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The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death - The New Yorker
"Last September, a very twenty-first-century type of story appeared on the company blog of the ride-sharing app Lyft. “Long-time Lyft driver and mentor, Mary, was nine months pregnant when she picked up a passenger the night of July 21st,” the post began. “About a week away from her due date, Mary decided to drive for a few hours after a day of mentoring.” You can guess what happened next.

Mary, who was driving in Chicago, picked up a few riders, and then started having contractions. “Since she was still a week away from her due date,” Lyft wrote, “she assumed they were simply a false alarm and continued driving.” As the contractions continued, Mary decided to drive to the hospital. “Since she didn’t believe she was going into labor yet,” Lyft went on, “she stayed in driver mode, and sure enough—ping!— she received a ride request en route to the hospital.”

“Luckily,” as Lyft put it, the passenger requested a short trip. After completing it, Mary went to the hospital, where she was informed that she was in labor. She gave birth to a daughter, whose picture appears in the post. (She’s wearing a “Little Miss Lyft” onesie.) The post concludes with a call for similar stories: “Do you have an exciting Lyft story you’d love to share? Tweet us your story at @lyft_CHI!”

Mary’s story looks different to different people. Within the ghoulishly cheerful Lyft public-relations machinery, Mary is an exemplar of hard work and dedication—the latter being, perhaps, hard to come by in a company that refuses to classify its drivers as employees. Mary’s entrepreneurial spirit—taking ride requests while she was in labor!—is an “exciting” example of how seamless and flexible app-based employment can be. Look at that hustle! You can make a quick buck with Lyft anytime, even when your cervix is dilating.

Lyft does not provide its drivers paid maternity leave or health insurance. (It offers to connect drivers with an insurance broker, and helpfully notes that “the Affordable Care Act offers many choices to make sure you’re covered.”) A third-party platform called SherpaShare, which some drivers use to track their earnings, found, in 2015, that Lyft drivers in Chicago net about eleven dollars per trip. Perhaps, as Lyft suggests, Mary kept accepting riders while experiencing contractions because “she was still a week away from her due date,” or “she didn’t believe she was going into labor yet.” Or maybe Mary kept accepting riders because the gig economy has further normalized the circumstances in which earning an extra eleven dollars can feel more important than seeking out the urgent medical care that these quasi-employers do not sponsor. In the other version of Mary’s story, she’s an unprotected worker in precarious circumstances. “I can’t pretend to know Mary’s economic situation,” Bryan Menegus at Gizmodo wrote, when the story first appeared. “Maybe she’s an heiress who happens to love the freedom of chauffeuring strangers from place to place on her own schedule. But that Lyft, for some reason, thought that this would reflect kindly on them is perhaps the most horrifying part.”

It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news. Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace that promotes itself as being for “the lean entrepreneur”—as its name suggests, services advertised on Fiverr can be purchased for as low as five dollars—recently attracted ire for an ad campaign called “In Doers We Trust.” One ad, prominently displayed on some New York City subway cars, features a woman staring at the camera with a look of blank determination. “You eat a coffee for lunch,” the ad proclaims. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”

Fiverr, which had raised a hundred and ten million dollars in venture capital by November, 2015, has more about the “In Doers We Trust” campaign on its Web site. In one video, a peppy female voice-over urges “doers” to “always be available,” to think about beating “the trust-fund kids,” and to pitch themselves to everyone they see, including their dentist. A Fiverr press release about “In Doers We Trust” states, “The campaign positions Fiverr to seize today’s emerging zeitgeist of entrepreneurial flexibility, rapid experimentation, and doing more with less. It pushes against bureaucratic overthinking, analysis-paralysis, and excessive whiteboarding.” This is the jargon through which the essentially cannibalistic nature of the gig economy is dressed up as an aesthetic. No one wants to eat coffee for lunch or go on a bender of sleep deprivation—or answer a call from a client while having sex, as recommended in the video. It’s a stretch to feel cheerful at all about the Fiverr marketplace, perusing the thousands of listings of people who will record any song, make any happy-birthday video, or design any book cover for five dollars. I’d guess that plenty of the people who advertise services on Fiverr would accept some “whiteboarding” in exchange for employer-sponsored health insurance.

At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear. Human-interest stories about the beauty of some person standing up to the punishments of late capitalism are regular features in the news, too. I’ve come to detest the local-news set piece about the man who walks ten or eleven or twelve miles to work—a story that’s been filed from Oxford, Alabama; from Detroit, Michigan; from Plano, Texas. The story is always written as a tearjerker, with praise for the person’s uncomplaining attitude; a car is usually donated to the subject in the end. Never mentioned or even implied is the shamefulness of a job that doesn’t permit a worker to afford his own commute.

There’s a painful distance between the chipper narratives surrounding labor and success in America and the lived experience of workers. A similar conflict drove Nathanael West, in 1934, to publish the novel “A Cool Million,” which satirized the Horatio Alger bootstrap fables that remained popular into the Great Depression. “Alger is to America what Homer was to the Greeks,” West once wrote. His protagonist in “A Cool Million,” Lemuel Pitkin, is an innocent, energetic striver, tasked with saving his mother’s house from foreclosure. A series of Alger-esque plot twists ensue. But Pitkin, rather than triumphing, ends up losing his teeth, his eye, his leg, his scalp, and finally his thumb. Morris Dickstein, in his book “Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression,” notes, “The novel ends with Lem as a vaudeville clown being beaten nightly until he simply falls apart.” A former President named Shagpoke Whipple gives a speech valorizing Pitkin’s fate, extolling “the right of every American boy to go into the world and . . . make his fortune by industry.” Whipple describes Pitkin’s dismemberment—“lovingly,” Dickstein adds—and tells his audience that, through Pitkin’s hard work and enthusiastic martyrdom, “America became again American.”"
jiatolentino  gigeconomy  freelancing  capitalism  culture  work  labor  exploitation  horatioalger  lemuelpitkin  morrisdickstein  uber  lyft  fiverr  self-reliance  individualism  economics  latecapitalism  neoliberalism  health  healthinsurance  well-being  affordablecareact  sleepdeprivation 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Hard for California to Calexit federal government | The Sacramento Bee
"California and some other parts of the U.S. are in different political orbits when it comes to presidential picks. But the nation’s largest state and the federal government are more deeply entwined than ever on tax, spending and other fiscal matters.

In the wake of the presidential victory by Republican Donald Trump – who lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton in California by nearly 4.3 million votes – some Golden State denizens have suggested more autonomy if not outright independence from the rest of the United States.

Little mention is made of the federal government’s major role in the lives of Californians, from the $47.5 billion in federal contracts awarded to state businesses and other recipients in federal fiscal year 2015, or the nearly $96 billion in federal funds in the current state budget, representing more than one-third of the budget total.

About 344,000 Californians work directly for the federal government, according to the most recent census data, paying state taxes and generating economic activity.

Some Trump supporters, meanwhile, have opined that the rest of the country would be better off without California and its Democratic-leaning electorate.

Yet those people rarely note that California, which represents about 12 percent of the country’s population, generated 13.5 percent of the total federal income tax payments in 2014, the most recent data available – the most of any state.

Compared to most other states, California generally has paid more to the federal government than it receives in federal spending.

A report last year by the New York Office of the Comptroller concluded that California received 99 cents in federal spending for every dollar it paid in federal taxes during the 2013 federal fiscal year, one of 11 states that received less federal money than they paid in taxes.

California, though, has outsized involvement in some federal programs. For example, the state has embraced the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, opting to expand Medi-Cal to cover more than 3.5 million new participants.

If Trump and congressional Republicans follow through on their threat to repeal the law, annual federal funding for Medi-Cal would drop by more than $15 billion, according to the California Budget and Policy Center."
california  calexit  us  money  government  data  2016  taxes  healthcare  employment  obamacare  affordablecareact  medical  economics 
december 2016 by robertogreco
The American Way over the Nordic Model? Are we crazy? - LA Times
"In my long nomadic life, I've been to both poles and most countries in between. I still remember when to be an American was to be envied. The country where I grew up after World War II seemed to be respected and admired around the world.

Today, as one of 1.6 million Americans living in Europe, I instead face hard questions about our nation. Wherever I travel, Europeans, Asians and Africans ask expatriates like me to explain everything odd or troubling about the conduct of the United States. Polite people, normally reluctant to risk offending a guest, ask pointedly about America's trigger-happiness, cutthroat free-marketeering, and "exceptionality."

Their questions share a single underlying theme: Have Americans gone over the edge? Are you crazy?

At the absolute top of the list: "Why would anyone oppose national healthcare?" Many countries have had some form of national healthcare since the 1930s, Germany since 1880. Some versions, as in France and Britain, have devolved into two-tier public and private systems. Yet even the privileged would not begrudge their fellow citizens government-funded comprehensive healthcare. That so many Americans do strikes Europeans as baffling, if not brutal.

In the Scandinavian countries, long considered to be the most socially progressive in the world, a national (physical and mental) health program is a big part — but only a part — of a more general social welfare system. In Norway, where I live, all citizens also have access to free education from age 6 through specialty training or university; low cost, subsidized preschool; unemployment benefits, job-placement and paid retraining; paid parental leave; old age pensions, and more. These benefits are not a "safety net" — that is, charitable payments grudgingly bestowed upon the needy. They are universal: equally available as a human right, promoting social harmony.

In the Scandinavian countries, long considered to be the most socially progressive in the world, a national (physical and mental) health program is a big part — but only a part — of a more general social welfare system. In Norway, where I live, all citizens also have access to free education from age 6 through specialty training or university; low cost, subsidized preschool; unemployment benefits, job-placement and paid retraining; paid parental leave; old age pensions, and more. These benefits are not a "safety net" — that is, charitable payments grudgingly bestowed upon the needy. They are universal: equally available as a human right, promoting social harmony.

This is the Nordic Model: a balance of regulated capitalism, universal social welfare, political democracy and the highest levels of gender and economic equality on the planet. It's their system, begun in Sweden in the 1930s and developed across Scandinavia in the postwar period. Yes, they pay for it through high taxation. (Though compared with the U.S. tax code, Norway's progressive income tax is remarkably streamlined.) And despite the efforts of an occasional conservative government to muck it up, they maintain it. Why?

They like it. International rankings cite Norway as the best place to grow old, to be a woman and to raise a child. The title of "best" or "happiest" place to live on Earth comes down to a neighborly contest among Norway and the neighboring Nordic social democracies, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.

All the Nordic countries broadly agree that only when people's basic needs are met — when they cease to worry about jobs, education, healthcare, transportation, etc. — can they truly be free to do as they like. While the U.S. settles for the fantasy that every kid has an equal shot at the American dream, Nordic social welfare systems lay the foundations for a more authentic equality and individualism.

These ideas are not novel. They are implied in the preamble to our own Constitution. You know, the part about "We the People" forming "a more perfect Union" to "promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

Knowing this, a Norwegian is appalled at what America is doing to its posterity today. That top chief executives are paid 300 to 400 times as much as an average employee. Or that Govs. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chris Christie of New Jersey, having run up their state's debts by cutting taxes for the rich, now plan to cover the loss with money snatched from public pension funds. That two-thirds of American college students finish in the red, some owing $100,000 or more. That in the U.S., still the world's richest country, 1 in 3 children lives in poverty. Or that the multitrillion-dollar wars of Presidents George W. Bush and Obama were fought on a credit card, to be paid off by the kids.

Implications of America's uncivilized inhumanity lurk in the questions foreign observers ask me: Why can't you shut down that concentration camp in Cuba? Why can't you stop interfering with women's healthcare? What is it about science and climate change you can't understand?

And the most pressing question of all: Why do you send your military all over the world to stir up trouble for all of us?

Europeans often connect America's reckless conduct abroad to its refusal to put its own house in order. They've watched the United States unravel its flimsy safety net, fail to replace decaying infrastructure, weaken organized labor, bring its national legislature to a standstill and create the greatest degree of economic inequality in almost a century. As they see it, with ever less personal security and next to no social welfare system, Americans are bound to be anxious and fearful. They understand as well why so many Americans have lost trust in a national government that for three decades has done so little for them (save Obama's endlessly embattled modest healthcare effort).

In Norway's capital, where a statue of a contemplative President Franklin D. Roosevelt overlooks the harbor, many America-watchers think he may have been the last U.S. president who understood and could explain to the citizenry what government might do for all of them.

It's hard to pin down why America is as it is today, and — believe me — even harder to explain it to others. Some Europeans who interrogate me say that the U.S. is "crazy" — or "paranoid," "self-absorbed," or simply "behind the times." Others, more charitably, imply that Americans are merely "misguided" or "asleep" and may still recover sanity. But wherever I travel, the questions follow, each suggesting that the United States, if not exactly crazy, is decidedly a danger to itself and others."
2015  annejones  us  healthcare  healthinsurance  socialsafetynet  scandinavia  norway  germany  uk  europe  inequality  equality  americandream  progressivism  socialism  capitalism  politics  policy  parentalleave  pensions  universality  nordiccountries  sweden  denmark  finland  iceland  individualism  equity  education  obamacare  affordablecareact  fdr 
january 2015 by robertogreco
This One Chart Shows Everything That’s Wrong With Liberal Politics | Notes on a Theory...
"Let’s leave aside the fact that federal dollars do materialize out of thin air. Transferring money from the rich to the poor is precisely what conservatives don’t want to do. Normally this complaint is about “redistribution” but the reality is that conservatives (especially elite conservatives) are opposed to any distributions that don’t transfer money upward. They support policies that make the poor more insecure, more miserable, and they oppose those that prevent the rich from having more wealth and power. They will pay the costs when it comes to these goals. As I’ve said before, ‘big government’ is any action that enforces the law against the rich or provides protections to the poor while ‘small government’ is any and all protections and benefits for the rich or punishments for the poor. This is the conservative project, not spending less federal dollars as a matter of principle.

Every once and a while there’s a renewed effort among liberals to insist that the GOP is the party of death because they oppose universal health care (or more to the point, somewhat more universal). People die without health care, people don’t get health care without health insurance, so those who oppose expansion of health insurance are ensuring people die. But if we admit that people die without health care than what do we say about not fighting to change that? The Democratic Party has still not engaged in a serious effort to fight for Medicaid expansion. The original bill was designed to coerce states into accepting it, and when the Supreme Court took that mechanism away, Democrats mostly threw up their hands. (I mean officials and candidates. Even then there are exceptions. There are people out there fighting for this, and they are to be commended and supported). The party put most of its resources and attention on the Senate, never really made a case for why people should vote for them, never tried to move passive supporters of Medicare expansion or various other policies into active supporters, and the GOP ended up racking up large victories in state houses around the country in addition to taking the Senate.

The thing is that Medicaid expansion is popular. It’s popular in red states. It gives Democrats a wedge to use in less hospitable places.  But to translate that position into political support takes work. And charts won’t do that. Facts won’t do that. ‘Cost’ arguments won’t do it. Only contestation will."
obamacare  democrats  republicans  politics  policy  healthcare  insurance  2014  inequality  poverty  medicaide  affordablecareact  georgia  redistribution  biggovernment  government  elections 
november 2014 by robertogreco

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