t fit the definition of local news.

To my view, the profit/non-profit distinction is also not especially valuable. There are plenty of non-profit organizations where CEOs and other top executives can pocket millions of dollars a year. I can’t see any reason for being okay with an organization that has grossly overpaid top management pocketing money, but being upset if someone is making a profit off the system through owning shares. It seems the main check on abuses has to be that people will be less likely to give their credits or votes to an organization that does not actually provide useful material.

In terms of the money that news organizations actually need to be effective, I am inclined to think that it is likely far less than would have been true sixty or seventy years ago. Part of the reason is that people are less dependent on the news media to get information.

Forty, or even thirty years ago, if someone wanted to know what their city council or state legislature did, they would be almost totally dependent on the media. Unless they were prepared to physically go to the relevant offices to get the records of meetings and bills that were passed or voted on, they would have no way of knowing what was going on. Today, the vast majority of this material is available on the web.

The same is true for government data in a wide range of areas. For example, if I wanted my state or county budget, three decades ago I would have to go down to the offices where they are kept, or arrange to have copies sent to me.

We still need reporters to do the legwork and find out what is going behind the scenes. They need to find out which politicians or interest groups were pushing or blocking specific legislature. We also need experienced reporters to explain the significance of various measures whose meaning might not be clear to casual observers, but much of the background information can now be provided by a link to website.[2]

Also, if we compare the publication process today to what would have existed forty years ago, there have been substantial efficiencies in writing up news that did not exist in the past. Most obviously, no one has a secretary anymore to type up their articles. They also can rely on spellcheck programs to correct most spelling errors and many grammatical mistakes. There is still a need for editors to review articles, but much of the office staff that would have been essential in a newsroom forty years ago would not be necessary today.

In addition, since print copies are likely to be a relatively unimportant part of news operations going forward, the expenses associated with laying out and physically printing and distributing newspapers is no longer a major issue. Of course, newspapers would always be able to sell physical copies to people who wanted them, but presumably the price would roughly cover the cost of print editions.

News outlets could also get some money from advertising, although the amount available in a copyright free world would be less than what they may be able to take in now.[3]Still, it would be far from zero. People are attached to specific websites, and even if they could find all the material posted at various other sites, if they like what is produced on a news outlet’s site, they will be regular visitors and therefore good targets for advertisers.

The prohibition on copyright protection for organizations and individuals receiving the tax credit would also mean that most of the largest newspapers in the country would not be eligible. It is unlikely that a profitable paper like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal would opt to give up their copyright protection to be eligible for tax credit money. Nor would their reporters, many of whom expect to make large sums from book contracts, be willing to have the option for copyright protection precluded. This means that tax credit money destined for news outlets would be going to smaller ones and new upstarts.

For these reasons, a reasonable target for money from a tax credit to support news production is considerably smaller than the 0.21 percent of GDP that McChesney and Nichols envision. There are roughly 3,000 counties in the United States. Suppose that we would like an average of between five and ten full-time equivalent (FTE) reporters and editors for each one. If this seems insufficient, consider that many of these counties have just a few thousand people and can likely be well-served with just two or three FTE reporters and editors.

This would imply total staffing of between 15,000 and 30,000 people. The average compensation in the private sector for a FTE worker in 2019 was $66,800.[4] If we raise this 10 percent to cover inflation and pay increases in the last two years, and throw in 20 percent for non-wage compensation, we get an average of $88,200 for a FTE employee. That would imply a total cost of between $1.3 billion and $2.6 billion for staffing up the nation’s newsrooms.

It seems plausible that this much money can be raised from a tax credit of say $100 to $150 per person, designed to support creative workers of all types. The country has roughly 280 million adults. If everyone took advantage of a tax credit of this size it would generate $28 billion to $42 billion annually. Clearly take up won’t be 100 percent, but it is likely to be fairly high, since it is effectively free money.[5]

Would it be possible to convince the public that five or ten percent of the money designated to support creative work more generally should support local news coverage? That seems unknowable in advance of putting in place this sort of system, but if individuals would not voluntarily cough up this much money from a broader tax credit, it seems like a measure designated to give this much, or more, money to support local news would have a difficult legislative path.

Experimenting at the State and Local Level

Since opportunities for getting major legislation passed at the national level are rare, it is always useful to consider whether proposals can be structured in a way where they can be effectively implemented at the state or local level. (A wealthy person who cared about democracy could also cough up the money.) There actually could be a very interesting story where a state or even city attempts to experiment with a creative worker tax credit.

Suppose a state, or even city, proposed to give all their residents $100 or $150 to support creative workers. This would create a substantial pot of money to attract creative workers of all types. As with the national credit, the rules would require that all the material created during the period the person is receiving money through the system not be subject to copyright protection. This means it would be freely available for the whole world.

There could also be a residency requirement, with recipients required to live in the city or state, say for eight or nine months a year. If musicians, writers, or other creative workers are required to live in an area for much of the year, they are likely to want to perform music or plays, or run writing workshops, or do other activities to increase their income. This would also be a good strategy for them since it would make them better known to the people who are giving out their tax credits.

This sort of concentration of creative workers could make a state or city a mecca for the arts that could attract a large number of visitors each year. The revenue from visitors could plausibly cover much or all of the cost of the credit. Of course, this benefit would be in addition to the material produced for the people in the state or city.

In any case, it would be a relatively limited commitment for a state or city to put a tax credit system in place for a period of time. This sort of experiment would provide insight into how it could work on a larger scale.

Subsidies Without Selecting Content

The most important characteristic of both the tax credit system and LJI is that they provide public subsidies without any attempt to determine content. This is an essential feature since there would be little public support for a major expansion of government-run news or culture production, nor should there be.

It is important that individuals decide what news and cultural organizations they are prepared to support. This is the beauty of the original public subsidy, the provision for copyright monopolies in the constitution. The ability to claim a copyright monopoly does not depend on the content, only that the work be original.

In the same vein, these proposals do not get the government involved in determining content. This is left to individuals to determine where their money will go. If we hope that news outlets survive, and creative work will thrive, this is the path we should want to follow.

[1]There is also a sharp decline in the money spent at movie theaters, from 0.008 percent of GDP in 2000 to 0.006 percent of GDP in 2019, which is partially offset by increased spending on streaming services. The overall picture will not be clear until after the pandemic is over.

[2]This is also a large part of the story of the decline of major regional newspapers like the Chicago Tribune or Los Angeles Times. Since almost all papers can be readily viewed on the web, no one is dependent on these papers for their coverage of national or international news

[3] To level the playing field a bit, in my dream world social media companies, like Facebook, would not enjoy Section 230 protection. If a company takes ads or sells personal information, it should be liable for defamatory material that it circulates, as is already the case for newspapers.

[4] This figure comes from the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ National Income and Product Accounts, Table 6.6D, Line 1.

[5]There is an argument that take-up rates would initially be lower, since people would be unfamiliar with the system. If there is reason to believe this would be the case, then the initial sums could be larger, phasing down to the targeted level over time.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Enlighten Radio:Talkin Socialism: The Past is Prologue?

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Amazon preparing its next offensive, but it can’t bust unions forever [feedly]

Amazon preparing its next offensive, but it can't bust unions forever

"Amazon won't let us leave." That was the last message 46-year-old Larry Virden sent his girlfriend on the evening of Dec. 10. A short time later, a tornado blasted through Edwardsville, Illinois, and shredded the Amazon fulfillment center warehouse where Virden worked. When the roof of the massive facility came crashing down, he and five co-workers were left dead. Cherie Jones, his partner of 13 years, is now in mourning and explaining to their four children why dad is never coming home.

According to Jones, Virden could have gotten back in time to shelter with his family—if only his employer hadn't ordered workers to stay at the facility. Amazon claims supervisors moved to get as many workers as possible to designated safe spots in the warehouse, but Virden's final text is a rallying cry against the willful anti-worker negligence of the retail behemoth.

'Amazon won't let us leave': A screenshot shared with the media by Larry Virden's girlfriend, Cherie Jones, shows the last text message he sent before a tornado killed him and five co-workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Edwardsville, Ill., on Dec. 10.

Amazon wasn't the only corporation implicated in tornado-linked worker deaths that night, though. Eight more were killed at the Mayfield Consumer Products Company's candle factory in Mayfield, Ky. There, too, workers wanted to flee an approaching twister, but bosses reportedly told them they'd be fired if they left the plant. The damage in Mayfield was even more devastating than that in Edwardsville; all that's left of the candle factory is a pile of rubble.

The two sites—which are essentially crime scenes—invite comparisons to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. There, 146 garment workers—123 women and girls and 23 men, many of them Italian and Jewish immigrants—were killed when flames engulfed a high-rise clothing plant in New York City's Greenwich Village. Many were burned alive, others suffocated from the smoke, while dozens more desperately jumped or fell from windows.

The Triangle company had chained the doors of the factory closed, a common practice among bosses at the time in order to keep workers from taking breaks or leaving before managers said they could.

Immediately after the tragedy, socialist leader Rose Schneiderman told the members of the Women's Trade Union League: "I would be a traitor to those poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship…. Too much blood has been spilled…. It is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can do that is with a strong working-class movement."

A wave of worker organizing and agitation for workplace safety was sparked by the blaze. Survivors of the fire became major advocates for unions as the only way workers might collectively protect themselves from corporate greed. Fire eyewitness Frances Perkins took up the investigation for the state and was instrumental in putting safety front and center; later she would be the United States' first woman Secretary of Labor under FDR and said the Triangle fire was "the day the New Deal was born."

From the ashes arose the country's first laws mandating fire safety and improved building codes, regulations for working conditions, improved sanitary facilities, limiting of working hours for women and children, and official encouragement for collective bargaining. Everything from minimum wage laws to workers' compensation to the creation of OSHA can be traced back to the long reform drive that followed the disaster. Triangle became a turning point in the struggle to save workers from being literally killed for the sake of profits.

The interior of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory following the deadly fire of 1911. An estimated 146 workers, mostly women and girls, were killed when they couldn't escape the flames because bosses had chained the doors of the factory shut. | Public Domain / via U.S. Department of Labor

It was chains on doors that condemned people to death in the Triangle fire 110 years ago; orders from supervisors and threats of termination achieved the same outcome in Edwardsville and Mayfield this week. Now, just like then, corporations treat workers like they are disposable.

Amazon's disaster in Illinois is not unique; it is the latest episode in a long-running tragedy. One worker who spoke to People's World, recounting how Amazon kept its New York warehouses operating even during deadly flooding recently, said, "They legitimately don't care if we die. Their profits don't suffer." People's lives are being put on the line needlessly, but corporations and the billionaires who own and run them refuse to take responsibility.

The Amazon workers who are involved with the Amazon Labor Union are taking up the challenge of stopping things like this from happening again. For the employees in its fulfillment centers, Amazon dictates every aspect of their work life—pay, benefits, working conditions, safety measures, access to telephones. The workers have no power to negotiate any of these things, even though it's their labor power which rakes in the billions for Jeff Bezos and the company's other owners.

Amazon, the union says, consistently values its profits over the people who work there. The deaths of workers like Larry Virden in Edwardsville, who were ordered to stay at work even as a deadly storm approached, are proof of that.

Workers in Amazon—and at companies like Mayfield—need unions because a union is the only way that workers can collectively leverage their power to force change. Amazon and other corporations know this, which is why they spend so much effort trying to convince employees not to join up with the union and fire workers who try to organize. And bought-and-paid-for politicians in right-to-work states like Kentucky know it too, which is why they keep anti-union laws on the books.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed