Robots, Jobs, And The Minimum Wage

In his campaign for President, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has called for raising the minimum wage significantly, to make it a “living wage,” and in many places local governments have raised the minimum wage.  The argument for such raises is that if we just increased the minimum wage, people working at those minimum wage jobs would earn more money, could provide better for their families, and might actually spend more of their pay and help the economy.  In short, the country as a whole would be better off.

These arguments seem to defy basic rules of economics and normal human experience.  We know from our own lives that the cost of something matters.  How many people shop without looking at the price tag?  We also know from our own experience that if something becomes too expensive, we will try to do without that costly item.  So the notion that you can raise the cost of anything without any negative reaction or consequences seems both naive and outlandish.  The across-the-board minimum wage hike arguments presuppose that those who employ minimum wage workers — who are, by definition, the most unskilled, untrained, fungible people in the national workforce — have an endless supply of money and will simply accept a minimum wage hike without taking any steps to account for their increased costs.  If you know anyone who has worked as a manager of a fast-food restaurant, you know that assumption is fantasyland.

hqdefaultSome municipalities have increased the minimum wage anyway.  So, how is it working?  While the data is preliminary, it seems to show what any rational person would suspect — that minimum wage increases affect hiring.  A recent economic research study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco concluded that “the overall body of recent evidence suggests that the most credible conclusion is a higher minimum wage results in some job loss for the least-skilled workers—with possibly larger adverse effects than earlier research suggested.”  The study adds that “allowing for the possibility of larger job loss effects, based on other studies, and possible job losses among older low-skilled adults, a reasonable estimate based on the evidence is that current minimum wages have directly reduced the number of jobs nationally by about 100,000 to 200,000, relative to the period just before the Great Recession.”  And more recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor suggests that hiring slowed in those locations where the minimum wage was increased.

I’m sure the minimum wage hike advocates will dispute the data, or argue in the alternative that the better earnings by the employed more than compensate for any job loss that might have occurred.  Such arguments seem to me to be both misguided — wouldn’t we rather have more people working, and taking that first step up the job progress ladder? — and short-sighted.  If employers of minimum wage workers are cost-sensitive, as the data is indicating, they’ll look for other ways to avoid paying wages that are too high as a result of governmental fiat.  As the Washington Post has reported, one option that is being explored is increased reliance on machinery and robotics in places like fast-food restaurants, which already have seen declines in worker employment.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  Hiking the minimum wage is no panacea, and we don’t live in a fairyland where employers have endless supplies of money.  Don’t be surprised if, in a few months or years, you don’t see that teenager behind the counter at your favorite fast food restaurant and are served your burger by Robbie the Robot instead.

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Fueling The Bern

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A member of the Webner family who is feeling the Bern went to Sanders HQ here in Columbus to do some campaign work today and snapped a few photos.  Sanders campaign volunteers were busily working the phones, canvasing the city, and generally doing what is necessary for a presidential campaign to do on a primary election day.

Turnout is reported to be good in Columbus.  One concern for Democrats is that lifelong Ds may have decided to vote in the Republican primary to cast a vote against Donald Trump.  (I know at least one person who falls into that category.)  If that kind of backlash vote is happening, what might it mean for the Ohio Democratic primary results?  I don’t know for sure, obviously, but I wonder:  who is more likely to not vote for their candidate and vote against Trump — Clinton voters, who don’t seem terribly enthusiastic about their candidate to begin with, or those fired-up, true believer Sanders backers?

Right now, it feels like it’s anybody’s ballgame.

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The Trump Campaign’s Chicago Shutdown

If you’ve watched the news this weekend, you’ve seen footage of protesters clashing with security forces and Donald Trump supporters at the site of a scheduled Trump rally in Chicago.  The Trump campaign ended up canceling the event due to security concerns.

The MSNBC website has an interesting story about how a bunch of activists — some from the Bernie Sanders campaign, some from other groups like Black Lives Matter and Fearless and Undocumented — organized a massive protest against the Trump event.  According to the story, a few key factors helped the protest gel.

kiro7dotcom-template_1457743926114_3192105_ver1-0_640_360The Trump event was on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus in the heart of the Windy City, where lots of Sanders supporters and activists are found.  Progressive groups were already well organized in Chicago, because they’ve been routinely protesting against Democrat Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his police policies for months, so communications networks among groups were already established.  And Trump’s message has so alienated many people that large groups were eager to join in the protest.  The protest organizers came up with a plan, got thousands of protesters to show up and get into the Trump rally, and then when fights broke out the protesters got what their “#SHUTITDOWN” Twitter hashtag suggested — the Trump campaign pulled the plug and Trump himself never appeared.

How to react to people ripping up signs, throwing punches at political rallies, and shutting down a campaign event?  My reactions are decidedly mixed.  There’s no doubt that a lot of Donald Trump’s rhetoric is inflammatory — intentionally so — and he and his supporters shouldn’t be surprised when his strong statements provoke equally strong reactions.  If Trump wants to lash out against immigrants, or Muslims, he’s got to expect that, in some quarters at least, he’s doing to be harshly criticized as a racist and a demagogue and he’s going to encounter lots of protests against his positions and statements.

At the same time, I hate to see violence erupt and political events canceled because of security concerns.  The protesters had every right to advocate against Trump’s message, but Trump and his supporters had every right to speak, too.  One comment in the MSNBC piece was a red flag for me:  a protest organizer said, “We wanted to show Trump that this is Chicago, and we run Chicago, and we’re not going to take this.”  Some other commentators have said that Trump was to blame for the clashes because his campaign dared to schedule an event on a college campus in an urban area.  Such comments suggest — very uncomfortably, in my view — that there are “safe” areas and “unsafe” areas for campaign events to be held, depending on the political views and party affiliation of the candidate.  That’s a dangerous, precarious viewpoint in a country where the Constitution guarantees free speech for all, even if the speech is deeply offensive to many.

One other interesting point about the Chicago clashes is that the Sanders campaign seems to have tapped into a strong vein of anti-establishment feeling on the left side of the political spectrum that cuts across racial lines.  If you are disaffected — whether you are African-American, Latino, Anglo, or other — you’re going to notice that it was members of the Bernie Brigade, and not Hillary Clinton supporters, who helped put together the anti-Trump protests.  It will be interesting to see whether this development, which could seriously cut into the support Clinton expects to get from African-Americans and Latinos, changes the political calculus as big states like Illinois, Ohio, and Florida vote on Tuesday.

 

Our First Bernie Volunteer

It was about 12:30 this afternoon.  I had just walked back from work, and Kish and I were getting ready to go out for some lunch and a trip to the Short North when we heard a knock at the door.

Kasey ran to the door and started barking like crazy.  I scooped her up and opened the door, and a pleasant college-type kid who looked like he was about 20 was on our doorstep, wearing a “Bernie for President” t-shirt and carrying a clipboard.

IMG_0735“Hi, I’m here for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, encouraging you to get out and vote on Tuesday,” he said.  He consulted his clipboard and asked for Kish by name, revealing that the campaign had given him information from the voter rolls and he knew she was a registered D.  When she came to the door, he asked her who she was voting for, and she said she was feeling the Bern.

He smiled and had a look of real relief on his face, like he was afraid we were going to yell at him or slam the door in his face.  “So, can I put you down as a strong likely vote for Bernie?” he asked.  “I know that sounds silly, but this is the first time I’ve done this, and I’m kind of nervous.  This is the first house I’ve stopped at,” he added.  Kish said sure, and as he made a check mark on his sheet she asked him for one of those “Bernie for President” pieces you can hang on the doorknobs of people who aren’t home.  He gladly gave us one, said goodbye and left, consulting his clipboard for the next registered D on the list.

That’s the first door knock and canvassing effort we’ve had at our German Village place.  If people are wondering whether the Sanders campaign has a “ground game” in Ohio, we’d just seen our first tangible evidence that the answer is “yes.”  It made me glad, too, that we’d been the first house the nervous kid had visited, and he came away with a “yes” vote for his candidate.

Democracy is pretty cool.

What Bernie’s Michigan Upset Might Mean For Ohio

In a stunning upset, Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in Michigan last night, narrowly beating Hillary Clinton and delighting those unnamed members of the Webner household who have felt the Bern and are supporting the Sanders campaign.

michigan_for_bernie_sanders_poster-r8ceb6c5a3afe4dddbb80587579ecc891_wv4_8byvr_324It was a shocking victory, because the polls prior to the Michigan primary had shown that Hillary Clinton was way ahead in Michigan, by as much as 20 percentage points, and the pundits had already chalked up the state as falling into the Clinton win column.  But the polls were wrong — obviously — and now the pundits and pollsters are wondering whether there are some fundamental errors in their polling metrics and identification of likely voters.  They are uncomfortably considering whether the fact that polls were so wrong in Michigan might mean that the polling data in similar Midwestern states, like Ohio and Illinois, might also be way off base.  The polls in those states are showing Hillary Clinton currently holds big leads heading into primaries that will be held next week.

Sanders’ upset win is richly satisfying — not because I’m a Sanders supporter or Hillary hater, but because I’m sick to death of how the news media now uses polling data and know-it-all pronouncements to drive a horse race narrative and prematurely pick the winner, rather than just reporting on what the candidates are saying and doing and letting the voters decide.  The pollsters and pundits have long since declared Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee and have talked, talked, talked about when Sanders will be forced to get out of the race, but the voters in Michigan had something different to say about it and thumbed their noses at the Beltway crowd in the process.  Good for them!

Bernie Sanders obviously touches a chord with some voters that Hillary Clinton simply cannot reach.  Does his win in Michigan mean he might pull off an upset here in Ohio?  I don’t know, but I will say that I have personally seen a lot more excitement and activity in the Sanders campaign than I have from the Clinton campaign.  In Michigan, Sanders crushed Clinton among younger voters, made significant inroads with African-American voters, and appealed to Democrats who are fed up with their economic circumstances.  Ohio isn’t quite in the same shape as Michigan, but many of the same issues are present, and there’s no reason to believe Sanders can’t do the same thing here.

I’m hoping that Bernie Sander’s Michigan shocker means the pundits will stop with their confident pronouncements about what is going to happen, in Ohio and elsewhere, based on polling data that might just be fundamentally flawed.  Perhaps, just perhaps, they will be content to actually let the voters vote now that the race moves to the Buckeye State.

 

Berning Down The House

Last month a family member made a contribution to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.  It was one of the donations that allowed Sanders to raise an astonishing $40 million, plus, in February.

cdn-r88r-w855h425The $40 million number is particularly remarkable because it no doubt came from tens of thousands of contributions from individual people, and it came at a time when the pundits would have us believe that Sanders is finished and Hillary Clinton is the inevitable Democratic Party nominee.  But my family member didn’t care what the pundits were saying.  The idea was to send a tangible expression of strong support for Sanders, because he is talking about issues of importance to many and because he is willing to tilt at the prevailing political windmills.  The donation, it was hoped, would show that there are a lot of people out there who like what Bernie Sanders is doing and how he is doing it, and hope that he continues the fight.

I’m not a fan of Bernie Sanders’ positions on the issues, but I’m glad a member of the extended Webner clan stepped up to participate in the political process and didn’t get dissuaded by the pundits’ predictions of a lost cause.  I’m tired of the pundits and the political elites trying to prematurely shovel dirt on candidates because of a few results from a few states that aren’t exactly representative of the country as a whole.  We aren’t sheep!  We need more people who are willing to state their views and, from time to time, put their money where their mouth is.  The Democratic and Republican campaigns aren’t over — yet.  The people still will get to have their say.

Ohio’s Quadrennial Electoral Regrets

Here we go again.  We’ve gone through the first part of the presidential campaign, with votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.  The Democratic and Republican fields have narrowed . . . and weirdness prevails.

Let’s face it:  none of these states is really very demographically or culturally representative of the country as a whole, but still they get to be the filters that sift through the candidates for the rest of us.  So we get to see cardigan-wearing candidates yakking at town halls and hugging distraught young people.  We try to understand obscure delegate selection rules — why caucuses, and not outright elections? — and hear about which Republican is going to appeal most to the born-again crowd.  And Dixville North, New Hampshire gets it’s name on the national newscasts, just as it does every four years.

And each result in these early contests gets blown up to titanic proportions, even if the real differences are small.  Consider yesterday’s Democratic caucuses in Nevada.  Hillary Clinton won with 6,238 votes versus Bernie Sanders 5,589 votes.  That’s less than 650 out of less than 12,000 votes, yet now the pundits say HRC has Big Mo on her side.  And 12,000 votes?  In Ohio we get that many people at some high school football games.  Should a few thousand casino workers in Las Vegas and Reno really have such an influence on presidential politics?

Every four years we seem to ask this question — why don’t states like Ohio have a larger role in the presidential selection process? It’s being asked again this year, too.  Ohio is a state that closely mirrors the country as a whole.  It’s got big cities and rural areas, it’s got labor unions and small businesses, it’s ethnically and culturally diverse, and it’s politically diverse, too.  And, perhaps most importantly, every election cycle Ohio ends up being one of the crucial “battleground states,” whereas no candidates are going to Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina when general elections are in the balance and Election Day is drawing near.  Yet, in the primaries, we don’t get to Ohio until after the candidates wade through predominantly white states like Iowa and New Hampshire and largely evangelical states like Iowa and South Carolina, and some candidates who conceivably might be viable have dropped out because they’ve run out or money or failed to appeal sufficiently to the born again contingent.  This year may present the same kind of scenario.

I know, some people will talk about the historic role of Iowa and New Hampshire, or say that it’s good for candidates to start in “retail” settings before they move to “wholesale” politics, but those are just rationalizations for a candidate selection process that just makes no sense.  So this year we say what we say every four years:  why not start the electoral process where it always ends up — in Ohio?