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The United States is unsustainable

Sometimes, it’s the little things that just add up and fill me with rage. Like this report on bank employees.

Almost a third of the country’s half-million bank tellers rely on some form of public assistance to get by, according to a report due out Wednesday.

Researchers say taxpayers are doling out nearly $900 million a year to supplement the wages of bank tellers, which amounts to a public subsidy for multibillion-dollar banks. The workers collect $105 million in food stamps, $250 million through the earned income tax credit and $534 million by way of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center.

We are all supplementing banks so that they can screw over their employees at the bottom, and throw more of their cash to the owners at the top. The plutocrats want it both ways: they want a complete absence of regulation so they can continue to plunder profits, and they want poor, desperate people to do their labor for a pittance, with government aid. You might argue that banks have faced all kinds of problems lately, so maybe they’re lean from top to bottom, but we know that’s not true.

Profits at the nation’s banks topped $141.3 billion last year, with the median chief executive pay hovering around $552,000, according to SNL Financial. In contrast, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the median annual income of a bank teller at $24,100, or $11.59 an hour.

monopoly_banker

This cannot continue, and I’m getting too old to want to live through a revolution.

Comments

  1. CorvusCorax says

    I was discussing something like this with a colleague of mine a little while back.

    I suggested that nothing had really changed in the last 1000 years, that we’re still living in a feudal system. Corporations and banks are the new Noble Class, and instead of us peasants being tied to the land, we are tied to our mortgages instead.

  2. says

    Not to worry PZ, I think we can pull it off while keeping the university open and the fish tanks running. At least that would be my plan.

  3. Ysidro says

    Now be fair, PZ. Most of the bank owners could careless if their employees had government assistance.

    Wait, that’s not better….

  4. says

    I think that next year they (whoever ‘they’ are) should announce that they will execute the 50 richest people in the country: not so much because that’d get rid of a few of the buggers, but for the fun of seeing their frantic efforts to be the fifty-first richest.

  5. inquisitiveraven says

    @CorvusCorax:

    You don’t think being tied to a mortgage is being tied to the land?

  6. Steve LaBonne says

    I hope the spreading fast-food strikes are a harbinger of a lot more pushback from the working poor. Those of us who are more fortunate need to give such efforts all the support we can.

  7. CorvusCorax says

    @inquisitiveraven

    I absolutely do. There’s just a lot more paperwork involved than in old.

  8. Dick the Damned says

    The callous buggers would just transfer their wealth to their wives. Secretly, (from their wives), of course, then inherit it all back afterwards.

    The idiot right-wing mayor of Toronto, who has recently found Jesus, used the word ‘socialist’ as if it were an insult. Do you suppose this Jesus fellah has got anything to do with it? (Unrestrained capitalism, that is.)

  9. Steve LaBonne says

    Do you suppose this Jesus fellah has got anything to do with it? (Unrestrained capitalism, that is.)

    Maybe we should ask the Pope’s opinion about that. Jesus’s vicar on earth, and all that. What do you suppose he’d say?

  10. robinjohnson says

    Hmmm, I live in a country with a vaguely sensible healthcare system, so it’s difficult to imagine resenting any company for not paying its employees’ medical care. I’m not saying that resentment doesn’t make sense if you live in the US system, because I’m sure it does; it’s just so alien that it’s hard to understand, and I hope it will be alien to Americans in the near future, too.

    As to not paying their customer-facing employees a living wage while the executives live in luxury, sure, they can go to hell.

  11. fmitchell says

    Every path I try to imagine from the current U.S. to a sane country is either traumatic or wildly implausible. Another Great Depression? Wait, we have that now and it’s not helping. Massive civil rights and wage protests? Yeah, the late 50′s and 60′s seemed like such a joy. A new unofficial currency among the 99% that makes the ultra-rich’s dollars worthless? Even if that could happen somehow, the world would go into another tailspin.

    @robinjohnson

    Maybe we should ask the Pope’s opinion about [unrestrained capitalism]. Jesus’s vicar on earth, and all that. What do you suppose he’d say?

    Whatever the Pope would say, a Vatican spokesman would “clarify” an hour later. Besides, Catholicism is a pagan goddess cult; Jack Chick said so.

  12. loopyj says

    Well, clearly the answer to the problem of banks and corporations being de facto subsidized by SNAP, Earned Income Tax Credits, and Medicaid is to defund all of those programs and do away with the minimum wage and all other employment and health care legislation. And then ‘the market’ will finally be truly free and unfettered and will grow and soar, wealth will trickle down and the rising tide will lift all boats, and employers will finally be able to pay those higher wages that they so wish they could but can’t now because GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE and SOCIALISM.

  13. raven says

    This makes banks part of the 47%, you know, the moochers. I’m sure Romney and his political party will be pointing this out any day now.

  14. raven says

    1. I’ve heard the same thing about McDonalds and Walmart.

    That a lot of their employees are on food stamps, get the earned income tax credit, and goverrnment medical care assistance. The banks, fast food plances, and Walmart are among the largest employers in the USA.

    The minimum wage is a below poverty line wage for families.

    2. FWIW, bank tellers are going away. Increasingly people bank online and use ATMs and bank branches and bank buildings are disappearing rapidly. Those bank tellers might be struggling, but it can always get worse. They can end up unemployed.

    The usual physical bank customer has been described as some old person who totters in every once in a while because they don’t trust ATM’s and haven’t figured out how to use the internet for banking. LOL, that’s me.

    Not quite, I can do all that but I still prefer to go in person most of the time. When I go into my bank branch, it is usually deserted and there aren’t any lines. There aren’t many employees or customers and the building is half deserted.

  15. says

    Meanwhile, up here in Canada the Bank of Montreal, one of our major banks, cut the equivalent of 1000 positions this quarter. They’re saying they’ll make a profit of 4.2 billion dollars this year.

  16. cottonnero says

    #15: People voted, in the majority, by something like one million votes, for Democrats in the last House election.

  17. raven says

    wikipedia Gini coefficients by state:

    U.S. income inequality was at its highest level since the United States Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.[1]

    Among Western industrialized nations, the USA has the highest income inequality and it has been rising since 1967,

  18. raven says

    It’s known that the more income inequality there is, the more politically unstable a country becomes. This has been a fact for many centuries.

    And the USA is now a known politically unstable country. We saw it with the Tea Party attack on the USA with the government shutdown and attempted bond default. They are nihilists without any plan or philosophy except seizing power.

    Our allies and trading partners watched the whole thing with horror. If we go down they go down. And it’s a bit disquieting when the country with almost half the world’s nuclear weapons is flailing around without any idea what is going on.

  19. jblumenfeld says

    As pointed out by Raven (#16), this is not just banks. Why single them out?

    In any case, income inequality is an enormous problem and nobody in Government is doing anything about it (Again, I second Raven, this time in #20).

  20. stevem says

    re OP:

    Researchers say taxpayers are doling out nearly $900 million a year to supplement the wages of bank tellers, which amounts to a public subsidy for multibillion-dollar banks. The workers collect $105 million in food stamps, $250 million through the earned income tax credit and $534 million by way of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center.

    I’m getting TOO cynical: I read this as if they were ATTACKING the bank tellers. For “stealing” our tax money for food stamps, EIC and Medicaid. while working for multi-billion dollar industries like the “wholesome” banks; the banks who are being “persecuted” by big-fed, etc.
    But then it HIT me: Those banks are multi-billionaires because they make their employees work below minimum wage, requiring them to take government “welfare” money. Wouldn’t it be cheaper overall to pay decent wages so they don’t need to rely on government payouts to supplement their poverty wage? Everyone knows that for the feds to pay $1, it has to tax in ~$1.50. (even if that $1.50 is gotten by taxing 15 people $0.10, to give one person $1). But I see the ULTIMATE drawback, for every $1 the banks have to pay an employee, $1 comes directly out of the pocket of the bank’s owner <naughty, naughty>. And everyone knows that to prevent the rich getting richer is simply SOCIALISM. The WORD never to be spoken, only ridiculed as the ultimate evil.

  21. raven says

    McDonald’s helps workers get food stamps – Oct. 23, 2013
    money.cnn.com/2013/10/23/news/…/mcdonalds-help-line-workers/‎

    Oct 23, 2013 – A McDonald’s helpline admits that workers will be able to qualify for public assistance.

    Same with all the fast food industry. Same for Walmart. Same for any company that hires lots of low paid workers. These are among the largest employers in the USA.

  22. hillaryrettig says

    >The plutocrats want it both ways: they want a complete absence of regulation so they can continue to plunder profits, and they want poor, desperate people to do their labor for a pittance, with government aid.

    shorter: they want feudalism. (I’m sure they’d be just as happy to give up the govt aid part, if they could get away with it.)

    (Corvus #1 also said it.)

  23. rpjohnston says

    Everyone knows that for the feds to pay $1, it has to tax in ~$1.50.

    That $1.50 is paid by other people (including the tellers), not the bank or their bosses. With great wealth comes great tax evasion.

    Those teller numbers still have me drooling, though; it’s more than a buck more than I make at Target, which is over a buck more than any other similar position hired in the last year makes (due to circumstances), which is still great pay compared to Walmart, fast food, serving etc. Next time I go in I need to remember to ask what the healthcare policy is going to be post Obamacare (Target offers healthcare to an employee who has worked 1000+ hours, which I achieved last year). Given all that I’m not going to leave anytime soon.

  24. loreo says

    I’m only 29, so I don’t remember myself, but being a bank teller used to be a decent gig, right? Even if you didn’t have a degree, you could be a teller and support yourself?

  25. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    I used to use ATM’s debit cards, etc. Then one year I carefully added up all of those transaction fees. The total was $1200.

    Twelve Hundred Dollars.

    “Fuck that shit!,” I thought, “I’d rather that I have the $1200.”

    So now I am a cash-only person, and I actually have more money in the fucking bank.

    Math is good.

  26. neuzelaar says

    We should be happy that banks in the USA are still employing so many tellers and other employees. Most of that labor (teller, checks and envelopes) has long been automated in other civilized countries. This is a huge employment project that keeps many people gainfully employed doing work that a machine does better. Considering that the government only subsidizes $1800 per teller employee per year, its a deal.

  27. firstapproximation says

    The plutocrats want it both ways: they want a complete absence of regulation so they can continue to plunder profits, and they want poor, desperate people to do their labor for a pittance, with government aid.

    It’s worse than that. They’ve pushed for deregulation (quite successfully) and say government needs to stay out of business, but when they start suffering from the predictable consequences of deregulation they want the government to bail them out. Somehow, the government giving hundreds of billion of dollars to failing companies doesn’t count as government interference in the “free market”.

    They’re all for the nanny state; they just want the nanny to care only for them.

  28. muskiet says

    And as usual everybody is always ticked off about these kind of facts but nobody actually gets anywhere with any attempt to change it.

  29. ordeneus says

    There should be two standards, a minimum wage and a living wage. If you employ more than 50 people, or make more than X profit it should be mandated that you pay the higher amount…

    Bahahahahaha, yeah right. Those in power have a habit of retaining it, they control all the means by which the system would be changed, hence, no change without a radical rethink.

  30. unclefrogy says

    @#1
    there has been a complete De-coupling of the (us) peasants with the land. While a vast number are still tied to the land by a mortgage it is in no way the only way to control the peasants.
    There is simple rent charged for dwellings space which is also effective but the final step was the development of debt in the form of auto loans and credit card and consumer debt . Through the passage of laws even some debt was made immune from the protection and relief through bankruptcy .
    All though this week it seems it is now legal for government organizations (corporations?) to get out of pension obligations through bankruptcy.
    I have thought about a coming revolution with visions of a french style rain of terror Guillotine and all but that would not be very nice and probably not work as well as just some stiff taxes on the corporations and 1%. Then you would hear them squeal!
    like earth quakes in California not if when
    uncle frogy

  31. says

    I don’t make much money. As most Pharyngulite regulars know, I am usually one health issue away from total disaster, financially speaking. As a writer, I make a bit of cash working for a company that is headquartered in Geneva. Every time they pay me, my bank takes $25 off the top as a wire transfer fee.

    I see no reason for that large fee. Typical for bankers, who are basically ripping off everyone.

  32. says

    Regarding the food stamp discussion in the OP and in the comments, the Republican method would be to cut the food stamp program drastically, while simultaneously refusing to raise the minimum wage.

    Not only would this be a bad move for food stamp recipients, it would be a bad move for all of us.

    Hilary Hoynes is a University of California at Berkeley economist who wrote a particularly notable paper last year. Instead of increasing dependency, as conservative critics have repeatedly claimed, Hoyen’s paper showed that, for women at least, food stamp use during pregnancy and early childhood has exactly the opposite impact of what conservatives allege: It actually increases economic self-sufficiency when children grow up, in the next generation.

    That was just one of two main results reported in “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net,” which Hoynes co-authored with Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Douglas Almond. As stated in the paper’s abstract, access to food stamps for women leads to “increases in economic self-sufficiency (increases in educational attainment, earnings, and income, and decreases in welfare participation).” Hoynes and her colleagues took advantage of the fact that food stamp programs were established county-by-county over a period of years, creating a sort of “natural experiment” beginning half a century in the past….

    http://www.salon.com/2013/12/04/gop_debunked_on_food_stamps_everything_they_say_about_snap_is_wrong/

  33. says

    More details from the research done by Hilary Hoynes:

    … But to really appreciate the significance of this research, one must also appreciate two other aspects of Hoynes’ recent research, which combine to provide a three-pronged counterattack on the right’s “culture of dependency” narrative. First, she has done previous research establishing short-term benefits — not just for food stamps, but also the for the earned income tax credit — specifically, a reduction in low-birthweight babies, a significant indicator of well-being.

    This research alone is sufficient to show that safety net programs are achieving the goals of bettering people’s lives, adding more weight to the already well-established statistics on poverty reduction. Second, she has done research into safety net program utilization over the course of economic recession and recovery, research that shows that the current levels of food stamp and other program use are in line with past history, and not a sign of any alleged “explosion” in a “culture of dependency” under Obama, as the right-wing noise machine would have it….

    Link for quoted text is in comment #35
    Link to the Hoynes paper: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18535

  34. says

    From PZ’s link:

    The bank stepped up the use of remote video tellers in the past year, raising concerns that the machines would eliminate branch workers.

    I first heard about this yesterday, when I went to the bank. I had to speak with an associate about my checking account and over the course of our chat, she mentioned that she thinks one day tellers will be a thing of the past. She pointed to a bank in NYC(?) that was completely automated. Then the executives will make even *more* money, by not having to pay even the pittance they currently do. Neveryoumind the people that will be slowly out of work.

  35. rpjohnston says

    So now I am a cash-only person, and I actually have more money in the fucking bank.

    Huh, I avoid cash because it leeches money: I get change back with every transaction that I never use, which just gets stuffed in a jar for a year. Then I finally go to deposit it and the machine takes like 10% or possibly an even more ridiculous number. I pay for everything by credit card and pay it off in full every month. Though I’m living rent-free atm so I can pretty easily just not make charges that I can’t afford (and since I am extremely stingy my bank is increasing even on my wage).

    And as usual everybody is always ticked off about these kind of facts but nobody actually gets anywhere with any attempt to change it.

    Votes are a choice between overt and slightly-less-overt-but-not-really-covered-up corporate cronies and self-enrichers. Things need to be bought and all suppliers are colluded in screwing consumers; forcing one out of business (e.g. boycott) just increases the market share of the others if the attempt even works. A shitty job is better than no job and starvation. Drone strikes beat armed revolution. The only viable way I can think of to effect any change is to have such a massive, sustained public movement that far left/ third party candidates are actually viable. That won’t happen; Americans just internalize the sliding conditions as “normal”.

  36. says

    Lynna:

    Every time they pay me, my bank takes $25 off the top as a wire transfer fee.

    That reminds me of something else that associate told me yesterday. When I mentioned how silly it is that customers have to pay a fee to access their own funds, her response was “how else are banks going to make money?” I didn’t have a response as this is an area I’m still learning about. Even still, somehow I think banks would make lots of cashola even if they stopped charging people to access their checking or savings account.

  37. Pteryxx says

    Tony! @39:

    Even still, somehow I think banks would make lots of cashola even if they stopped charging people to access their checking or savings account.

    IIRC, the basic functionality of a customer’s account used to be protected from excessive fees. Banks used to make money by fees for services above-and-beyond simply using one’s own account, by the interest on smaller loans such as car loans, and by investing the customer deposits as assets, which again used to be done in strictly regulated ways such as city bonds. That was before banks started merging with, or becoming, big financial speculators and playing fantasy-football with robosigned loans.

    http://www.ehow.com/about_5413083_history-bank-deregulation.html

    Compare to credit unions, which are nonprofits and by law can’t engage in the same financial speculation banks can. My credit unions don’t charge account maintenance fees or routine transaction fees, phone and teller services are free, they have excellent customer service, and they still offer home and car loans and certificates of deposit. I’ve never used a small community bank but I hear the surviving ones operate the same way.

    Also credit unions make their fee schedules readily visible, while banks obfuscate theirs to screw as many customers as possible.

    Here’s a random credit union fee schedule: https://www.nasafcu.com/schedule-of-fees/

    compared to a typical article about how banks handle overdraft fees:

    http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/05/13/bank-overdraft-fees-still-plague-american-consumers/

    The Center for Responsible Lending survey showed that most people don’t want high-cost overdraft coverage for their checking accounts, and that opt-ins are largely based on aggressive and misleading marketing rather than clear and accurate information from banks.

    Daniel Wesley, operations manager from CreditLoan.com, says he was pressured several times by his bank to sign up for overdraft protection. Eventually, he gave in and signed up. “At first, I felt a safety blanket with my checking account until I found out that the savings account that I was required to open in order to sign up for overdraft protection cost me $25 a month. After about four months, I decided that the overdraft protection was not for me. Since I took more responsibility in my bookkeeping, I found it quite easy not to overdraft,” says Wesley.

    However, when he tried to cancel the overdraft protection, “I found that it was so difficult to do so because of the pressure that was put on me,” he says. “I ended up closing my accounts with that bank and going to another one, and have never since considered overdraft protection.”

  38. says

    Tony #39

    I didn’t have a response as this is an area I’m still learning about.

    The idea behind consumer banking is that the banks make their money by borrowing from punters (that’s you and me depositing our money) at a low rate of interest (what you get on your checking/savings account), and then loan that money back out at a higher rate of interest (that’s mortgages, car loans, business loans, etc.) If they are unable to do this, then they need better accountants. That leaves aside entirely the question of whether the banks making a profit at all is actually good for society or the economy, of course.

  39. says

    If “the United States is unsustainable” due to its wealth and income inequality, plenty of countries are far more unsustainable. Russia, for example, is one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of wealth:
    http://images.smh.com.au/file/2013/10/09/4815797/cs_global_wealth_report_2013_WEB_low%2520pdf.pdf?rand=1381288140715
    but Russians continue to support Putin:
    http://www.gallup.com/poll/121976/Approval-Ratings-Ukraine-Russia-Highlight-Differences.aspx
    Had Americans seen economic inequality as a cause for revolution, a revolution would surely have occurred by the early 1990s.

  40. says

    PZ, that article says that the median pay for the chief executives is $552,000, not $552 million. Not that it matters a lot to someone struggling by on $24K/year.

  41. raven says

    …her response was “how else are banks going to make money?”

    She works in a bank and has no idea what a bank actually does. Amazing.

    Profits at the nation’s banks topped $141.3 billion last year, with the median chief executive pay hovering around $552 million, …

    The banks have no problem making lots of money. They made 141.3 billion USD last year.

    They make it on the credit spread. They pay interest on their deposits, near zero these days. And loan that money out at anything from 4% for a mortgage to 18% for credit card balances.

  42. brett says

    Tellers are one of the employment groups that’s been actually doing better than they were ten years ago. Their wages are higher ($11.59/hr compared to the $8.60/hr they were earning in 1999), and the number of Tellers has gone up with the spread of ATMs.

    I don’t get those complaints about workers being so poor that they have to go on SNAP. Isn’t that the point of those programs, that they help increase the living standards of people to some acceptable level beyond what their work provides? Yet you get complaints from both the left and the right on this – the right because they think people getting assistance are a bunch of moochers, and the left because they somehow hate big business and yet wish that big business would paternalistically take care of its employees by giving them generous wages and benefits.

  43. says

    brett:

    I don’t get those complaints about workers being so poor that they have to go on SNAP. Isn’t that the point of those programs, that they help increase the living standards of people to some acceptable level beyond what their work provides?

    Yes, that’s the point of the programs. However, some of the complaints about working conditions stem from a desire for corporations to pay their employees a fair wage. These companies *have* the money to pay their employees sufficient wages so that they do not need as much (or in some cases, any) public assistance. But they don’t. Hence income inequality. The rich get richer and everyone else gets fucked.

  44. brett says

    @Tony! The Queer Shoop!

    However, some of the complaints about working conditions stem from a desire for corporations to pay their employees a fair wage. These companies *have* the money to pay their employees sufficient wages so that they do not need as much (or in some cases, any) public assistance. But they don’t.

    Why should they need to pay their employees enough to not use public assistance? There’s nothing wrong with public assistance, and it’s far fairer than a system where people lucky enough to work for the equivalent of 1950s GM get high wages, while everyone else gets less because they’re working for much less profitable companies.

    But for some reason, Americans have this fixation on the wages, trying to make companies act more paternalistically and pay their employees more instead of having higher taxes and a better social welfare system to raise up people’s living standards (like with stronger welfare, or a basic income). It’s not a good thing.

  45. says

    brett:
    I am very much in favor of robust social programs to assist people that are economically disadvantaged.
    I am *also* for companies paying their employees a fair, living wage.

    This isn’t an either/or situation.

    Article 23.

    (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
    (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
    (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

    http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

    [bolding mine]
    Do you disagree with the above bolding? Why? Supplementation should be available when necessary, but companies should be paying their employees a fair wage. Not the $8+change that Wal-Mart likes to pay.

  46. raven says

    Why should they need to pay their employees enough to not use public assistance?

    1. Because they (the corporations) are moochers. That food stamp money comes from the taxpayers. It isn’t free money that just appears out of nowhere.

    So the taxpayers are subsidizing the corporations.

    2. If they needed that money, it might not be a big deal. It might even be a good idea.

    But they don’t. The banks etc. are making huge record profits. And those profits go to a tiny group that owns and runs those companies.

    So the taxpayers are subsidizing the ultrarich. Who need it the least.

  47. Akira MacKenzie says

    When I mentioned how silly it is that customers have to pay a fee to access their own funds, her response was “how else are banks going to make money?”

    It’s simple: nationalize the damn banks. Take the profit motive out of banking. But no one has the power, the spine, or the desire to do so. The system has been bought and paid for.

  48. kreativekaos says

    Being of roughly the same age as yourself professor, I tend to consider myself too old to get intimately involved in revolutionary action,…. but it’s something I would like to see being born in this society.

  49. bassmanpete says

    I’m only 29, so I don’t remember myself

    That must make things difficult when you wake up in the morning!

  50. carlie says

    I think we should add an extra tax to companies for which more than half of their full-time workers qualify for federal/state benefits. It’s only fair. Then they can decide if it’s more economical to pay the tax or pay their workers fairly.

  51. says

    Brett – why should banks pay their employees at all? Just give them minimal food, clothing, and shelter in return for their labor. What’s the problem with that?

  52. says

    and the left because they somehow hate big business and yet wish that big business would paternalistically take care of its employees by giving them generous wages and benefits.

    Yeah, fuck you.

  53. says

    I’ve heard the same thing about McDonalds and Walmart.

    I have heard the “exact same number”, i.e., “nearly $900 million” quoted for at least of them. Not saying this may not be true, but.. lets get real numbers. If you get too many times with someone quoting that industry A, B, C, D, Q, Z, etc. all “individually” waste “nearly $900 million”, then it starts to sound suspiciously like someone picked a number and just keeps reusing it (a habit the other side absolutely loves to follow), or that they are talking about them all “collectively”, and therefor its not as big of a problem as they keep saying it is. Neither conclusion is helpful to the discussion.

    That said, I had the thought today that.. from the start the people that glorify charity and capitalism have both backwards. There is the whole parable of how its better to teach someone to fish, than give them a fish. Charities ignore this, in favor of collecting huge amounts of stuff, to “give” to someone, because they can’t get it themselves. Somehow.. the bit where you try to work out why they can’t catch any fish, never mind teach them, never comes up in the equation (obviously, not all of them work like that, and they do provide a “temporary” measure, but.. imho, maybe we should be looking at them the same way abortions are talked about – safe, rare, but legal, and not as something we expect to have to keep needing from now until the end of the universe?).

    On the other side is corporatism – which says that a) I own the lake, b) I taught you how to fish, so you should do it in my lake, c) any fish are mine anyway, but I will let you have a few, and more of them, if you tow the line well enough to show you agree that I own them all, and d) for doing this, I should get a “bonus” of some huge number of the fish caught, from my lake, using the skills I gave you, and you should be ecstatic that I let you have any of the fish you caught at all, instead of taking “all” of them for myself.

    This takes “render unto Caesar” to a whole new level. You can hardly expect to teach someone to feed themselves, when Caesar claims to own everything from the lake, to the bait, to the fishing poles, to the ground you stand on to do the fishing, to, in point of fact, even the patent on “how to fish.”

    I just don’t get how the hell you believe in the first idea – charity, and also believe in greed, and yet somehow never get the flaw in the logic of both, when not even the “fish” you are giving away, for charity, probably “belong” to anyone other than Caesar himself, according to the insane logic of the system.

    Its right up there with the idea that a mini-government can be a person. I mean, I know we “negotiate” with places like North Korea, on the basis that one particular ass has the whole say in what it does (and yet, also do so with places that we recognize are not dictatorships), like its a “person”, but.. somehow, I doubt even SCOTUS would be stupid enough to claim that nations where people – but corporations… well, that makes perfect sense… The level of logic failure when combining any two of these three things, never mind all of them together is just… gah!!

  54. microraptor says

    This cannot continue, and I’m getting too old to want to live through a revolution.

    I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution,
    Take a bow for the new revolution,
    Smile and grin at the change all around,
    Pick up my guitar and play,
    Just like yesterday,
    Then I’ll get on my knees and pray…
    We don’t get fooled again!

    Minus the praying part, anyway.

  55. thewhollynone says

    At #27 and #30, use a credit union; much better services and much cheaper. Small local banks are also a good option.

    At #53 and at PZ, I am 76, and if they give a revolution, I will be on the front lines at the barricade screaming, “Shoot if you must this old grey head!” I was born during the Great Depression, and have seen a great many changes in the USA, many of them not so good. The last 30 years or so (since Reagan was elected) I have watched this country go down the tubes ever faster and faster, strangling the common citizens so that a few corporate billionaires can get filthy rich, and hypnotizing the public with television, the new opium for the masses. I don’t see any way out of this vortex without a revolution of some kind.

  56. brett says

    @raven

    1. Because they (the corporations) are moochers. That food stamp money comes from the taxpayers. It isn’t free money that just appears out of nowhere.

    And the rich pay taxes. It comes out either way, it’s just that trying to force the companies to do it is less fair – the people who benefit are the lucky ones who get those jobs, while everyone else who doesn’t have that fortune is on the outside. At least with public assistance, anyone could get it (and should get it – I’m in favor of a basic income).

    @Ingdigo Pop

    Yeah, fuck you.

    Doesn’t make it any less true.

  57. chigau (違う) says

    brett
    You have an odd view of the relationships among employer and employee and government and taxes and fairness and wages.
    and
    it will be better for you if you just use commenters’ actual nyms, rather than whatever it is you are doing.

  58. says

    I think some of you ought to take a break from this echo chamber and check out alternative perspectives such as this reason.com post:

    http://reason.com/blog/2013/12/04/big-labors-misguided-attempt-to-double-w

    The United States is Unsustainable? I think this is the real unsustainability horrorshow:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_2oIom_5pw

    And PZ, you should really do something about that mistake in the second quote. Three orders of magnitude is very misleading.

  59. jefrir says

    Tony! @39:

    Even still, somehow I think banks would make lots of cashola even if they stopped charging people to access their checking or savings account.

    Given that banks in the UK do not routinely charge people for access to their accounts, and yet still seem to be making comfortable profits, I’d say yes, US banks almost certainly could too. It’s a cultural difference in what they can get away with, not a requirement to continue trading.

  60. saganite says

    This sounds very much like the trick Wal-Mart is playing on American taxpayers also. I wish conservatives would get as rabid about corporate welfare (and lobbyism, corporatism, direct and indirect subsidies like for the oil industry and corporate favouritism) as they do about, well, welfare. But those are job creators! So they are holy, holy, holy.

  61. sonofrojblake says

    It’s been at least thirty years since any bank in the UK could get away with charging people to have a bank account. It’s actually an excellent example of the market at work – one bank (can’t remember which) realised that it could still make profits even if it didn’t charge customers for account maintenance and simple transactions. Once one bank did it, the others had to follow.

    Of course, free banking only applies as long as you’re in credit. Go overdrawn, even a little bit, even for a day, and the charges are hefty and self-multiplying. Typical scenario: go £1 overdrawn. Get charged £20 for unauthorised overdraft. Get charged £20 for the letter telling you about it. Get charged £20 because the bank had to stop your direct debit credit card payment. Get charged £20 for the letter telling you about THAT. Get charged £20 by your credit card issuer (which may be the same bank…) for missing a payment. Get charged some interest on that payment. So for going overdrawn by £1, for one day, you’re now over £100 in the hole.

    And there’s the rub. People like me, who have no need of overdraft facilities and never go overdrawn, get our banking free. We get it free because people who don’t have as much money are subsidising it for us by going overdrawn every month. The banker is truly the person who will lend you an umbrella when it’s sunny, and take it back when it rains.

    What I’m surprised about is that there are any banks in the supposedly rabidly competitive capitalist state that is the USA that still charge for access to your account. Who is banking with these people? Surely at least one bank offers free accounts if you stay in credit? And if so, why doesn’t everyone bank there? And if not… why has the market failed there?

  62. raven says

    What I’m surprised about is that there are any banks in the supposedly rabidly competitive capitalist state that is the USA that still charge for access to your account.

    This isn’t going to last.

    It’s just part of the banks endless search for ways to squeeze their employees and customers. They say they have to do it but that is a lie. As the OP notes, banks made $141 billion in profits last year. They make their money on the interest rate spread between cost of deposits and loan interest and that is a lot of money.

    I don’t get charged much in the way of fees at my bank. The first time they do that, I’m gone to the credit union down the street. A fact they are well aware of.

  63. says

    I don’t see any way out of this vortex without a revolution of some kind.

    Yeah.. If one of these happens, lets hope we are smart enough to do it non-violently. Because, you have to be pretty delusional to assume that one involving force will a) not end up with most of the leaders, who actually had a clue what it was really about, dead, b) the ones that had a completely different, parallel agenda still being alive, and c) the outcome ending up being the replacement of a broken, but never the less presumably fixable, system, with something that tries to force things to be a certain way, via dictation, and doesn’t allow for correction of its own errors. The last “revolution”, in which someone decided that the “democracy” had failed, and better leadership was needed (if you don’t count Star Wars), was ancient Rome. The result wasn’t either democratic, nor better for the country, and I don’t trust everyone to be smart enough to not fall for some charismatic, or group of them, who claims they need total control over things, so they can “eventually” give us back a working democracy. Its just as likely that they would have no intention to do so at all, or they arose, like the Tea Party, in order to take advantage of the revolution, by conning the majority, at least in the short term, into believing they intend to fix things.

    So, I am really skeptical of “revolutions”. The track record for them isn’t quite as rosy as we would like it to be, and there is no certainty that the result would be like the our own first one, and the result either equitable, nor just, when the dust finally settled.

  64. says

    The last “revolution”, in which someone decided that the “democracy” had failed, and better leadership was needed (if you don’t count Star Wars), was ancient Rome.

    Ummmmm I’m pretty damn sure you’re wrong about that.

  65. says

    Ok.. Last “big” one that I know of, which was actually a democracy. I am not talking about the fake ones, where everyone got to vote, but the “winner” stuffed the box, to make sure his faction stayed in power, which has happened more than a few times. The point I was making was.. everyone seems to assume that the outcome will be a positive one, and fix the problem. Its is hardly a certainty, and well.. we might, for example, end up with a libertarian government, or some other, if you squint, and are paying attention only to what they “claim” they will be doing to fix things, run result, or worse.

    What I’m surprised about is that there are any banks in the supposedly rabidly competitive capitalist state that is the USA that still charge for access to your account. Who is banking with these people?

    I know that mine, if you don’t keep a minimum balance, “does” charge you a fee. Which they didn’t used to do back when I was a kid, and you could open an account with a few cents, then keep adding to that, without being charged for not having a $1,000 minimum in it, or some similar BS. US banking’s excuse is that “everything is becoming a service”, which seems to mean that you get charged not only to have your car washed, but if you don’t come back to have it done again within a certain time frame, you get charged a rental fee on the car wax they used during the wash, on the theory that its still on your car, and its a “service”, so you don’t really own the wax itself, or.. something like that. But, its all about finding ways to charge you for every damn trivial thing possible. Or, as I put it, I am, in principle, paying them rent, to allow them to borrow my own money, so that they can lend it to someone else.

  66. Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam says

    The last “revolution”, in which someone decided that the “democracy” had failed, and better leadership was needed (if you don’t count Star Wars), was ancient Rome.

    Ummmmm I’m pretty damn sure you’re wrong about that.

    Morsi? Who’s that? Oh, I remember! The guy who did the telegraph thing with the dots and dashes, that’s it!

    The above may contain slight traces of sarcasm. Handle with care.

  67. says

    Ummmmmmmmmm pretty sure Caeser got support for his coupe because the senate was corrupt

    And as a slave state with a greater slave population than citizen it’s hardly a “real” democracy where everyone got a vote.

  68. stevem says

    re 71:

    <jumping in…to support Ingdigo…> IIRC Rome didn’t decide democracy failed, just too slow, an emperor would be faster; keeping the Senate (democracy) for the more mundane decisions.

    Maybe I’m blinded by my poor vision of recent history, but in my view the last “revolution” to decide democracy failed and installed a “better leadership” would be that ‘H word’ (in Germany) from the 1930′s. But that’s just my tunnel vision. [Just my opinion; Nerd, you can dismiss it, no offense will be taken ;-) ]

  69. vaiyt says

    and the left because they somehow hate big business and yet wish that big business would paternalistically take care of its employees by giving them generous wages and benefits.

    Giving people a fair share in exchange for their fucking work isn’t fucking paternalism, you fucking idiot.

  70. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Employed people shouldn’t need public assistance.

  71. says

    Ok, ok.. I, in a rush to post, didn’t think real careful about Rome being an example, never mind the best one. In any case, sort of “elected”, replaced because some fools thought their solution would be less corrupt that what they had already, etc., doesn’t change the point. While I would hope we would be less likely today to end up with something stupid replacing the current mess, via something that could actually be called a revolution, instead of just a.. regime change? (i.e., something involving trenches, barricades, etc.), its naive to assume that outcome will actually be that. Imagine, for a moment, that, somehow, the people that won where very liberal, but… from among the anti-FDA, pro-snake oil, altie medicine crowd, and the first thing they did was basically flush western medicine. And, that is just one scary possibility. (Not that we don’t have a lot of that already, but.. its not something that needs to be ratified in the replacement constitution…) :p

  72. kage says

    Sorry to any libertarians reading (not really), but regulation is the answer to ridiculous bank fees. I’m in Australia and banks here are no longer allowed to charge excessive fees. My bank’s fees for a dishonoured direct debit (for example) dropped from $35 to $6 once the regulations were introduced. I also no longer pay anything just to have an everyday account. The banks still make ridiculous profits, but the tellers / call centre staff are at least paid a living wage.

    As I said, banks still make huge profits. Service fees are usually payable on loans, as well as loan establishments fees and similar sundries, but there is at least some transparency. Each loan product is required to provide a ‘comparable interest rate’ which takes all interest and other charges into account and is expressed as a % of the loan. It makes shopping around simple. We also have rules about exactly what information is required in Product Disclosure Statements (which are required to be in simple English). IMO, the transparency has had the effect of reducing fees.

    But banks don’t do this stuff unless they are forced. It’s also worth noting that we did not bail out any banks due to the GFC. Regulation, yay!

  73. David Marjanović says

    Завтра будет иначе.
    “Tomorrow it’ll be enough.”
    – Russian protest song (against Putin)

    As a writer, I make a bit of cash working for a company that is headquartered in Geneva. Every time they pay me, my bank takes $25 off the top as a wire transfer fee.

    For wire transfers within the EU, all such fees have been abolished.

    I’m also not aware of a bank that charges you for withdrawing money from your account at that bank if you use an ATM that belongs to the same bank.

    I don’t get those complaints about workers being so poor that they have to go on SNAP. Isn’t that the point of those programs, that they help increase the living standards of people to some acceptable level beyond what their work provides?

    When you have a job, you really shouldn’t fucking need any additional assistance. That’s the point of having a job.

    Abolish this nonsense. Raise the minimum wage to something reasonable (as long as a basic income isn’t a politically realistic option).