President Obama doled out the most shocking stream of commencement cliches to the graduating class of Barnard College Monday. To offer just a taste:
“The question is not whether things will get better — they always do… The question is whether together, we can muster the will — in our own lives, in our common institutions, in our politics — to bring about the changes we need. I’m convinced your generation possesses that will.”
Whatever else they possess, the class of 2012 possesses an enormous amount of debt. Heavy borrowing’s not only for graduate students or drop outs from for-profit colleges any more. It’s also for Barnard alums. Forty eight per cent of those graduating this year from Barnard (where the price tag of an education stands at $58,078 ) have taken out loans to pay for their bachelor’s degree. As the New York Times recently pointed out, “Nationally, ninety-four percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree borrow to pay for higher education — up from 45 percent in 1993.” For these students things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse. Their will has nothing to do with it.
Standing at $1 trillion and rising fast, outstanding student debt is a bubble set to burst. The New York Times report compiled shocking numbers: “For all borrowers, the average debt in 2011 was $23,300, with 10 percent owing more than $54,000 and 3 percent more than $100,000.” Not just the students but also their parents are borrowing. Loans to parents for the college education of children have jumped 75 percent since the 2005-2006, according to the Times.
Just like that first home, millions spent on marketing have made a college education seem like an American must-have. Yet ever since the early 1980s, college tuition has risen faster than wages, and public education spending’s been cut back. As the Times reports: “If the trends continue through 2016, the average cost of a public college will have more than doubled in just 15 years,” even as this year, “state and local spending per college student, adjusted for inflation, reached a 25-year low.”
"Where have all the workers gone?" David Wessel of the Wall St. Journal wondered about the labor force this week:
“In the past two years, the number of people in the U.S. who are older than 16 (and not in the military or prison) has grown by 5.4 million. The number of people working or looking for work hasn't grown at all.”
So, where have all the workers gone? Have they retired, suspended their labors temporarily, or are they languishing on public assistance? Asks Wessel.
There are some other possibilities. Since the crash of 2008 there’s no question that millions of Americans have indeed stopped looking for a job. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not working. Look around, it’s much more likely that the officially “unemployed” are busy, doing their best to make ends meet in whatever ways they can. Sex-work drugs and crime spring to mind, but the underground or “shadow” economy includes all sorts of off-the-books toil. From baby-sitting, bartering, mending, kitchen-garden farming, and selling goods in a yard sale, all sorts of people -- from the tamale seller on your corner, to the dancer who teachers yoga – are all contributing to the underground economy along with “employed” who pay them for their wares.
The “underground” is always with us. For better and often for worse, it’s how marginalized populations tend to survive —often not very well. (Think of the old, the young, the formerly incarcerated, or foreign.) In recessions – surprise, surprise– “irregular” employment grows. Consider recent stories from Greece, about wageless public “workers” swopping skills, and trading food for teaching. Austrian economist, Friedrich Schneider, an expert in underground economies, has documentd a surge in shadow economy activity in 2009 and ’10 in Europe. University of Wisconsin-Madison economist Edgar Feige has been doing his best to follow what’s happened here.
Forget Starbucks: It's the gourmet grocer that lands just before neighborhoods really explode
by Will Doig
If you ask Whole Foods why it’s breaking ground on a store in Midtown Detroit this month, it’ll say it wants to be part of “an incredible community” and “make natural foods available to everyone.”
And that may be. But it’s also true that the Austin, Texas-based retailer has made a science of putting down roots in urban locations at what often seems to be just the right moment. In Washington, D.C., near Logan Circle in 2000, Uptown New Orleans and the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh in 2002, Boston’s “Latin Quarter” in Jamaica Plain in 2011 — areas that other specialty grocers might have considered unworthy of goat cheese and ostrich eggs, but that were actually on the verge of a boom that, lo and behold, kicked into high gear as soon as Whole Foods moved in.
“Whole Foods will move into neighborhoods that, at first glance you think, why are they moving there?” says Bill Reid, a principal at the Portland, Ore., land-use consultancy Johnson Reid. “But they’re confident in their numbers.”
The company is so good at the real-estate game that it has spawned a catchphrase, the Whole Foods Effect, a phenomenon Detroit is clearly banking on, having offered the retailer $4.2 million to come there. That figure suggests city leaders believe that Whole Foods is a force unto itself that can give a neighborhood the escape velocity it needs to break free of its doldrums. Are they right?
Whether the Whole Foods Effect is real, or the company is just extremely good at slipping into areas that would have gone upscale anyway, has never been directly quantified. But evidence suggests that Whole Foods can accelerate gentrification in particular ways. A new Whole Foods may not cause property values to shoot up on its own, but it can set into motion a series of events that change neighborhoods.
Take Gowanus, a windswept, post-industrial section of Brooklyn, N.Y., that’s home to a few bars and art spaces but is essentially a no man’s land sandwiched between the tonier neighborhoods of Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. Though Whole Foods announced in February it would open a 56,000-square-foot store there, Jim Cornell, senior vice president at Corcoran Group Real Estate, said prices in the neighborhood didn’t budge. “What [the announcement] did do, however, is give Gowanus, which already has a burgeoning arts and entertainment scene, additional credibility as a place to live,” he says. Fully half of his potential buyers have asked about the Whole Foods.
By now, it should be official: austerity in the midst of a jobs crisis doesn’t work.The elections in the Netherlands, Greece and France show that Europeans have figured this out from bitter experience, even if their leaders haven’t.
France, Great Britain, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy – practitioners of austerity all -- are either experiencing a second recession, or they are well on their way toward one. As for creating jobs? Fuhgeddaboutit. In Spain, unemployment reached more than 24%; in Portugal and Ireland it stands at 15%; in Italy, it is nearly 10%.
And now that the money from the stimulus program is drying up and Tea Partiers and other assorted austerity mongers have begun to savage our budgets, the US economy is showing signs of swooning.
The anemic growth in US jobs in April should have been the death knell for imposing austerity measures in an economy when unemployment is high and buying power is weak.
And yet the Republicans press on, slashing budgets whenever and wherever they can; drumming up bogus fears about deficits to justify it.
So how’s it working for us?
Not so good.
Wal-mart has long boasted of its "Always Low Prices," but now it has confirmed that it also has "Always low morals."he bottom line has always been THE line for Wal-mart executives, and sinking to the ethical bottom to enhance that line has not only been tolerated, but legitimized as a proven path to executive promotion and riches. Squeezing suppliers, crushing competitors, exploiting employees, using enslaved workers in foreign factories and resorting to other brutish tactics to pound out another dollar in profit are central components of Wal-mart's management ethos and business plan.
Now, we can add bribery to the list of accepted practices — so accepted that even getting caught at it doesn't mean you get fired.
Walmart de Mexico is now the largest retailer and employer in that country, an exalted status that it gained the old-fashioned way: by doling out millions of dollars in corporate bribes. With sluggish sales and a tarnished brand in the U.S., the retailing giant has been pushing hard to expand internationally, and in amazingly short time, its Mexican branch became huge, with one out of five Walmart stores presently located there.
All it took, we now learn from an excellent investigative report by The New York Times, was the systematic spreading of muchos, muchos pesos to government officials across the country to gain needed permits quickly, dodge environmental restrictions and generally have the company's path cleared for market domination.
Not only is this wrong, it is seriously criminal — a blatant violation of our Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And, lest you think the corruption was the work of some lower-level manager gone rogue, the knowledge of this wholesale bribery scheme goes all the way to the top, including the current and one former CEO.