June 24, 2007


Caption: For Seamus McGoogle, life is only made bearable by art. And killing little creatures. And sleeping. And eating. And demanding attention. Otherwise, though, it's mostly the art.

El Cabrero was recently thumbing through Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy and came upon this startling nugget buried between parentheses:

...it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.

In other words, he was saying that only art and beauty make life bearable.

That statement probably says more about Nietzsche than about existence and the world. Throughout his life, he struggled with ill physical and mental health, loneliness, and romantic frustrations. He looked for ways of saying "yes" to life in spite of all its evils and sufferings and admired the ancient Greeks because he believed they found a way to do this through art and particularly through tragedy.

Most people would probably say that beauty and art are important but there are other things that matter more, such as human relationships. In his case, he probably meant it. At another point, he said "Without music life would be a mistake."

I'm not a very artsy type--I'm not sure Scotch Irish hillbillies can be--but he does have a point. One thing that is pretty much a cultural universal among people at all times and places is that they find ways of adorning their world (and often their persons) with art, craft, song, theater, story, music, dance, etc. It really must make things more bearable.

And it's something that even hundreds of years of the Protestant ethic and toxic puritanism haven't been able to beat out of our systems...

WITHOUT SOLIDARITY, LIFE WOULD BE A MISTAKE. We have frequently heard opponents of the labor movement bash unions as a curb on productivity. According the the Economic Policy Institute,the evidence doesn't bear this out.

In a recent snapshot report, EPI notes that union membership in the US has declined from around 27 percent of the workforce in the late 1970s to around 12 percent now, a change that "has had substantial adverse effects on inequality, the wages of typical workers, and pension and health benefit coverage."

In Europe, by contrast, unionization rates are much higher, ranging from 68 percent in Germany to 90 percent in Belgium, France, and Sweden.

If getting rid of unions was the key to "unleashing" productivity, one would expect the US to far surpass countries with greater union density. In fact, average productivity growth for seven European countries with over 60 percent of their workforce represented by unions from 1979-2005 was a little over 1.7 percent--about the same as that for the U.S.


A broad study of the economics literature found "a positive association [of unions on productivity] is established for the United States in general and for U.S. manufacturing" in particular.


international comparisons suggest that high productivity and very high union density are entirely compatible.

France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, for example, have greater output per hour than the U.S. even though over 80 percent of their workers are union members.

Here's the punchline:

If Congress is concerned about protecting middle-class incomes, it should pass measures to facilitate union organizing and collective bargaining coverage, including the Employee Free Choice Act. There is no reason to fear that higher rates of unionization will impede efficiency or labor productivity.

A NEST EGG FOR THE FUTURE. This op-ed by Ted Boettner from yesterday's Gazette suggest a system of universal voluntary accounts as a way to help workers build assets for retirement. There may soon be a campaign to establish these in WV.


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