Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Story of EPIC Proportion

The year was 1934 and the world was in the grip of The Great Depression. America had recently elected FDR, a progressive Democrat, for President in the hopes that he could save the country. But one man offered something different. Something radical. His name was Upton Sinclair.

Sinclair wasn’t unknown. He had made a name for himself in 1906 by writing the landmark book, “The Jungle,” which revealed to the nation the atrocious conditions of the workers in the American meat packing industry and the horrendous quality of the food supply. The public was shocked and shortly after it was published Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

Though he had previously run for President on the Socialist ticket in 1934 he was running for the Democratic Party to be the Governor of California. While FDR had the “New Deal” Sinclair offered California what he called “EPIC,” which stood for “End Poverty in California.” That year the highly popular magazine The Literary Digest ran a series of articles concerning, “outstanding issues of the forthcoming campaign and the fundamental problems confronting the country to-day.” Following is an excerpt from the October 13th, 1934 article written for the Digest by Sinclair in which he laid out a plan that contained many elements of what’s advocated for an economic democracy. You can read the whole article here.

The “EPIC” (End Poverty in California) movement proposes that our unemployed shall be put at productive labor, producing everything which they themselves consume and exchanging those goods among themselves by a method of barter, using warehouse receipts or labor certificates or whatever name you may choose to give to the paper employed. It asserts that the State must advance sufficient capital to give the unemployed access to good land and machinery, so that they may work and support themselves and thus take themselves off the backs of the taxpayers. The “EPIC” movement asserts that this will not hurt private industry, because the unemployed are no longer of any use to industry.

We plan a new cooperative system for the unemployed. Whether it will be permanent depends upon whether I am right in my belief about the permanent nature of the depression. If prosperity comes back the workers will drift back into private industry. No harm will have been done, because certainly the unemployed will produce something in the meantime, and the State will be that much to the good.

New Cooperative System
To meet the immediate emergency in our State and get the money to start our new cooperative system, we propose what we call an “EPIC” tax. That is an ad valorem tax on property assessed above $100,000, which means about $250,000 of actual value. This tax will fall almost entirely upon our great corporations and utilities, and to make it easier for them we shall make it payable at the option of the State, in goods and services. That will give us most of the raw materials and all of the utility services which the unemployed will need to get production started.

We have a great irrigation and power project known as the Central Valley Project. We propose to send fifty thousand unemployed into this work and ask the farmers of the Central Valleys to bring their surplus food crops, taking credits which will be good for water and power when the project is completed. The “EPIC” tax will give us the needed lumber, cement, rock and gravel, steel, etc., and light, heat, power, and transportation. The project will be carried out by our Public Works Department, and it will bring industry back to life in California.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Of Noise and Profits

Not often a topic just drops in my lap right before my bi-weekly blog. You’re probably thinking, “Of course, he’s gonna write about the BP offshore oil well explosion and the dangers of Big Oil.” If that’s what you were thinking, well, you’re mistaken for that’s not the subject this time.

Thanks to I learned of a recent article titled “How Restaurants Get You Drunk”, posted on the web site The Daily Beast, in which the author of the book “In Pursuit of Silence,” George Prochnik, explored the reasons behind the current trend in restaurants to louder and louder settings.

In his article he noted several recent studies. In one study that was done by Fairfield University it was found that the rate that people chew their food increased as the tempo of the music being played increased. The researchers found that by raising the tempo of the music it increased the rate of chewing from 3.83 bites a minute to 4.4 bites a minute. Corporate restaurant industry certainly took note of the study. According to Prochnik the corporate restaurant chain Dick Clark American Bandstand, “developed computerized sound systems that were preset to raise the tempo and volume of music at hours of the day when corporate wanted to turn tables.”

Prochnik also referenced another study, this time done by French researchers, which found that by raising the sound level of the music being played caused a corresponding increase in the number of drinks ordered. At 72 decibels the average number of drinks was 1 every 14.51 minutes. By cranking up the decibels to 88 the number of drinks went up to 1 every 11.47 minutes.

The goal of all of this should be obvious. Increasing the tempo and beat of the music isn’t done to increase for the enjoyment experienced by the customers. The corporate goal in this is the same as it always is. Manipulating the music played is done with the goal of a corresponding increase in sales. An increase in sales means an increase in profits, which are funneled into the pockets of shareholders in the form of dividends. In addition, profitable businesses usually, though not always, translate into increases in the value of shares.