My not-really-a-forecast for the Pittsburgh mayoral race (update #4)

Updates

  1. Originally published, May 8, 2021, at 9:14 pm.

  2. May 9, 2021, 11:58 am:

  3. May 9, 2021, 10:48 pm:

    • As COVID-19 vaccines have become increasingly available and “normal” life begins to return,[25] but an economic stimulus package passed early in Joe Biden’s presidency bumps up unemployment benefits, employers have been complaining that they can’t find workers, that there is a so-called “labor shortage” that isn’t actually borne out by the evidence.[26] It turns out this is an old game that capitalists have been playing, well, since slavery, and it’s all pretty bluntly about keeping workers subordinate.[27]

      Today, with the additional unemployment benefits from the recent Covid-19 relief bill, business owners are living their greatest nightmare: workers with genuine leverage over their wages and working conditions. The owner of a Florida seafood restaurant recently explained this straightforwardly: “You need to have incentives to get people to work, not to stay home. You’ve got the hard workers who want to have a job, but the others need that motivation.”

      In theory, there are many possible such incentives: better pay, better working conditions, even a slice of ownership of the company. But the owning class hasn’t been interested in those incentives at any point in the last few centuries. There’s only one incentive that makes sense to them: You work or you starve.[28]

      This actually dovetails neatly with my interpretation of employers’ demands that workers all fight traffic simultaneously to be at the same places at the same times for work, that as we’ve seen in the pandemic, can often be done from home. This can’t, I reasoned, really be about productivity. It has to be about control.

      And it’s about keeping workers working for as close to nothing as possible:

      [B]usiness turned to a two-fold strategy: first, lobbying to keep unemployment benefits at the lowest level possible, and second, preventing the unemployment rate from ever getting too low. It may seem counterintuitive that businesses would not want the economy operating at full capacity. But low unemployment alters the balance of power between owners and workers just as unemployment insurance does — and when workers can easily quit and get another job across the street, the dreaded worker shortage simply appears again in a different guise.

      The battle against low unemployment was eventually cloaked in scientific jargon. In 1975, two economists announced the existence of the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, or NAIRU. If unemployment fell below NAIRU, inflation would start rising uncontrollably as businesses were forced to pay workers more and more. At the time, NAIRU was purportedly 5.5 percent, while later estimates placed it somewhat higher. This meant that whenever unemployment was getting too low, the Federal Reserve had to step in and strangle the economy until lots of people were thrown out of work.[29]

      Naturally, that “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment” (NAIRU) was set at a level higher than that actually proved necessary to avoid inflation.[30] And the idea of long-term unemployment is to ensure that workers are terrified of ending up in,[31] well, a situation pretty much like mine, consigned to lifelong poverty and financial insecurity.[32] The very fact of my misery reinforces conformity[33] and helps the rich to feel more secure.

  4. May 10, 2021, 9:20 am:

    • When, I first wrote in my page on my job hunt that the job hunt process seemed to be a scam, I did so based on my own experience, in combination with a recognition that, then, nearly twenty years of failure could not solely be my own, that something else had to be going on.[34] Even when I first wrote yesterday’s blog post, noting the discrepancy between capitalist cries of a “labor shortage” and my own ongoing experience of the labor market, I was really rather mystified as to what that something else was.[35]

      Then I found Jon Schwarz’ article in the Intercept, making clear that capitalist cries of a “labor shortage” or a “worker shortage” date back to slavery, that they are not so much about an actual shortage of workers as they are about ensuring that those workers will be paid as little as possible and about maintaining the power relationship that ensures worker devaluation. Schwarz[36] is not the first to draw a connection between capitalism and slavery; indeed, the former has its roots firmly embedded in the latter.[37] Nor would Schwarz[38] be the first to point to a stigmatized class of people, preserved in destitution, as a means of social control,[39] ultimately to protect the position and power of an economic and political elite.[40]

      My failures remain my failures. I cannot sell; anything I attempt to sell or market is doomed. Which, even as this only partly explains the failure of my job hunt, also dooms any attempt I might make at entrepreneurship, including, by the way, writing a book, an action which these days requires authors to market their work.

      So even as I now understand the labor market as intentionally rigged to keep me, as a member of a class of people, destitute, I remain stuck in a situation I find intolerable and, with a Ph.D., profoundly unjust. I need to do something, even as with Robert Merton, I understand that I am being denied socially approved means to socially approved ends.[41] I have to do something. Because this is not okay.


Pittsburgh

I’m seeing a lot of yard signs for Ed Gainey in Pittsburgh’s mayoral race. Even in relatively affluent neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill.

I should say something about the rather unscientific methodology here: First, yard signs, campaign posters, bumper stickers, and the like, are a measure of enthusiastic support. Extrapolating from the prevalence of these signs to predict results assumes that a measure of enthusiastic support consistently reflects broader support. I’ll return to this point.

Second, these indications can vary over time: Notably, if, a year in advance of last November’s election, one had taken campaign flags as indicative, Donald Trump would have carried Allegheny County by a landslide. Actually, Joe Biden won the county handily,[42] and frankly by a larger margin than I would have expected judging from the conversations in my car as an Uber/Lyft driver (an observer skew). A lot of those flags are flying today, a full six months after the election.

Which brings me back to the first point: Trump’s support is disproportionately loud and persistent. My methodology, such as it is, fails there for that very reason.

But it’s been a little too obvious, I think, that Bill Peduto has neglected poorer neighborhoods in favor of well-off ones, that he’s coming up short in response to Black Lives Matter protests, and that he thinks catering to the well-heeled is the way to serve the poor.[43]

My guess right now would have to be that Gainey will win the Democratic Primary on May 18, which almost certainly means he’ll be elected mayor in the November general election. But absolutely, you should take this with a grain of salt.

Of course, I’d prefer a Green Party candidate, and would vote accordingly if I were a Pittsburgh voter, but there just might be a sliver of hope for the city after all.



Gig economy

Nandita Bose, “Analysis: U.S. Labor Secretary’s next move on gig workers likely to include company probes – experts,” Reuters, May 7, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/business/us-labor-secretarys-next-move-gig-workers-likely-include-company-probes-experts-2021-05-07/

Faiz Siddiqui, “Where have all the Uber drivers gone?” Washington Post, May 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/05/07/uber-lyft-drivers/


Gun nuttery

Adam Gopnik, “The New, Conservative Supreme Court Is Returning to the Second Amendment,” New Yorker, May 7, 2021, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-new-conservative-supreme-court-is-returning-to-the-second-amendment


Unemployment

I’m seeing in lots of places an idea that, by making it easier for the unemployed to remain unemployed, Joe Biden’s stimulus is to blame for low wage companies’ failure to hire more workers, despite highly visible advertising around retail establishments. The idea that maybe these companies should actually pay higher wages—you know, supply and demand[44]—is clearly heresy and I should be struck down by the great god of capitalism with a bolt of lightning for even thinking the thought.

[M]uch of Friday’s data is inconsistent with the “labor shortage” story. For one thing, the labor supply actually expanded last month — the number of Americans looking for work increased by 430,000. If the primary constraint on job growth was the welfare-induced shiftlessness of America’s non-employed, we would expect to see labor-force participation remain stagnant or fall. For another thing, leisure and hospitality — the sector most sensitive to a welfare-induced labor shortage, due to its relatively low wages and the large number of former food-service workers eligible for UI — added more jobs in April than it had in March. The headline jobs number was not depressed by tepid restaurant hiring, but by large job declines for couriers and grocery-store workers, and small ones in manufacturing and retail. Finally, although wages rose in April, they didn’t rise by much. Were employers suffering from a severe labor shortage, we’d expect to see more upward pressure on both wages and prices.[45]

On the other hand, supply chain problems and the lack of available child care might be real problems.[46] But you know, capitalists just want to fucking whine[47] and it isn’t like they’re willing to hire me. Even now.[48]

Eric Levitz, “5 Explanations for April’s Bad Jobs Report,” New York, May 7, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/jobs-report-explained-ui-childcare-seasonal-adjustment.html

Heather Long, “It’s not a ‘labor shortage.’ It’s a great reassessment of work in America,” Washington Post, May 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/05/07/jobs-report-labor-shortage-analysis/

Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/


  1. [25]Erin Banco, “CDC: Vaccinated Americans can now travel,” Politico, April 2, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/04/02/cdc-vaccinated-americans-can-now-travel-478928; Lena H. Sun, “CDC says fully vaccinated Americans can go without masks outdoors, except in crowded settings,” Washington Post, April 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/04/27/cdc-guidance-masks-outdoors/; Lena H. Sun and Lenny Bernstein, “Fully vaccinated people can visit with nearby grandchildren, dine indoors with one another, CDC says,” Washington Post, March 8, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/03/08/vaccinated-people-cdc-guidance/; John Torres, “‘Vaccine passports’: Will they be available in the U.S. in time for summer?” NBC News, March 14, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/vaccine-passports-will-they-be-available-u-s-time-summer-n1261022; Laurel Wamsley, “Florida Gov. DeSantis Rejects Vaccine Passports As ‘Completely Unacceptable,’” National Public Radio, March 30, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/30/982837517/florida-gov-desantis-rejects-vaccine-passports-as-completely-unacceptable
  2. [26]Eric Levitz, “5 Explanations for April’s Bad Jobs Report,” New York, May 7, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/jobs-report-explained-ui-childcare-seasonal-adjustment.html; Heather Long, “It’s not a ‘labor shortage.’ It’s a great reassessment of work in America,” Washington Post, May 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/05/07/jobs-report-labor-shortage-analysis/; Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/
  3. [27]Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/
  4. [28]Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/
  5. [29]Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/
  6. [30]Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/
  7. [31]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor (New York: Basic, 1995).
  8. [32]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  9. [33]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor (New York: Basic, 1995).
  10. [34]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  11. [35]David Benfell, “About that alleged ‘labor shortage,’” Not Housebroken, May 9, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/05/09/about-that-alleged-labor-shortage/
  12. [36]Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/
  13. [37]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/
  14. [38]Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/
  15. [39]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor (New York: Basic, 1995).
  16. [40]David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, March 23, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/22/a-constitutional-oligarchy-deconstructing-federalist-no-10/
  17. [41]Robert K. Merton, “Social Structure and Anomie,” in Social Theory, ed. Charles Lemert, 6th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2017), 181-190.
  18. [42]“November 3, 2020, General Election Official Results,” November 25, 2020, https://results.enr.clarityelections.com/PA/Allegheny/106267/web.264614/#/summary
  19. [43]Lisa Cunningham, “Mayor Peduto, please stop equating Pittsburgh protesters with the ‘Radical Right,’” Pittsburgh City Paper, January 21, 2021, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/mayor-peduto-please-stop-equating-pittsburgh-protesters-with-the-radical-right/Content?oid=18780489; Tom Davidson, “Peduto challenger Ed Gainey: Fewer words, more action needed from next mayor of Pittsburgh,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 22, 2021, https://triblive.com/local/peduto-challenger-ed-gainey-fewer-words-more-action-needed-from-next-mayor-of-pittsburgh/; Tom Davidson, “Ed Gainey floats plan to resume battle with UPMC as mayoral candidates tout endorsements,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 23, 2021, https://triblive.com/local/ed-gainey-floats-plan-to-resume-battle-with-upmc-as-mayoral-candidates-tout-endorsements/; Chris Potter, “State Rep. Ed Gainey To Challenge Peduto In Mayoral Race,” WESA, January 19, 2021, https://www.wesa.fm/post/state-rep-ed-gainey-challenge-peduto-mayoral-race
  20. [44]Eric Levitz, “5 Explanations for April’s Bad Jobs Report,” New York, May 7, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/jobs-report-explained-ui-childcare-seasonal-adjustment.html; Heather Long, “It’s not a ‘labor shortage.’ It’s a great reassessment of work in America,” Washington Post, May 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/05/07/jobs-report-labor-shortage-analysis/
  21. [45]Eric Levitz, “5 Explanations for April’s Bad Jobs Report,” New York, May 7, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/jobs-report-explained-ui-childcare-seasonal-adjustment.html
  22. [46]Eric Levitz, “5 Explanations for April’s Bad Jobs Report,” New York, May 7, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/jobs-report-explained-ui-childcare-seasonal-adjustment.html; Heather Long, “It’s not a ‘labor shortage.’ It’s a great reassessment of work in America,” Washington Post, May 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/05/07/jobs-report-labor-shortage-analysis/
  23. [47]David Benfell, “Capitalists are shameless in their entitlement,” Not Housebroken, May 3, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/04/18/capitalists-are-shameless-in-their-entitlement/
  24. [48]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/

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