we used to make lots of stuff, keeping austen grounded, where you’re from and who you are

We still make actual things in the U.S.A. Though it has been so long since we were major manufacturers of things like consumer electronics and textiles. Things changed, but not necessarily for the reasons many of us think. The Decline of Manufacturing in America: A Case Study

One frequent and frustrating line that often crops up in the comments section of this blog is that American labor has no hope, it should just accept Chinese wages, since price is all that matters. That line of thinking is wrongheaded on multiple levels. It assumes direct factory labor is the most important cost driver, when for most manufactured goods, it is 11% to 15% of total product cost (and increased coordination costs of much more expensive managers are a significant offset to any savings achieved by using cheaper factory workers in faraway locations). It also assumes cost is the only way to compete, when that is naive on an input as well as a product level. How do these “labor cost is destiny” advocates explain the continued success of export powerhouse Germany? Finally, the offshoring,/outsourcing vogue ignores the riskiness and lower flexibility of extended supply chains.

We here it so often it may have become its own echo at this point – American labor wanted too much – good wages, health care, retirement plans – that business could no longer afford to operate here. In Germany there are strong unions, good health care, good wages, good retirement benefits. The same is true for Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden ( the effective tax rate is also higher in these countries).

But if you were to ask most people, they’d now blame the fall of American manufacturing on our workers. That scapegoating serves to shift focus from the top of the food chain at a time when executives have managed to greatly widen the gap between their pay and that of the folks reporting to them.

Yves Smith uses Mead Paper in his example and is worth a read for those who follow labor and economic issues. Even in cases like the American auto industry where there was still quite a bit of domestic manufacturing, two things happened at once. Those manufacturers kept making inferior products hoping to beat imports on price. As profits eroded – especially for GM and Chrysler – executive compensation keep going up. That is not exactly the capitalism I studied in school – rewarding failure. Certainly the unions had no say in the products that were produced or how much management made. I happen to have an American car made in America. Not to brag, but it has a set of options, drives well and according to Consumer Reports stands up well in reliability ratings compared to foreign cars of the same price range. That said I know and read about people’s dream cars and most of those are either German or Japanese. Unions have no super powers, they certainly did not choose to make themselves disposable. American management failed. Direct comparisons are tricky, but there is a similarity between American car makers and Wall St. They both saw they could make money taking short cuts. They both thought they could ( Wall St still does) cheat on value offered. As long as they were getting their checks and living in their McMansions they must be doing something right. In the mean time they made the American worker into the greedy thug to explain every time they had a bad quarter or we had a complete meltdown. Your average low information conservative or Republitarian is positive low-income workers brought down the economy. The modern-day equivalent of believing the earth is flat.

Also in the realm of flat earth thinking is the world-wide austerity movement. Represented here in the U.S. by the Zombie Party, but which many Democrats have bought into as well. So except for the top 10% we’re all screwed –  Austerity Measures Pushing World Economy Toward Disaster

The pursuit of austerity measures and deficit cuts is pushing the world economy toward disaster in a misguided attempt to please global financial markets, the annual report of the United Nations economic thinktank UNCTAD said on Tuesday.

The report, entitled “Post-crisis policy challenges in the world economy,” savaged U.S. and European economic policies and called for wage increases, stricter regulation of financial markets, including a return to a system of managed exchange rates, and a conscious break with market-led thinking.

[  ]…”Unemployment depends very much on demand. And if you have no demand then you need government to step in with a huge program for stimulating the economy. This was the U.S. scenario in the past. Now it’s worse because wages are rising less than in the past so you’re going to need a bigger stimulus program.”

Railroad on the Pacific by Gaetano Previati 1916

There is revisionism and there is revisiting. The latter is where we ask new questions, see things equipped with new information or with a new cultural perspective. Jane Austen produced frivolous “feminine tosh,” says V.S. Naipaul. But the key to understanding Austen is not her gender, but her genius.

As something of a feminist humanist myself, I do not believe that Jane Austen appreciation is a zero-sum game. There’s room in the Austen tent for men and women of multiple and intersecting identity categories, scholars, laypeople, and even (gasp!) zombies. The various lenses of interpretation we can apply to Austen should not lessen for a moment the enjoyment we find in her brilliant prose stylings. Rather than insist on pinning Austen down to one thing, one truth, one way of reading, we can relish what the multitude of approaches to her work says about the complexity of human life. Naturally, there are better and worse readings — this holds true for any author — and not reading Austen at all because of prideful and prejudicial generalizations about “all women” is as problematic as any bias that can be brought to literature (“Papa” Hemingway knows whereof I speak).

As one person replied on hearing Naipaul’s opinion, who is V.S. Naipaul. If one had  Austen’s gifts for story telling and prose, and were writing today, what terrible burden to be used as both goddess of literature and whipping post for lesser talents. Instead of reading her for the artistry, you end up with a martyr in your hand. A martyr not of her choosing certainly. A different kind of straight-jacket, though still very much a straight-jacket has been put on Hemingway. Modern readers end up reading the myth rather than the writer.

“Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem to be confidences or sides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear; the profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profound thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

two medicine lake an odd size at 1524×991, but notebook users could use it as wallpaper.

“We’re Almost There”: The Drive-By Truckers’ Art of Place

Agnostic themselves, the Drive-By Truckers never confuse the faith of gospel with religion. In the title track, Hood tells of “a preacher who packed a big ass church out near Rogersville [Alabama].” For the Truckers, telling stories, about religion or sex or struggle, is about the detail. Like the best songs from Springsteen and Athens songwriter Vic Chesnutt, the Truckers write lyrics that evoke a particular place and specific people. The band’s art of place stands in contrast to folksy universalism of hard work, loss, and uncertainty of early blues and country music and to the timeless banality of small town over-simplification in contemporary mainstream country music. It is the specificity revealed in the best Truckers songs that makes the people and places in these tales feel real. “He drove the Cadillac, she drove the Oldsmobile,” Hood tells us about the comfortable lives of the small-town preacher and his wife.

In many ways we have become such an homogenized society – the same restaurant chains are everywhere, all the malls have the same chain stores, we download music available anywhere there is a computer and everyone watches the same TV that we have a much more common language in terms of cultural reference. Yet places still shape us. The full article is an easy introduction into how place origins shape our personal philosophy.

Drive-by Truckers title track to Go-Go Boots “He drove the Cadillac, she drove the Oldsmobile,”