Posts by Paul Constant

A Long-Delayed Equal Pay Bill Comes Back to Life in Olympia

A Long-Delayed Equal Pay Bill Comes Back to Life in Olympia

Ashley Stewart at the Puget Sound Business Journal says a long-delayed bill that provides more opportunities to fight gender pay inequality is now on the move again in the Washington state legislature. House Bill 1646 was held up last year in the state Senate, but it’s been tightened and refocused, thanks to “groups including the Washington Technology Industry Association, Microsoft and Legal Voice,” and it’s about to hit the spotlight again. If passed, this would be the first revision of the state’s equal pay law since 1943. You can read the text of the bill here (PDF) , but the gist of it is that any “employer in this state who discriminates in providing compensation based on gender between similarly employed individuals is guilty of a misdemeanor.” It allows victims of discrimination to recover their pay through civil action, and it makes it illegal for an employer to demand “nondisclosure by an employee of his or her wages as a condition of employment.” “Women often don’t even know if they’re being underpaid,” said state Rep. Tana Senn, the Mercer Island Democrat who introduced the bill. “Women can’t ask for more or resolve the difference if there’s pay secrecy.” House Bill 1646 is particularly aimed to improve the tech sector—a huge driver of Washington’s booming economy, and one of the worst industries when it comes to gender inclusion. Stewart writes, “Women make up 17 percent of software engineers nationally, for example, and only 14 percent in Washington state.” Workplace inclusion is so necessary. We solve problems through inclusion—we need as many different perspectives and solutions as possible—and if we continue to exclude or marginalize fifty percent of the population, other nations will overtake the United States as the most diverse, inclusive economy in the world. This is a first step toward creating a more inclusive environment in Washington state. It’s about time.

The Price of Exclusion Is High—Like, in the Tens of Millions of Dollars, at Least

The Price of Exclusion Is High—Like, in the Tens of Millions of Dollars, at Least

As you may recall, last year Indiana passed a law that made it legal to discriminate against gay people on religious grounds. The response to this law was immediate and overpowering: musicians, consumer groups, and tech industry leaders all called for a boycott of Indiana until the law was repealed. One response to Indiana, written by Civic Ventures heads Nick Hanauer and Zach Silk , made an economic case for inclusion: Here’s the 21st century reality: inclusion strengthens our country, our institutions, and our economy. And politicians in the twenty-one states fighting to keep their discriminatory marriage practices appear to be totally clueless about how modern technological economies work, and how extreme the competition for talented workers that drive innovation has become. And now we’ve got proof that exclusion comes with a price. Bryan Slodysko writes for the Associated Press : Indiana may have lost as much as $60 million in hotel profits, tax revenue and other economic benefits when a dozen groups decided against hosting conventions in Indianapolis last year due at least in part to the controversy surrounding the state’s religious objections law. A document prepared by the tourism group Visit Indy shows that the 12 out-of-state groups were surveyed and all said that the state’s controversial law played a role in their decision to hold their events elsewhere. And if you recall, Indiana did an about-face on the discriminatory law very quickly; these losses came after just a few weeks in the national spotlight. The bad press that Indiana absorbed during the whole media uproar will continue to mark the state as a discriminatory, exclusionary place for years to come. The lesson from Indiana is clear: you can’t just carve out a slice of the population and mark them as acceptable objects of discrimination without repercussions. Hatred and exclusion aren’t just morally abhorrent—they’re economically disastrous.

No, Flint’s Water Crisis Does Not Prove We Should Privatize Clean Drinking Water

No, Flint’s Water Crisis Does Not Prove We Should Privatize Clean Drinking Water

Everyone agrees that the poisoned drinking water of Flint, Michigan represents a disastrous failure on the part of local government. After all, clean drinking water is the most essential ingredient for a functioning society—if you can’t get clean water, everything else collapses. This is why pretty much everyone agrees that clean water is a public good, that it’s the government’s responsibility to provide clean drinking water to its citizens. Note that I said “pretty much” everyone agrees that clean drinking water is a public good? I had to make that distinction because conservative economists exist. And to conservative economists, basically any so-called “government intervention”—yes, including clean drinking water—is evil. And so our old friend Tim Worstall begins to quibble for Forbes [A public good] is not something which is good for the public (which clean drinking water definitely is) nor a good that should be supplied to the public (which clean water definitively is). A public good is something that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. That is, if I’m able to enjoy a supply of something that doesn’t diminish the amount of that same thing that someone else is able to enjoy or consume. And secondly, that there’s no real way to exclude people from being able to enjoy that. Obviously, neither of these are true about the supply of lead free drinking water. Don’t pay your water bills and you’ll quickly find out how quickly your supply can be excluded, and my drinking the water really does mean that you don’t have access to that particular portion of water: not until it’s been back through the treatment plant at least. Interesting that Worstall bases his complaint on a semantic argument, and interesting that Worstall knows he’s fighting an unpopular battle. He continues: It probably is true that the absence of pandemic disease through the existence of a decent sanitation system is a public good.
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Joe Biden and Will Smith Speak Economic Truth

Joe Biden and Will Smith Speak Economic Truth

1. At the annual Davos conference, in which the wealthiest people in the world gather to discuss, you know, rich-people topics, Vice President Biden delivered a speech that plenty of the people in that room needed to hear. As Reuter’s Ben Hirschler reports : “My call to action here is simple – embrace your obligation to workers as well as your shareholders,” Biden said, criticizing the recent trend by firms to return mountains of cash to investors by buying back stock rather than investing for the future. Biden could not be any more right, here. If you want to learn about the roughly trillion-dollar dent that stock buybacks leave in the American economy each year, Nick Hanauer wrote about it for The Atlantic last year . Biden then dropped an even-bigger truth bomb on Davos: “When the middle class does well, the wealthy do very well, and the poor have a ladder up,” he said. This is the absolute truth, and the fact that Biden is dropping it on the Davos crowd, which has thrived on the trickle down concept that giving rich people more money will benefit everyone, is admirable. The fact is, tax cuts for the wealthy don’t create wealth, in part because rich people are rich because they’re very, very good at holding onto the money they make. You need the middle class to get a raise, because they will then spend that money on goods and services, thereby stimulating the economy and creating more good-paying jobs, which will continue the cycle in a positive feedback loop. And, yes, plenty of that money will flow upwards to the top one percent, meaning that we’re not asking the very rich to give up their Davos membership cards. The thing about economic inclusion is that it benefits everyone and not just the very rich. 2. When asked today on Good Morning
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Mitt Romney: Republicans Are “Nuts Not to Raise the Minimum Wage”

Mitt Romney: Republicans Are “Nuts Not to Raise the Minimum Wage”

After two failed runs for the presidency and one impossibly stupid rant admitting that he’s not the candidate of poor people, Mitt Romney has finally seen the light. Eric Levenson at Boston.com reports Romney’s latest thoughts on the Republican Party: “I think we’re nuts not to raise the minimum wage,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I think as a party, to say we’re trying to help the middle class of America and the poor and not raise the minimum wage sends exactly the wrong signal.” Romney is correct, here, and it’s not the first time. He’s been calling for the minimum wage to be increased for a while—almost since he lost the election in 2012. Republicans are stuck in a dead end right now. They know they need to support the middle class in some way, but their rich supporters are against raising the minimum wage at all. They’re stuck, and only a retired politician like Romney can tell the truth about this awkward, tenuous situation. Romney’s most extraordinary comment is in this next quote: “As a party we speak a lot about deregulation and tax policy, and you know what? People have been hearing that for 25 years and they’re getting tired of that message,” he said. This is an astonishing flourish of self-awareness from Romney, a man who almost never demonstrates a capability for reflection. He understands that Republicans haven’t issued anything new on the economy in a very long time, and the American people are finally recognizing the sound of a broken record. Tax cuts and slashing regulations is not going to do it anymore. Too bad the party that Romney is trying to speak truth to has fled in entirely the other direction, embracing the hate and fear of Trump and Cruz. Romney’s acting as the mouthpiece
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Newsflash: The Market Can’t “Decide” People’s Wages Because the Market Is Not a Sentient Being

Newsflash: The Market Can’t “Decide” People’s Wages Because the Market Is Not a Sentient Being

Yesterday, Mark Perry wrote for conservative think-tank AEI that minimum wage laws are as ridiculous as laws that try to control the temperature. Because you can’t control the weather, right? Right. (Well, except through years of unregulated environmental destruction, but I’m sure that’s something else Perry and I disagree on.) Anyway, here’s his point: Bottom Line: If the proposed Minimum/Maximum Temperature Laws seem ridiculous, that’s because they are totally ridiculous. And so is the Minimum Wage Law.Unfair Government Mandate Preventing Thousands of Unskilled Workers from Finding a Job. Forcing employers to pay an unskilled worker $10.10 per hour (or $12 as proposed by Hillary Clinton and $15 an hour as is currently being proposed by Bernie Sanders and the NY Times, among others) won’t change the reality that many of those workers are actually only worth $7 or $8 per hour in the labor market. The artificially high minimum wage causes distortions and inefficiencies in the unskilled labor market because the minimum wage does not accurately and truthfully reflect many workers’ true productivity, and it’s like creating a government-mandated fantasy world (or government censorship and lies, according to Don above). A disconnect is created between the true measure (e.g. $7 per hour) and an artificial, government-mandated measure ($10.10, $12 or $15 an hour), of a worker’s value or productivity. As much as I hate to say it, I believe this paragraph contains the real reason why Mark Perry and I will never see eye to eye. In his mind, the economy is a natural law like the weather, and the minimum wage is an artificial way to control that law. If you think the economy just happens spontaneously and does whatever it would do regardless of human interaction, any attempts to guide the economy in a direction that the economy does not “want” to go in would
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WA Coalition Files Initiative for $13.50 Minimum Wage, Paid Sick Leave

WA Coalition Files Initiative for $13.50 Minimum Wage, Paid Sick Leave

Raise Up Washington, a coalition of grocery store workers, home care providers, civic leaders, and public policy experts filed a citizen initiative this morning to raise the minimum wage and provide paid sick leave for every worker in Washington State. What does this mean for Washington’s workers? If the initiative is voted into law this November, it will raise the state hourly minimum wage to $11 on January 1st of next year, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019, and $13.50 in 2020. (The minimum wage is currently $9.47 an hour statewide.) The department of labor and industries will adjust the minimum wage by rate of inflation every January 1st thereafter. The initiative also resolves a pernicious issue in food service by ensuring that employers must pay their employees all tips and gratuities received. (Think on that for a moment: employers aren’t legally required to share tips with their employees in Washington state right now.) Employers will also compensate their workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Workers start accruing sick time immediately, but employers won’t be legally required to pay out sick time until 90 days after employment begins. Those workers won’t be able to carry over more than 40 hours of sick time a year. This law applies to both full-time and part-time employees. Employers are welcome to provide more than one hour of paid sick leave per 40 hours worked, and they may choose to provide sick leave in advance of accrual. This initiative supplies a set of minimum standards. This would benefit a huge number of people around the state. Today, more than 730,000 Washington workers make less than $13.50 an hour—more than half of whom are over the age of 30—and over a million workers don’t enjoy any paid sick
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Charles Koch, Who Made Politics Exclusionary, Is Upset That Politics Is So Exclusionary

Charles Koch, Who Made Politics Exclusionary, Is Upset That Politics Is So Exclusionary

I read an astounding paragraph about conservative mega-donor Charles Koch this morning. It’s in the New York Times , it was written by Alan Rappeport, and here it is: In an interview with The Financial Times, Mr. Koch bemoaned the state of the field of Republican candidates seeking the nomination and suggested that big money was losing its influence in politics these days. His concern over the policies of Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was especially clear. An appropriate alternative headline for this story would be “In Retrospect, Frankenstein Regrets Constructing Monster Out of Deceased Human Parts.” Koch says two head-shakingly stupid things in this interview. Let’s take them apart, one by one. First of all, Koch, who previously announced with his brother David that he’d be spending 900 million dollars in the 2016 election cycle, laments the fact that money doesn’t have as much influence in politics as it once did. This is an incredible admission. The Kochs are the poster boys of campaign overspending; their names have become intertwined with the Supreme Court’s terrible Citizens United decision. Spending did not correlate with success in the 2012 presidential election cycle, leading many people to theorize that excessive spending has led to a saturation point. Basically, there are only so many TV ad spaces you can buy, and only so much public attention you can purchase. So in short, Koch is complaining that other rich people came in and ruined the wonderland that he had imagined he and his brother would dominate. This is not just whiny, it’s also incredibly short-sighted. How did Koch not realize this would happen? And what’s he going to do next—pursue legislation that only people named “Koch” can donate more than $50,000 to a campaign? I bet some congressional Republicans would endorse that legislation. And secondly, Koch says that Trump’s (unconstitutional) plan
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You Really Ought to See The Big Short

You Really Ought to See The Big Short

It’s not very often that we talk about movies here at Civic Skunk Works, but this is a special occasion. Over the holiday break, I caught up on my awards-season movie-watching (Star Wars is fun, Carol is awesome, I was disappointed with The Hateful Eight) and The Big Short was my favorite movie of the lot. It was incredibly fun to watch—funny, inventive, well-acted, and directed with a simmering sense of anger by Anchorman director Adam McKay. You should definitely watch it. And yes, the movie is based on Michael Lewis’s book with the same title, and yes the book is better than the movie and you should read it. But the movie is entertaining and educational in its own right; I think people who’ve read the book would find a lot to enjoy in the movie. The Big Short, if you didn’t know, is the true story of a small group of investors who decided to bet on the housing bubble bursting. (Spoiler alert for anybody who was in a coma in 2008: the housing bubble did, eventually burst.) The movie ingeniously makes the characters—played by Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and others—so dorky and likable that you’re actively rooting for them, which means at various points during the movie you realize that you’re hoping for the economy to collapse. The moral ambiguity of the whole thing is difficult to wrap your head around—the investors are horrified that the housing bubble is built on lies and deception and ignorance, but they’re also hoping to profit off of it—and that mixture of outrage and guilt creates a nice narrative drive that makes the movie a pleasure to watch. Don’t just take my word for it—even Bloomberg‘s Barry Ritholz , who wrote an excellent book about the economic downturn , says the movie “gets the broad strokes of the crisis
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That North Carolina Town Is Afraid of Solar Power Because They Have No Ownership

That North Carolina Town Is Afraid of Solar Power Because They Have No Ownership

Last week, the internet collectively shook its head at the residents of Woodland, a small North Carolina town. At a meeting to discuss a proposed new field of solar panels, Woodland residents offered up some ridiculous protests. One worried that solar panels cause cancer. (They don’t.) A complaint was raised that solar panels draw sunlight away from chlorophyll-producing plants. (Not even remotely true.) And another suggested that the panels “would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland.” Everyone on the internet had a good laugh at the Woodlanders’ expense and promptly moved on. But David Roberts at Vox published an excellent piece today that explores the story a little further. He discovers that Woodland is an incredibly poor town, and like many poor American towns it’s suffering from a youth drain—young people are moving away at rapid rates. Four out of every ten residents does not have a high school diploma. Residents are rightfully worried that their town is slowly being abandoned. Roberts points out that Woodland doesn’t benefit from the solar panels at all. They don’t get taxes from the solar farms, or jobs, or any cuts to their energy bills. So far as they’re concerned, the panels are just taking up space. Is it any wonder that they’re spreading rumors about the panels? They’re terrifying, they provide no benefit to the town, and they’re a reminder that people have abandoned Woodland. By way of a solution, Roberts suggests benefit sharing. He shows that complaints from locals go way down when benefit sharing takes place, and he shares some benefit sharing mechanisms from an EU report that have helped clean energy achieve immense levels of popularity in Europe. 1. Community Funds: the local developer provides funds which are at the disposal of the community for common
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