Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to get real about closing the gender pay gap

In recent years, earnings for the median woman worker have stagnated (economists are calling the last ten years the "lost decade" for women's wages) and progress in closing the gender pay gap has screeched to a halt. What is to be done? In my latest Baffler post, I discuss three policies that have been shown to significantly improve women's pay and narrow the gap. One is unions, which boost wages for women workers at every educational level, from female high school drop-outs to women with graduate degrees. The other two are pay equity (a policy which involves paying women the same for doing work that is comparable to men's) and workplace flexibility (giving workers more freedom to schedule their hours and in some cases, to work from home).

Democrats are running on narrowing the gender gap this year, and while it's heartening to see them finally pay attention to this issue, the policies they are offering fall far short of what is needed. Let's push them to do better.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Trigger warnings: bad for feminism, bad for intellectual culture

I am not a fan of trigger warnings, and in my latest Baffler piece, I explain why. I make two basic points. One is that trigger warnings are anti-intellectual and but the latest manifestation of the pernicious trend of the corporatization of the university and its attendant student-as-customer model. The other is that trigger warnings reinforce the worst Victorian-era stereotypes of women—that we’re fragile flowers who can’t deal with the world’s harsh truths and need to be protected from them. Trigger warnings are actually counter-indicated for survivors of trauma -- research I cite suggests that confronting triggers, not avoiding them, is the best way to avoid PTSD.

Trigger warnings are seemingly innocuous but the little buggers are actually quite insidious in the habits of mind they instill, and their use should be firmly resisted.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Protests against commencement speakers and the politics of symbolism

My latest Baffler piece concerns campus protests against commencement speakers, which we're seeing a lot of these days.  I certainly support some of these protests, like the one at Rutgers against Condi Rice. But overall, I tend to think that the protests are largely symbolic gestures that may feel briefly exhilarating, but don't change anything structurally. Activist energies would be better targeted elsewhere. Here's an excerpt from my piece:
Let’s start with the institution of the university itself. The vast majority of colleges in the U.S. receive lavish taxpayer subsidies, because they are not-for-profit. Nonetheless, there is startling economic injustice on campus. Many of the nation’s top private colleges have endowments in the billions, and college presidents and coaches earn eye-popping salaries, with total annual compensation frequently reaching in the millions. Yet over 700,000 employees across American campuses do not earn a living wage, and pay and working conditions for adjunct faculty are often wretched. (See, for example, this recent Salon article about professors living in homeless shelters and subsisting on food stamps.) The American taxpayer is underwriting that system of economic apartheid. 
Taxpayers also bankroll our oppressive student loan system, which impose an onerous debt burden on millions of Americans. (The un-dischargeable “loans” are more akin to contracts for indentured servitude). There are many other bizarre features of the modern university, such as the fact that elite private colleges tend to receive more in tax subsidies than public universities. Even for the Rutgers students protesting Condi Rice, a more promising target for long-term reform is the system that enabled outrageously high speaking fee ($35,000!) the school was prepared to pay her. That fee was offered in spite of the painful and well-publicized budget cuts that the school has recently suffered—and also the fact that a massive shortfall in the New Jersey state budget was recently announced.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Neoliberal Democrats, Piketty, and inequality

Yeah, you knew they weren't going to like this book very much, either. My latest piece for The Baffler.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What the Mad Men economy reveals about our own

My latest Baffler piece is up. If you watched Mad Men this past Sunday, you will no doubt remember that Peggy Olson earned herself a big fat raise, one that equivalent to 25 percent of her previous salary. On Twitter and fan sites, viewers expressed emotions ranging from envy to longing to disbelief at this development.
I did some digging into the economic statistics and discovered this amazing fact: between 2003 and 2012 median earnings for full-time, year-round workers declined by 2.7 percent for men and 1.5 percent for women. But between 1960 and 1969, the years during which Mad Men is set, real median earnings—again, for full-time, year-round workers—increased by a staggering 29 percent for men and 25 percent for women.
What the hell happened?, you may well ask. I explain (hint: it has to do with economic inequality -- big surprise, right?) The bottom line, as I say in my piece, is that "Rising wages for the average worker shouldn’t be viewed as a quaint relic from a time when men wore hats."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My latest Baffler post: the fake populism of rich conservatives

You know what's funny? When wingnuts and the rich want to prove they're the salt of the earth, only they're so privileged they have to reach back several generations into the family tree to find any personal connection to hardship. My latest for The Baffler.

Friday, May 2, 2014

New Baffler post: the Apple-Samsung patent wars and our broken intellectual property system

Here's my latest Baffler piece, which concerns the Apple-Samsung court case. The ongoing litigation between the two tech giants over various software patents threatens to become the longest, and most pointless, legal case since Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Read my piece to find out how our dysfunctional intellectual property regime, which this case exemplifies, stifles innovation, rips off taxpayers and consumers, and generates economic inequality.