Second Acts are Everywhere in America – Hello, Tigers!

 (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

New Orleans       I’m not a fan of golf.  Very little about the game has every appealed to me, partially for class reasons.  As a kid, every blue moon we would make a couple of bucks retrieving balls in the watery ponds at the City Park course for a quarter a ball.  I once caddied for my uncle in Duncan, Oklahoma, on the hot, barren course there when I worked one summer in Velma as a roustabout after graduating from high school.  It was sport without any appeal and a lot of problems in my mind, not the least of which was that watching it was boring.

But, I’ll admit to rooting for Tiger Woods and his comeback for all of the same reasons, and was incredulous when I first saw the headline scroll across my phone that he had won the Masters, the biggest, whitest, richest professional tournament in the world.  It was too early in the day. This was probably fake news, clickbait.  The tournament couldn’t be over.  I had forgotten reading that there was an early start because of potential weather problems in Georgia.  I’ve now read every article about his victory in three or four papers this morning.  I couldn’t care less what it means for the game of golf or the oft repeated headline that this was a “victory for the ages.”  I like it because it puts another exclamation point on the fact that second acts are everywhere in America.

The author F. Scott Fitzgerald is famously quoted as saying “there are no second acts in America.”  Fitzgerald scholars’ wince that this line is a misreading of Fitzgerald and a flagrant misquote arguing that the phrase is out of context because the rest of his line went on to establish that in fact there were second acts.  Second, third, serial acts are hallmarks of American life with boundless examples in almost every field of endeavor including business, politics, show business, and on and on.  Think about serial bankruptcies and failed startups that still became successes.  Think about inventors who failed repeatedly.  Think about politicians who lost races but kept coming back to the voters until they won.  Think about actors, singers, and artists, who bombed terribly, and kept coming back.

Hey, even think about Tiger Woods who had a meteoric career from the age of 21 to 33 in golf with unparalleled victories, and then a front page, seemingly forever meltdown that included sex and drugs, capped off by even more failure as his back and body collapsed frequently, until this time he broke through, finally winning a tournament last season and contending, and then winning the Masters for the fifth time

The real story is not that there are no second acts.  There are millions.  The real story of America is never quitting, being willing to fail, dusting yourself off and getting back upon the horse, never say die, there’s always a next time.  That’s America, and for a change Tiger Woods displayed that the best of America is not natural talent or amazing gifts, but true grit.  Something we can all display every day.


Sweating Labor in the Gig Economy and People by Tech

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

New Orleans      In a piece about climate change, one author quoted a commonplace statement that the corporate business model in a capitalist economy puts no inherent value on public resources like land, air, and water, so that the costs are for acquisition, extraction, marketing, and delivery without concern for the after affects like global warming, downstream water or air pollution, and the like.  The burden then falls on the commons, the public, and the government to force regulation or cost recovery, often too little and too late, especially when wealth is increasingly concentrated, and people with lesser income cannot afford the price of restoration.

I’m really not talking about climate change though.  It seems to be that within that business model, app-based and other tech companies fit squarely, if we add people themselves as a natural resource in the same list with land, air, and water, and likely even valued less by many.

Take the business model for Facebook and the rest of the tech companies that is based on selling people’s privacy for their own and corporate billions without paying anything for it, and without being accountable or, until very recently, worrying about the consequences.   Take as another example the continued resistance to dealing with the ubiquitous consequences of enslaving millions that still reverberates throughout every level of the American economy and culture.  Democratic presidential candidates are quick to agree to study reparations, but take my word, oil companies will pay for climate change and Facebook will give us a residual payment on using and selling our data way before reparations are paid for slavery.

In the run up to Uber going public, the company offered a slightly lower opening price valuation than investors had placed on it privately, because they continue to lose literally billions.  A sidebar noted that like Lyft, the company has said they might pay between $100 and $10,000 to longtime drivers, that they don’t acknowledge as employees by paying benefits, social security or unemployment or anything else, but increasingly are finding it harder and harder to recruit in a tight employment market.  Here is another business model that tries to sweat a common resource, people, without paying in order to extract rents or excess profits from their labor for free.  There was a long story of a fulltime driver for Uber and sometimes Lyft in the Bay Area who was barely making it because despite his share of the fares, the fact that he was classified as an independent contractor though totally dependent on the company and their arbitrary division of income, he had to pay all the cost for the vehicle, gas, and maintenance which was clearly unsustainable.

This problem is global as well.  An organizer in Buenos Aires shared with me this week the embryonic efforts to organize personas de platformas or gig workers there.  We have organized multi-union and multinational meetings of bicycle delivery drivers in Europe, but everywhere the organizing problem continues to be the lack of leverage.

Air, water, and land are voiceless.  In modern economic labor, people doing the work are becoming as voiceless as the clickers and likers on social media.  Simply another natural resource to be exploited for as long as they can get away with it.  None of this is sustainable, but stopping it is another matter.