Disincentives to Work

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece, “Fast Food Premium,” which argued that, as restaurants began offering higher wages and even signing bonuses to employees, those increased wages would get passed along to consumers, and would result in wider inflation (a big “thank you” to jonolan at Reflections from a Murky Pond for expanding upon the premise of my post with his own, excellent piece, “UBI —> UBM“).  My observations might be deemed “prophetic” if they weren’t so blindingly obvious:  higher input costs mean higher prices.  That’s basic economics.

Of course, the ongoing labor shortage is not due to a booming economy, per se, but due to excessively generous federal unemployment benefits, which have effectively increased the minimum wage for restaurant employees:  many such employees are paid more to stay at home, collecting unemployment, than they are to flip burgers, wait tables, etc.  Mogadishu Matt highlights this phenomenon in a reblog of a John Stossel piece:  the issue is not a labor shortage, but a problem of incentives.

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Fast Food Premium

There’s been a lot of discussion of UBI—Universal Basic Income—over the last few years, especially with the presidential primary run of Andrew Yang.  The concept is seductive in its simplicity:  gut the welfare state and its behemoth apparatus of bureaucratic pencil pushers and middlemen, and just cut every adult citizen a monthly check.

For fiscal conservatives, it’s a particularly toothsome Devil’s Bargain:  streamline an inefficient and wasteful bureaucracy and simply direct deposit a grand every month into Americans’ checking accounts.  Of course, it’s a siren song:  we’d just get the payments and still suffer with an entrenched bureaucracy, claiming $1000 a month isn’t enough to meet the specialized needs of whatever community they pretend to support.

Even if the deal were struck and every redundant welfare program were eliminated, there UBI would still be a bad idea.  Besides the absurdity of merely paying people to exist, it’s inherently inflationary:  if you give everyone $1000 a month, prices are going to go up.  Just as college tuition has soared because universities realized they could jack up the price and federal loans would expand to cover the costs, UBI would cause a similar rise in prices.  Sure, it’d be great at first, but the inflationary effects would kick in quickly.

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TBT^2: April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective

The Kindle version of The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard: The Ultimate Flatfoot goes live today!  If you pre-ordered the book, it should pop up in your Kindle app today.  At $5, it’s a very easy lift, as is the paperback at $15.

It’s April Fool’s Day, a holiday for mirth and merriment, but one I dedicate to remembering the day twelve years ago when I faced unemployment during the worst job market since the Great Depression.

In rereading last year’s TBT and the original “April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective,” I’m reminded how good God has been to me.  Last year I’d lost most of my private lesson students due to The Virus; now, I’m back up to seven students (six weekly, one twice a month), and I’ve just released a book (the Kindle version goes live today!).  Gigging still hasn’t really picked back up, but Bandcamp sales have been decent (and another Bandcamp Friday is tomorrow!), and my front porch Spooktacular was a blast.

I’m still hustlin’, but I’m also taking more time to appreciate life.  Perhaps the hard slog of my twenties has finally paid off here in my mid-thirties.

With that, here are “April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective” and “TBT: April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective“:

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Routine Maintenance

Regular readers will know that I’m a schoolteacher, and as such I enjoy multiple, almost random days off, sprinkled generously throughout the academic year (not to mention the three best reasons to teach:  June, July, and August).  We enjoyed one such break this past weekend—a glorious, four-day weekend dubbed “Winter Break,” in honor (no doubt) of Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day, all rolled into one big excuse to stay home.

It was, by all accounts, a meteorologically dreary weekend, with rain that started sometime Friday and lasting through the duration, but it was nevertheless enjoyable.  I took in my first movie in the theaters in months, and managed to get a number of miscellaneous items completed (as I’ve always got some side hustles going, I was able to dedicate some time to them, though I still need to work on editing my collection of Inspector Gerard stories).

Besides seeing friends and loved ones, though, I try to use these days to take care of routine maintenance—on the house, on my cars, whatever the case might be.  Lately I’ve been borderline fanatical about organization, particularly keeping my desk at home tidy, various writing utensils and calendars at the ready when needed.

This weekend, though, I dedicated several hours to reviving my long lost love:  my busted up 2006 Dodge Caravan.

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Mississippi Meanderings

At the tail end of 2020—and into the New Year—I visited the small town of Lucedale, Mississippi, to meet my girlfriend’s family.  I flew in last Wednesday and we drove back Saturday.

I’ve driven through Mississippi before, and was in Jackson a couple of years ago for a friend’s wedding.  This time I was much further south, as Lucedale—located in George County—is very close to the Gulf Coast, and about fifty minutes from Mobile, Alabama.  It reminded me a great deal of my dear South Carolina—pine trees and deciduous forests; ample farmland; small, rural communities flung across open land between larger municipalities.  In many ways, it felt like my home, just with small regional variations.

For example, my girlfriend’s family eats black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, like any good Southerner does (for them, the black-eyed peas represent good luck; for us, they represent pennies and wealth), but instead of collard greens (also for wealth—they’re the dollars), they ate coleslaw.  I suspect that’s because none of her family liked collard greens, but the difference goes further:  my girlfriend’s father had never heard of Hoppin’ John.  For my Yankee readers, Hoppin’ John is a mixture usually consisting of black-eyed peas, tomatoes, and okra, and served over white rice.  It’s good.

Other than a world without Hoppin’ John, Mississippi also had some local chains I’d never heard of before.  My girlfriend’s mother kept raving about Dirt Cheap, which I think is like a Lowe’s-meets-Ollie’s that sells mostly “dirt cheap” home improvement supplies.  There’s also a regional chain called Foosackly’s, which is essentially a smaller-scale Zaxby’s with clever advertising and a hilariously bizarre name.  My girlfriend quickly became annoyed with my fascination with this obscure chicken joint.

One highlight of the trip was building a fire with my girlfriend’s dad.  He is a man of few words, clad in suspenders, and incredibly resourceful—he maintains much of their land himself, and has built several sheds and garages.  He also has added to their home, which has been in the family at least two generations, and will stay there (his mantra:  “never sell land”).

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Christmas Break Begins!

Well, here it is—the week of Christmas, and the beginning of my glorious, two-week Christmas break.  If this blog post feels a bit like I’m rubbing in readers’ faces the bloated excess of education’s vacation time, my apologies.  I will note, though, that if you spent hours everyday as a surrogate parent to other people’s children, you, too, would want two weeks off at Christmas.

Indeed, I would argue that more professions deserve more time off at Christmastime.  Naturally, I realize that many folks save up their hard-earned vacation days to do just that:  enjoy a week or so with their families by the yule log, sipping eggnog and hot cocoa in their festive Cosby sweaters.  What I’m advocating for, though, is a widespread cultural movement—maybe even to the point of declaring some federal holidays—in the days leading up to and/or immediately after Christmas.  It always blows my mind when people work a full day—even a measly half-day—on Christmas Eve.

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Flashback Friday: Brack Friday Bunduru: Workers Need a Break

I’m embracing the lazy logic of Thanksgiving Break with more throwback posts than usual this week.  After Christmas Break, this little Thanksgiving reprieve is my favorite short break of the year.  It combines family, fun, and food, with enough time to enjoy all three.

Last year when I wrote “Brack Friday Bunduru: Workers Need a Break,” I was growing increasingly burned out and fatigued from my job and my various obligations.  Between work, music lessons, and various ensembles, I wasn’t getting home most nights until 9 or even 10 PM.  That clearly showed up in my argument here for giving workers the day of Thanksgiving—and at least Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—off from their toils.

That said, I still believe it.  What’s humorous to me, in re-reading this post after a year of lockdowns and shutdowns, is that my call for “[s]hutting down everything but essential services… would be an admirable goal for at least Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Thanksgiving” came to pass—with deleterious effect—for not three measly days but for months on end.  That’s certainly not what I had in mind, but I think workers have had all the breaks they can stand this past year.

Still, in normal times, having a couple of days for Christmas and a day or two for Thanksgiving isn’t going to tank the global economy.  Workers could use the break, and the reminder that all that hard work is in service to something greater:  family, faith, and God.

I love hard work—indeed, I think it’s one of the keys to happiness and purpose, particularly for men—but there’s hard work, and there’s exhausting yourself for a pittance.  Let’s reward the former with some downtime.

With that, here is “Brack Friday Bunduru: Workers Need a Break“:

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TBT: High-Tech Agrarianism

Lately I’ve been heavily focused on yard work, as my lawn and flower beds were resembling an abandoned lot more than a well-maintained lawn.  As such, I’ve had small-scale farming on the brain more lately, even though the only edibles I planted were one forlorn banana pepper plant and some oregano (although the celosia leaves are edible before the plants flower).

Naturally, my mind returned to this March 2020 essay, “High-Tech Agrarianism.”  It’s perhaps a testament to how much we have adjusted to The Age of The Virus that I did not go out and till my half-acre, instead letting it loose to its recent weedy state.

Reading over this essay, which I wrote in the week after South Carolina schools shut down, it’s interesting how much I’ve mellowed on The Virus.  I was skeptical of it beforehand, but when schools were shuttered for the last two months of the academic year, the sense that something big was wrong only grew.  The most remarkable aspect of The Virus is that, even with shutdowns, the economy kept going, and there’s not the same sense of depressing listlessness that reigned during the Great Recession.

Of course, the economic fallout may very well be delayed, and I’m in a much better position financially and professionally this time around than I was in 2009.  The government distributing $1200 checks and propping up businesses probably smoothed out the economic disruption a bit, too.

It’s also interesting that other than wearing masks and sanitizing ourselves and our things constantly, life seems to be marching on more normally.  The True Believers in The Virus scold large gatherings, but people want to be together.  We can limit crowds only so much—people are going to congregate.

The Age of The Virus aside, the idea of tilling suburban and small town acreage is a prudent, if difficult, job.  I still maintain it’s a better use of land than a lawn.  Instead of mowing and edging, put that effort towards watering, weeding, and fertilizing.  Crops look good—and taste good, too.

That last paragraph probably highlights my ignorance about agriculture—something I’m working on as I flirt more and more with the idea of converting my yard into arable square feet.  We’ll see where I am in another six months.

Here’s “High-Tech Agrarianism“:

The coronavirus situation—which I am convinced is both quite serious, but also inspiring some huge overreactions—has created a world that feels almost entirely different than it did even a few days ago.  This time last week, I was convinced that the whole thing was way overblown, and that life would largely continue apace, minus some school closures here and there.

By Friday evening I was growing more concerned, as everything began to get closed or cancelled.  I proctored the SAT Saturday morning and even went out of town that evening.  At that point, I thought the risk of my school closing was greater than it had been even two or three days before, but I still figured it was a relatively remote possibility.

Then Governor McMaster announced the closure of all South Carolina public schools (I teach at a private school, but we always follow gubernatorial closures)—and a bunch of other stuff shut down.  I picked up dinner at a Hardee’s in Florence, South Carolina Monday evening after a guitar lesson, and it was surreal—everything was gone from the front, and the cashier had to give me a lid and straw according to their new cleanliness guidelines.

(Let’s take a moment to thank all those service industry folks and long-distance truckers who are continuing to work and risking exposure; they are unsung heroes.  Also, spare a thought to people in those industries that are out-of-work at the moment.  They need our love and charity now more than ever.)

That’s all to say that, in a remarkably short period of time, the United States has undergone a major paradigm shift.  The world of Saturday, 14 March 2020 at 2 PM—when I emerged from the cocoon of extended time SAT testing—was a different than the world of Wednesday, 18 March 2020 at 9 PM (when I’m writing this very belated blog post).

One trend—that I think will be positive if it endures—is the implicit rejection of globalism.  People are suddenly awakening, dramatically, to the manifold downsides of open borders and excessive global economic integration.  Suddenly, localism is back in vogue.

One of my musician friends, a bit of a Sandersnista hippie-dippie type (but attractive enough to get away with it) has been posting Left-leaning memes consistently throughout this crisis.  But one meme caught my eye:

Grandma - Local Supply Chain

Here’s good ol’ Granny tending her garden.  The meme is right:  I know from family lore that my Mamaw and Papaw fed themselves, their children, and a lot of other folks in the mountains of southwestern Virginia during the Depression with chickens and crops they raised themselves.

That got me thinking:  could America see the return of widespread of homesteading, or some modern-day version of Jeffersonian agrarianism?

I was pondering this question on my way to church tonight (yes, yes, social distancing, etc., but it’s a small church, and we had a very small turnout, so I’m sure it was fine to attend), driving through the fields on the outskirts of Lamar.  I began pondering the notion of a society with our level of information technology, but that saw most Americans farming or gardening for at least a small bit of their sustenance.

Such a system would be “high-tech agrarianism”—it would combine modern technology, especially information technology like the Internet, with millions of freehold agriculturalists.  Yes, we’d still have the huge mega-farms, we’d have people working in offices, etc.  But people would be making good use of their land, too, growing crops instead of grass.

Of course, I then began to ponder if such a society could have ever developed organically.  My instinct is no—it required the massive integration of local, regional, and national economies to raise production efficiency to the point that we can have widespread, niche-y specialization in tens of thousands of fields.  Greater efficiency fed into greater technological advancement, which in turn led to greater efficiency—and on and on and on, in a revving upward cycle.

But now we’re staring down this virus, which is leading governments all over the world to close stores, cancel events, lay off workers, turn away elderly patients, and on and on.  Those long, efficient supply chains are massively disrupted.  People are hoarding toilet paper and bread in the hopes of riding out likely (and, in some places, actual) quarantines.

I’m assuming life will return to normal… eventually.  But when?  So far, many of my assumptions about the pandemic have been incorrect (it turns out this time, the media wasn’t just crying wolf—well, not entirely, anyway; it still seems that some of this panicked response is driven by ridiculous media spin and speculation).  If we continue down this road of greater and greater decentralized isolation, people are either going to riot, or figure out how to provide for themselves.

In such a world, maybe high technology and small-scale farming could work keyboard-in-glove.  I’ve long advocated for some return to a simpler, more agrarian, more localized life.

Of course, I’m romanticizing America’s Jeffersonian past.  Farming is hard—and risky (of course, that hardness made our nation great).  I certainly don’t know anything about it—another truth to the meme above.  Also, if we’d continued as a mostly farming nation, we wouldn’t have the means to fight this virus, or to figure out how to fight it.

That said, converting your half-acre lawn into a garden full of corn, squash, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, beans, berry bushes, etc., seems like a far more productive use of your little plot of land, and one that could save your life and the lives of others in a pinch.  That seems sensible.

We could also do with some can-do gumption, like Granny had.

Home Depot is operating on shortened hours, but they’re remaining open.  Maybe now is the time to buy a roto-tiller.

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Lazy Sunday LXXVII: Rural America

After a week of incredibly hot weather here in South Carolina, Saturday brought a blessed drop in both the temperature and humidity—a foretaste of autumn.  My girlfriend and I spent Saturday weeding my disgracefully overgrown flower beds, which were mostly weeds strangling the life out of everything but the hardiest of perennials (and my robust banana trees).  We then did some new plantings (with a few more to put in, as well as some mulch).  The results were pretty good:

Lamar House - After Planting, 5 September 2020

It felt good to get our hands (and clothes, and faces) dirty, digging through the dirt and nurturing plant life.  My mother is an expert gardener, so I’ve picked up a few simple techniques from her; otherwise, we just bought flowers we liked and plopped ’em in with some in-ground bedding soil and a some water.  Fingers crossed that everything survives.

My mind has been on the soil lately, and our connection to it.  I have a fondness—perhaps a tad romantic—for country life.  With current trends in the cities—rising home prices, rising property taxes, and rising urban violence—country life seems like an attractive, even inevitable, alternative.

As such, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s Lazy Sunday to some pieces about rural America:

  • TBT: Rustics Have Opinions, Too” – This piece dates way back 2009, when the blog was in its first iteration on Blogger, and I was still enthralled with “Randian-libertarian economic” philosophy.  Such are the follies of youth.  However, I did notice even then the deep disdain of limousine liberals for the rest of us here in “flyover country,” a disdain that, at least in part, accounts for the TEA Party movement and the Trumpian revolt of 2016.
  • High-Tech Agrarianism” – When The Virus hit, people were in a tizzy about having enough toilet paper and food.  People gained a renewed interest in gardening as a source of sustenance, not just beauty.  In this post, I mused about a possible return to small-scale homesteading, coupled with our advanced information technology.  Essentially, I posited a world in which people still work, albeit increasingly from home and on more flexible hours, and can use their time to tend to small crops to supplement their diets.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: The Future is Rural” – One of two recent posts on the lure of rural America and small town life, I argue here that life in the country offers many attractive incentives for working families.  Not only are cities pushing people away with high prices and crime; the country is ready to take in telecommuters who earn good money but want a low cost of living in a safe, healthy environment.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: Small Town Natalism” – The second post in my Saturday series about small town and rural living, this post is a preliminary sketch of a policy proposal:  applying nationalistic, pro-birth natalist policies to the small town context.  Instead of wasting money on seldom-used public facilities, local governments could offer a stipend to married families with children to encourage increased birth rates.  That would grow towns organically and attract new residents, thereby broadening the tax bases in often distressed rural areas.

That’s it for this week.  The garden is calling to me.  Time to put down some mulch!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments: