It’s Labor Day

Here’s the problem with the whole corporate tax equation. Our tax structure was set up with the idea business would be the driver of employment. Business has decided that’s not part of the deal anymore. Companies offshore and automate and do so to save every penny.

George Jetson at WorkIt’s Labor Day.

I grew up in an apartment complex financed and built by Local 3 of the Electrical Workers Union. I joke now about its Soviet style architecture and warmth, but places like Electchester were needed. The workforce in post-WW2 America was growing like crazy.

Our softball league used to march down 5th Avenue in the Labor Day Parade. It was a big deal in New York City.

It’s not even held on Labor Day anymore.

Labor is vilified today. Unions, more evil still.

All this has come to mind after seeing a Facebook post (then online shouting match) about American corporate taxes. My blood began to boil. Instead of joining the flamewar, let me vent.

Here’s the problem with the whole corporate tax equation. Our tax structure was set up with the idea business would be the driver of employment.

Charles Wilson, a nominee for Secretary of Defense in the early 50s and former GM executive famously said, “I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

He was right… sixty years ago.

Business has decided that’s no longer part of the deal. Companies offshore, centralize and automate and do so to save every penny.

At your place of employment are there now fewer people doing the same work as a few years ago? My guess is yes. You’re not alone.

When I was a kid, George Jetson drove to work and immediately put his feet on his desk. Wasn’t that our expectation? The future would be less work and more comfort.

That’s not how automation has worked. We have not been augmented. We have been replaced.

The list of non-human jobs grows by the day. Versatile robots and driverless vehicles? Certainly within our lifetimes.

What truly wasn’t expected was the optimization of tasks. Computers have made this possible. Companies learned how to make workers much more productive. None of this is done to the laborer’s benefit.

There was once a class of middle managers who ran departments within stores. WalMart, Home Depot, Target and all the rest have learned how to massively manage from a central location. When stores like Caldors and Zayers closed, that level of job disappeared too.

I grew up in the age of strong labor. The middle class was a good place to be. Hourly employees owned homes.

Our current economic and tax structure can only support a nation of haves and have nots. There are already not enough jobs to go around. And it’s like that in nearly all the industrialized world.

We need to make a decision. What kind of society do we want and how will we make that happen? What level of need and poverty will we accept and for how many?

Whatever the answer is, it’s certainly not what we’re doing now.

Where Are They Today?

I have heard from lots of people because of this Internet thing. Though some voices from my past have said hello, there are many more I’ve totally lost contact with. Maybe if I mention some names they’ll surface.

Bob Weiss. I’m guessing the last time I saw or spoke to Bob was in the late 60s. He lived in an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. We had gone to summer camp together. His father worked at an advertising agency.

Sometime during high school his parents took the two of us to the Village Limelight to see Jean Shepard. In our mid-teens, we watched his live radio broadcast from a bar. At that time, it was certainly the coolest moment of my life.

Bob – send me an email.

Dan Weston. Dan was my roommate freshman year in college. We were on the 3rd floor at 132 Beacon Street. As is so often the case, we didn’t know how good we had it, living in Back Bay Boston as 18 year olds. I last saw Dan sometime in the mid-70s.

I can’t imagine what being my roommate must have been like, but whatever it was, I apologize.

Dan was from Jericho, NY where is father was a dentist. His sister was a harpist. I’m sure his mom was great, but I’ve got nothing on her.

After college, Dan moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania where he worked for the PBS affiliate.

Dan – drop me a line.

Marty Ingber. Marty lived near me in Electchester, the gigantic housing project, originally built by the Electrical Workers’ Union, hidden away in a two fare zone&#185 in Queens. I probably have seen him since 1968.

Marty and I were friends, but we weren’t best friends. However, I had two memorable moments with Marty. Actually, one is sure and the other I think was Marty.

The ‘sure’ moment was when the two of us went to a Mets game at the Polo Grounds. The Mets moved into Shea Stadium in 1964, so it was 1963. I was 13. Wow – that now seems awfully young to have gone with just a friend.

By this time the Polo Grounds, situated on Coogan’s Bluff in Harlem, was pretty decrepit. The NY Giants had moved to San Francisco after the 1957 season. Preventative maintenance was probably the last thing on anyone’s mind for the five years it stood vacant. The Mets were pretty awful anyway.

We bought whatever the cheapest seat was and moved around. We ended up sitting way up high in a virtually deserted area.

At that time a coffee commercial was running on TV with the tag line, “You get what you pay for.” Every time a Met would do something wrong (a constant occurrence) one of us would say the line to the other. We laughed all afternoon.

I guess you had to be there.

This next one I’m not 100% sure about. I think it was with Marty, and it took place in Midtown Manhattan. We were there with my next door neighbor (I was in 5E, he in 5F) Dennis Westler. We were just hanging out in the city.

As we walked past a nice looking office building on Madison Avenue, one of them realized it held the offices of Mad Magazine. We went in. When we got to the proper floor, one of them (not me – I am chutzpah challenged) claimed we were there for a pre-arranged tour.

Whoever it was who came out, took pity on us and showed us around. That was also amazing. There weren’t a lot of creative people to meet, but there was a lot of original artwork scattered around. I remember looking at some original “Spy vs Spy” panels.

Marty – say hello.

I’m sure there are more people from my past waiting to be found, but let me see how I do with these three. I’ll let you know how this turns out.

&#185 – It’s not this way anymore, but you use to pay for each bus or subway ride individually. A two fare zone meant, you lived somewhere where you needed to ride both a bus and subway to get to Manhattan. Living in a two fare zone makes you, by definition, geographically undesirable.