State of the Left, 10/19

Signs of the times.

PHARMACEUTICALS AS A SOLUTION TO POVERTY: Adderall has been prescribed to improve the performance of children from low-income households in underfunded schools, whether or not they have an attention disorder. “I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” Read.

WALMART INSURRECTIONS: Last week, retail workers at Walmart went on strike in a dozen states or the first time in the company’s 50-year history. The strikers are demanding that the company reinstate employees who have been fired for participating in Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a nontraditional formed over a year ago to improve working conditions at the retailers. They have issued a Black Friday ultimatum – if demands aren’t met by the day after Thanksgiving, they claim there is going to be chaos. Walmart has shut down a store in Canada for unionizing in the past, and studies have shown that Walmart workers are more likely than others in the industry to rely on government benefits.

If the striking workers are currently only a tiny fraction of Walmart employees, why does it matter?  The recovery has involved swapping mid-wage, middle-class jobs for low-wage ones: mid-wage jobs accounted for 60 percent of the job losses during the recession but have only made up 22 percent of those added during the recovery;  low-wage jobs constituted 21 percent of recession losses and have amounted to 58 percent of the gains in the recovery. “This is all part of our long-term trend of trading in blue-collar manufacturing jobs for unstable service sector work … As these sorts of jobs increasingly dominate our workforce, we’ll be forced more and more to ask not just how many jobs the economy is adding, but what kind of jobs. If Walmart and its ilk supply most of them, families will have little money to rely on, few benefits and chaotic work schedules. All eyes should be on this historic strike and what gains Walmart’s workers are able to make in negotiating higher pay and better benefits.” Read.

GOOGLE WANTS TO JOIN THE PARTY, NOT CRASH IT: “Googling the answer to a question has become accepted social behavior, but “it’s still somewhat awkward when you see that at a dinner party,” said Amit Singhal, senior vice president in charge of search at Google. “The key to the future is how can you make such conversations socially even more normal?” … [Technology companies] know they are the uninvited guests at social gatherings everywhere, and they want to ingratiate themselves with the hosts by figuring out new, less intrusive ways to join the party — as varied as voice search, Internet-connected glasses and other wearable computers, or dining room tables outfitted with screens.” Read.

THE HUNTED AND THE HAUNTED. This short video is an extraordinary piece of reporting that provides an inside look into NYC’s Stop-and-Frisk policies — a racial profiling regime so controversial that even The New York Times is editorializing against it these days. The stats it reports have been known for a while: NYPD conducts 1800 stop-and-frisks a day; in the last decade, 87% of people who are stopped are black or Latino; and 9 of 10 were innocent of any wrongdoing. But it shows with great force how the path to promotions for police officers is paved with arrests criminalizing the city’s minority youth. Watch.

UNIVERSITIES AS URBAN GROWTH MACHINES. The skyrocketing price of tuition can in part be traced to the convergence of city planners’ and universities’ interests. In the past two decades, few universities have not expanded their campus facilities dramatically, a trend that represents the “meds and eds” growth paradigm – the notion that urban research universities and associated biomedical complexes can and do function as vital economic drivers. The article’s author, a professor at NYU, offers a startling prediction: “In the Cold War heyday, C. Wright Mills argued that the exercise of power in the United States was shaped by “interlocking directorates” drawn from the corporations, government, and the military. Now that research universities are becoming independent drivers of the knowledge economy as stimulants of growth and development rather than as mere providers of trained labor and research, they are forging their own path to power, adding to the tripartite model that Mills set forth in The Power Elite in 1956. Universities, far from devolving into mere adjuncts of corporations, will more likely end up as players in their own right.” Read.

The high priest of college inflation: Closely related to the previous article is a piece showcasing Stephen Trachtenberg’s remorseless description of his critical contribution to the launch of the tuition arms race by  making George Washington University the most expensive school in the nation. He cultivated a model for university growth that involves buying reputation and prestige by dumping money on facilities and campus expansion  — and paying for it by raising tuition. “He didn’t spend the tuition windfall to shift the professor-to-student ratio or overhaul the curriculum. Instead, he covered the campus in cafés, beautiful study spaces, and nicer dorms.” He concedes at one point that his “never stop building” slogan is unsustainable, but he seems to be the sort of reformer concerned with prioritizing the end over the means.  Read.