Work as capital

March 1, 2012

I have been thinking about the nature of work a great deal lately. Perhaps because I am not doing any. It seems to me that one of the primary problems capitalist ideology has at the moment is a deep misunderstanding of the nature of work. Generally labor is seen as a business expense: the largest single expense that any company faces. This is simply incorrect. In exchanging labor for money the laborer more correctly gives the “capitalist” capital and receives a monetary settlement. By definition the laborer gives more capital than they receive. Labor productivity creates the extra value that is the actual basis of all business. You can have all the capital and product ideas you need, but nothing happens without labor. Or at least nothing truly productive. Finance is a world of its own. Certainly this is not restricted to the labor part of a business but extends throughout the “human capital” of the organization. Only raw materials are free of this type of capital, and strictly speaking this is also false since it has to be brought to a factory and can be done so only through human developed means. It is all about people!

Now the truly remarkable thing about this exchange of labor for money is that it also represents the basis of the other side of market economics: customers. Without labor exchange for cash there would be no customers for products. Thus labor dynamically creates value on both sides of the economic equation. Capitalism doesn’t work when labor is limited. Hmmmm Could this have anything to do with the economic realities of the moment. In response to to the housing bubble crash, businesses immediately started laying off labor–and the recession began. You get what you wish for. By treating labor as an expense, business sheds itself of its most dynamic capital and declines.

Economics is called the dismal science because it is insanely misdirected. It is not a science. It cannot be a science. It is only about people. It is only about psychology, and psychology is in worse shape than economics. This is of course overstated. They are only extremely spotty subjects marred by their deep misunderstanding of humanity. There are exceptions. Do you know whom they are??


Myth of the founding fathers

January 24, 2012

We tend to forget that the founding fathers got it wrong: it was called the Articles of Confederation.

The political confusion that is the Republican primary season is largely based on a deep and abiding misunderstanding of the beginnings of American style democracy. The founding fathers, note the plural, were not of one mind. They had deep and abiding disagreements. They were able to put many of these disagreements aside.

Benjamin Franklin told the Continental Congress:
“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”

Who is today’s Franklin? I see many anti-Franklins. Certainty is the new definition of leadership. The President failed to live up to the promises he didn’t actually make. He failed to make the right guesses. We are assured that all his opponents would do otherwise. They won’t say how, or even why we should trust them. But they lead by being certain.

The founding fathers were not certain. they had doubts. Some that we try to avoid talking about. When given the chance to fix what they had done wrong, they created a dynamic and uncertain structure. Filled with conflicting constituencies, checks and balances. Why? Because they were certain? No because they knew only that nothing was certain, and no majority was fully benign. Freedom–everyone seems to be for that–depends not on certainty, but on the opposite. Minority rights in the midst of successful majority rule. They were for a strong central government. That is why they were in Philadelphia. They wanted a government and they wanted a government that worked. Jefferson didn’t disband the government when assuming power despite his often quoted rhetoric. He was not for making it so small it could be drowned in a bathtub! That is not American history. That is not American democracy.

American democracy is not the thing that didn’t work the first time we tried it. American democracy is that we fixed it, not only in 1789 but in 1865, and 1932, and 1964, and in all the time between and since. The genius of the Constitution is that our democracy is not in it, it grows from it.


Corporatism. Things are better than people!

November 5, 2011

There seems to be a new meme for corporate America. Two Tv commercials feature credit cards as employees of the month! I find this both disturbing and tone deaf. Next up: customer service for the card, wait we did that last year when we discovered customers with cash were evil.


Two books on the constitution

July 3, 2011

James MacGregor Burns as written a very important book on the U.S. Constitution by using the issue of court packing as his theme. It makes some vitally important historical points about the role of the Supreme Court over time.
Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court

The book I will be reading this holiday weekend is Akhil Reed Amar’s biography of the constitution.
America’s Constitution: A Biography


Mike Rowe on work, Aristotle and castration.

December 18, 2010

Mike Rowe is more interesting than you think.


Doc Searls on Ideas

November 5, 2006

Doc Searls is at it again. Read his Ten Ideas about Ideas.


Notes on a few books

October 27, 2006

Should of course write this more often, but the “untimely” part of the name is part of my inherent nature.
Recent reads:
Henning Mankell,
One Step Behind

Swedish detective series about Inspector Kurt Wallander. Mankell brings to his novels the starkness and reality so well known to anyone who has seen a Ingmar Bergman movie, or read the delightful novels of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. This books lives up to the series and says much more about people than it does about this particular murderer.

Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith,
iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s autobiography. Woz’s stories have always been a source of entertainment and inspiration. He lives up to his extraordinary image in this wonderful retelling of his life. If you have ever used an Apple, read this book. If not, read this book and then go buy one (you can have both a windows and mac!).

James Lee Burke,
Pegasus Descending: A Dave Robicheaux Novel

Burke’s latest installment in the Dave Robicheaux detective series. Burke is a very good writer and this is an apt example. Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell are vivid characters who live in the zone between law and disorder in New Iberia, Louisiana. There is a bit of hurricane in these guys.

Laurie R. King,
The Art of Detection

King is the author of two distinct detective series: San Francisco’s Kate Martinelli and London’s Sherlock and Mary Holmes. Here she somewhat combines the two as Martinelli investigates the death of an obsessed Holmes fan. It is always fun to read how she weaves the historical fictional Holmes with the current fictional one. We miss Mary, but not so much that it prevents enjoying the story.

The Arbinger Institute,
The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

The follow-up to Leadership and Self-Deception steps back in time to explain where fictional leader Lou Herbert found the basic principles of that first book. This is simply a great book. The issues discussed here, whether cast as family crisis (second) or business management style (first), are fundamental to humanity. These books should be read widely. One can only hope they would be understood widely.

Les Claypool,
South of the Pumphouse

Bass player and Primus leader Claypool has long had an interest in fishing and other, stranger, things. Here he combines some of both in his first novel. It may not win a book award, but it is damn funny. I have long enjoyed his music and look forward to reading his next book.

Andrew Vaschss,
Mask Market (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

The latest installment in Vaschss’ Burke series. We visit familiar landscapes and people, but are never disappointed in either. If you have never read one of these books, you owe it to yourself to jump in. While I recommend starting at the beginning and reading them all, I have always been impressed by the fact that you could read any of them and not miss a beat. I have never figured out how he can set the scene each time so completely without boring his regular readers—we are never bored here! Burke is a criminal as well as a hero, and we accept and delight in both.

Michael Connelly,
Echo Park (Harry Bosch)

By now you may have noticed that I tend to read both many mystery novels and the latest ones by a large group of authors. Add Connelly to that list. The detective here is
Harry Bosch of Los Angeles. In the last two installments Bosch has been back with the LAPD working on what television calls “Cold Cases” and in what the LAPD calls the Open-Unsolved Unit. Either way it is just plain good stuff. As a bonus we are reminded in the book about the release of recently discovered recording of Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall. If I was to say it was maybe better than Connelly’s book, I think he would understand and forgive me. It is still a very good book.

Dick Francis,
Under Orders

This is the first book Francis has written since the death of his wife some six years ago. Thankfully his family encouraged him to write again. The return of Sid Halley, familiar to all Francis fans, is worth the wait. The world of horse racing in England probably cannot live up to the tales Francis has spun, but this book lives up to them. Halley has had the honor or repeat manifestations and the latest if not the greatest stands tall as a tribute to its author’s life and imagination. Thank you Mr. Francis.

Gordon S. Wood,
The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

I actually listened to this book. Wood wrote the book on the American Revolution in 1969. I read it in pursuit of my degree. Here we get a wonderful explication of a very complex man. Wood explains how and why a man born in Massachusetts needed to “become” and American. It is a very interesting story and book.