As a society we do not value working people or work. One of the most important economic measures is productivity – production per unit of labor. What does that mean? The fewer “units of labor” we invest in a product, the better.

The very idea of hard work is denigrated. My father used to tell me “Work smarter, not harder.” The point (originally) was industrial efficiency. (The phrase was coined by an industrial engineer in the 1930s. Industrial engineers are the guys who stand around with a clipboard watching you work and then tell you how to do a job that they’ve never done.) It was often heard as “You are more valuable if you sit behind a desk than if you get your hands dirty.”

You are not a person, you are a unit of labor and therefore a necessary evil until we can replace you with a robot. The very people who produce the goods are considered a drag on the economy.

But who are the real parasites? Who takes money from the economy without producing anything? High on my list is the insurance industry. There was once something called a “mutual aid society”. People realized that any one of us could be wiped out by a disaster and if we pooled our resources, we could take care of each other in times of trouble. That concept was bastardized by the insurance industry – a group of companies that take our money in good times so they can find ways to avoid giving it back in bad times: you contributed to your own loss; you had a pre-existing condition; we have this loophole that says your loss isn’t covered; maybe your loss should be covered but we’ll make you jump through enough hoops that you’ll give up. Even the hospitals have begun to recognize insurance as a parasite:–how-today-s-prior-authorization-processes-cr.html

Advertising – an entire industry devoted to convincing you that you need something you don’t really need. Check out the movie The Joneses.

Once you buy it, you must of course buy the newer, bigger, better version. And “they don’t make ’em like they used to” is no accident. If a product lasts too long, you won’t buy the newer, bigger, shinier version. The clothes washer I bought used 27 years ago still works fine. If I’d bought a new one a few years ago when the new highly-efficient front loaders were all the rage, I would have learned only later that a load took more than twice as long, so the savings from less water used are offset by using twice as much electricity. Then I’d have found out that they have a tendency to grow mold. And when they fail, it’s often a motherboard failure and requires a new machine, not just a new part. Or that the new part cost almost as much as the machine – and isn’t in stock so I might as well buy the newer, shinier version instead of waiting for the part. Then maybe I’d get one that solved the mold problem – or not.

If The Joneses is not dark enough for you, try the earlier British film How to Get Ahead in Advertising.

Advertising only works if you continue to buy more stuff. And advertising doesn’t make stuff any better – just more expensive, since the stuff has to pay for the advertising. And we don’t call it “advertising” anymore – it’s “marketing” because that sounds more scientific. The”science” is the science of how to manipulate us more effectively. Parasites, all of ’em.

Real estate sales – another parasitic industry. Since we know that producing more land is rare, the entire industry is devoted to driving up the price of the land that already exists. The concept of private ownership of property results in speculative purchase of land – ownership of land specifically for the purpose of selling it to someone else later at a higher price. The epitome of capitalism: Making money by having money. If you can afford to buy land, you can get rich by doing nothing. Work is for suckers.

You can hire a real estate agent to help you buy a house. By state law (in Wisconsin) a real estate agent always represents the seller. It is in the agent’s best interest (and legal obligation) to get the highest possible price for the house. Since they get paid a percentage of the sale price, their income is directly tied to what you pay. So don’t think there is any such thing as a “buyer’s agent.” If you each hire an agent, they are on the same side – not yours, if you are buying.

Human Resources departments. Once upon a time, we found that companies had this unpleasant tendency to exploit their workers. Bosses just might sexually harass their underlings. We came up with the idea of a personnel department – a place to take your grievances and maybe not lose your job for voicing them. Over time this morphed into a “Human Resources” department – a department devoted to exploiting the “resource” represented by your labor, the way Peabody Coal exploits coal deposits. What is a “resource” other than a profit center? Now we lose benefits we used to have, or they find creative accounting and reporting practices so when you look at your pay stub you can’t really tell if you still have the same benefits you used to have. They can change sick leave, vacation, and holidays into “MTO”. You can have the “freedom” to take vacation OR get sick. And maybe that time off will expire if you don’t use it – so if you get really sick, you don’t have a bank of sick leave to draw on. And maybe, when they combine those into one “bank”, the total number of hours will mysteriously shrink – if you can ever figure out what that total is.

Management – talk about parasites. There is actually a service to be performed by management. There is work that needs to be done behind the scenes to support productive work. That’s management. A job in service to and in support of production. Today, the CEO who makes 320 times what the typical worker makes is the real parasite. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average CEO made 21 times as much as the average worker in 1965 (21:1). By 1989 that had gone to 65:1. In 2018, 293:1. And in the single year from 2018 to 2019, that jumped to 320:1. Does the CEO provide 320 times the value of the worker? Does the CEO provide value? Does the CEO produce anything?

So if you are a production worker, you are not a parasite. It is your labor that produces everything we need (as well as everything we don’t but those noted above convince us we do). So, hats off to the parasites of the world – those who suck money and produce nothing. But when you take that hat off, make sure you hold onto it or they will steal it so they can sell you another.

In the interest of disclosure, I have worked as a manager (including management consultant), plumber, maintenance worker, grocery buyer and stocker (including produce manager), cashier, restaurant worker, occupational therapist, temp worker, and others if you count unpaid workand I do – but I won’t enumerate them here. I have served on the Board of Directors of a co-operative, a non-profit day care center, and a non-profit theatre company. I have been a member of two unions. My “careers” have been in co-operative management, plumbing, and health care. Nobody pays me to ride a bike.)


One of my jobs is English-to-English translation, as people always seem to have trouble understanding each other.

While I am home recuperating from surgery, I thought I’d explain a few medical terms for your edification.

Public Service Announcement

  • “Minor surgery” – anything done to someone else.
  • “Procedure” – surgery that your insurance won’t fully cover.
  • “Outpatient procedure” – surgery that even Medicare won’t fully cover.
  • “This won’t hurt a bit” – It won’t hurt me to do it to you. I can’t say what it will feel like on the receiving end.
  • “Just a little prick. It’s not really painful.” – The President is just a little prick, too; but he causes plenty of pain.
  • “This may cause a little discomfort.” – Yeah, doc, let me do it to you and then tell me about discomfort.
  • “Deductible” – Don’t even think about using your insurance before you’re broke.
  • “Co-pay” – You think you’re insured, but we think that unless you have a little skin in the game, you’ll actually try to use your insurance. This’ll make you think twice.
  • “Co-insurance” – Ha! After you satisfied the deductible and made the co-pay, you thought insurance would cover the rest – sucker! Now you get to split the rest of the cost with us!
  • “We’ll just run a few tests.” – We bought this new (and really expensive) machine. The only way we can afford it is to use it a lot and bill you for it.
  • Bonus! Want to save on medical expenses? The TSA scanners have an uncanny ability to detect injuries! My most recent scan found a cavity before I went to the dentist. That’s not to mention the other injuries they have found.

Worker’s Compensation

The popular myth about Worker’s Compensation Insurance is that it is there to protect workers from unsafe working conditions. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story: Worker’s Compensation Insurance is (also) there to protect employers from lawsuits by employees. If you are hurt on the job, you can’t sue your employer for damages. You can file an insurance claim and hope the insurance company (which works for the employer, not you) will agree that your injury was caused by your job and pay for your medical care and a portion of your wages while you are unable to work. More likely is that they will dispute your claim, asserting that you had a pre-existing condition or that your injury was caused by something you do in your spare time. To collect the benefits you are owed you may have to hire an attorney to represent you even though you can’t sue.

Another popular myth is that workers fake injuries in order to collect benefits. Since benefits are set at a fraction of your wages, you have to be pretty stupid to get only a portion of your wages (unless you have some other lucrative job you can perform while collecting benefits, a rarity indeed) while living on savings or scrimping to get by. The insurance company may spend more on surveillance (hiring private investigators to follow you around and film your activities) than the cost of compensation for the injury. An article in the Journal of Social Research (Tennyson, 2008) asserts that industry estimates of fraud are grossly exaggerated (by a factor of 10) and that surveillance activities decrease trust and lead to increased fraud.

In The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Spieler and Burton (2012) cite more than a dozen reasons for under-reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses and cite conclusions from other studies including ” at least 80% of all medical costs caused by occupational diseases were missed by workers’ compensation programs.” (Leigh and Robbins, 2004)

So are workers ripping off the system in large numbers, as popularly believed? Or is the system ripping off workers in large numbers, as the evidence suggests? The evidence suggests that workers fail to report work-related injuries for multiple reasons including fear of retaliation, and that insurance companies fail to pay for work-related injuries for multiple reasons including asserting that doctors can’t prove that the job was the sole cause of the injury or illness. The evidence also suggests that insurers will go to great lengths to discourage claims and to reject those that are filed.

What do others think of US Healthcare?

Most of the world has a healthcare system. The US has an insurance system. Why does it not strike us as odd that we have a “system” centered around an industry that makes its money by withholding care? The more premiums we pay and the fewer services they pay for, the “healthier” the system is. Take a few minutes to watch the video above and hear what people who have a healthcare system say when asked what they think about the cost of care in the US. Our leaders and our media want to convince us that we can’t afford a single-payer system. The rest of the world recognizes that we can’t afford not to have one.

Human Resources

Resources have value based on the cost of extracting them versus the value added to the product. A few years ago, when the fracking boom hit, western Wisconsin was found to have the best frac sand around. A new industry appeared. They blew up fields to mine sand and built new railroad lines to haul the sand to natural gas wells. A few years went by, and they decided sand in Texas was cheaper, closer to the gas deposits, and good enough. The Wisconsin sand mining industry went bust.

If you are a highly skilled widget maker with 20 years of experience and know things, like where to bang on a machine to restart it when it freezes up, and you make great widgets, and you pay attention so that you know stuff that no one else in the company knows, you get paid well. But maybe they do some calculating and decide that a newly-trained widget maker, who gets paid a lot less, will do most of the time. When the machine goes down or they don’t know where to find something, maybe they figure the lost time will be made up for by the lower wages. Now it’s time to get rid of you. Having Security walk you out of the plant may be bad for morale. What to do, what to do?

Maybe they can make it unpleasant enough that you’ll take early retirement to avoid the headaches. What if they suddenly start making mistakes on your payroll? Or maybe change your family health insurance plan to a single plan without telling you? Maybe your pension contributions get messed up. Maybe, if you notice the mistakes and complain, they’ll get fixed eventually. Or maybe you’ll just get fed up and leave, allowing then to bring in a lower-paid worker. Nah, that would never happen, right? But if the cost of extracting your value becomes greater than the value added to the widgets, start watching those paystubs carefully.

Weather and Climate

We’ve talked about weather and climate before. We’ve linked to data on the freeze/thaw cycles of one Wisconsin lake that has been studied for more than 150 years. While this year’s weather should not be mistaken for climate, in October we were ice fishing. In January we could be swimming, though it would be a bit chilly. October’s ice is gone. The lake is liquid again and the temperature is pushing 50. Since 1852, this lake has melted and re-frozen in the same season six times. Five of those have occurred since 1977.

The preview is old. Don’t try to tune in on the date mentioned.

In case you’ve been wondering where we’ve been, we’re around – we just had nothing to say for a while. Now we can’t ride a bike for a while, so…here we are! Comments welcome. Watching TV is going to get old fast, so let’s talk.

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Photo credit: John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal 01/07/2020