The 6th Circuit case originating out of Michigan, Schuette v. The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, is up in front of the Supreme Court because of a single problem: the increasingly popular understanding of affirmative action as a superfluous tool in combatting the effects of centuries of discrimination against minorities, particularly people of color.
The controversy revolves around Proposal 2, a Michigan state ballot initiative that prohibited the use of identity criteria in state university admissions and public contracting. Proposal 2 was enacted in 2006, and immediately afterward coalitions of students and advocacy groups organized to challenge its constitutionality. After a lengthy and procedurally convoluted stem of litigation wound its way through the courts, the Court of Appeals (sitting en banc) struck down Proposal 2 on the grounds that it violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The appeals court relied on a little-used Equal Protection doctrine developed in two cases, Hunter v. Erickson and Washington v. Seattle Independent School District to arrive at its holding that Proposal 2 was unconstitutional. This doctrine, termed the Hunter/Seattle doctrine (a glimpse into the amount of whimsy lawyers can muster), states that a popularly enacted law can violate the equal protection clause even absent discriminatory intent, given certain circumstances.
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UPS is an interesting company. It is heavily unionized–240,000 of its 400,000+ employees are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. It is also wildly successful, weathering the storm of the recession with aplomb. UPS had $54 billion in revenues last year (versus $43 billion for non-union FedEx) but here’s the big difference between the two: as you would expect for a non-union firm, FedEx’s profitability is higher (by about $1 bn, $1.8bn versus $843 million), in part because the proportion of its revenue going to employee compensation is lower.
In fact, UPS spends about 2/3rds of its revenue on employee compensation, where FedEx spends about 45% on employee compensation. UPS thereby provides a good living for unskilled workers–particularly warehouse workers and couriers. UPS workers’ collective bargaining agreement surely works an inflationary pressure on FedEx wages as well.
UPS turning a billion less in profit surely means there is less to reinvest in the company, which can inhibit growth. UPS also has a little bit of a path dependency advantage, in that they were first to the larger market; UPS started as ground freight whereas FedEx started as air freight (thus contributing to the quirks in the governing labor law). But UPS nevertheless had a 40-year jump on FedEx, which necessarily grew at UPS’s expense. But again, FedEx had a comparative cost advantage because it could keep its labor costs down (and thus its prices down). And it maintained this advantage in part because of the aforementioned labor law quirk that allows FedEx to operate under the Railway Labor Act (making it much more difficult to organize their workers) whereas UPS is governed by the National Labor Relations Act (making it–comparatively–easier). Thus it isn’t efficiency per se as a result of so-called “labor flexibility,” but a mild form of regulatory capture that helps FedEx turn that larger profit. Erase that competitive advantage, and you have a closer profit margin, only with one firm paying its employees more.
But in any case, UPS has to be considered more successful. It employs far more people and pays them better, while maintaining majority marketshare. The wealth it produces shouldn’t be measured in its per-share value, but in the wealth created for its workforce–not just its unionized workforce, but its entire workforce. Paying employees is considered a cost, but it is spending into the economy in a way that has a greater benefit than paying dividends.
Granted, the capital requirements for this industry act as a significant barrier to entry, and the fact that there are only a handful of firms that even compete in this market is a variable; presumably, this places a limit on the amount of capital expenditure (and price cutting) necessary to compete. Nevertheless, consumers seem well served by the package delivery services industry, with both UPS and FedEx ranking high.
Really, it’s just a different way to think about profitability and competitiveness; that wealth creation should be considered vis a vis the wealth it creates for workers, not only shareholders.
If any one moment embodies the false veneer of the “all about numbers and policy,” vogue among a particular class of journalists who have moved into the Serious role in the Obama era, it is this risible–and indefensible–Matt Yglesias tweet:
— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) October 4, 2013
The market-reformer loathing of Diane Ravitch is linked conceptually to an ideological need for school privatization, and the dismantling of teachers’ unions, to succeed. This is an attitude shared by the talented and prolific Dylan Matthews of Ezra Klein’s shop at the Post, and it is ideological and political, not policy-driven, numbers-driven, or otherwise analytical. What does underlie it is a bit mystifying, but worthy of investigating. Since the Chicago Teachers Union strike a year ago, the divide between a certain segment of the redistributionist/neoliberal left and the pro-labor left has deepened. But why is it so heated when it comes to education? Why have the two sides gone from talking past each other to gurgling up petty insults?
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Right now, the hard work we’ve put in to get our economy back on track is at risk. And there’s only one reason for it: A group of far-right Republicans in Congress is obsessed with making an ideological point.
They refuse to pass a budget unless I let them sabotage Obamacare, something they know is not going to happen. Now, we’re left with only four days before a government shutdown.
This is reckless and irresponsible. Republicans are not focused on what’s best for you, Ramsin. They’re playing political games with your ability to get access to health care, irrespective of your NOTICE: Overdraft Charge 9/07/2013.
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In his Letters to a Young Contrarian Christopher Hitchens urges his young reader to, like Oscar Wilde, Rosa Parks, or Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, act as if “moral hypocrisy was not regnant.” Hitchens with that sort of elegant brevity that can say so much, encapsulates it this way: “They all, by behaving literally, acted ironically.” This has always been the unarticulated compulsion that made me write–essays, stories, novels, tweets, whatever. That idea, not just in a crass political sense embodied by Hitch’s proffered e.g.’s, but in a broader way. Writing for me has been a means of trying to describe the world as you see it, as the way you think it really is, as they way you want others to see it. It’s something you can do as much with a children’s story as your fifth essay about federal labor law. Behave literally–say what you mean, say what you’re really feeling and thinking, even when you know it’s embarrassing, or offensive, or, worse, optimistic. That’s behaving literally. Saying things to the world that try to undermine how the world appears to be in recognition of its reality, is acting ironically. It’s something you can do whether talking about race relations or liking girls. It’s how you can make people laugh, think, react in any way. Writing is painful and hard and the best.
Over the last year, there’s been a creeping writer’s block coming over me. When I was in the thick of 3L year, it made sense, or at least there was a proper excuse. I was writing briefs and dry academic articles that required a lot of citation checking and reading statutes and case law. That stuff can be a mood killer. Like the time I was making out with a nice young lady with my mp3 player on random, and a techno remix of the Super Mario Brothers theme came on right as things were getting interesting. Case law is the Super Mario Brothers techno remix to writing’s sex act, I guess.
That’s been over the last six months or so, and I can’t write. It’s something I can’t stand to admit, but when I sit down and start to write something, I get put off my feed–scared, it’s better to say. It’s a lack of confidence. It’s all well and good to be a generalist contrarian, but you can’t go halfway. The minute your confidence gets shook, and you start wondering if maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about, that’s it. In his autobiography, Vladimir Nabokov drew a revealing convincing picture of the writer’s life: if the writer were a sculptor, his home would be filled with unfinished torsos and busts as far as the chin. We don’t write on paper anymore, so while it cheapens the image, the content management system of this blog and my documents folder are replete with feet on columns and nothing else.
It’s writer’s block, creative paralysis, and it’s the worst. What makes it more needling is, it’s not for lack of ideas, but fear of sharing them, not wanting to offend or stir controversy or fear looking foolish–all impulses that typically result in the most bland and shamefully anodyne writing. I don’t know what caused this paralysis-by-apprehension in the first instance, but it’s here nevertheless and I’m not quite sure how to shake it. Past needling what makes it embarrassing is that it’s ultimately rooted in a narcissism that underlies the assumption that anybody really cares enough to even have a reaction.
Wanting to say what you see and feel of the world is an urge you hate to suppress after you’ve learned to slake it. Writing has to be hard because it offers so much. That’s also what makes you miss it so much when it’s just out of your grasp. Here’s to trying to get back at it.