Early Morning Open Thread: They Don’t Want Workers, They Want Serfs

(Signe Wilkinson via GoComics.com — click link for full-sized image)
At his blog, Professor Krugman highlights Adam Davidson’s NYTimesSkills Don’t Pay the Bills“:

… Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap and referenced a study claiming that nearly 80 percent of manufacturers have jobs they can’t fill. Mitt Romney made similar claims. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that there are roughly 600,000 jobs available for whoever has the right set of advanced skills.

Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour…

Krugman adds:

… And this dovetails perfectly with one of the key arguments against the claim that much of our unemployment is “structural”, due to a mismatch between skills and labor demand. If that were true, you should see soaring wages for those workers who do have the right skills; in fact, with rare exceptions you don’t.

So what you really want to ask is why American businesses don’t feel that it’s worth their while to pay enough to attract the workers they say they need.

There should be a category for Banana Republicans — these guys are only going to get more blatant over the next four years — but if I bulk up the roll at this point Cole will probably take away my keys.

112 replies
  1. 1
    Short Bus Bully says:

    Atlas Shrugged is just one long lament at the downfall of the last bastion of true feudalism and the loss of serfdom. All of Rand’s fan base is just itching to re-implement that failure of history, the irony is that they don’t realize that they would out tilling fields by hand instead of watching from the manor house.

    These fuckers will never go away for good.

  2. 2
    Cermet says:

    The pay in third world countries is a lot lower than $10/hour so it is only ‘fair’ that workers – spelled producers – take lower wages – just ask all the thugs sucking off the government tit or CEO’s (spelled parasites) with their golden showers. As wealth in the first world skyrockets for the 0.01%, workers in that same first world need to better match the third world in lower standards of life/health and benifits. The wealthy just need more wealth or their fee’ fee’s will be hurt.

    Hope someday the 0.01% learn about the French revolution first hand.

  3. 3
    Hal says:

    One of the more irritating articles I’ve read this week, via the NY Times.

    Republican and Lesbian, and Fighting for Acceptance of Both Identities

    In 1996, Kathryn Lehman was a soon-to-be married lawyer working for Republicans in the House of Representatives. One of her major accomplishments: helping to write the law that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
    Today, Ms. Lehman, 53, no longer has a husband, and no longer identifies as straight.

    My favorite part:

    Ms. Yarbrough has been with the same woman since she was 15, but she prefers civil unions over gay marriage. She opposes abortion rights in most cases, and thinks the government should spend more on the military and less on food stamps and Medicaid. On those issues, she fits into her conservative town, LaGrange, Ga. But she keeps quiet about her sexuality, especially after being fired from a job after her boss found out.

    So what does she want to do? Move to California!

    “That’s why I want to get out of this town,” Ms. Yarbrough said. She dreams of moving to California, which she thinks would be more accepting of her sexuality, but not of her politics.
    “I can’t win for losing anywhere,” she said with a sigh.

    Yes, Ms Yarbrough, being in a state where gay rights are far more prominent and important still just doesn’t quite beat the fact that you’ll have to put up with all those dirty hippies.

  4. 4
    Allen says:

    About all that keeps me sane in these times is the thought that these Randians will soon be gone, just like yesterday’s trash. Good riddance(sp?).

  5. 5
    greennotGreen says:

    I sort of bought into the notion that we weren’t training enough entry-level biotech research workers since investigators were complaining about the poor quality of the applicants, but commenters here disabused me of that idea. Turns out that there are skilled people in related fields who just can’t support a family on the pay they’d get coming into the job. (Unless you had two incomes and no or only one kid – that might work.) Meanwhile, my university had, at least for awhile, the highest paid chancellor in the U.S.

  6. 6

    Yet we have no problem whatsoever giving a teaching or research assistantship stipend to foreign grad students in public university. Those stipends are paid for by the the American taxpayer. Why is that? So we can’t just blame people who own businesses. The system isn’t really set up to reward workers and their kids. It’s set up to enhance the plutocracy.

  7. 7
    Schlemizel says:

    I did a gig for one of the largest discount retailers. Managers there had a quota for the number of jobs they were expected to move to India. Pay in India was 20% of what it was here but they needed to hire 3 Indians to get the same amount of work done. As it was explained to me they saved 40% for each job they moved.

    I did a gig for an Intellectual Property law firm, some of the legal grunt work was done on the cheap by lawyers in India.

    Its not just factory workers. The impact on wages is working its way up the income ladder and the only people who will be ‘safe’ are the ones whos jobs can’t be moved which is one reason public sector unions are being hammered so they can be broken.

    And I don’t see a way that we can stop it.

  8. 8
    Big R says:

    @The Ancient Randonneur: I don’t know about hard sciences, admittedly, which is where a lot of the complaints are, but in my discipline (political science), most foreign students aren’t on assistantships, because it reduces their cash-cow value. Remember that international students never qualify for resident tuition. In my master’s program, foreign students were sometimes given assistantships not to reduce their tuition, because it couldn’t, but so that they could eat on the meager stipend. Why? Because student visas do not make one eligible to work except for your school, and loans usually didn’t cover the cost of living after paying non-resident tuition.

    Life’s always more complicated than blog comments make it out to be.

  9. 9
    satby says:

    Businesses can find the skills they need. For instance the company I work for is finding lots of college grads with training who will work for about $11/hour. In India and the rest of Asia, because they refuse to pay the salary that would be expected in the US. Did I mention we’re a defense contractor?

  10. 10
    Avery Greynold says:

    GenMet may be run by a guy with feudalist work standards, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t embrace big-government rules when they can. From their web site:

    A Woman-Owned Small Business
    GenMet is a Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB), which helps many of its customers meet government requirements. To assist woman-owned small businesses, the Department of Defense awards a percentage of prime and subcontract opportunities each year to companies like GenMet that have obtained the WOSB designation.

  11. 11
    Stentor says:

    Why? Because American businesses are in thrall to the cult of the investor class. A starting wage of $10 an hour is around $21K a year, $15 an hour is around $32K a year, $18 an hour is around $38K a year, the McDonald’s wage of $14 an hour figures to $29 a year, but the union-wage job of $30 an hour figures to $63 a year.
    How are people expected to live on wages of $30K a year to support families? This is the reason we all have to be two-income families, because nobody can make it as a single-earner anymore, this is one of the primary reasons for the disappearance of the nuclear family. If the Republicans want to encourage family values, they should start supporting living wages for single-income families, so that people at least have the option of having one parent stay at home with the children. Anything else is just lip-service to wage enslavement of the middle class. I say the investor class has had it too good for too long, the pendulum has to start swinging towards the labor class!

  12. 12
    RossInDetroit, Rational Subjectivist says:

    If there was more demand for their products and services employers would hire more workers at market wages. The problem isn’t lack of skilled workers, it’s that in a recession businesses really don’t need to hire the ones who are available.

  13. 13
    Scuffletuffle says:

    Where do people get the specialized skills for these jobs…does the company train, or do they expect our underfunded community colleges and public universities to do the training and spare them the expense. I would bet that none of these bozos who think they pay too much in taxes spend a penny of their own company’s money in training.

  14. 14
    Lurking Canadian says:

    “Can’t find qualified people” almost always means “can’t find qualified people willing to work for a handful of magic beans”.

    The Free Market solution to a “skills shortage” would be a bidding war for the handful of good people. Such bidding wars are rare. For some reason, this does not affect the faith in the Free Market.

    But it is important to pay zillion dollar bonuses to the incompetents at AIG, otherwise they’ll lose the Best People!

  15. 15
    Schlemizel says:

    There was a piece on TV months ago (maybe Sunday Morning but I forget where) of a woman who grew up on Minnesota’s Iron Range. Her dad was a miner, he made (adjusted for inflation) about $82k a year. She has an accounting degree, her husband has a college degree they live and work in Massachusetts and between them they make about $82k a year.

    And very little mining goes on in MN because of wages & rules that require the companies to not destroy the communities they work in. But tax cuts will fix it all

  16. 16
    bjacques says:

    I remember reading some years ago in Netslaves (RIP, PBUH) about a similar fake skills gap, jobs for experienced programmers offering ridiculously low salaries, in the Silicon Valley no less, with skyrocketing living costs into the bargain.

    Silicon Valley honchos who’d made an ideology of having nothing to do with government had their come to Jesus of K Street moment and lobbied to bump up the number of H1-B visas for foreign (read Asian) programmers. Presumably, such workers would be OK with pulling 20-hour shifts and living in dormitories and all would be peachy.

    It was still unsustainable, but happily (for certain values of happiness), the situation was resolved by having all the programming done in India anyway. Then US programmers could gripe about Indian programmers while Bill Gates became the richest American and Larry Ellison could find Zen (and compete in the America’s Cup).

  17. 17
    greennotGreen says:

    @The Ancient Randonneur: And I have no problem with the U.S. harvesting the best and brightest scientists-in-training in the world. What I do have a problem with is the number of only marginally competent or incompetent foreign workers in our labs. If they’re going to be incompetent, they should at least be local!

  18. 18
    greennotGreen says:

    Why am I in moderation?

  19. 19
    MikeJ says:

    @bjacques: Silicon Valley *loves* H1-Bs, and not just because they drive wages down. The people who get a H1-B is pretty much stuck working for the company that sponsored them. Sure they’re cheap, but as a bonus you can abuse them in ways those uppity Americans won’t tolerate.

  20. 20
    Sgaile-beairt says:

    ….depressing thread at forbes…someone writes a column callng out Rubios science dumb & conservative commenters pile on abt how it doesnt matter, so what, stop being meeeeeeeen to us….arent these the non religious crazies, the business guys??


  21. 21
    James B Franks says:

    @Schlemizel: This is wrong. Not a lot of mining gets done in Minnesota because most of the rich iron veins are gone and they are down to taconite.

  22. 22
    Tomolitics says:

    I think you can tie the serf-wage theory in with the Pete Peterson/Corporate CEO deficit hypocrisy rather easily:

    CEO Council Demands Cuts To Poor, Elderly While Reaping Billions In Government Contracts, Tax Breaks

    The “Makers” won’t be happy until the “Moochers” are working for Soylent Green.

  23. 23
  24. 24
    Schlemizel says:

    @James B Franks:

    My understanding is that taconite is just a cheap production method. There is ore there but its just cheaper to get it from South America. That could be wrong but its what I have heard.

  25. 25
    VOR says:

    On the lesbian and Republican article mentioned above by HAL, I have long thought the right screwed up on civil unions. Accepting civil unions probably would have been an ok compromise position. It would give couples the key rights they wanted while still being short of full marriage. Nobody completely satisfied, but can live with it. However that was not acceptable to the right, no sir, so gay couples kept pushing for what they really wanted and found courts and others who agreed with them. And now even mainstream politicians like the President are publicly on board and voters are starting to approve marriage equality or reject gay marriage bans. By being unwilling to compromise, the Republicans are now on the track to a complete loss.

  26. 26
    VOR says:

    Check the Wikipedia article on Taconite. The name specifically is a type of ore with low iron content. However, the name Taconite is commonly used for any type of iron ore processed using the same methods is also referred to As Taconite.

  27. 27
    joel hanes says:

    Taconite is about a third iron. Until the development of the magnetic-concentration/pelletizing process, it wasn’t profitable to exploit, because it cost too much to transport, and produced too much intractable slag during reduction.

    (Confusingly, the slate-like ore itself, the concentration/pelletizing process, and the resulting pellets are all commonly called “taconite”)

    Because of the additional cost of the taconite concentration process, production is sensitive to fluctuations in the price of iron from other, richer sources.

  28. 28
    J.D. Rhoades says:

    Interesting article here about how Costco is successful while still paying employees decently, and giving them good benefits.

    What’s striking is the number of Wall Street “analysts” urging the CEO to fuck over his workforce to squeeze out more profits, even as the stock continues to rise.

  29. 29
    Amanda in the South Bay says:


    And then tech CEOs can lobby congress, complaining about the lack of domestic STEM majors! But they are in Silicon Valley, so Dems won’t go after them because culturally Dems like them some Silicon Valley and California.

  30. 30
    Jamey says:

    @VOR: Tuesday is taconite at my house. Kids love it!

  31. 31
    NonyNony says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    so Dems won’t go after them because culturally Dems like them some Silicon Valley and California sweet, sweet, sweet campaign donations.

    Ain’t nothing cultural about it – the reason why the Dems are “soft” on Tech and Entertainment Media types is because those groups make up the core of the Democratic Fundraising Machine. If they ever stopped handing over fat wads of cash to the Machine, the Dems would have less incentive to help them out.

    (Though the cultural part is a bit of the reason why the Dems have been able to pick up those industries as part of their core – because both of those industries are chock full of people who think the religious right is scary and that gays, women, blacks, Latinos, etc. are people too. It ends up being self-reinforcing. Without the Southern Strategy, a lot of Silicon Valley would gravitate toward Republicans because on the whole they like lower taxes as much as any other corporate type does.)

  32. 32
    Schlemizel says:

    So, somebody give me an end game where things can get better in this country.

    As long as it is possible to get work done overseas cheap and tariffs would be disastrous and international banking allows our masters to hide their money how do American workers every stage a come back? What set of circumstances cause employers to pay living wages with real benefits? What does a path from the one we are on now back towards something better look like? Please diagram for me a scenario where the US does not become a third world nation with a small number of super rich, a tiny, terrified middle-class and a sea of disposable wage slaves living at Foxconn.

  33. 33
    Jay in Oregon says:

    @J.D. Rhoades:
    That was a very interesting article, both about Costco and the Wall Street analysts who think he’s doing it wrong.

    I don’t understand people who think that, in a consumer-driven economy, minimizing the power of consumers to, y’know, buy things is the path to prosperity for anyone.

  34. 34
    J.D. Rhoades says:

    @Jay in Oregon:

    “Analysts” apparently don’t think that far ahead. Mr. Sinegal sums it up nicely, I think:

    “On Wall Street, they’re in the business of making money between now and next Thursday,” he said. “I don’t say that with any bitterness, but we can’t take that view. We want to build a company that will still be here 50 and 60 years from now.”

  35. 35
  36. 36
    Mark S. says:

    Well, if Fox News can no longer gin up ratings for the War on Christmas, today we get a glimpse of Plan B: The War on Men. The moral of the story is that feminism has killed men’s boners.

  37. 37
    Amanda in the South Bay says:


    And that a lot of tech people are just rich libertarians whose definition of freedom is to be a kinky perv who does a shitload of rec drugs.

  38. 38
    Nina says:

    So if it takes a year to sort out the paperwork, why can’t those companies invest that year into training someone domestically? There used to be a lot more training or apprenticeship programs sponsored by companies; they would put you through school and in exchange you would work for them for 2 or 3 years. That’s how I got my start. And it paid off for my employer; I was a very loyal employee in an industry that’s famous for short-term job skippers.

    Why did they stop that sort of investment? I guess when employee loyalty became a value of 0 when totting up the balance sheets.

  39. 39
    Cassidy says:

    @Schlemizel: A full out civil war, sharpening the guillotines, and putting these fucker’s heads on a pike.

    Nah, I think it’s a slowly changing. The American public isn’t known for being informed, but once a cultural shift takes place then it’s an inevitable march to completion. I think the recent election showed not only a huge demographic changes, but the leftward movement of the electorate. You don’t vote for gay marriage in 5 states as a fluke. We’re getting there. And once this issue pops up on the radar of the younger demo that is now in college and growing up, this kind of fucked up corporatism will change as well.

  40. 40
    Cassidy says:

    @Nina: In this day and age, that kind of deal isn’t acceptable. I would imagine they want a larger return on investment (more guaranteed years with stagnant wages) than most people are willing to accept. Secondly, corporations view us as property. so if you leave and take skills they paid for elsewhere, in their fucked up mind you’re taking something that belongs to them. I’m honestly surprised they haven’t tried to lock people into contracts to where they couldn’t use those skilld and training for another company since they “own” them.

  41. 41
    JPL says:

    The recent factory fire in Bangladesh, manufactured clothing that is for sale in Walmart. As soon as MSM mentions that, Walmart shoppers will look elsewhere because they will be so appalled at the lack of regulations that led to the deaths of so many.
    First MSM won’t spend a lot of their time talking about it and secondly, how many really folks really care what happens off our shores.

  42. 42
    maurinsky says:


    My father only went to school until he was 11 – his father died when he was 9, and once his compulsory education was over (he grew up in Ireland), he had to work to help support the family. At the peak of his career as a carpenter, he made in the 60K range, in actual dollars, in the 80s.

    I have been working since I was 18, I’m getting my first degree in a couple of weeks, and I will probably never do as well financially as my 5th grade educated father. I make, in actual dollars, a little more than half the money he was making at my age.

    My parents were probably the only two Carter supporters in our town in 1980 – my father, a union man through and through, loathed Reagan with the fire of a thousand suns. He saw what was coming down the pike.

  43. 43
    Schlemizel says:


    Thats all nice but none of it changes the dynamic of employment in America.

    If the stories about appalling conditions in factories overseas have not caused a ripple for the companies feasting off the misery why do you think this particular horro will change that?

  44. 44
    ericblair says:


    So if it takes a year to sort out the paperwork, why can’t those companies invest that year into training someone domestically?

    In my experience, a lot of companies are not handling hiring rationally. You’d think that, since companies can’t find qualified people to work for the offered wages, they’d raise wages to clear the job market, but they don’t. Seems to be part not understanding the actual problem and part an emotional asshole refusal to pay people more: “who the F do these grunts think they are?”

    Even when you get to the higher paid end of the job market, there’s a real refusal to hire people who don’t have the exact skillset required to be fully operational at 9:00 am Day 1. If you’re trying to fill the slot, the only applicants a lot of managers will approve are ones doing the exact same job at another company. Then it takes months to fill the slot, if it’s even possible, while you could have taken someone perfectly capable of doing the job on board a lot faster and simply trained them up.

    This is harder to explain, but it’s trickier to actually identify trainable people like that, and it’s also higher risk of hiring someone who actually can’t do the job and everybody involved getting a black eye. Much easier to demand perfection and whine about not getting it than dealing with risk.

    The demand for perfection goes out the window for outsourcing and H1Bs. I think we should get rid of H1B altogether and increase green card slots instead; the H1B visa is just too close to indentured servitude.

  45. 45
    Svensker says:


    If you read the Costco article you see that Wall Street thinks spending on employees hurts the bottom line and thus the share price. They’ve forgotten that happy employees usually do better work for their employer and decently compensated employees can afford to buy stuff, thus keeping the happy capitalist machine humming.

    One of the first things that needs to be done is shut down all the MBA schools.

  46. 46
    Schlemizel says:

    Similar story here – my dads died when dad was 14, went to work for 3M at 15 & worked till he was 65. I doubt he ever made anything close to 60k but he did OK, had 6 kids, bought a house etc. Those days will never return.

  47. 47
    Schlemizel says:

    Americas finest news source, the Onion hits it out of the park again

    20,000 Sacrificed In Annual Blood Offering To Corporate America


  48. 48
    scav says:

    chorus line of bankers and vultures. high kicks and blackberries. “Let’s go serfing now, Everybody’s learning how, hav’a low-wage safari with me!”. “Everybody’s gone serfing. Serfing U.S.A!”

    no one should suffer self-inflicted visions of can’t canting CEOs in their brain before coffee. At least I can add coffee to the cesspool.

  49. 49
    bemused says:

    @James B Franks:
    @James B Franks:

    The taconite process of extracting iron ore revitalized the steel industry and the economy of the Iron Range.

    The demand for steel globally has a direct effect on the production of taconite on the Iron Range. Recently, less demand for steel in China and to a lesser degree in India has resulted in Cleveland Cliffs shutting down some production lines with layoffs in Babbitt and Silver Bay. Star Tribune business section about six days ago.

  50. 50
    Cassidy says:

    @Schlemizel: Today? No, of course not. My point is that the change in how we look at employment and employee treatment is a change that is coming and will come as the upcoming voter demographic makes the slow lurch to the left. It’s not perfect, but it is happening.

  51. 51
    Schlemizel says:


    Since it would not allow me to block quote this in the original

    “A joyful noise filled the hall as the priest pulled the first virgin’s heart from her chest and recited the ancient, mystical section 102(a)(3) of the Delaware General Corporation Law,” said 44-year-old disciple David Infantes, recalling the blasts from plastic horns donated by Wells Fargo that accompanied a young girl’s lifeless body rolling down the altar steps. “In that moment, I pledged my soul anew to our blessed Corporate Overlords, increasing profits be upon them.”

  52. 52
    rikyrah says:

    Krugman is on point…about the ‘ skills shortage’. I totally call bullshyt on that.

  53. 53
    1badbaba3 says:

    @Jamey: Is it wrong of me to want to make this dirty? Prolly not as wrong as not being able to come up with anything good. Feel free to pile on for my incompetence.

    Moar coffee plz.

  54. 54
    gvg says:

    @The Ancient Randonneur: Those generally don’t pay well enough for American students. That’s pretty much the whole shift happened to more foreign grad students a couple of decades ago.

    What makes you assume they are paid for by taxpayers? They are paid for from multiple sources scrounged up in these days of cuts cuts cuts and private donars are pretty the life line in most departments. Different fields have different funding all together, so it’s hard to say but at least public Universities are having lots of hard times right now.

  55. 55
    Schlemizel says:


    You say that but exactly what leverage will workers have in this brave new world? Its all fine & dandy that people finally recognize what is being done to them. What can we do about it that short of violence?

    Thats not to suggest that violence is the answer because even that will not make having crap made in India, CHina Thailand, Malaysia etc any less attractive on a cost basis

  56. 56
    The Moar You Know says:

    I got my Bachelor’s degree in 1989. The first year I made over 26k was 2004.

    The selling of education as a ticket to high paying jobs is bullshit and always has been. And frankly, it’s a monstrous perversion of the educational system and I’ve never understood why more academics don’t fight it vigorously – education is supposed to be all about learning new ideas and concepts, not about jumping through an arbitrary hoop to make more money.

  57. 57
    Cassidy says:

    @Schlemizel: Honestly, I don’t know. But I do believe, and hope, that the leftward shift of the voting demographic will demand that our government address these issues.

  58. 58
    Feudalism Now! says:

    There will be blood, before this will change. The lesson has been taught again and again. Hostess was the latest, you strike or fight for decent pay, the plutocracy will shut you down. There are ways to turn about vulture capitalism, by limiting the amount of consulting fees and debt loading that can occur in bankruptcy. If you take the benefit of short term grift away, the companies will move to longer term grift, which is a lot more manageable/enforceable.
    The indentured servitude of workers by credit debt and education debt will continue as long as people believe that worker solidarity is soshulism and the parasite plutocracy are worthy of their extortive looting.

  59. 59
    gene108 says:


    The demand for perfection goes out the window for outsourcing and H1Bs. I think we should get rid of H1B altogether and increase green card slots instead; the H1B visa is just too close to indentured servitude.

    The two aren’t mutually exclusive. People on H1-b’s file for GC’s.

    The problem is whatever quota system was implemented decades ago to allocate GC’s has not been adjusted to account for the increased number of Indians and Chinese seeking employer based GC’s, so you have a long, long backlog of cases.

    Anyway, if there’s a labor shortage in IT and you can’t fill it with domestic talent or H1-b visa holders, the jobs will be sent off-shore. Off-shoring is actually detrimental to H1-b visa holders, the two situations work against each other.

  60. 60
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    This particular situation angers me, because it’s a sign of how Teh Jerb Cre-aturrs no longer feel like they have a duty to train up their fucking workforces. Apprenticeships? Pah. ‘sfunny how the Galtard CEOs never consider taking a Chinese CEO’s salary though they’d like to pay Chinese wages.

    Anyway, Clay Shirky wrote a pretty good piece on what online education really threatens, which is the value proposition of mediocre colleges — and especially Kaplan and other for-profit institutions:

    In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs. If this happens, Harvard will be fine. Yale will be fine, and Stanford, and Swarthmore, and Duke. But Bridgerland Applied Technology College? Maybe not fine. University of Arkansas at Little Rock? Maybe not fine. And Kaplan College, a more reliable producer of debt than education? Definitely not fine.

    That doesn’t engage with hands-on technical education, though — the kind of thing that Germany does well, extending from the education system into the workplace.

  61. 61
    Kip the Wonder Rat says:

    @The Moar You Know: Whaaa?

    I know of NO life sciences faculty member who tells students that getting an advanced degree equates to big bucks. OTOH, I know MANY faculty who tell students that they’d better be in it for the science, ’cause the pay sux.

    YMMV, but I’ve been doing this since 1980…

  62. 62
    MomSense says:


    I am starting to think that the most effective way to deal with this is to organize labor unions in all of these outsourcing places.

    I caught the tail end of an NPR forum talking about our economy and the economists were saying that we are still innovating here in the US but there are just too many regulations here, labor costs here are too high, blah, blah, blah so it is much easier to do the manufacturing in China.

    The reality is that the regulations and labor costs are not too high here. Regulations are non existent there and labor costs are really slave wages there. This is why they have to put up nets to prevent people from jumping to their deaths. This is why the grains and dairy products in China are so contaminated that ingesting them can cause kidney failure. This model is exploitative of cheap labor and lack of environmental regulation.

    We won’t be able to fight it here rather we could outsource our labor organizers, teach workers there how to organize, work together for a more sustainable model.

  63. 63
    dollared says:

    @Schlemizel: I think you’re exactly right. There is no mechanism to turn this around.

    There is the beginning of an understanding that there is a problem, as Cassidy says. There is also an growing understanding of the policy choices we have made (mainly free trade agreements, the deductibility of interest on corporate leveraged buyouts, the lower taxes in the investor class, union busting, Citizens United, etc.) that undermine a healthy, balanced economy. Read Dean Baker at CAP, who most clearly articulates that the Invisible Hand is basically Invisible Lobbyists.

    But there is still no mechanism, like unions, that could allow us to rebalance the power between capital and labor. And in the meantime the wealth of our country has been massively extracted, upwards and then out of the country, so if we do rebalance, it will be at a lower standard of living.

    But do this we must. And really, the only mechanism I can think of is the federal government. Health care for all paid by the government, higher tax rates, cheaper universities, a true 40 hour week, etc.

    And of course, that is why the Corporate GOP wants to redefine the federal government via the 10th amdendment. If health care is out of scope for the Feds, then work rules can’t be far behind. And then the lobbyists can divide and conquer, one state at a time. Indiana, Texas and Florida. Randian paradises, models for the nation.

  64. 64
    pseudonymous in nc says:


    Silicon Valley loves H1-Bs, and not just because they drive wages down. The people who get a H1-B is pretty much stuck working for the company that sponsored them.

    Perhaps 15 years ago you could say that, but not really now. There’s a growing divide between the top-end tech companies that want to bring in people from around the world with unique skills and resumes — web startups and headhunted talent — and the Infosys-like shops that want cheap drones on a short leash. They’d be more than happy with a situation that gives their hires GCs and unconditional employment rights from the moment they arrive in the US.

    There is no equivalent in tech of the EB-2 visa class that is used for professional hires, because tech doesn’t have the same kind of credentialing system. There should be a willingness to adapt the certification process to do that.

  65. 65
    slag says:

    @Schlemizel: The Reptile Boy episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer got it pretty right on back in the 90s. That said, this very theme has been running through art and life since forever it seems.

  66. 66
    ...now I try to be amused says:


    By being unwilling to compromise, the Republicans are now on the track to a complete loss.

    You can say that about a number of issues… I hope.

  67. 67
    ruemara says:

    I’ve had my boss look at me in shock at the idea that some of the places I’ve interviewed at want to pay a 20 year advertising veteran $16 an hour and that’s if they even allow me to squeak in the door for an interview. I like her enough that I don’t point out that her HR dept are perfectly ok with paying 17$ and keeping me at half time, unlike most positions in the region, thereby meaning I am often low on food and have no ability to keep car maintenance going or take my cats in for a check up. Democrat/Republican/Independent, it does not matter. Too many in America think that it won’t touch their industry and will not do a damn thing to say it is just not right in any circumstance. The new American poverty, educated, skilled labour that is busy scouring the nearly expired food bin for whatever is 99 cents.

  68. 68
    thalarctos says:

    @ericblair: This. This. This.

    Here’s an excerpt from a current want ad from AstraZeneca, for a position requiring a PhD and zero-eight years experience:

    Familarity with the following software: Waters Masslynx (Openlynx, Quantlynx, and Biolynx) Agilent Chemstation and Mass Hunter, Bruker Compass, Thermo Scientific Xcalibur and Mass Frontiers, and Cerno Bioscience MassWorks.

    In other words, they want you to be able to run all of their equipment, from five different manufacturers, the day you walk in–and not spend a dime in training.

  69. 69
    Joel says:

    I can’t speak for all tech, but biology is unique in that the government drives low wages in research. The NIH issues wage guidelines for any and all salaried employees, and before you reach professorship, those wages are pretty pitiful (low 20k for a technician, 37K for a PhD holding “senior research fellow”, e.g.) For some time, bacelor’s degree holding technicians can make 2x in the private sector compared to a postdoc in academia. Bennies are good, tho.

  70. 70
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    It’s very similar to software engineering, companies want someone already doing the job, and then express confusion as to why there are no “qualified” applicants. So many companies screw themselves over, deliberately or not, by writing unrealistic job ads.

  71. 71
    Schlemizel says:


    I agree but given a government quite willing and able to turn tanks on its own people deeply in bed with the corporate masters how will organization of free unions ever take place?


    But with capital free to leave the country how will these benefits be paid for? When we are all making a buck fifty an hour the tax revenue will not be enough to support anything like the benefits you are talking about.

    The whole thing is a catch 22

  72. 72
    Roger Moore says:

    I think you’re wrong about that. Today’s wingnuts would rather not acknowledge that LGBT people even exist, except as deviants who deserve to be punished. Wingnuts would really like to return to execution as in Leviticus, with repeal of Lawrence v. Texas and vigorous enforcement of anti-sodomy laws as a reasonable fallback. I don’t think they see any meaningful difference between civil unions and marriage, except as one more place to dig in their heels. They’re going to count anything that lets LGBT people out of the closet without punishment as a loss, and granting any kind of public recognition of their relationships as complete capitulation.

  73. 73
    A.J. says:


    “…because nobody can make it as a single-earner anymore”

    Yes; a thousand times, yes. Wages for average Americans have stagnated since 1970. Up until that time a one-income wage-earner could house, feed, educate, and provide health care for his family, and still save 11% of his income for retirement. Today, even with two-incomes, that is not possible.

    It’s long, but once you get past the 5-minute introduction, Elizabeth Warren lays it all out in a terrific lecture at Cal-Berkley in 2008:

  74. 74
    Roger Moore says:

    @Jay in Oregon:

    I don’t understand people who think that, in a consumer-driven economy, minimizing the power of consumers to, y’know, buy things is the path to prosperity for anyone.

    It’s the Prisoner’s Dilemma. It’s in the interest of individual businesses to reduce payroll expenses (assuming no loss of productivity) even though the whole economy suffers when workers have less money to spend. The key is the “assuming no loss of productivity” part. Getting good employees is crucial to high productivity, but it’s a kind of long-term thinking that many businesses no longer engage in.

  75. 75
    Mark says:

    @MikeJ: Wow, are you wrong. I see visa/green card certifications on the wall at work all the time. Programmers (individual contributors) from India in their late 20s are making $145k/yr. And I work for a company that pays roughly average.

    Until Bush whipped up a frenzy around foreigners, it used to be easy to get a Green Card. Back then, we didn’t need H1B visas because the people we now deride as foreign workers were Americans for employment purposes.

  76. 76
    slag says:

    @ruemara: I have a friend who has made a hobby of collecting what she calls “Preposterous Job Descriptions”. When she shares the contents of her files with me, we just sit down and laugh and laugh. And yet there’s nothing at all funny about the situation. But what else is one to do?

  77. 77

    @Big R:

    Remember that international students never qualify for resident tuition

    They also don’t pay income tax on their tiny stipend, though American students do. And at $1000/mo. if you’re lucky, that’s basically your food bill.

  78. 78
    TheF79 says:

    @bemused: True! They’ve been mining low grade taconite on the Range at least since my greatgrandfather moved the family there in the early 60’s from underground shaft mining in northern Wisconsin. There are a few shaft mines in the area (Tower-Soudan has one) but they’ve been shuttered much longer than the open pit taconite mines.

    In addition to the extreme sensitivity to world prices, the other major change in the industry in the last 50 years is huge increase in capital. During the mid-2000’s, production was at or near the peak from the 60’s, but it was done with about 1/10th the labor. Whereas you used to have 10 guys driving 10 small dumptrucks, now you had 1 guy driving an enormous truck, that sort of thing. That said, they were hiring people like crazy during the resource boom – my cousin said they were hiring his classmates at the local tech colleges before they finished their degrees.

    The big mining issue in northern MN right now is the Duluth Complex, which could be a top 10 world site, BUT it also happens to run right up against the Boundary Waters, and there are huge concerns about environmental damages.

    The Iron Range is a beautiful area, though it’s still struggling to find its feet now that mines can’t support communities like it used to (recreation dollars have helped). The old mining areas in Northern Wisconsin on the other hand (near Hurley), are a ghastly place – the largest source of income is social security since something like 2/3 of the people there are retired.

  79. 79
    MomSense says:


    I don’t know but there is a long list of movements throughout history where people have put themselves in front of oppressors willing to kill them in order to organize for rights.

    If it is a disciplined, non violent movement with measureable goals–it can succeed.

  80. 80
    Kathy in St. Louis says:

    Shorter Milwaukee plant owner,”I’ll hire all the fully trained employees I can get my hands on. I don’t want to train them, but, then again, I don’t want to pay them what a trained worker should get”.

    Makes perfect sense in a third world economy. Not so much here.

  81. 81
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: That is not true, they do have to pay Income tax, Federal, State and local they are exempt from FICA and other payroll taxes.

  82. 82
    Roger Moore says:


    In other words, they want you to be able to run all of their equipment, from five different manufacturers, the day you walk in—and not spend a dime in training.

    Strictly speaking, that’s only 4 instrument manufacturers plus one aftermarket software company. That said, it’s quite rare for anyone to use that many brands of instrument in one lab. Most companies deliberately concentrate on just one or two manufacturers just so they can avoid having to train everyone on that many different software platforms. That looks like either a lab that’s in transition or one that wants somebody who can operate instrumentation they don’t have now but are thinking about buying.

    Another possibility to consider in a case like that is that it’s a deliberately tailored posting. In many cases, company policy will require a manager to advertise a position publicly even if they want to promote from within. The standard trick in that case is to base the position advertisement on the CV of the person you want to hire, listing all their specific qualifications as requirements even if they’re superfluous to the job. That way you can go back to HR and claim that the person you really wanted all along is the only qualified applicant and you have to take them.

  83. 83
    J R in WV says:

    I graduated in 1984, BS CS from a smallish public U in a small state, and started at $17K. By 1991 I was earning nearly $50K, and went up and down from there to finish at $70K as a manager of software development. Not a high salary for the work, but I live in an area with lower living costs, and we were double income no kids.

    I also was able to hire a number of H1B workers from India, China, Burma, Canada and Indonesia. Oddly, only the Canadians were not interested in Green Cards and citizenship. The Burma folk had to pay a “tax” to the generals ruling the country in order to keep his passport current. They visited their embassy every year and paid a surcharge to them in order to send funds to family back home.

    Most all the really good ones wound up US citizens, making lots more money than I ever did. On the other hand, so far, I have a defined benefit pension with health care. That probably depends partly on the economy and the profitability of coal.

    Only one of them wound up a Republican, no understanding some folks!

  84. 84
    schrodinger's cat says:

    I am surprised at this hating on international students and people with H1-Bs, not all that different from the conservatives hating on “illegals”. Xenophobia, its what’s on the menu.

  85. 85
    El Cid says:

    If only people wouldn’t be so greedy and work for whatever their bosses wanted to pay, we wouldn’t have all this unemployment.

  86. 86
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Big R: In the hard sciences, most graduate students get a tuition waiver and an assistantship or a fellowship.

  87. 87

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    Most come from countries where they can fill out a form and get exempted from having tax withheld from their stipend.

    I’ve seen this, with my own eyes.

    (That said, this was in the early 1990s so perhaps the law has changed since then?).

  88. 88
    El Cid says:

    @A.J.: When the stats are quoted about how much household income has changed since whenever (say, the 1970s), and it’s described as hardly having risen or only risen slightly, it’s not explained that this has been maintained by having much higher numbers of hours worked between the household adults.

  89. 89
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: It depends on which country you are from, the amount of taxes you pay depend on the mutual tax treaties that the student’s country of origin and the US have signed. So it can vary greatly depending on the country of origin.

    I think you are right about the early nineties, the law changed somewhere in the mid nineties.

    ETA: It also depends on the tax-preparer, unless the person doing the taxes is well versed in doing the taxes of foreign nationals, they can end up paying a lot more than they need to.

  90. 90
    Lex says:

    It’s popular to think that the so-called free-marketers don’t understand free markets. On the contrary, they understand them all too well but prefer feudalism.

  91. 91
    ericblair says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    I am surprised at this hating on international students and people with H1-Bs,

    It’s not the people with H1B’s, it’s the H1B visa itself that’s the problem. I’m perfectly happy to raise green card limits to match the loss of H1B visas, to be fair to new immigrants and allow themselves freedom in the job market to get actual competitive salaries and move out of crap jobs. Not being in favor of slavery doesn’t mean you’re hating on the slaves.

  92. 92
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @ericblair: OK then I agree with you.

  93. 93
    bemused says:


    I remember the big mining boom in the 60’s/70’s well. Wages were great. People built, bought bigger homes than they would have otherwise plus cars, boats, snowmobiles, you name it. Of course, the mining booms on the Range are always followed by downturns The Iron Range was hit hard and never really recovered to that economic level since.

    Here the anti-evironmentalists and anti-regulation folks are all in for ramping up mining any type, any place dismissing any kind of questioning of possible irreversible consequences on our beautiful area whether it is environmental concerns or the possible destruction of our tourism industry.

    Those folks think those questions are just anti-progress. They have stars in their eyes thinking we will have a big boom again with huge increase in well paying jobs and MONEY! As you said, it is not the same as decades ago…fewer people are needed to do the work in less time. It’s like the Keystone pipeline story. Companies do hype the numbers of jobs they say will be “created” and for how long.

  94. 94
    danimal says:

    Some Pink Himalayan brilliance for a Monday:

    “Walmart’s $446 billion of revenue last year was eye-popping, but its profit margins are far from fat–between 3% to 3.5%. If they cut that down by a percentage point–about what retailers like Costco and Macy’s have been bringing in–that would give each Walmart employee about $2850 a year, which is substantial but far from life-changing. Further wage improvements would have to come out of the pockets of Walmart’s extremely price conscious shoppers.

    McMegan’s never been in the retail sales hell, I’m sure, but this is stunning arrogance. Of course 2-3K is a BFD for Wal-Mart employees. It may be pocket change for McMegan, but it means a huge difference for the actual people involved. With that money, they may even be able to go to the doctor, or buy fresh food for the family, or even move into their own apartment. Arrrrggghhh.

  95. 95
    Liberty60 says:

    @Short Bus Bully:

    “I translated The Road to Serfdom! ITS A COOKBOOK!!”

  96. 96
    Bighorn Ordovican Dolomite says:

    @Schlemizel: There is still a lot of mining happening in MN’s Iron Range. As always it is kind of a boom or bust scenario–but at the moment it is humming along at a pretty good clip. They are pretty much down to taconite (which is actually a blend of minerals–about 25-30% of which are ores and the rest things like silica). During production the rock is ground up, magentically separated and then baked into pellets which are 70% iron or more.

    Right now there is a company going around processing old waste piles to produce marketable iron ore and in a few years there should be a mill producing steel in close proximity to its mine. I believe that one is owned by and Indian company–but I could be wrong.

    Employment is far below its historical peak, but that is the ol’ “bigger machines higher productivity” combined with reduced demand for American steel. I believe the current MN iron range renaisance stems from the fact that demand in China and India has outstripped golbal supply. WHile little if any MN ore goes to either China or India, it frees up supply from other regions to go there.

  97. 97
    AxelFoley says:


    @VOR: Tuesday is taconite at my house. Kids love it!

    Nothing but win here with this post.

  98. 98
    Linnaeus says:

    I have to say that I feel lucky to have landed into the job that I have now (environmental consulting), despite the fact that I don’t have any formal background in the field. The owner of the company decided long ago that he just wanted to to hire workers who had the potential to learn on the job, and then train them after hiring. It’s worked out well for him.

  99. 99
    dollared says:

    @Schlemizel: Perfect example. Capital leaves the country freely because WE CHOOSE TO ALLOW IT. A severance tax or percentage restrictions on capital flight are policies that other countries use to limit predatory capitalist behavior. why not us?

  100. 100
    dollared says:

    @danimal: Good on MattY for calling her out on this. And note that her husband was also fluffing for Wal-Mart. Such F-ing tools.

  101. 101
    ruemara says:

    @danimal: $2850. What a bitch. I could eat 3 meals a day, change my car oil and still squirrel a bit away. It would mean I make $21k a year. What an evil, foul bitch.

    @slag: :/ in my lighter moods, I feel guillotines are appropriate.

  102. 102
    Allen says:

    I used to design chip plants. A lot of companies see these as being cash cows, but the chip makers can see this and drive the design firms to some, what I see, as poor design decisions that will come back to haunt all concerned.

  103. 103
    chuck says:

    To undo vulture capitalism, it would be helpful if the bankruptcy judges could claw back any management fees or dividends issued to the “investors” to repay creditors such as the pensions they routinely destroy. Most “properly” done vulture deals take on the debt to reduce the vultures risk to zero loss if the company goes belly up.

  104. 104
    Mnemosyne says:


    For perspective — I make just over $40K a year at my job, and an extra $2,850 is about four months’ rent. Yeah, I ain’t turning that down.

  105. 105
    Hattie says:

    I figure inflation has made the dollar worth 1/10th what it was in the 50’s. My first ridiculously low skilled job then paid the minimum wage, $1.00 an hour. That would be $10.00 today. And yet skilled and semi-skilled workers are expected to work for that. How ridiculous.
    I agree with Nader that raising the minimum wage has to be a priority. Of course some people at the top of the heap might have to settle for a few less millions. Tough.

  106. 106
    Chris says:


    Even when you get to the higher paid end of the job market, there’s a real refusal to hire people who don’t have the exact skillset required to be fully operational at 9:00 am Day 1.


    The whole “I can’t get a job because I have no experience because I can’t get a job” thing is becoming a bad joke and an infernal rat race for young people in search of work.

  107. 107

    @JPL: Or in the next town for that matter.

  108. 108
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Another possibility to consider in a case like that is that it’s a deliberately tailored posting. In many cases, company policy will require a manager to advertise a position publicly even if they want to promote from within. The standard trick in that case is to base the position advertisement on the CV of the person you want to hire, listing all their specific qualifications as requirements even if they’re superfluous to the job. That way you can go back to HR and claim that the person you really wanted all along is the only qualified applicant and you have to take them.

    A generation back, this was common in civil-service hiring as well–whenever you saw a position ad that went into great & gory detail on qualifications, you knew someone had that job wired.

    But not always. Back in 1977 I was about to be bounced from my current employ (when my PhD bosses stole my work for their own purposes & then claimed I never did anything creative for them) when I saw a very detailed ad for a MD state position at well above my then-current pay grade. I nearly qualified, so I admitted that when I sent them a resume & asked to be considered for any lower-level position that might be available. They brought me for an interview & showed me that the successful applicant really did need the dog’s breakfast of capabilities they’d listed. Afterwards when I asked what position they were considering me for they looked confused: “The one in the ad, of course.” When I pointed out I didn’t know one of the required programming language, they said, “You can always learn that on your own!” As it turns out I was the best qualified applicant they found, & I got the job–and a pay raise of 46% IIRC.

  109. 109

    […] Early Morning Open Thread: They Don’t Want Workers, They Want Serfs […]

  110. 110
    Stentor says:

    @A.J.: Naturally, that’s my alma mater. Go Bears! Class of 99!

  111. 111
    Jado says:


    The Ha-Meem factory in Bangladesh had a fire similar to this in 2010. We didn’t hear about it two years ago; we won’t hear much about it now. Corporate news has to have ratings, and little brown people dying in a fire a world away isn’t as sexy as the latest sex scandal. Especially if it implicates a fellow corporate citizen. We need to keep this quiet or it will upset the kids.

  112. 112
    amy c says:

    I’m late to this party, but I love this conversation on the “skills gap.”

    Companies don’t want to train people, because they think it costs too much money and is too hard. They want good people who already do the exact same job to waltz in, ready to go. Which means they can only really draw from their direct competitors. But they don’t want to pay higher wages than their direct competitors for the same job, of course, so few of those folks apply. (You only jump ship if you’re going to get something out of it – usually, more money.)

    Then they stamp their feet and whine about a skills gap. Even though it is a problem they have clearly created and nurtured all by themselves.

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