Saturday, September 13, 2008

My More Complete Profile

I am a taxi-cabist -- or was for about 30 years, starting in the Bronx (car service or gypsy), mostly Chicago (very boring but safer -- until it starved me out) and finally San Francisco (until my back went out, this time).
For the first half of my working life I assumed that the world made a place for me economically. I started to question that as Chicago allowed one 30 cent increase in the taxi meter over a 16 year period, at which 1990 mid-point they began cutting the business seemingly in half (subways to both airports, unlimited limos and free trolleys between downtown hotspots) while adding 40% (!) more cabs.
I always assumed I'd have little to contribution to make in economics on the assumption you needed a Ph.D. for starters (like the physical sciences). About 7 years ago I accidentally delved into the income distribution numbers (after reading something instructive from Paul Krugman) to find out -- Achh! -- a quarter of the workforce is earning less than the minimum wage of 1968 -- the minimum wage was on its way to shrinking to almost half the 1968 min while average income doubled -- the fed poverty line is based on triple an emergency diet's cost and everybody reports it as if it had anything to do with reality?! Achh!
Since I was 17 (1961), with 15 years off in NYC's badlands, I read the political books, mags and watched the talking heads -- and never heard a whisper of these stories which should be taken as our greatest national emergencies. (Perhaps reminds of the frog that got thrown in a pot of cold water and did not sense it heating up to boiling -- nobody noticed the gradual happening?)
About 40,000 emails later all I read is about inequality -- don't know what I had to do with that. The Legislatively (re)impose a fair labor market piece has been emailed to about 1600, majority journalists, so far -- at least a couple hundred to go. It was sparked by reading Thomas Palley saying: "...there remains an unsolved policy challenge of how to fairly distribute income at full employment without triggering inflation."
No possible way. Inflation amounts to our chosen method (as with creditors and debtors) of redistributing income share.
Here was a big -- biggest brain -- labor guy who had obviously never thought through any particular process by which lost income share might be restored. If Palley hasn't, that means no other progressive pro hasn't either -- Achh! I'm hoping that showing around that this is a finite problem with definable borders that can be subject to finite sensible (boilerplate -- nothing fancy) solutions (by a high school educated cab driver yet) that others will feel obligated to also have in hand some kind of finite set of overall solutions to the very finite problem (12.5% income share shift) of inequality.
I think the only reason I came up with some kind of overall solutions when others much more schooled did not is that I am so much more hooked up to the problem on the reptilian level: I am desperately motivated to again (like in the 60s and 70s) be able to find work at a fair wage (Chicago cab driving now pays about half what it paid when I started in 1980) and also to be able to find affordable housing, etc., etc).
Another, trickier barrier to solutions coming from the pros may come on their reptilian level: the way boys instinctively cooperate while on the hunt: every boy keeps in mind what every other boy might be thinking or reacting and THIS IS NOT THE TIME to come up with new ideas. IOW, send a bunch of boys out on the hunt for new ideas and by definition they will never come back with any (alone in the library at 3AM, geek econ boys still think they are ON the hunt -- not preparing). And yes (I have seen this on other topics too), girls are much better at understanding their ability to propose a new idea if it makes sense in the abstract sense and gradually work it in no matter what all the other girls and boys are thinking now.
Maybe if the DeLongs and Bakers and Reichs of the world were presented with the inequality problems of the USA under a different country name where they thought they did not know anything about the politics or the current discussion -- sort of like Microsoft presenting Vista under another name -- maybe then they would come up with the most obvious abstract solution to the unbalanced power of the USA labor market which is surely sector-wide labor agreements (the kind of thing you wish you had thought of by yourself -- and almost wonder why you didn't).
Maybe, my next email out -- whenever that may be -- I will consciously raise the question of why any and all econ brains have not presented some kind of overall answer of their own; they are all surely capable of developing at least one set -- should be like a fun contest (if even I, cabbie can have an entry). Not Obama's $1/hr below LBJ's minimum wage or the Dem's scrape the bottom of the 1930s barrel card check -- but a full income share restore plan.
I'm pretty good at getting over reptilian barriers. My first big success at it was getting more new customers than any other paper boy on my New York Post paper route in 1960. Maybe selling at least the need for inequality solutions on the scale of the problem will be my second great success. :-)

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