Framing and Right to Work

WorkerThe Indiana General Assembly is advancing the so-called "Right to Work" legislation, with the state Senate expected to vote on the proposal Wednesday that the state House approved a version of last week.

Putting aside the substance of the legislation for a moment, the whole debate has been a fascinating exercise in political framing:

Using "Right to Work" as a label is a clever and strategic way to frame what the legislation is about.  If you are "for people having jobs," how could you dare be against their "right to work"? Any critic of "right to work" laws has to try to find some other meaningful label to use for themselves that isn't derived from the original name, but in doing so they lose some of the attention of voters.  (From what I can tell, the phrase "right to work" was introduced when a group of business owners in the southern U.S. formed the National Right to Work Committee in the 1970s to try to work against union efforts.)

The "Big Labor" bashing that happened last year across the Midwest set the stage for the "Union" label itself to be tainted to some degree in the minds of many voters ("Wait, are those unionized teachers really just trying to squeeze out every last taxpayer dollar while they sit around in luxury doing nothing? Golly!"), and so at least in part because of this association, I don't think unions have succeeded in being the rallying point for those who oppose these proposals.

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In The Plex, a great history of Google

I just finished reading Steven Levy's In the Plex, a great history of Google, Inc.'s origins and growth, and a great insight into what the company could look like in the future, or at least how it might get there.

The story of Google that matters for most people is how it affects their daily lives (searching, web browsing, mobile phones, mapping/navigation, email, calendaring, YouTube, news, etc.) but I appreciate that Levy's book focuses on the personalities and processes driving the evolution of what is arguably one of the most transformative corporate and technological entities of our time.

It can be easy to forget that behind some of the game-changing products and services produced by the company, there were real people thinking through issues of privacy, dealing with cross-cultural considerations and navigating interpersonal dynamics all while trying to make a living and find a sustainable business model.  They had/have desks, meetings, slide shows to give, families to care for, water-cooler conversations to have, and Levy does a great job capturing and re-telling those stories from the days of "two guys in a garage" all the way through the present days of life as an international corporation.  This is not always done with the most critical eye - those with concerns about Google's operations or policies may be put off by the extent to which this book is an homage - but on the whole I think Levy is fair in calling out the moments when individual Google employees or the company as a whole screws up, and placing those in the context of Google's good intentions.

A few themes in what Levy's book revealed about "the Google way":

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Stand With Main Street ads and taxing online commerce

You might open a newspaper soon to see an ad like the one at right which appeared in my local paper a few days ago.  It encourages you to "Stand With Main Street" to protest "special treatment" of Amazon.com that allows them to forgo the collection of sales tax on online purchases, resulting in an unfair advantage over "every Hoosier brick and mortar retailer."  I don't usually see full-page ads related to Internet commerce in a market this size, so I thought I'd investigate the issues at stake.

The question of taxing e-commerce transactions is a bit complicated to be sure.  If you have a strong and concisely-worded position on it, you're probably running for national political office, or a Libertarian, or both.

On one hand we can see the clear financial and psychological advantage that an online retailer has with customers who are weighing a purchase from a local store that charges tax against an online store that doesn't, and maybe offers the item at a slightly lower price too. At the same time, that online retailer may be benefitting from the infrastructure that sales taxes others are collecting help pay for (setting up warehouses, trucking goods around state roads, etc.).

On the other hand, we know that laws around state sales taxation were created prior to the age of the Internet and that the models of online business and affiliate sales have completely changed the way the world does business, and current attempts to rewrite them in order to create short-term bandaids on ailing state economies are probably not in the best interest of business innovation, especially when they favor large retailers (online and off) and send small businesses and people who make a living as Amazon.com or eBay affiliates into a quagmire of tax collection bureaucracy.

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A City is a Startup

biodiversity jengaOver the weekend Jon Bischke made the interesting comparison of a start-up company to city government in A City Is A Startup: The Rise Of The Mayor-Entrepreneur.  Bischke notes that the factors that go into a successful entrepreneurial effort are similar to the ones that make for a successful city:

  1. Build stuff people want, offer products and services people want to buy
  2. Attract and retain quality talent
  3. Raise capital to get fledgling ideas to the point of sustainability, create a density of "investors"
  4. Create a world class culture that encourages people to stick around even when times get tough

These may not be comprehensive factors, but they could be useful metrics to view your city with.

If I had to rate my own city of Richmond, Indiana, I'd say we have plenty of room to grow in each area:

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I'm joining the Pal-Item Editorial Board

Postcard-likeI'm pleased to note that I'm joining the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board.  This comes after a number of conversations with the paper's staff about the role of the editorial page and its advisory board in prompting and shaping community dialog; I'm excited that I will get to contribute to those efforts in this new way.

The board is a volunteer group of community members who meet regularly with the paper's editorial staff to discuss issues facing our area, and to help ensure that the viewpoints expressed by the paper are the result of careful consideration and broad consultation.  In the end, it's the Palladium-Item staff (and not the advisory board members) who craft the resulting columns, but Dale McConnaughay and others responsible for that task rely on the input received (and strong disagreements aired) through the board's private conversations.  They also regularly invite community leaders to meet with the board for updates and discussion about projects underway.

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In search of a sustainable shave

ShaveIt feels worth noticing the parts of our lives that are set up to make some regular use of disposable items.  Whether it's plastic bottles of water, plastic bags at the grocery or styrofoam coffee cups, there are a lot of things we use once or only a few times and then throw away when we don't necessarily need to.

Recently I went looking for a more sustainable way to shave, so that I didn't have to throw away as many of those ridiculously expensive blade cartridges.

At some points in life I've used an electric razor, which had fewer parts that needed regular replacing.  I suppose you could try to make the case that a really well-engineered electric razor with a long-lasting battery could end up being lower resource usage than the manual razor with cartridges, but as electric razors got more crazy in their design ("buy this special gel-pack that only fits this one model of razor so it can automatically douse your face with soothing chemicals at just the right time!") it felt simpler - and, okay, a little more manly - to just drag a blade across my face by hand.

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Removing straight party voting in Indiana - SB146

Hi-tech voting technologyIndiana Senator Mike Delph from District 29 has introduced Senate Bill 146 which would remove the option of straight party ticket voting from Indiana election ballots.  As Doug Masson notes, this change would probably favor the Republican party in most districts.

I think straight party ticket ballots generally only do a disservice to Indiana voters.

At best, it enables a kind of impulsive loyalty to a vague label that can mean very different things to different people.

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