Monthly Archives: January 2017

Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture

Chantal Panozzo | February 1, 2016 | Vox

I was halfway through a job interview when I realized I was wrinkling my nose. I couldn’t help myself. A full-time freelance position with a long commute, no benefits, and a quarter of my old pay was the best they could do? I couldn’t hide how I felt about that, and the 25-year-old conducting the interview noticed.

“Are you interested in permanent jobs instead?” she asked.

“I could consider a permanent job if it was part-time,” I said.

She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language and went right back to her pitch: long commute, full-time, no benefits. No way, I thought. Who would want to do that? And then it hit me: Either I had become a completely privileged jerk or my own country was not as amazing as I had once thought it to be. This wasn’t an unusually bad offer: It was just American Reality.

Now that I’m back, I’m angry that my own country isn’t providing more for its people

Before I moved to Switzerland for almost a decade, American Reality was all I knew. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment making $30,000 a year in a job where I worked almost seven days a week with no overtime pay and received 10 days of paid time off a year.

In other words, for the hours worked, I was making minimum wage, if that. The glamour of this job was supposed to make up for the hours, but in reality, working every weekend is a ticket to burnout — not success.

My husband and I were so accustomed to American Reality that when he was offered an opportunity to work in Switzerland, we both thought about travel and adventure — not about improving our quality of life. It hadn’t occurred to us that we could improve our quality of life simply by moving.

But without realizing it, or even asking for it, a better life quality came to us. And this is why, now that I’m back, I’m angry that my own country isn’t providing more for its people. I will never regret living abroad. It taught me to understand another culture. And it taught me to see my own. But it also taught me something else — to lose touch with the American version of reality.

Here are seven ways living abroad made it hard to return to American life.

1) I had work-life balance

The Swiss work hard, but they have a strong work-life balance. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average Swiss worker earned the equivalent of $91,574 a year in 2013, while the average American worker earned only $55,708. But the real story is that the average American had to work 219 hours more per year for this lesser salary.

Which brings us to lunch. In Switzerland, you don’t arrive to a meeting late, but you also don’t leave for your lunch break a second past noon. If it’s summer, jumping into the lake to swim with the swans is an acceptable way to spend your lunch hour. If you eat a sandwich at your desk, people will scold you. I learned this the hard way.

“Ugh,” said Tom, a Swiss art director I shared an office with at a Zurich ad agency. “It smells like someone ate their lunch in here.” He threw open the windows and fanned the air.

“They did. I ate a sandwich here,” I said.

Tom looked at me like I was crazy.

“No. Tomorrow you’re having a proper lunch. With me,” he said.

The next day, exactly at noon, we rode the funicular to a restaurant where we dined al fresco above Zurich. After lunch, we strolled down the hill. I felt guilty for being gone for an hour and a half. But no one had missed us at the office.

Lunchtime is sacred time in Switzerland. When I was on maternity leave, my husband came home for lunch to help me care for our daughter. This strengthened our marriage. Many families still reunite during weekdays over the lunch hour.

Weekends in Switzerland encourage leisure time, too. On Sundays, you can’t even shop — most stores are closed. You are semi-required to hike in the Alps with your family. It’s just what you do.

he author and her daughter in Urnaesch, Switzerland, watching the cows come home. (Brian Opyd)

2) I had time and money

The Swiss have a culture of professional part-time work, and as a result, part-time jobs include every benefit of a full-time job, including vacation time and payment into two Swiss pension systems. Salaries for part-time work are set as a percentage of a professional full-time salary­ because unlike in the United States, part-time jobs are not viewed as necessarily unskilled jobs with their attendant lower pay.

During my Swiss career, I was employed by various companies from 25 percent to 100 percent. When I worked 60 percent, for example, I worked three days a week. A job that is 50 percent could mean the employee works five mornings a week or, as I once did, two and a half days a week. The freedom to choose the amount of work that was right for me at varying points of my life was wonderful and kept me engaged and happy.

When I took only 10 days for a trip to Spain, my colleagues chastised me for taking so little time off

Often, jobs in Switzerland are advertised with the percentage of work that is expected. Other times, you can negotiate what percentage you would like to work or request to go from working five days a week to four days a week, for example. There is normally little risk involved in asking.

Continue reading Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture

Facts That Our War-Happy Leaders Would Like To Keep Hushed Up

Paul Buchheit | January 23 2017 | Common Dreams

Just because it’s not being reported, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. (Photo: U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mike Brady, Task Force Cyclone, 38th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Donald Trump said, “I’m going to make our military so big, so powerful, so strong, that nobody — absolutely nobody — is gonna mess with us.”

Simple-minded but deadly thinking at the top derives from influential groups and individuals who think we have to KILL to keep the rest of the world in line. The compliant mainstream media scares us into accepting wars and drone killings overseas, military-style defenses on our own streets, surveillance of our private lives. For the war-happy leadership of America, certain realities are better left unsaid, or at most reported quickly and quietly.

1. Terrorist Acts in the U.S. Were More Common 40 Years Ago

Terrorist acts are deadly, but the panicky reports of mainstream news sources scare us more than they should, as when a FOX reporter called ISIS “the single biggest threat in [America’s] 200-year history.”

This graphic derived from the Rand Corporation’s terrorism database shows that the frequency of terrorist acts was greatest in the 1970s and 1980s. CNN notes that “There were literally hundreds of terrorist bombings, shootings and hijackings in States during the 1970s.”

2. Violent Crime Is Down — Except Where Young Men are Left to Languish and Die

The rate of violent crime has been consistently dropping since 1993. Except in places like Chicago, where nearly half of young black men are neither working nor in school.

The New York Times summarizes the effects of constant media scares: “Americans are primed, when they hear a loud bang or screams, or see a crowd break into a run, to think in terms of mass killings and active shooters. Yet crime statistics show that over all, violence in the United States is as low as it has ever been, and experts say the fear far exceeds the risk.”

Continue reading Facts That Our War-Happy Leaders Would Like To Keep Hushed Up

How American Life Continued to Deteriorate in 2016

Paul Buchheit | January 16 2017 | Common Dreams

Recent studies show America at or near the bottom among developed countries in disposable income poverty, income and wealth inequality, safety net provisions, employment, economic mobility, life expectancy, infant mortality, and the well-being of children. (Photo: Maryland GovPics / Flickr)

The reality of the disposable American has been building up in recent years, and new evidence keeps pouring in. Now the potential exists for greater suffering under the rule of a billionaire Cabinet that is far, far removed from average workers and renters and homeowners.

First the “Upside” — 5% of Us Are Millionaires 

Depending on the source, America has anywhere from 7 million to 13.5 million millionaires — about 5% of U.S. adults, and about a 40% increase in just six years. At the other end, 90% of us have gained NOTHING since 1997, and at least half of us NOTHING since 1980.

New Evidence of an Overall Collapse 

Recent studies show America at or near the bottom among developed countries in disposable income poverty, income and wealth inequality, safety net provisions, employment, economic mobility, life expectancy, infant mortality, and the well-being of children. We’ve run the table. The better part of America is equivalent to a third-world country.

Neglecting the Most Vulnerable Among Us 

We have fallen far as a nation when a half-million of our children under the age of four are taking anxiety drugs, and when the great majority of American families have to spend over 10% of their income just to send their four-year-olds to pre-school. And the “American Dream” for our kids? According to one careful study, they only have about half the chance that they had fifty years ago.

Racist Gap-Widening 

Today just 100 individuals own as much wealth as the entire Black population of America. Even a middle-aged African-American with a graduate degree has only about the same odds of becoming a millionaire as a white person with a high school diploma. The common misperception is that Black youths turn to drugs at a disproportionate rate. Not true. According to the American Journal of Public Health, “drug-use disorders were most prevalent among non-Hispanic Whites, followed by Hispanics, then African Americans.” Yet “racial/ethnic minorities are disproportionately incarcerated, especially for drug crimes.”

Finding a Stable Job is Becoming Impossible for Much of America 

Continue reading How American Life Continued to Deteriorate in 2016

Bill Black: Not 4 Sale – Why the Corrupt, Worker-Hating New Democrats Must Be Purged

Naked Capitalism | January 26 2017

By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Jointly published with New Economic Perspectives

This article explains three critical reasons why the Democratic Party’s leaders are far more insane than all but a few Democrats understand. It focuses on the leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the New Democrats. The DNC leadership is composed of New Democrats. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had to resign in disgrace when the leaks proved that she was putting the DNC’s thumbs on the scale to favor Hillary Clinton (a New Democrat) in the presidential nomination contest against Bernie Sanders. Wasserman Schultz also took large contributions from big finance and, until she faced the prospect of a serious primary challenger, she supported efforts by predatory lenders to use Congress to bar the regulators from stopping their abuses.

Donna Brazile, a New Democrat, now runs the DNC. In this article, I show that Brazile denounced Democrats who refused to cheer President Bush’s invasion of Iraq (and his “Mission Accomplished” declaration) as so disloyal that when their country needed them they went “AWOL.” Not satisfied with that libel, she added the homophobic smear that voters would view Democrats who failed to cheer Bush’s lies and invasion as “effete.” Best of all, she said that Democrats should take as their role models Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Frank Gaffney – Bush’s “chicken hawks” that devised the campaign of lies that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq. Gaffney is now spreading hate of Muslims – and advising President Trump.

Continue reading Bill Black: Not 4 Sale – Why the Corrupt, Worker-Hating New Democrats Must Be Purged

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has a brutal theory of how America went wrong over the past 30 years

Jim Edwards | January 19 2017 | Business Insider 

(Jack Ma.WEF)

DAVOS, Switzerland — Alibaba founder Jack Ma thinks America went wrong over the past 30 years by focusing too much on war and Wall Street. Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, Ma was asked about globalisation and the reaction to it represented by the election of Donald Trump as US president.

He responded that back when Thomas Friedman published “The World Is Flat” in 2005, globalisation looked like “a perfect strategy” for the US: “We just want the technology, and the IP, and the brand, and we’ll leave the other jobs” to other countries like Mexico and China, he said.

“American international companies made millions and millions of dollars from globalisation,” Ma said.

As an example of just how much was available, Ma said, “When I graduated from university I tried to buy a beeper, and it cost me $250. My pay at the time was $10 a month.”

Continue reading Alibaba founder Jack Ma has a brutal theory of how America went wrong over the past 30 years

The Continued Collision Between Trump and the Fed

Ian Welsh | January 10 2017

As I noted before, the Fed and the Trump admin are on a collision course. More evidence:

Fed minutes show many officials think they may need to accelerate rate hikes if fiscal raises demand over sustainable levels

— Sam Fleming (FT) (@Sam1Fleming) January 4, 2017

The Fed’s argument is that the unemployment rate is low enough that it is at the natural rate of employment which doesn’t cause wage-push inflation. As of December, that was 4.7%.  (There are tons of problems with this, but we’ll ignore most of them, what matters is what the Fed thinks.)

I am old enough to remember when an unemployment rate of 5% was considered a scandal, but no matter.

The fact is that the people who elected Trump aren’t feeling good.  To make them feel good Trump is going to have get the official unemployment rate lower than it is now, at least under 4%, and hopefully to 3% or lower and hold it there for some time, at least 2 or 3 years.

This stuff takes time to ripple thru the economy, and it takes time for a tight labor market to push employers both to raise wages and to hire people who they consider marginal.

If the Federal Reserve raises rates if Trump’s policies (“fiscal”, in the above) start to work, they will be making sure he can’t deliver to his constituency.

This is a direct collision course.

Now let me say something simple.  The Federal Reserve, for over 30 years, has deliberately crushed wages. This was policy.  Policy.

Continue reading The Continued Collision Between Trump and the Fed

From the Moon to the Sun: How America’s Ego Could Save the Planet

Paul Buchheit | January 03 2017 | Common Dreams 

‘The greatest imaginable energy source is out there for the taking by the nation smart enough to take it,’ writes Buchheit. (Photo: Pixabay/CC0/Public Domain)

In October, 1957 the U.S. suffered a crippling blow to its pride when Russia’s Sputnik soared 500 miles into space. The response from the White House was to call it “a useless hunk of iron” and “a silly bauble in the sky.” But for the first time American Cold War superiority came into question. David Halberstam called Sputnik’s success “a kind of technological Pearl Harbor.” All America was stirred up, determined to fight back, especially after Sputnik II, a month later, sent a dog into space. In a hurried effort to catch up, America fired off the Vanguard in December 1957, but after a journey of several feet it sputtered and blew up. Russia’s Premier Khrushchev mocked us, saying “the sputniks are lonely…waiting for American satellites to join them in space.” Americans mocked themselves, calling our first rocket the Flopnik.

Continue reading From the Moon to the Sun: How America’s Ego Could Save the Planet

The Devastating Transformation Of Work In The US

Marty Hart-Landsberg | December 28 2016 | Reports From the Economic Front

Two of the best-known labor economists in the US,  Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger, recently published a study of the rise of so-called alternative work arrangements.

Here is what they found:

The percentage of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements – defined as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers – rose from 10.1 percent [of all employed workers] in February 2005 to 15.8 percent in late 2015.

That is a huge jump, especially since the percentage of workers with alternative work arrangements barely budged over the period February 1995 to February 2005; it was only 9.3 in 1995.

But their most startling finding is the following:

A striking implication of these estimates is that all of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements. Total employment according to the CPS increased by 9.1 million (6.5 percent) over the decade, from 140.4 million in February 2005 to 149.4 in November 2015. The increase in the share of workers in alternative work arrangements from 10.1 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2015 implies that the number of workers employed in alternative arrangement increased by 9.4 million (66.5 percent), from 14.2 million in February 2005 to 23.6 million in November 2015. Thus, these figures imply that employment in traditional jobs (standard employment arrangements) slightly declined by 0.4 million (0.3 percent) from 126.2 million in February 2005 to 125.8 million in November 2015.

Take a moment to let that sink in—and think about what that tells us about the operation of the US economy and the future for working people.  Employment in so-called traditional jobs is actually shrinking. The only types of jobs that have been growing in net terms are ones in which workers have little or no security and minimal social benefits.

Continue reading The Devastating Transformation Of Work In The US

The World Map of Billionaires

howmuch.net |  September 13 2016

Billionaires are the richest of the rich. Many young entrepreneurs hope to one-day reach this ultimate financial milestone. But before these entrepreneurs are allowed to join this group, they first must ask how did billionaires acquire their wealth in the first place? Take a look at the map below to see the distribution of billionaires by country and type.

Click image for full size

The map above shows each country of the world separated by the percentage of billionaires into various types. The size of each country on the map is relative to its total number of the world’s billionaires. There are five categories of billionaires designated by the colors found in the legend: Inherited, Company Founders, Owners and Executives, Political Connections and Resource Related and the Financial Sector. The data was compiled from this report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Continue reading The World Map of Billionaires