Category Archives: 21st Century New Deal

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.

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The Six-Hour Work Day Comes to Sweden

by Pete Dolack, published October 16, 2015 at Counterpunch and  Systemic Disorder

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Why do we work so many hours? I mean beyond the obvious answer that the dictatorial employment relationships of capitalism force us to on pain of unemployment. Working hours declined from the inhuman work weeks of the industrial revolution until the mid-20th century, when the hours we work leveled off; in more recent years work hours have been increasing.

It certainly isn’t because productivity has plateaued. On the contrary, advances in machinery and computerization make us more productive than ever before. So why do we still work an eight-hour day after all these decades? (Or more than eight hours in many cases, and not necessarily with extra pay for office workers receiving a flat salary.) An eight-hour day was an outstanding achievement of social movements from the 19th century, when work days lasted 10 and 12 hours.

With the advancements in productivity over the years, we could certainly work fewer hours and still provide all that is necessary. Why not a six-hour day? Or less? In Sweden, there are ongoing experiments with six-hour work days, which so far have met with success. Not surprisingly, given the one-sidedness of workplace relations, these experiments are being done in the name of “greater productivity.” In other words, the standard is to be: Will this be good for the boss’ profits? That it might be good for the workers is part of the equation, but even this is commingled with the idea that rested workers will be more productive workers and thus more profitable for bosses.

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Gothenburg, Sweden

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Sweden is shifting to a 6-hour work day

by Bec Crew at  Science Alert published September 30, 2015

*Packs up life, books plane ticket*

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Despite research telling us it’s a really bad idea, many of us end up working 50-hour weeks or more because we think we’ll get more done and reap the benefits later. And according to a study published last month involving 600,000 people, those of us who clock up a 55-hour week will have a 33 percent greater risk of having a stroke than those who maintain a 35- to 40-hour week.

With this in mind, Sweden is moving towards a standard 6-hour work day, with businesses across the country having already implemented the change, and a retirement home embarking on a year-long experiment to compare the costs and benefits of a shorter working day.

“I think the 8-hour work day is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for 8 hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work,” Linus Feldt, CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus, told Adele Peters at Fast Company.

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OUR RIDICULOUS APPROACH TO RETIREMENT

By TERESA GHILARDUCCI
Published: July 21, 2012 in the New York Times

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I work on retirement policy, so friends often want to talk about their own retirement plans and prospects. While I am happy to have these conversations, my friends usually walk away feeling worse — for good reason.

Seventy-five percent of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. The specter of downward mobility in retirement is a looming reality for both middle- and higher-income workers. Almost half of middle-class workers, 49 percent, will be poor or near poor in retirement, living on a food budget of about $5 a day.

In my ad hoc retirement talks, I repeatedly hear about the “guy.” This is a for-profit investment adviser, often described as, “I have this guy who is pretty good, he always calls, doesn’t push me into investments.” When I ask how much the “guy” costs, or if the guy has fiduciary loyalty — to the client, not the firm — or if their investments do better than a standard low-fee benchmark, they inevitably don’t know. After hearing about their magical guy, I ask about their “number.”

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THE GREATEST RETIREMENT CRISIS IN AMERICAN HISTORY

by Edward “Ted” Siedle, Published in Forbes on March 20, 2013

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We are on the precipice of the greatest retirement crisis in the history of the world. In the decades to come, we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the “new normal” for many elderly Americans.

That dire prediction, which I wrote two years ago, is already coming true. Our national demographics, coupled with indisputable glaringly insufficient retirement savings and human physiology, suggest that a catastrophic outcome for at least a significant percentage of our elderly population is inevitable. With the average 401(k) balance for 65 year olds estimated at $25,000 by independent experts – $100,000 if you believe the retirement planning industry – the decades many elders will spend in forced or elected “retirement” will be grim.  (Update: In response to readers’ questions about the lower number, Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at the New School for Social Research, estimates that 75% of Americans nearing retirement in 2010 had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts.)

Corporate America and the financial wizards behind the past three decades of so-called retirement innovations, most notably titans of the pension benefits consulting and mutual fund 401(k) industries, are down-playing just how bad things are already and how much worse they are going to get.

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THE CASE FOR A 21st CENTURY NEW DEAL – A FAIR RETIREMENT FOR PEOPLE

Meet Chris. He has worked at Caterpillar for almost 40 years as a white collar employee in IT. He is approaching retirement; his traditional pension benefit will be about $1000 per month ($12,000 per year). When he retires, Chris will pay about $560 per month for health insurance benefits for he and his wife, even with Medicare. In 1974, the Caterpillar CEO made $325,000 per year and employees retired with a good pension which included health insurance at no cost. In 2013, the Caterpillar CEO made $12 million per year and he can expect a generous retirement package with almost all benefits paid thanks to Caterpillar; in contrast, employees’ retirement benefits have been cut and health insurance premiums have been increased including paying more for drugs. Chris has other investments that will help him during his retirement, but as he said, “without them I would have to keep working until I die.

Meet Ruth. She worked at IBM for 17 years. In 2001, IBM eliminated its traditional pension plan and went completely to 401K plans. Employees with a significant amount of time in the traditional pension plan ended up losing a significant part of their retirement savings even after winning a lawsuit against IBM. Employees with less time in the traditional retirement plan received a check for a couple of hundred dollars as a settlement. In 2002, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner retired with a $190 million package, and in 2012, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano retired with $271 million package. Ruth was laid off in 2004 and has no retirement from IBM; work has been hard to come by since then due to the economy. If and when she retires, she will have a meager Social Security check monthly and her savings and insurance from her husband’s death to live on.

Meet Dennis. He retired from Delta Airlines as a pilot. When Delta declared bankruptcy and divested itself from its pension plan in 2005, it turned its pension responsibilities over to Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Dennis’ pension went from $1939 per month to $95 per month. In 2012, the Delta Airlines CEO pay package was $8.9 million.

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THE CASE FOR A 21ST CENTURY NEW DEAL: MINIMUM WAGE AND BASIC INCOME

When was the last time American workers saw a real increase in wages? That would be back in the 1960s; since then, workers’ wages have been flat or falling along with record-high unemployment during the Second Great Depression of the Bush and Obama administrations (14 years running).

Productivity has increased up to 1000 fold during that time, but all the financial gains have gone to the corporations and their “shareholders”.

Who are the “shareholders”? Not the common stock holders; their returns are minimal if any at all. The “shareholders” are primarily the executives and their management team that have stock options. They run organizations like their own private plantations, in other words, it’s “plantation capitalism”.

And American workers get left out.

This is what America has become today. Rewards for the few and nothing for the rest, which creates the ever-widening inequality gap.

Don’t expect Democrats or Republicans to do anything; they’re paid to maintain the status quo in favor of corporations and the rich. Their bribes come in the form of campaign contributions and lucrative rewards after they leave office.  For example, former president Bill Clinton has made over $110 million in speaking fees since leaving office in January 2001 (in addition to his government pension and perks paid for by taxpayers).

The Supreme Court has also been overly friendly to Big Business in their decisions ruling in favor of corporations almost 100% of the time.

imagesWall Street and Big Business learned their lessons from the FDR years; now they completely own both parties (Republicans and Democrats), and in effect, they control the government. Almost every law passed has the corporate seal of approval. This, in effect, allows them to act with impunity and no fear.  During the Great Depression, the Pecora Commission investigated the Wall Street bankers and was instrumental in sending many of them to jail. Under the Obama Administration, in contrast to FDR, no bankers have gone to jail.  

The deck has been overwhelmingly stacked against American workers since the 1980s.

The NDP Proposal

The NDP goal is to ensure workers make at least $38,000 per year and workers with families make $52,000 per year.

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Where Does Money Come From?

currencyThat’s a good question.

The simple answer is that’s it’s made up.

By bankers of course.

From  the British Green Party’s “Banking Reform Motion – Background Paper“:

The fact that banks can literally make money out of nothing in this way is regularly acknowledged by experts in the field of money and banking. For example: In a speech on 23rd October 2012, Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England said: “When banks extend loans to their customers, they create money by crediting their customer’s accounts”

And.

In an article, published in the Financial Times on 9th November 2010, Martin Wolf, the FT’s Chief Economics Commentator, wrote: “The essence of the contemporary monetary system is the creation of money, out of nothing, by private bank’s often foolish lending.”

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The Case for a 21st Century New Deal – 5.1 Million Jobs for Revitalizing America’s Cities

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                  Once Again

As you may have noticed, towns and cities across the nation have been dying slow deaths for a long time. They are decayed and blighted because the neighborhoods around them have been hit with decades of rough times going back to the 1960s and 1970s. This is not only inner city, but suburbs too.  A lot of historic landmarks have been hit hard.

In the case of Detroit, hard times started when automakers began pulling up factories and sending jobs south to right-to-work states to pay lower wages. The effects cascaded locally from affecting the tax base to the loss of jobs. All that resulted in cuts for schools, an increase in poverty, more abandoned houses in neighborhoods, negative effects on local businesses leading many to close. People had less money to spend and the downward spiral started and grew.  Communities suffered greatly.

In Detroit’s case, it ended with the city in bankruptcy.

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Pay Parents to Raise Children, Says Bishop

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by Rebecca Allison, CYC-NET Features, 9 February 2004

An Anglican bishop has called on the government to pay mothers or fathers who stay at home and raise their families. The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, said he had always found it “bizarre and unfortunate” that childcare was regarded as being “of less worth than standing on some assembly line”.

In an interview to be broadcast on the GMTV Sunday Programme, Bishop Chartres said he did not want to reverse “the gains that have been made, the liberation, the opening of the workplace to women”, but he said that “we need to realise that childcare, maternity care, does involve very considerable gifts and ought to be regarded as having an enormous worth, intrinsically and for society”.

Asked if the principle of paying someone to stay at home and care for their children applied to fathers as well, he said: “That’s very interesting and that’s what I was suggesting, yes.”

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