Gig Jobs Benefit Workers by “Cutting Out Corporate Bosses and Rent-Seeking Middlemen”

(p. C4) An astounding 94 percent of American jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were for “alternative work.” Slow and steady growth used to be a cardinal virtue for the big American corporation. Now leanness and flexibility are prized, and nobody is spared. “In the end,” Hyman writes, “even white men were not protected from this new reality.”

Hyman, a labor historian at Cornell, argues that the common explanation for what happened — mainly, that our current dispensation was foisted on us by technological and economic change — is self-serving and inadequate. He says that human choice, including a palpable shift in values, played an essential role. “Temp” traces how, for corporations and government policymakers alike, “the risk-taking entrepreneur supplanted the risk-averse, but loyal, company man as the capitalist ideal.”

. . .

His ending, about the gig economy, is weirdly upbeat. He believes that it’s still possible for work to be rewarding — maybe even more possible, now that apps and online platforms offer the promise of (leaving in place a few rent-seeking technocapitalist billionaires, of course). Individuals can sell their labor directly to one another.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Gig Jobs Replace Gray Flannel Suits.” The New York Times (Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 22, 2018, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; How the ‘Temp’ Economy Became the New Normal.”)

The book under review, is:

Hyman, Louis. Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary. New York: Viking, 2018.

“Rand’s Entrepreneur Is the Promethean Hero of Capitalism”

(p. B1) Few, if any, literary philosophers have had as much influence on American business and politics as Ayn Rand, especially now that Donald J. Trump occupies the White House.

President Trump named Rand his favorite writer and “The Fountainhead” his favorite novel. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has cited “Atlas Shrugged” as a favorite work, and the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, said the book “really had an impact on me.”

. . .

(p. B2) In business, Rand’s influence has been especially pronounced in Silicon Valley, where her overarching philosophy that “man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself,” as she described it in a 1964 Playboy interview, has an obvious appeal for self-made entrepreneurs. Last year Vanity Fair anointed her the most influential figure in the technology industry, surpassing Steve Jobs.

. . .

“Rand’s entrepreneur is the Promethean hero of capitalism,” said Lawrence E. Cahoone, professor of philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross, whose lecture on Rand is part of his Great Courses series, “The Modern Political Tradition.” “But she never really explores how a dynamic entrepreneur actually runs a business.”

. . .

“Mention Ayn Rand to a group of academic philosophers and you’ll get laughed out of the room,” Mr. Cahoone said. “But I think there’s something to be said for Rand. She takes Nietzschean individualism to an extreme, but she’s undeniably inspirational.”

As the mysterious character John Galt proclaims near the end of “Atlas Shrugged”: “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.”

For the full commentary, see:

James B. Stewart. “COMMON SENSE; Tough Times For Disciples Of Ayn Rand.” The New York Times (Friday, July 14, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 13, 2017, and has the title “COMMON SENSE; As a Guru, Ayn Rand May Have Limits. Ask Travis Kalanick.”)

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, quoted above, is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

Democrat Warren Buffett Admits to Being “a Card-Carrying Capitalist”

(p. B1) The most prominent face of capitalism — Warren Buffett, the avuncular founder of Berkshire and the fourth wealthiest person in the world, worth some $89 billion — appeared to distance himself from many of his peers, who have been apologizing for capitalism of late.

“I’m a card-carrying capitalist,” Mr. Buffett said. “I believe (p. B3) we wouldn’t be sitting here except for the market system,” he added, extolling the state of the economy. “I don’t think the country will go into socialism in 2020 or 2040 or 2060.”

There is something oddly refreshing about Mr. Buffett’s frankness.

. . .

Mr. Buffett’s moral code is one of being direct, even when it is not politically correct. In his plain-spoken way, Mr. Buffett, a longtime Democrat, acknowledged that the goal of capitalism was “to be more productive all the time, which means turning out the same number of goods with fewer people or churning out more goods, with the same number,” he said.

“That is capitalism.” Two years ago at the same meeting, he bluntly said, “I’m afraid a capitalist system will always hurt some people.”

. . .

. . . at his core, he believes that the pursuit of capitalism is fundamentally moral — that it creates and produces prosperity and progress even when there are immoral actors and even when it creates inequality.

. . .

One prominent chief executive I spoke with after the meeting said he wished he could speak as bluntly as Mr. Buffett. He said in this politically sensitive climate, he often has to tiptoe around controversial topics and at least nod at the societal concern of the moment.

Therein lies the truth of the particular moment that the business community faces and one that, at least so far, Mr. Buffett, at age 88, may be immune from.

And so while Mr. Buffett may have missed an opportunity to use his perch, he comes to his views of a just business world honestly.

For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Ross Sorkin. “Buffett Still Champions Capitalism.” The New York Times (Monday, May 6, 2019): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 5, 2019, and has the title “Warren Buffett’s Case for Capitalism.”)

Australia’s 28 Years With No Recession Challenge Business Cycle Cliches

(p. 6) I had flown 16,000 miles . . .  to study . . .  the remarkable resilience of the Australian economy, which has gone nearly 28 years without a recession.

. . .

America is on the verge of its own economic milestone: The current expansion is on track to reach its 10th birthday this summer, which would also put it on record as the nation’s longest streak without a recession.

During the decade I’ve spent chronicling that growth as an economics writer, a persistent whisper has been: How long can it go? The run has been uneven, underwhelming and repeatedly on the verge of unraveling, including scary moments in 2010, 2015 and this past December. Seemingly every commentator without a good cliché blocker has referred to it as “long in the tooth.” Continue reading “Australia’s 28 Years With No Recession Challenge Business Cycle Cliches”

“Seek Truth from Facts”

(p. A15)  . . . 2019 . . .  marks the anniversary of the result of a . . . defiant protest—one that will receive little attention in or out of China, even though it launched the economic reforms that kick-started the country’s rise.

Forty years ago this spring, corn farmers in Xiaogang village, in the central province of Anhui (where Pearl Buck set “The Good Earth”), reported a grain yield of 66 metric tons. This single harvest equaled the village’s total output between 1955 and 1970—but for once the figure was not exaggerated. In fact, villagers underreported their actual yield by a third, fearing officials would not believe their record haul.

What caused this massive spike in production? A new fertilizer or hybrid seed? Better equipment? A catchy, rhymed propaganda slogan? No; Xiaogang’s farmers were starving. After taking power in 1949, China’s Communist Party had effectively abolished private land ownership, grouping farms into “people’s communes” subservient to the state. By 1978 villages were crippled by quotas that seized most of what they grew for redistribution.

Continue reading ““Seek Truth from Facts””

“If You Write a Best-Selling Book, You Can Be a Millionaire, Too”

(p. A14) WASHINGTON — Senator Bernie Sanders, whose $18 million fund-raising haul has solidified his status as a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Tuesday [April 9, 2019] that he would release 10 years of tax returns by Tax Day on Monday and acknowledged that he has joined the ranks of the millionaires he has denounced for years.

. . .

Reminded that he is a millionaire, he did not shirk from the description.

“I wrote a best-selling book,” he declared. “If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.”

For the full story, see:

Sheryl Gay Stolberg.  “Sanders Says He’ll Release Tax Returns.”  The New York Times (Wednesday, April 10, 2019):  A14.

(Note:  ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2019, and has the title “Bernie Sanders, Now a Millionaire, Pledges to Release Tax Returns by Monday.”)

Innovative Entrepreneurs Bring Prosperity to the Poor

(p. A17) As the economist Joseph Schumpeter observed: “The capitalist process, not by coincidence but by virtue of its mechanism, progressively raises the standard of life of the masses.”

For Schumpeter, entrepreneurs and the companies they found are the engines of wealth creation. This is what distinguishes capitalism from all previous forms of economic society and turned Marxism on its head, the parasitic capitalist becoming the innovative and beneficent entrepreneur. Since the 2008 crash, Schumpeter’s lessons have been overshadowed by Keynesian macroeconomics, in which the entrepreneurial function is reduced to a ghostly presence. As Schumpeter commented on John Maynard Keynes’s “General Theory” (1936), change–the outstanding feature of capitalism–was, in Keynes’s analysis, “assumed away.”

Progressive, ameliorative change is what poor people in poor countries need most of all. In “The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty,” Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen and co-authors Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillon return the entrepreneur and innovation to the center stage of economic development and prosperity. The authors overturn the current foreign-aid development paradigm of externally imposed, predominantly government funded capital- and institution-building programs and replace it with a model of entrepreneur-led innovation. “It may sound counterintuitive,” the authors write, but “enduring prosperity for many countries will not come from fixing poverty. It will come from investing in innovations that create new markets within these countries.” This is the paradox of the book’s title.

Continue reading “Innovative Entrepreneurs Bring Prosperity to the Poor”