Tuesday, August 23, 2011
In songs of Innocence and Experience, William Blake presents disturbing images of children caught up in the throes of the industrial revolution. While the churches argued that we should take care of the poor, in actual practice it was often the case that they didn't. Churches, like other institutions, require money, and to serve those who haven't got any is not a good way to increase prosperity. Read the poems (they are very simple but only in one sense), and then I have a brief follow-up.
The Chimney Sweeper
Source: Songs of Innocence,1789 and Songs of Experience;
HTML: for marxists.org in April, 2002.
The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence), 1789
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.
There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curl'd llke a lamb's back, was shav'd: so I said
"Hush. Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."
And so he was quiet & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned or Jack.
Were all of them lock'd up in coffins of black.
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he open'd the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river. and shine in the Sun.
Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father & never want joy.
And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark.
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Tho' the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.
The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Experience), 1794
A little black thing among the snow:
Crying weep, weep, in notes of woe!
Where are thy father & mother! say!
They are both gone up to the church to pray.
Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smil'd among the winters snow:
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.
And because I am happy, & dance & sing,
They think they have done me no injury:
And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King
Who make up a heaven of our misery.
Blake's poems were written at about the same time as the French Revolution. One also situates them at about the same time as the Industrial Revolution is turning England into the world's first superpower. England had become a capitalist giant, but in many English writers (not just Blake, but on through Dickens, and Orwell) there is an attempt to criticize those who benefited by focusing on those who didn't.
In some cases this has been an attack on capitalism itself as having given rise to these conditions. (there are many other questions in the poem -- such as whether the parents were selling their kids into slavery, and how often this happened, but let's stick with the simpler questions for now).
Ludwig von Mises, one of the kingpins of the Austrian School of Economics (pro-capitalist) argues that the beginning of capitalism was a monstrous period precisely because of the conditions that feudalism had created.
"The famous old story, repeated hundreds of times, that the factories employed women and children and that these women and children, before they were working in factories, had lived under satisfactory conditions, is one of the greatest falsehoods of history... And all the talk about the so-called unspeakable horror of early capitalism can be refuted by a single statistic: precisely in these years in which British capitalism developed, precisely in the age called the Industrial Revolution in England, in the years from 1760 to 1830, precisely in those years the population of England doubled, which means that hundreds of thousands of children -- who would have died in preceding times -- survived and grew to become men and women.
There is no doubt that the conditions of the preceding times were very unsatisfactory. It was capitalist business that improved them. ...Again and again, the early historians of capitalism have -- one can hardly use a milder word -- falsified history... (Ludwig von Mises, Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow, pp. 6-8).
"When the manufacturers in Great Britain first began to produce cotton goods, they paid their workers more than they had earned before. Of course, a great percentage of these new workers had earned nothing at all before that and were prepared to take anything they were offered. But after a short time -- when more and more capital was accumulated and more and more capital was accumulated and more and more new enterprises were developed -- wage rates went up, and the result was the unprecedented increase in British population which I spoke of earlier...
If we look upon the history of the world, and especially upon the history of England since 1865, we realize that Marx was wrong in every respect. There is no western, capitalistic country in which the conditions of the masses have not improved in an unprecedented way" (12-13).
Ludwig von Mises, Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006 -- based upon a series of lectures given by von Mises in Argentina in 1959).
Communism is the attempt to blame capitalism and to argue that it has ruined the working classes. Von Mises argues that capitalism has raised the situation of the working classes. (There is another secondary implication that communism is the RETURN of the feudal system in which the population works for its new feudal lords: the communist party, but it's not one that he's yet developed in the text -- but I'm not very far in.)
This is more or less the situation in most communist countries today: think of Kim Jong-Il and his palaces throughout North Korea. It is the situation in Zimbabwe under Mugabe. Or the situation in Myanmar, or in Communist China today (China is getting wealthier for those in the party but its people are still poorer than 100+ of the 191 countries in the world). The communist party represents the return of feudalism in which the high-minded freaks of Marxist theory impoverish the rabble who would have been better off under capitalism. It's the return of a new elite, which in fact turns out to be the same old elite, with a new story as to why they should continue to lord it over the unwashed masses.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
I've finished reading the OT, and believe that it boils down to following God's laws. Exactly what those are, however, is not clear.
In Jeremiah 22:13 there is an explicit reference to capitalism.
"Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work."
Capitalism is ok.
But the law doesn't stop with providing wages in return for work. There are some other stipulations.
In Ezekiel, God says,
"Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die."
To be lawful and right, a soul should "not have defiled his neighbor's wife, neither hath come near to a mentruous woman, and .. hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment" 18:4-7.
If a person is poor through gambling, or through drink, should one help them? the etiology of poverty is rarely addressed.
2,700 years later, here we are in America. Are we going by the Old Testament, or by laws created by the People, for the People?
John Adams thought the country should be "bound by fixed laws, which the people have a voice in making, and a right to defend" (Adams, Novanglus, no. 7, 6 Mar. 1775).
So, whose laws? Will they be ours, or God's?
When Emma Lazarus wrote that the statue of Liberty should welcome all immigrants to our shores it was 1883. The poem was originally part of a fund-raiser for the pedestal (which the French didn't provide), but was added in 1903, thanks to a friend's crusade (she had been dead for 16 years). The French gave the Statue to us to thank us for the concept of a non-monarchical country (they were slipping back into monarchy under various emperors). But Lazarus turned it toward a conception of welcome to the world's poor. Many continue to think America has an eternal debt to the world's poor, as it is enshrined in Lazarus' final lines:
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
I think we should only take people who arrive legally, who want to follow the laws, and who we can be put to immediate and useful work that no current American who is out of work can do. We are a nation bound by fixed laws. At any rate, Lazarus was never elected to office. Poets do legislate, Shelley said, but who elected Shelley? Who elected Lazarus? Who elected Ezekiel? Screw them. This is America.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan sponsored a bill entitled House Resolution 419 in 2007. It apparently never got out of committee (bills that aren't taken up in committee are wiped from the rolls after a legislative session and have to be reintroduced).
McCotter's bill is here:
I don't think it's specific enough in terms of penalties. I suggest jail time for owners of dogs, commensurate with the kind of jail time given to an adult human for similar bites. Since the dog owners own the dogs, they are responsible for the bites. If a dog bites a child, then it should be as if the owner him or herself has bitten the child. Reprimanding the dog does no good (can a leopard change its spots?), but the owner can be put in a kennel and the dog destroyed.
The National Postal Service endorsed McCotter's bill.
While most of us can do nothing about Wall St. and the Madoffs, dog bites should be something we are all aware of, and thinking about all the time. All we need to do is make dogs illegal within homes, and within the limits of any town or village. At least that's where I would begin. Ultimately, I would like to see a bill that made it illegal for a dog to be within a thousand miles of a human. Penalties would be five dollars per second (cumulative up until a trillion dollars).
This would also help the skyrocketing deficit. Why try to balance the entire budget on the backs of smokers and soda drinkers? Make the dog owners pull their weight.
As a former paperboy, I was bitten on several occasions by anklebiting terriers, chased by German shepherds, and attacked by pitbulls. I carried a baseball bat, and a pellet gun, but it was not enough to deter the wolves. Please make no mistake: dogs ARE wolves. When I see one on the street my heart pounds. I try to figure out an exit plan. Once I fainted and fell down on Main Street when I was approached by a miniature poodle with no apparent leash.
Above is a photograph of a child whose face has been bitten by a pitbull. She is one of 800,000 children EVERY YEAR who require medical attention thanks to dogs and their wolfly qualities.
Thanks to Thaddeus McCotter, the issue has received some attention. If he were to become president, I think we would finally have something done. Vote for Thaddeus McCotter! Save the children of America from the wolves living in our midst and mollycoddled by dog lovers.
I'm sure that in addition to police officers, postal workers, firemen and door-to-door salesmen, we could add cats to the list of those who would support the removal of dogs from within one thousand miles of any human. I support Thaddeus McCotter's bill, but would add specific penalties that would add some bite to the proceedings. Bite Back, People!
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I've just spent the last hour looking online at an unknown Republican candidate for president named Thaddeus McCotter. He is from the 11th district of Michigan, was raised in Michigan, and seems like a reasonable but also quite funny guy. There are videos of him playing Norwegian Wood, Chuck Berry, and other rock songs on YouTube.
He is a practicing Catholic, is witty, doesn't like Communist China, is for unions, or at least doesn't merely dismiss them, and yet is for the return of the manufacturing sector in America. I haven't endorsed him yet. I'm close. He quotes Adam Smith, and is familiar with Friedrich Hayek.
As is quite well-known I'm a Republican. However, I don't quite feel close to any of the Republican candidates. This guy, however, is brilliant and talks well. He's funny as heck in inventive flights of logic and humor. Here he is at his most reasonable, on C-Span.
McCotter was in Iowa yesterday but only got 35 votes in the straw poll (out of nearly 17,000 votes cast).
I think he's an intelligent droll individual. I think the Republicans should move toward a certain kind of hipness: Marianne Moore instead of Anita Bryant, James Brown instead of Thomas Sowell, Thaddeus McCotter instead of Rick Perry.
I heard about McCotter via Meade Laurence who is Ann Althouse's husband. Apparently McCotter needs to have 1% of the vote to be part of the FoxNews debates. With Pawlenty now out, perhaps there will be rising support for McCotter? As of right now, McCotter has my vote. I think he might be able to shift an entire generation of young people away from BO and his government take-over and shut-down of American business.
Friday, August 12, 2011
When I was younger I dreamed of a world of cool cats that all resembled Salvador Dali.
This is from a page called "Hitler Cats," which if you google it, brings you to pages and pages of cats that look like Hitler. When I'm stressed out, I like to google pictures of Hitler cats, and laugh. I am very allergic, so I can't own one. But, I love to look at them!
Dali was a very great painter.
Cats don't have to worry about these things, but simply ARE art. Their job description consists of lying in various states of relaxation, purring, and lapping up milk.
I'd take any of the Repubs last night, but would guess that Romney would be the best one to take out Obama. He has business sense, and gubernatorial experience. Plus he looks good. He doesn't really like confrontations, and he's Mormon, so those two things work against him, and he's not particularly quick with regard to repartee, so Obama might outgun him there.
It would be great fun to have Herman Cain against Obama. I thought his mind was focused on "problems," and on "asking the right questions." He also had a robust sense of humor. He has a southern accent which will hurt him in the north, and the west, and the middle west.
Ron Paul is the most inventive and interesting, but his hands are shaking quite a bit, and I think this might turn off some voters. If we would lose anyway, I wish Paul would get the nod just to hear his far-out ideas. He has so many of them! I especially thought it was interesting that he wanted to do an inventory of the Fed, and that he thought we should bring home all the troops and reposition them along the Mexican border (with the states' permission). Paul sounds like a flake at first, but then you realize how good his ideas are. At least he doesn't sound like everybody else.
I didn't like Pawlenty. Huntsman and Santorum bored me. I hated Pawlenty for attacking Bachman. It lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. Decency? I can't stand politics as usual, killing a neighbor to rack up their votes.
I loved Michele Bachman, but I don't think she will hold up with the media (and now other candidates) launching one missile after another at her. I think she will eventually explode and make a gaffe that ruins her chance.
Romney is used to a shelling, and can handle it. We have to remember the entire media except Fox News hates the Republicans and will do anything they can to destroy them. It will be like getting the ring back from the orcs. Which of course will immediately poison anybody who's wearing it. But I think Romney will be the least susceptible to going completely crazy with the power of the presidency.
Romney's dad has already been in politics and showed himself well. I think it's important to get someone with family experience. Obama has none, and this lack of experience shows. Bush 2 had his dad. The Roosevelts had one another. I think it's important to have some family history in any given profession so that one has another's back, and can offer support.
Being the most important person in the world is hard, and few can handle this responsibility. Reading the OT it is easy to see how few handled the responsibility well. Too many become Ahabs once they get to run the ship: using it to settle scores instead of remembering that the business of America is business.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Unlike Buddhism, which began as the beliefs of a prince (it seems to be involved with experiments in advanced states of relaxation), Christianity was started by a middle-class boy with a middle-class profession that he inherited from his father.
"In Mark 6:3 Jesus is called a tekton (τέκτων in Greek), usually understood to mean carpenter. Matthew 13:55 says he was the son of a tekton.:170 Tekton has been traditionally translated into English as "carpenter", but it is a rather general word (from the same root that leads to "technical" and "technology") that could cover makers of objects in various materials, even builders.
Beyond the New Testament accounts, the specific association of the profession of Jesus with woodworking is a constant in the traditions of the 1st and 2nd centuries and Justin Martyr (d. ca. 165) wrote that Jesus made yokes and ploughs."
From Jesus, Wikipedia.
Many cite Christ as so poor he was born in a manger. His parents however had the hotel rent but there were no available rooms to let due to the Census.
God Himself had a work ethic. He made the world in six days and on the seventh He rested. This was the beginning of the work week.
Christ's parables presume a middle-class. The Good Samaritan was a businessman who had enough money to put up another businessman in a hotel. Not only room but board was paid for. How do we know the victim was a businessman? We don't, but since he was robbed, he had money, which meant he wasn't just destitute. It was likely he would get on his feet again, and do business with the first businessman (the GS). The parable strikes me as instancing an early form of AAA.
The parable of the talents presumes a working population of middle-class educated people who are able to choose how to apply their talents. Don't hide your talent under a bushel. Get out and use it! Make some money!
All of Christ's disciples had professions. Some were fishermen. I assume they sold their surplus fish. Luke is said to have been a doctor. I assume he charged for his expertise. Matthew was a tax collector. They were all middle-class men. They were literate, and even eloquent, in print. This implies education, which in turn implies middle-class status.
What was the source of Christ's appeal, and why is it still so appealing today?
Christianity is the leaven in the lumpenproletariat. It calls out to the flotsam and jetsam -- prostitutes and criminals -- (Barabas was said to have been a thief), who have aspirations toward middle class values, but it says to ordinary business people that there is no longer an upper class consisting of the Roman elite and the Sadducees, but that everyone was made in the image of God.
When the Untouchables in India hear this, they convert. Hinduism posits five classes. The Hindu upper classes slaughter the Untouchables, just as Pilate killed Jesus. But it's too late: the message is out.
Christianity posits only one class.
Marxism posits two, with one wiping out the other. But there are still two. There are party faithful, and those they presume to speak for (who are otherwise silenced -- even in Cuba today only the government can print documents -- anyone else who does so is sentenced to multiple years in prison).
In Christianity, everyone can speak.
Christ Himself spoke, even when He was supposed to be silent, and He was silent when He was supposed to speak. He ran smack into the aristocracy of Rome. Pilate could never wash his hands sufficiently to clear his name. Nero, offended by the upstart Christians who refused to see him as divine, tried to expunge them. But as Tertullian said, "in the blood of the martyrs lie the seeds of the church."
Paul and the Gospel writers were destroyed, but the message got out. Hinduism has five classes. Buddhists have an aristocracy of priests with workers to support them. Marxism has a secret powerful class (often incidentally filled with former members of the aristocracy such as Pol Pot).
Christ said the super-rich would have trouble getting into heaven. He said it would be like a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle. But He was not poor. Even at the Last Supper, there was plenty of food. No one complained that there wasn't enough celery. When Christ said, "The poor will always be with us," He implies that We are not the poor. The poor are separate, even if they are equal (ultimately).
Who are the poor? In Christ's time, they were the mentally ill. In our time, the homeless are largely, also, mentally ill. In our town we get homeless vagrants from time to time. They are usually taken to asylums. They threaten people, and talk about UFOs. Mentally ill? Christ pulled demons out of a few of them. Is that a metaphor? The socialists say we should give the poor money, but money can't buy love, or the basic sanity that they need.
Did Jesus ever give the poor money? I think He realized the poor are beset by demons and need more than money. They need exorcism. He provided this. We should pray for the poor. Ask the angels to visit them and help them up.
In the OT Job is reduced to penury as an experiment by Satan (Satan is called the Adversary in some texts). Satan has clocked Job. But Job is quite rich, at the beginning, because he is a favorite of God's. Then Satan has at him. The implication is that Satan impoverishes people to test them. God gives Job everything back at the end of the text, plus some new and improved children and a longer lifespan, but first he has to endure a lecture.
My mind is now hopping all over the place.
Luther was from the Middle Class, like Jesus.
I haven't said anything about the purported socialism of the Christian community as it is described in ACTS 4:32: "...they had all things in common", nor anything about St. Paul going around to try to collect moolah for this community of socialists (who apparently couldn't get it together themselves because their community was another failed utopian experiment).
As I read the Bible, and am now on p. 900 of 1500 pages -- I see it as the slow but inexorable rise of the Middle Class. I think Jesus would prefer the company of Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann to that of John Kerry or John Edwards. The first two are salt of the earth. The second two? Not so much. Kerry and Edwards were Sadducees. Palin and Bachmann: are they the St. Pauls of our time?
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
When I first started writing poetry in my teens I took a course from a man named FG Stoddard at East Stroudsburg University in the Poconos (then it was called East Stroudsburg State College). Professor Stoddard one day said the most beautiful word in the English language was "cellar."
I never particularly liked that word because first of all we said "basement," at our house, and "cellar" was a word that I had heard only when visiting relatives in Clear Lake, Iowa. They called the "basement" a "cellar." I didn't know if this was because it was so damp in their basement (they used to take showers down there, and it didn't have ventilation). I associated "cellar" with a damp underground area composed of cinder blocks with piles of fishing rods and cereal boxes and water bottles (my grandparents wanted to use it as a place to ride out a nuclear winter, perhaps).
To what extent are the "beauty" of words associated with their meaning, or with the context in which various people use them?
At Mississippi State University a professor there does a study every year or so of the words his students find the most beautiful and ugly. I was listening to Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People," on the car radio, when there was this news flash, and a female DJ came on to discuss the new findings. I had just dropped off my daughter at play practice (she's Polyxena in Seneca's Trojan Women), when this fascinating bit came on.
On the list of beautiful words the DJ said were "beautiful," "Jesus," "eloquent," and "love."
"Cellar" is not on the list. Now sitting at my desk I just googled and found the study the DJ had referenced without naming it. I think the study is flawed because there is not enough of a distinction made between the "music" of a word, and the "semantic;" or between the sign, and its significance.
The softness of the consonants in "cellar" was perhaps a rationale for the beauty of the word back in 1975 when FG Stoddard told us about "cellar." I could understand that as a sound structure in and of itself it held beauty, even if its content did not (at least my grandparents' cellar did not seem to be organized around the concept of beauty).
On the other hand, I love "Jesus" the person, and God, but I don't think the "z" sound at the center of the word is particularly lovely, nor are the hard consonants of G and D particularly easy to deal with in poems. God rhymes with "cod." I do not like to eat fish, or to smell them.
"Love" is a nice thing (depends on whether it's a hippy saying the word or someone with a brain, I guess -- but by "brain" I don't mean a clever advertising copywriter, who writes, "You'll love these chips, you moron!").
"Eloquent" is a nice word, but so Latinate! I remember a push by Hemingway and others to get away from Latinate diction and to use the one-syllable Anglo-Saxon derived words such as "sun," "mud," and "cow," and "guts." Those words have beauty. The Latinate words often have pretentiousness.
Meanwhile, at Mississippi State the ugliest words include "ugly," which strikes me as an interesting problem. How many students took part in the study, and how many wanted to be poets? How many ever really listen to words? Here's a link to the original article:
Is the word "ugly," itself "ugly"?
The ugliest word, the students decided, is "phlegm."
But that's a beautiful word. It has five consonants and only one vowel, which makes it a rarity in that it has two letters that are not sounded. I find it to be a curious word. Curious and rare equals beautiful, to me, even if the actual goop ejected from the throat of a three-pack-a-day wino outside a bar in Trenton, NJ is not exactly my idea of the pulchritudinous.
Can you think of words that have even more consonants but only one vowel? My wife finds "strength" to be a very funny word because of all its consonants and its solitary vowel, crunched between seven consonants. Such words can't exist in Finnish, which is the most singable language in the world after Latin because of its lovely and frequent vowels. Finnish opera is full-strength beauty, even if after the aria a singer has to eject phlegm. "Strengths" goes one further than "strength." Some Jewish words might elongate without vowels. "Schlongs," for instance, which we shall not define further. In Hebrew I think the vowels are assumed, and so left out? But "schlongs" is a Yiddish word. I don't know its derivation. Yiddish is cuckoo for consonants. "Schlemiel," "schlepp," "schmuck."
Poetry is composed of words and the relative weights of words and each syllable are of course very important. I think it would be easier to write a good poem using the uglier words on the list than the ones the students MSU consider "beautiful."
The word "molest," which is not on the list of ugly or beautiful words has soft consonants and an "l" which I think is usually lovely (lullaby is considered a beautiful word by the MSU students), but I don't think one could write a poem using the term. The term is like a dagger. Even to hear it turns the world ugly and seems like the total destruction of innocence, which must be the ugliest thing on earth. "Melarkey," which has similar letters, sounds light and nice.
Lutheran is a nice word. It has so much beauty in it. When I see it, my heart leaps! Surrealism? I like that word, too.
Monday, August 08, 2011
A couple of years ago Obama gave 140 billion dollars to the IMF without Congressional authorization. He said it was his prerogative to do so. This was in the WSJ:
I predicted then that this guy was going to cost us trillions of dollars.
He's not done yet. Not only does he want to redistribute American money to Americans, but to the entire world. Why is he doing this? How much longer are we going to let him do this?
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
I was browsing through the other articles in Journal of Ecocriticism (an online journal in which My Article on Marianne Moore just appeared), when I came across a panel discussion of the term, "Pastoral." The remarks opened with a comment by someone named Hsuan Hsu, of whom I had never heard. Hsu is a literature professor at UC-Davis who has written books entitled things like, "Geography and the Production of Space" (Cambridge UP). Hsu argues that in environmental planning all too often the poor are left on swampland and other unhealthy tracts of land, which amounts to a kind of genocide. He cites Foucault, which seemed unpromising, because this made his work seem like one long indictment of America, rather than offering anything like a successful role model for practical implementation of business. One often has the sense that business is the enemy for humanities scholars. I think this is counterproductive.
When I was at my brother's house last week, we were watching a soccer game (Manchester United versus Madrid), when I asked him what business books had actually mattered to him. My brother is a successful bank president. He said there were two authors he liked. One is named Jim Collins. The other is named Michael E. Porter. He ran upstairs and got a book for me called "On Competition." (1979; Harvard Business Review Press, 1998). Porter teaches at Harvard U. My brother said, "Remember, I'm lending the book to you, not giving it, and you can't WRITE in it like you always do with your books." The book costs 40 dollars at Amazon.com, so I thought I would read it first before buying it. I can't stand not writing in books, but so far have refrained from doing so, even though it was tough.
I read the Introduction and the First chapter on how strategy shapes corporations, then skipped ahead to, "The Competitive Advantage of the Inner City." Porter cites two test cases of inner city businesses. One is a computer company that moved to the Bronx to take advantage of preferential NYC loans for businesses willing to relocate there. This business fell apart because their workers didn't want to go to the Bronx and instead found other jobs in Manhattan (only 7 of 28 computer-skilled workers made the transition). Once relocated in the Bronx itself their customers didn't want to go there, for fear of being killed or mugged, and gave their business to Manhattan computer companies, so this company couldn't generate revenue. So they went out of business. Porter then cites another company he calls Matrix Exhibits, which moved into downtown Atlanta, and prospered. They needed a low-skill workforce. They got it in the inner city, and the workers there are tremendously loyal to their jobs. Matrix does "trade-show exhibits" in Atlantean convention centers (380). All the other competitors who do this kind of work in Atlanta are located in the suburbs, so this gives Matrix "a real competitive advantage" (380).
Porter writes that businesses wanting to relocate into the inner city (which has tremendous assets but also has crime and violence) have to overcome a few myths.
"The first myth is that inner city residents do not want to work and opt for welfare over gainful employment. Although there is pressing need to deal with inner city residents who are unprepared for work, most inner city residents are industrious and eager to work. For moderate-wage jobs (six to ten dollars per hour [note that the book was originally published in 1979]), that require little formal education (for instance, warehouse workers, production-line workers, and truck drivers), employers report that they find hardworking, dedicated employees in the inner city" (388).
Porter goes on to take out the notion that the only entrepreneurs in the inner city are drug dealers, and that skilled minorities want out of the inner city. Porter says that there are "2,800 African Americans" who graduate every year with MBAs (note that this was 30 years ago), and that inner city grocery stores are making fortunes:
"Two Harvard Business school graduates, for example, have launched Delray Farms with the aim of creating a national chain of small inner city supermarkets that focus on produce and other perishables. Backed by significant private-equity capital, Delray Farms is operating its first store in Chicago and is planning to open six new stores within a year" (390).
Porter's argument is that the inner city represents vital capital that has been untapped but that anyone who wants to tap it should do it within a sustainable framework. The inner city is close to shipping via train and highway, and has lots of unskilled laborers who are eager to work. Companies that can get a competitive advantage can and should relocate there. Porter is against doing this for any reason other than competitive advantage.
Inner city companies also face "expensive demolition, environmental cleanup, and extensive litigation. Private developers and banks tend to avoid sites with even a hint of environmental problems because of punitive liability laws" (391).
Higher taxes to pay for "social programs," also drive out otherwise competitive companies (392). Crime against property, and "crime against employees and customers creates an unwillingness to work in and patronize inner city establishments and restricts companies' hours of operation. Fear of crime ranks among the most important reasons why companies opening new facilities failed to consider inner city locations and why companies already located in the inner city left. Currently, police devote most of their resources to the security of residential areas, largely overlooking commercial and industrial sites" (393).
Porter's inquiry into the "Competitive Advantage of the Inner City," does not romanticize the business environment, or call guilt into play. It discusses profits.
Instead of subsidized businesses and redistribution schemes, and skilled minorities working in the social service sector to help a beleaguered population (the Democratic scheme), Porter suggests private sector jobs integrated into the regional economy, with skilled minority businessmen at the helm (the Republican scheme). He also suggests the government should try to improve the environment for business through Superfund cleanups, and attempt to cut down on environmental legislation and union demands that they hire their own employees without company input. Companies have to be in charge of their own hiring and firing. Without that, the risks are too great, and so there will be little investment without the clear sense of a profitable return.
I liked the realistic tenor of Michael E. Porter. I didn't care much for the angry tone of Hsuan Hsu, or his mindless mentor Michel Foucault (who doesn't have any business acumen). If we are to turn things around in the inner city, it has to be done with the competitive advantage of incoming companies as the sole criterion.
In the same way, if we're going to remake America, we have to do so with the interest of American companies foremost. Otherwise, they'll relocate, first to the suburbs, and if that doesn't work, to rural areas, and if that doesn't work, to other countries.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
We're back from PA now (family reunion) and I got the girls to their practices this morning. I had an article come out in an academic online journal called Journal of Ecocriticism. It's about the controversies surrounding a strange tree in Brooklyn called The Camperdown Elm, and the poem Marianne Moore wrote about it in 1967. You have to sign in to read the articles. My younger brother said the article was "too academic" for him, which meant he didn't read it. He did sign up, but said that most people over forty would have trouble signing up. Probably only other lit profs will ever read it, but if someone else wants to give it a try, it's here:
Many people complain that I am too breezy and should be more professorial at my blog. This ten-page article on the other hand was something I worked on over a ten-year period. Try it, you might hate it.