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The coal mines are not going to reopen. The textile mills are not going to come back. Deindustrialization of the Midwest is not going to be reversed. At least not completely. While outsourcing gets most of the attention -- and while Donald Trump and the Republicans blame immigration and outsourcing for the decimation of job prospects in once-thriving industries -- it is the obsolescence of some industries, such as fossil fuel extraction, and the automation of others, such as manufacturing, which has been the biggest factor in unemployment and underemployment of the working class.
It is important for leaders, entrepreneurs and workers in areas hit hard by automation and obsolescence in legacy industries -- places like Ohio -- to stop looking to the past for economic prosperity. It is time for us to look toward the future. A huge part of the future will be -- and must be -- about energy. About increasing our energy independence and about making energy systems smarter, more economical, and more efficient. It's also about grasping the economic potential of new, clean, modern energy sources.
This is not about environmentalism, even if clean energy will, obviously, provide environmental benefits. It's about bringing Ohio fully and squarely into the advanced energy economy. It's about creating good jobs with good benefits in an industrial sector that is large, still growing and diversified.
According to a recent study (via Vox) the advanced energy industry brought in $1.4 trillion in revenue last year, globally. That's nearly twice the size of the airline industry, as large as the apparel industry, and close to global spending on media, including newspapers, movies and video games. It brought in $200 billion in the United States alone, which is nearly double that of beer sales, the same as domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing, and approaching revenues realized by wholesale consumer electronics.
While that may surprise you, know that we're not just talking about some small business building solar panels in some office park. The advanced energy industry includes:
You can read the breakdowns of each of these sectors and the current trends here.
The advanced energy industry is not just huge, but it's growing. In fact, it's growing much faster than the world economy overall (7 percent vs. 3.1 percent). In the United States advanced energy is up 28 percent since 2010 and the industry now supports 3.3 million jobs here at home. To give some perspective: the solar power industry alone accounts for 260,077 jobs. Coal mining, coal transportation, and coal-fired power plant combustion account for about 174,000 jobs combined.
Donald Trump and the Republican party don't want to talk about the advanced energy industry and none of their proposals seem geared toward supporting it or incentivizing its growth. Quite the opposite, actually. They view it as a fad at best, a liberal conspiracy at worst, lumping it in with social issues and the greater culture war. Hippie stuff they only care about in Berkeley, Austin or Ann Arbor. Indeed, they seem to take as some sort of personal affront to American values.
But it's not personal, it's strictly business. The business of energy generation, management, transportation and storage. The business of electric vehicles and electric vehicle fueling stations. The business of smart engineering and smart construction, from I-beams to HVAC units to security systems. It's about all of the allied and support industries which create and support these technologies. It's about tech workers, office workers, tradesmen and laborers. About white collar and blue collar, all working for a greener future, both environmentally and economically speaking.
Why would anyone say no to that? And why isn't anyone in Columbus or in Washington saying yes to it?
The new iPhone was unveiled today.
The big news is that it does not have a headphone jack. You’ll need to use wireless headphones, which Apple is calling “AirPods” or else you can use wired headphones using their lightning cable and an adapter. You cannot, however, use regular headphones and there is no longer a standard aux cable.
This is causing a great deal of sturm und drang, with people alternatively freaking out on social media about losing their AirPods or racing to top each other in jokes at Apple’s expense.
Of course, there are also a lot of people defending this move by Apple as visionary, because there are some people who will say anything Apple does is visionary. Apple marketing exec Phill Schiller went so far as to say that the move “comes down to one word – courage.” Which, um, sure. The takeaway here, I think, is that both complainers and backers of every technological change overstate their cases, often in ridiculous ways.
I think it ultimately comes down to this: if you think of an iPhone as a stepping stone across the Great River of Technological Advancement one must ford on The Path to Paradise or something, wireless is necessary and cool and – dare I say it?! – courageous. If you think of an iPhone as a consumer product that you use as a tool to get you through your day, much like a vacuum cleaner or your car, not having a headphone jack is a pain in the ass. It’s that simple.
You have to accept some balance in that whole calculus, of course. The customer isn’t always right. Indeed, it’s often the case that end users have to be prodded, often sharply, into trying new things that will, in fact, make their lives easier one day. But it’s also the case that companies which lose sight of the fact that, hey, people use their products for a reason, eventually run into trouble when he products stop being useful and practical. This is especially true of companies who are making money hand over fist, face little competition and forget how demand curves work. Ask a GM executive from the 1960s and 1970s about that.
I’m certainly no technology expert, but I think the move into wireless headphones mostly serves Apple’s interests, not the interest of its customers. Maybe Apple has learned that its customers will go along with anything even if they aren’t being well-served. Maybe it has managed to convince enough of them that they are really buying that stepping stone across the Great River of Technological Advancement and not a simple consumer product. As an Apple product user myself, I am well aware that there are some cultlike tendencies among our kind that have basically given Apple a license to print money in ways few if any companies ever have had.
But I think it’s a mistake to assume that Apple is infallible when it comes to this kind of stuff. It may have more money than God and it may have assumed a place in our culture that makes it seem like something more than a company selling gadgets to customers, but it’s still just a company selling gadgets to customers. It strikes me that, perhaps, it should think a bit harder about what customers want and ease up a bit on what it thinks customers will adapt to. At some point it’s going to lose a bet on that score.
The current controversy over the price of the EpiPen, manufactured by Mylan, Inc. is quite instructive with respect to the nature of capitalism.
Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch, is the daughter of United States Senator Joe Manchin, himself a scion of a notable political family in my home state of West Virginia. Bresch was given her entry-level job at Mylan on the recommendation of her father, who was then West Virginia’s Secretary of State. I’m sure he was just listed on the bottom of the resume and Mylan called him and that he in no way reached out to a company that had operations regulated by the State of West Virginia in order to put a word in for his daughter.
Bresch rose through Mylan’s ranks astonishingly quickly. Perhaps due to her MBA degree from West Virginia University. A degree, it should be noted, which she did not earn. Indeed, it was bogusly awarded and then rescinded because it was revealed that then-president of WVU, Michael Garrison, gave it to her despite the fact that she had completed less than half of the coursework required for the degree. Garrison, it should be noted, is a family friend of the Manchins and business associate of Bresch’s.
Don’t you think for a moment that justice wasn’t done in that case, however. Garrison was forced out of office due to the Bresch degree scandal and is now forced to practice law. He recently represented a company which sued to get a municipal law rescinded which prevented it from operating a horizontal hydraulic fracking drill adjacent to the city’s water supply.
All of that aside, Bresch has long led Mylan to great profits and a soaring stock price which, to be clear, is the job of a CEO. Those profits and that stock price, however, are due mostly to the combination of the monopoly Mylan has on the EpiPen and Bresch’s total lack of compunction about using that monopoly to jack up the price of the pen, which is a literal life-saving device. Hey, even bogus MBA holders can grok the concept of inelastic demand. If you can’t understand that, go read a book, dudes.
Unfortunately, bogus and real MBA holders alike, while masters of certain economic concepts, have a hard time grasping other economic concepts. Such as the one that holds that “there is no such thing as a free lunch:”
“Mylan noted in an email to Business Insider that about 80% of people with commercial insurance who also used a “My EpiPen Savings Card” received the device for $0.”
See? They’re not gouging all of their patients. Just the ones without insurance, which our capitalist society has decided is a privilege, not a right. If you HAVE insurance it’s free! Unless of course you count how much your premiums are jacked up due to insurers passing along the costs they are being charged by Mylan and their counterparts for this kind of gouging.
Now that all of this is emerging into a national controversy, Bresch is being attacked for the price of the EpiPen and because of the 600%+ raise she gave herself after raising the price. She is being defended by her peers, however, as someone who is merely following the accepted norms of capitalism:
That’s quite an endorsement coming from Mr. Shkreli. Not that he’s at all wrong about the values and nature of capitalism. Indeed, he knows them quite well.
Oh well. I suspect all of this will blow over soon. In some cases this kind of controversy would turn into a show-hearing before Congress, but given that that Bresch is a Senator’s daughter I doubt that will happen. And even if it does, I suspect nothing further will happen because Mylan and Bresch are doing everything by the capitalist book.
Even if most people don’t always realize or acknowledge that, in a capitalist society, favoritism, privilege, fraud, greed and the shielding from, as opposed to the engaging in, competition is the book.
I was born in Flint, Michigan. I lived there until I was 11, when we moved to Parkersburg, West Virginia. I lived there for three years and then moved to Beckley, West Virginia where I graduated high school and got married. When people ask me where I’m from I usually say Beckley, but I’m a Flint native and consider Flint, Parkersburg and Beckley to all be my home. They all took their turns and played their part in forming me and making me the person I would eventually become.
I had a good childhood. A happy childhood. I was lucky in that my parents always had stable jobs and a stable income. Such things were not necessarily the norm in Flint or West Virginia. Our society is so socially and racially segregated and we rarely see or acknowledge people in different classes than our own, but it was always a bit easier to see it in places like Flint and West Virginia. Those places were smaller and are poorer than most places with fewer school districts and neighborhoods and clubs and restaurants which allow people to keep their distance from those who are different and poorer than they are. I had a good and happy childhood but I grew up with and was friends with people who didn’t. I saw people who worked their asses off, had almost nothing to show for it and had no one listening to them when they were faced with hard times or injustice.
In Flint, factories closed and no one cared. In fact, people mocked those who were put out of work and blamed them for their own misfortune. In West Virginia people were lucky if all the coal mines did was close. If they stayed open a long time, way worse things could happen. Over time people in Flint and West Virginia would come to accept this as normal. An implicit social contract was torn up by one party to it without the other party knowing, but eventually it was just accepted that factories and mines closed and hard work took its toll because that’s just how things go. Hell, if it wasn’t part of the deal, wouldn’t someone be held accountable for it? No one was ever held accountable, so it must simply be the way things are.
But putting people out of work or putting them at risk in jobs everyone knows, on some level, to be dangerous is one thing. Actively poisoning them and killing them has to be something else though, right?
* * * * * * * * * * *
In 2000 I worked at a law firm in Columbus, Ohio with a sophisticated environmental practice. I didn’t do that stuff, but the woman in the office next to me did. I heard her mention Parkersburg one day and asked her about it. It seems the firm represented DuPont and they had some issues down at their Washington Works facility just south of the place I lived from the 6th to the 9th grade. A toxic chemical known as C8 had poisoned the water supply – Lubeck water, which is the water which came to my house – and people were getting sick and dying. Babies were deformed. DuPont had known about it since the 60s. The water had been known to be contaminated since 1984, the year I moved there. It was “under control,” the woman in the office next to mine told me. I took that to mean legally under control, not environmentally, because that’s what “under control” means to a lawyer.
I thought of all of the times I drank that water out of the tap of my South Parkersburg home or out of the drinking fountains at Blennerhassett Junior High. I thought back to my Little League team which played at DuPont field, smack right dab in between the DuPont Washington Works plant and the Borg Warner chemical plant right next door. Like the Pittsburgh skyline is to the outfield of PNC Park where the Pirates play the smoke stacks and cooling towers of those chemical plants were to my Little League field. And there was a smell to the place. Not necessarily an unpleasant smell. Nothing that would drive people away. But certainly a unique smell. An unnatural one which to this day I can immediately bring to mind. Thank goodness, I thought in 2000, that all of that was “under control.”
I moved down to Beckley in 1988. My ex-wife and all of her family is from down there and it was down there where I truly grew up and where I truly began to understand and appreciate how hard some people worked and how hard some people’s lives were. My wife’s grandfather had black lung from years in the mines. My father in-law was a construction worker who inhaled crystalline silica for years and whose death from respiratory failure can likely be traced back to that. On April 5, 2010, Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, not far from Beckley, blew up. Twenty-nine out of thirty-one miners at the site were killed. One of the 29 miners killed was the father of one of my other in-laws.
On January 9, 2014 something called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol was released from a facility run by a company called “Freedom Industries” straight into the Elk River near Charleston, West Virginia. It contaminated the water of nine nearby counties, all now home to people I knew and loved back then or, at the very least, home to people like the ones I knew and loved. 300,000 people in a state with a population of only 1.85 million people were told to avoid using their water for cooking, drinking, or bathing for an extended period. Schools and businesses were closed. Hospitals activated emergency measures.
In 2014, in a cost-savings move, Flint’s water supply was changed from the long-used, long-reliable Detroit water system to a new system drawing water directly from the Flint River. After the change Flint’s water was suddenly riddled with lead contamination. Between 6,000 and 12,000 residents were found to have severely high levels of lead in the blood, leading to serious health problems. It’s also suspected that the water change is the culprit behind an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed 10 people and affected another 77. As I write this the politicians involved are shifting and denying blame. No one seems to have a plan about how to deliver non-toxic water to the people of Flint.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Things were under control down in Parkersburg, but only for a while. In 2015 DuPont’s release of C8 into the Lubeck water supply finally came to be known by a great number of people and only then did DuPont start facing some modicum of legal judgment for it. Not much of one – their settlements and the jury awards so far have been dwarfed by even a partial year’s worth of revenue from DuPont – but, for the first time in 50 years of knowingly poisoning their own workers, their families and their neighbors, something was being done about it, however small.
Black lung settlements come and go in West Virginia. Some families count on them as part of their basic economic plan and many miners affected by it simply pass on the money to their children and grandchildren in order to help them put food on the table and to keep them out of the mines themselves. As for Upper Big Branch, it was eventually ruled that the explosion was entirely preventable but the unlawful policies and practices of Massey Energy made it inevitable. Practices which were deemed to be intentional and knowingly dangerous and were designed to save money. The government issued 369 citations. Millions in fines were leveled and millions in settlements were paid. One superintendent was convicted of a crime. Fraud. The fines and settlements were small compared to Massey’s revenue, however, and are generally considered a cost of doing business Massey willingly accepted. The criminal sanction was nearly nothing in the face of 29 deaths which were eminently preventable.
My ex-in-law whose dad died in the blast got a sizable settlement. It’s all gone now. I’ve lost touch with him, but from what I hear he’s leading a aimless and sad existence. Massey Energy can put a cost on human life and budget around it, but the son of a dead coal miner can’t do that as easily. As for my father in law: I miss him every day and wish my children got a chance to know their grandfather. Especially my son, his namesake, who was born five months after he died.
Up in Charleston, due to 30-some years of a certain sort of person and a certain sort of politician demonizing government regulation, the chemical spill into the Elk River was deemed to not legally be “hazardous,” thereby preventing all manner of EPA measures designed to be triggered by hazardous situations. Days afterward “Freedom Industries” declared bankruptcy to avoid any liability. A new company working with the same chemicals and with the same phone numbers and addresses registered to do business there soon after. It still operates today and similar, albeit smaller spills of the same chemical happen from time to time. No one was ever held accountable for the big spill.
Up in Flint? Well, that’s still going on, but so far it looks like much the same thing will go down. The politicians currently shifting blame are mostly hiding behind their curious and rare immunity from Freedom of Information Act responsibilities and so who knew what and when about the deadly poison sent through the taps of the people of Flint may never be known. If I were a betting man I’d not lay much on anyone truly responsible for this disaster to have their political or business careers ended and even less on anyone going to jail over it. Meanwhile, I expect many more people will die in Flint because the water they need to drink to survive is toxic. Lead has a way of lingering.
* * * * * * * * * * *
I don’t pay close attention to what has gone on in Flint and in West Virginia because I’m an environmental activist or a good person or some committed social justice warrior. I’ve only paid close attention to it because, at some point, the names of the places where these crimes have occurred are familiar to me and caught my attention when they hit the news. Such things happen all over the place all the time and they’re lost on me or at least quickly forgotten, just as what’s going on in Flint and what has happened in West Virginia may be lost on you either now or eventually. It’s human nature, I suppose. Our lives are busy and full and the world is a big place filled with all manner of injustice. We only have the capacity to see so much of it or, even if we do see it, we only have so much capacity to care.
But this stuff happens every day. It happens in marginal places which are, invariably, home to poor people. People who don’t fund political campaigns or sit on boards of directors or play golf with those who do down at the club. For most of us, these people are abstractions or stereotypes. Poor blacks who, to some, are a demographic category more than they are actual people. Or dumb rednecks who are easily written off unless or until some regulation-hating politician needs them to bring their guns and trucks and bibles to a campaign stop so he can show just how much he loves freedom and the common man. They’re used at best but usually ignored and are always, always the victims of these atrocities.
I’d wish that we can do better. But after all of this time, I doubt we can. And I doubt most people care. They don’t care about Flint. They don’t care about Parkersburg. They don’t care about Beckley or Charleston or the Elk River. And thus such things will happen again and again and again.
The men’s personal care aisle at your local discount store looks like this now:
Look at all of that black and dark gray and midnight blue! It’s everywhere, from body wash to deodorant to tampons and soda. This morning Allison alerted me to the fact that they’re doing this for sunscreen now. According to the product information, it’s “formulated for men’s unique sun care needs.” The only difference between it and every other sunscreen I’ve ever seen is the fact that it features a “contemporary, masculine scent.” Who knew that all of the other sunscreen had an old lady smell?
Of course in reality it’s all in the packaging. Give something a dark, bold color and men will be more likely to buy it, it seems.
This is our fault, gentlemen. I mean, rail all you want against the companies which produce this stuff or the stores which sell it for being dumb about gender roles and attitudes, but P&G and Target are rational actors. Their goal is to sell as much crap as they can, and if the black packaging didn’t improve sales, they wouldn’t package things in black like they have been. It’s all on us, fellas. We’re voting with our wallets and our wallets seem to be saying “if I get body wash in a steel-gray bottle, no one will think I am a homosexual and/or a woman.”
If there’s any validity to that – if buying things “formulated for men” and packaged in bold dark colors determines one’s masculinity – I’m utterly screwed. This is my current preferred line of personal care products. Literally everything I use on a daily basis:
That’s a pretty darn bright bunch of bottles! To the extent they have photos on them, they’re in soft focus! I see at least three with some floral motif!
But the packaging isn’t the worst part. Take a look at that deodorant. It’s Sure solid Unscented. I have used it, and no other deodorant, since I was a teenager in the 1980s. It has always served me well. However, about a year ago, I had a crisis: I couldn’t find it. None of the stores near me had it in stock for a few weeks and signs saying “coming soon with a fresh new look!” were attached to its usual place on the shelves. Soon, its place was gone entirely and, if I were not a hoarder with multiple sticks of it under my sink, I would have run out and I would have had to choose a new deodorant for the first time since the Reagan Administration.
But, thankfully, I found it again. It was now in the “women’s deodorant” section.
It was there, in the somewhat effeminate packaging you see above (it used to look more like this). Seeing as though it was unscented, I bought it anyway and compared it to my last stick of the old version. Same stuff, 100%, as it was back when the commercials for it featured firefighters and middle linebackers singing “raise your hand if you’re Sure!” Just now, Sure is apparently for women.
Or is it?
That’s from Sure’s UK website. I haven’t seen those manly deodorants or their excessively manly scents like “Quantum,” “Active,” “Adventure,” and “Cobalt” here it the United States yet. But I’m guessing I will soon. Sure needs to get on the dark products gravy train just like everyone else.
When I do see it, I’ll be Sure to continue to pass it up and buy two sticks of the women’s deodorant. And perhaps a couple boxes of tampons for extra measure.
Back at George Washington I had a law professor named Lawrence E. Mitchell. He was my corporate finance professor. And we learned an awful lot about corporate finance. The real takeaway from the class, however, was Professor Mitchell’s teachings about dicey corporate accounting practices.
This was in the mid-90s, years before Enron and all of those other book-cooking corporations crumbled under the weight of their Alice in Wonderland balance sheets. Professor Mitchell was WAY ahead of the game on this stuff, though, noting how rampant and wrong it was that corporations were valuing things as assets when they really were costs, setting themselves as virtual ponzi schemes designed to pay executives now and screw investors later and the like.
I found all of that incredibly useful as a lawyer. Indeed, I remember and use the concepts from that class more than any other class I took at GW. And not just in legal practice – when all of the corporate scandals began in the early 2000s, I knew exactly what was going on thanks to Professor Mitchell. The man, quite literally, wrote the book on corporate irresponsibility and I am a much smarter and well-informed person because of him.
Flash forward to today and I read an editorial in the New York Times from one Lawrence E. Mitchell. I had lost track of him over the years, but he is now the dean of Case Western Reserve Law school in Cleveland. His editorial is about how, contrary to the growing sentiment over the past few years, law school is a good investment:
For at least two years, the popular press, bloggers and a few sensationalist law professors have turned American law schools into the new investment banks. We entice bright young students into our academic clutches. Succubus-like, when we’ve taken what we want from them, we return them to the mean and barren streets to fend for themselves.
I realize a dean of a law school has to say such things, but the cold hard reality is that, unlike it was for me and my friends back in the 1990s, law school is no longer a good investment for most people. It’s a piss-poor one, actually, and unless you (a) have rich parents or already have the money saved to pay the exorbitant tuition; or (b) have a great chance of getting a well-paying job due to family or personal connections in private practice, law school is a sucker’s bet.
If you choose to go to law school, you will go into outrageous amounts of debt and you will come out facing a job market that no longer hands out jobs with six-figure salaries as if they were samples of Genral Tso’s chicken at the food court. It’s brutal out there, and new graduates are killing each other for increasingly scarce and increasingly lower-paying jobs, all the while law schools – which are used by universities as profit centers – belch thousands of new graduates into the job market each May.
To be fair, later in the editorial, Dean Mitchell notes that the market is rough and that it may be wrong to focus on that first job out of law school. Look beyond that first job out of law school, he says, to the rewards that will come later.
There is some truth to that part. Indeed, I’m the living embodiment of a law school education helping one do things other than practice law. But as I have noted quite often, the road I traveled is not an easily replicable one. Indeed, if it wasn’t for sheer dumb luck and the unexpected and possibly undeserved generosity of other people at a couple of key times in my journey, I never would have made it. Oh, and I also had the benefit of 11 well-paid years in private practice before that – with jobs obtained in a radically different legal job market than the one exists today – to help me along the way and to give me the comfort to take the sorts of risks I took to get to where I am.
So as I sit here this afternoon, I am more than a little dumbfounded. Dumbfounded that the man who taught me everything I know about financial mismanagement, shady accounting and corporate ponzi schemes – the man who, more than anything else, warned me against anyone who would classify something as an asset when it truly represents a cost – is in the New York Times advocating that students continue to go into crazy law school debt and defending what has become, in essence, an educational ponzi scheme, all because he believes this thing that is literally bankrupting students is truly an asset.
But hey, I bet there will be more applications for Case Western as a result.