What Could We Get From Trade Policy

By Mike Koetting        September 25, 2018

I am still no expert on trade policy, but I have found the spinning out of the recent NAFTA discussions fascinating. You may have already forgotten about them because issues with China have taken center-stage in anything about trade that could be heard over the Kavanaugh furor. But, as will be discussed below, expect NAFTA to return.

First, repeating a mantra from earlier posts on the topic, there is simply no such thing as completely free trade. All trade happens under some rules. So simply incanting “free trade” doesn’t really shed much light on the full range of discussion. This is important because the stickiest points in the current NAFTA discussion are not around tariffs per se, but around the rules under which tariffs stay low—not that you could tell that from most of the media coverage, which continues to portray this as a cartoon contest between free trade and protectionism, with little coverage of the actual issues at stake. Continue reading “What Could We Get From Trade Policy”

Who Owns the Future of Work?

By Mike Koetting    September 12, 2018

One of the articles I read when I was preparing for my Labor Day post was “It’s Not ‘The Future of Work’, It’s the Future of Workers That’s in Doubt.” by Sarita Gupta, Stephen Lerner, & Joseph A. McCartin, all three labor advocates. Given that I have had several posts devoted to “The Future of Work,” it’s not surprising that this article got my attention.

They argue we should be less focused on the abstract “Future of Work” and more focused on making the world safe for workers. Without this, they suggest, inequality grows and that inevitably threatens democracy. They do not gainsay the looming issues of technology change but they say:

It is the concentration of wealth and power in this new economy, not computerization or artificial intelligence, that represents the gravest threat to our future. It is that concentration that will determine how innovative technologies are deployed and in whose interests they operate. The future of work will be determined by who wields power and for what purposes. Continue reading “Who Owns the Future of Work?”

Unions in America

By Mike Koetting     September 3, 2018 

What with today being Labor Day, it seemed an appropriate time to reflect on unions in America.

It is difficult to over-estimate the positive impact that unions have had on American life. Unions are in some way responsible for humane wages, 40 hour working week, vacations, pensions, and safer working conditions. For all workers, not just union members. It is also the case that when unions were strongest, immediately after WWII, inequality was lowest. Certainly many factors contributed to the rise of a more egalitarian society.  But, as shown in recent research on unions, summarized by Mike Konzcal in The Nation, the rise of unions explains the increase in overall societal equality “every bit as much as theories about education or any other single factor.”

Despite this, unions have lost favor in America. Continue reading “Unions in America”

Looking Back to the 1968 Chicago Convention

By Mike Koetting     August 24, 2018

Fifty years ago I was with my friend Charlene in front of a hotel on Michigan Avenue, clean-cut with a coat and tie. We were arguing with an alternative delegate to the Democratic Convention from New Jersey. The street in front of us was filled with protesters.

We had been among the crowd that tried earlier to conduct a peaceful, well-organized march starting in Grant Park. But the police had refused and tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. The crowd did not disperse and eventually flowed onto Michigan avenue, where it remained. Chanting and yelling and closing the street, but otherwise not bothering anything.

Then the police decided they were going to clear the street through whatever means and started to club and mace protesters and, indeed, anyone in sight. The alternative delegate scurried into the hotel, but the hotel’s security would not let us in because we weren’t registered. Charlene and I headed down a side-street to get away from the police—who were now clubbing people wildly and indiscriminately. Suddenly police came at us from all sides. I was clubbed in the head and ducked away from two other swings at me. Charlene wasn’t hit—just pushed around. The Mobilization Committee carted me off to Billings Hospital (as the University of Chicago Medical Center was then known) to get stitched up. Continue reading “Looking Back to the 1968 Chicago Convention”

My Book About the Sixties

By Mike Koetting      August 12, 2018

This a special edition of my blog, featuring my book You Must Choose Now.  You Must Choose Now is the story of my adventures in the Sixties—which I define as the period from the Gulf of Tokin Resolution to Nixon’s resignation. Much of those adventures were of course unique to me. But many of them were part of a broader cultural shift and the easiest way for me to write about that was through the lens of my own experience.

Submission_Cover (2)

It’s fair to say I thoroughly participated in the events of the Sixties—I was an activist, got my head busted in Chicago, lived in a commune, fell in love a couple times, had my heart broken, and smoked a little dope. But by the same token, I was a serious student, never declared war on America and generally was much less “far out” than the collective memory of the times would suggest—a collective memory that was too much shaped by the outliers.

To me, this is the most important part of the story:  not everyone who made the Sixties what they were got on the cover of Life. Many of us just went about our lives making choices—some easy, some difficult—and when the smoke cleared, America was very different. Another important part of the story is linked to the reasons we made those choices. The Sixties were not just a collection of activities—it was a set of choices linked to deliberate decisions about what values to pursue. I believe those values continue to motivate the Sixties alumni—although the country has gotten less friendly to those values, in part a reaction to the Sixties themselves. This irony is part of the story explored in the book.

In any event, if you are interested in the Sixties, I think this book is worth a look—whether it is because you enjoy reliving those days in your mind or because you’re curious about why that one decade had such an out-sized impact on the country.

I would love for all of you to buy this book. I think it tells an important story about that time and how it feels when we look back across 50 years. But I offer a significant caveat.  I haven’t a clue if the book is any good.

You see, this is a self-published book. There are many advantages to self-publishing, but one of the biggest disadvantages is that no one has given it a dispassionate reading and said:  “Yeah, this is good enough that we’ll put some money into it.” Indeed, all the incentives are geared toward convincing you that you should publish it, meritorious or otherwise.

So in asking you to buy it, I’m really flying kind of blind. I am confident it’s not illiterate or anything like that. And I am sure at least some of the stories are mildly interesting. But I have nothing to say about whether it’s worth your money, let alone spending your time on it. It could be completely boring to anyone who isn’t me. Maybe after a couple of you read it and report back, I’ll have a better sense if it’s something that really is of broader interest, or it’s just a vanity project of modest interest to a small circle of friends. If the latter, that’s okay. In fact, that’s the big advantage of self-publishing. I can put it in print and see what people say. And if the verdict is less than enthusiastic, no one loses a bunch of money and I still have a book my grandson can read to understand a little about Grandpa. (Although, for sure, not till he’s older!)

If you’re willing to take a plunge, it’s as easy as getting any other book. It’s available in both e-format and paperback on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you are searching there, you may have to provide a little more information than usual (e.g. title and author) and maybe remind them it’s a book. I suspect your local bookstore could also track down a copy for you without much trouble…but I can’t guarantee that. If you have trouble or questions, drop me a note. I want to know how this works and my publisher, Gatekeeper Press, promises to help troubleshoot.

If you do like it, tell some friends, get your book club to read it, etc.  There’s no chance I’ll make any money on this, but like anyone who thinks he has a story to tell, I want people to hear it.

A final thought. Recently I got together with several of the people who are significant figures in this book. We met up in Denver, where we all had lived in the Josephine Street Commune. While waiting for folks to converge, I ducked into the Colorado History Museum. I was struck by this paragraph, which concluded their introduction to one of the exhibits:

Preserving our history is an act of shaping our future. History’s stories reflect the ideas, achievements, and challenges that have defined us today. If we listen, they can help us decide who we want to become tomorrow.

I don’t know how well my book does the above, but that’s what I was trying to do.

David Brooks’ Brain Fart on Decentralization

          By Mike Koetting                 August 5, 2018

I have, generally speaking, become a David Brooks fan. But his July 30 column in the New York Times was so outstandingly wrong-headed that I am devoting today’s post to rebutting it.

The gist of this column is that politics in America have become too “Washington-centric” and, since national governance is grid-locked by partisan politics, we should embark on a “radical decentralization of power” to other units of government.

Brooks is wrong in his diagnosis of the problem and even further off in his proposed solution. Continue reading “David Brooks’ Brain Fart on Decentralization”

What Should We Want from Trade Policy?

By Mike Koetting          July 25, 2018

My last post suggested that, while very few of us will be experts on trade policy, as long as this is a major issue, citizens probably have some obligation to have ideas beyond vague catch-words. This post makes some suggestions, borrowing heavily from people who really do know a lot about this issue–specifically Robert Kuttner in various articles and, particularly, a Foreign Affairs article by Timothy Meyer and Ganesh Sitharaman. Continue reading “What Should We Want from Trade Policy?”