Tag Archives: workers rights

Wise Sloth Video List: Predatory Capitalism

This list comes from my essays on economics.





































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What’s The Difference Between Cheap Wine and Expensive Wine?

I wrote this blog after spending three months working at various vineyards in New Zealand and asking all my bosses about the process of winemaking.

Photo of me in a Vineyard somewhere near Hastings, New Zealand

The biggest difference between good wine and bad wine isn’t age. There’s wine that sells for $100 as soon as it comes off the assembly line, and it’s grown from the same grapes that the same vineyard sells for $9 a bottle. Expensive wines aren’t made from some rare, super grape, and cheap wines aren’t made from inferior grapes.The big difference in quality comes from how those grapes were treated during the growing process.

At the beginning of the growing process, every vine is treated the same. They’re planted in long, straight rows. A wooden post as tall as a grown man sticks out of the ground between every four or five plants. Three or four metal wires run perpendicularly between/along the posts. The reason those posts and wires are there is because grape vines aren’t trees. They’re vines, obviously. So, left on their own, they’ll just fall to the ground and grow in the dirt, but that would ruin the grapes. So workers have to come through the rows of plants and tie them to the bottom wire when the grape plants are tall enough to reach. Then, as the vines get taller and bushier, they’ll naturally grab onto the higher wires if their shoots happen to touch them, but a lot of the shoots just fall back down to the ground. So at some point, human beings have to walk down every row in the vineyard and pick up all the low hanging vines and tuck them up through the wires.

This doesn’t just keep the vines out of the dirt. It also gives the leaves maximum exposure to sunlight, and since grapes tend to grow towards the bottom of vines and not the top, that means when the vines are stretched upwards then most of the grape clusters will grow conveniently along the bottom wire where they can be picked without having to dig through tangled vines. There’s still work to be done before the grapes are picked though, and how that work is done will determine whether the grapes will yield premium or cheap wine.

The leaves on the grape plants need sunlight to nourish the grapes. The grapes themselves also need direct exposure to sunlight to ripen properly, but the leaves cover the grapes.  So the leaves around the grapes need to be removed from the vines, but you need to take off as few leaves as possible or else the whole plant won’t get enough light to nourish its fruit. You also need to remove those leaves without damaging the grapes. There are at least three ways to do this:

Some vineyards use sheep. If you put sheep in a vineyard when the grapes are young and sour the sheep will avoid eating them, but they’ll eat all the leaves around the grapes, and since the rest of the vines and leaves are too high for the sheep to reach they pick off just about the right amount of leaves. Inevitably though, the sheep will end up damaging a few grapes and possibly eating too many leaves.

If 100 rows of vines in a vineyard are reserved for making cheap wine then a farmer can just drive a tall, skinny tractor up and down the rows that suck or blows all the leaves off. It’s a cheap and quick method, but it damages the grapes.

The only tool in the universe capable of performing the precision task of delicately removing just the right amount of leaves is a human being. So they’re sent into the vineyards to spend all day, every day in green, roofless hallways shuffling sideways analyzing the bottoms of these walls looking for leaves that cover up the grapes and pulling them off while being careful not to bruise the grapes or remove too many leaves.

It doesn’t sound difficult to spend 9 hours walking sideways pulling leaves off of vines, and it’s true that there are more difficult jobs in the world, but leaf plucking is a unique form of torture, as every job on a vineyard is in its own way. The leaves grow just low enough that an average sized person has to bend over slightly to grab them. This doesn’t hurt if you do it once, but if you do it for 50 hours a week you’ll be in agony. That’s a fact. Once your back starts hurting from bending forward you can switch to bending your knees so it looks like you’re doing the limbo dance, except instead of going under the wall you go sideways…forever. Eventually, that’s going to hurt too. When that happens you can just fall down on your knees and pick out the leaves at chest height. If you’ve lost the will to get back up you can waddle sideways on your knees and/or crawl down a whole row that way, but you don’t have knee pads. So your knees get beat up on the rocks and twigs. And the ground is covered in a thousand doses of weed killer. So you don’t want what’s down there to get into the cuts, scrapes, and blisters in your hands and knees.

After the leaves are plucked and all the grapes are exposed along the bottom of the rows you can walk along them and see where bunches of grapes are growing at odd angles and smashing into each other. Those need to be separated and pruned. You’ll also find other bunches are growing on tiny, leafless branches that won’t be able to nourish the grapes to ripeness. Those need to be removed so the plant can nourish the grapes that are left. Sometimes there’s just too many grapes. If you remove all these extra grapes then the remaining ones will grow plump and sweet. If you don’t remove these extra grapes you’ll still get some good bunches, but you’ll also get a lot of small, under-ripe sour bunches. If simply drive a tractor down the row and harvest all the small, vinegary grapes along with the ripe, sugary ones together you’ll end up with bottom shelf hobo wine.

If your customer expects wine so pure that it doesn’t give them a headache then millions of people all over the world need to pour into their local vineyards and sacrifice the days of their youth (and/or their “golden years”) in purgatory staring at bunches of grapes, studying them, counting them, thinking about how and why to remove them so that all that’s left at harvest time are big, juicy, sugary grapes.

Once the plucking and snipping are done, then all those ripe, juicy grapes will look like a free gourmet buffet to birds. If you’ve already invested months of wages into having your grape vines groomed then you can’t afford to give your crop away to the birds. If you’re making cheap wine you might be able to afford to lose a few grapes, but if you’re making premium wine you need total security. One way you can keep birds away is by buying an airgun that’s hooked up to a tank and makes a loud blast that sounds like a gunshot every minute or so. But that doesn’t keep all the birds away all the time. Since it’s not cost effective to build a glass roof over a thousand acre vineyard, the next best thing you can do is send workers back into the wailing walls and cover the plants with nets.

Until someone invents an efficient way to put nets over plants workers will have to spend the best days of their irreplaceable lives rolling gigantic spools of nets down rows 50+ yards long in the premium section of most vineyards. Each row will have two nets, one on either side. Then two people, one on either side, will take their net and lift it over the plant where they’ll take a little plastic clip (like the ones that hold bread bags closed) and clip the two nets together. They’ll also need to bend over and reach underneath the green wall to grab the net hanging on the other side so they can pin them together underneath so birds can’t fly up through the bottom of the net. A lot of care needs to be taken to make sure the vines are wrapped up so tight that a bird the size of a cell phone can’t get in, and you can be sure they’ll try. So the workers need to end up putting five to nine clips above and below every plant. They’ll have to use more clips to patch up the holes that have inevitably been ripped in net. In nine hours they’ll go through thousands of clips. So they have to carry a big pouch full of them. It takes a lot of thought and attention to detail to clip the nets together properly. It also takes a strong back, but if you’ve been working in a vineyard for very long you’ve already got a pretty strong back.

Even with a strong back, you’re still going to go home with sore muscles every day, especially if you’re getting paid by how fast you work. As a general rule vineyard workers get paid as little as possible and get as few benefits or breaks as the law will allow in whatever country a vineyard happens to be in, and some places are worse than others. Sometimes, instead of getting minimum wage, farmers will have the workers play their own version of the Hunger Games. In this version, the contestants get paid a few cents for every plant they pluck, trim and/or cover with nets. Whoever pushes themselves the farthest past the brink of human endurance and takes the least amount of breaks and cuts the most corners will be rewarded with slightly more than minimum wage. Everybody else will get less than minimum wage, and I guess that’s the point. The only two groups of people who really win these Hunger Games are the vineyard owners (who win a new mansion) and the rich people who drink pretentiously expensive wine (who win a sweet taste in their mouth for a few minutes). You could say the vineyard workers win a job, but it’s the job of a disposable slave. You would have to be completely morally bankrupt to call the work vineyard laborers do for they pay they receive a good opportunity. It’s not an opportunity. It’s a trap. It’s a waste of life.

This raises an interesting question. Who would willingly agree to this trap? Who would take seasonal work that pays as little as possible leaving you jobless halfway through the year with as little money as possible? There are all types, and most of them are more or less homeless. That’s why they can move with the season, and that’s why they’re desperate enough to put up with being treated like an animal.

You could say, “Yeah, but at least they’re getting paid.” The thing about that is, vineyards are making enough money for the owners to buy mansions and sports cars. If there’s that much money left over after operating costs then there’s enough money to pay the workers enough to see the dentist. If vineyards truly aren’t profitable enough to pay its workers more than slave wages then that means premium means wine can only ever exist in a society where income inequality is so bad that the poor are desperate enough to accept being treated and paid like disposable slaves.

Either way, the main ingredient that goes into making premium wine (and which is largely missing in cheap wine) is the tears of the poor. The two main ingredients that go into making cheap wine (and which is largely missing in premium wine) are vinegar and pollution.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

My Goals
My Life Stories (in chronological order)
The Life of the Poor

7 Reasons Why Minimum Wage Should Be Higher

Cartoon of a man standing on a huge pile of cash shouting, "Your greed is hurting the economy!" next to a poor person holding up a sign that says, "Raise the minimum wage."

1. It requires specialized skills/attributes

One way high wage earners justify their pay is by saying that not everybody could do their job. So since their skill is so rare then they deserve to be paid more. This point of view overlooks the fact that not everybody can do hard labor  If you took the CEO of a big restaurant chain and made them work in one of their restaurants’ kitchens for three months they’d all fail. Even out of the general public, there’s a significant percentage of people who don’t have the strength or patience to do the jobs minimum wage earners do.

Go ask any kitchen staff, road crew, farm crew, or retail worker about people they’ve seen work at their job for a week and then burn out from exhaustion or didn’t have the mental fortitude to do their jobs. Those who pass the test will always be able to look each other in the eye and know they had the metal to make it while so many others didn’t. But even though minimum wage earners have attributes and skills just as rare any upper-middle-class job. Their paychecks don’t reflect this.


2. Compensation for pace

Think of an office romance drama series like Mad Men, Suits or The Office. Imagine if the characters ran as fast as they could everywhere they went, and where ever they went they were always very busy with their hands, and they were always racing the clock while pacing themselves so they could last the day.  And somebody was always yelling at them and threatening them. It would be funny if it wasn’t true.

The longer and faster you have to work the more you have to commit your total life’s attention on what you’re doing. Some people have slow-paced jobs where they can daydream all day, call their friends and family and take long lunches while getting paid very, very well. A lawyer would charge you more for his services if he had to devote his total attention to your case and work as hard as he could none stop for three months straight. But field hands, cooks at chain restaurants, and warehouse staff don’t get paid any extra for how totally they have to devote themselves to their jobs.


3. Compensation for inevitable injuries

If you do anything as fast as you can for nine hours a day for a lifetime you’re going to hurt yourself. Just lifting files or typing will give you crippling hand aches in old age. Lifting heavy bags and boxes will take its toll immediately. When you do minimum wage it’s not a matter of if you’ll develop some kind of health problem, it’s a matter of which one you’ll get. And since millions of minimum wage jobs involve handling poisonous material, a lot of people are guaranteed to die from work-related illnesses.

It’s bad enough that people are dying from work-related injuries, but they’re suffering here and now in very real, very graphic ways. Any fry cook can tell you a few stories about burns and cuts they’ve seen kitchen staff get. There are millions of people in the world who have stitch marks on their bodies from on the job injuries they got while working for minimum wage, but they don’t get any compensation. Their employers don’t even offer them health care. If you asked the employer why, they would probably tell you that the accident was the employee’s fault. Even if that were true, these injuries are statistical inevitabilities. If you put 90 million human beings in kitchens around the world working as fast as they can all day for three months cooking over hot stoves, slinging boiling liquids and chopping things with sharp knives, you’re going to end up with millions of injuries. You can repeat the experiment as many times as you want, there will always be injuries. So going to work is like playing the lottery. You might be one of the unlucky ones who fate has doomed. And when that inevitable day comes for some man, woman or child, their employer will probably find some valid excuse for why they don’t have help the person who won the doom lottery inherent in minimum wage work.


4. Compensation for degradation of off-duty time

A lawyer would charge you a premium if he had to work all day every day as fast as he can for three months. A lawyer would probably raise that fee after a week after he realizes that working that hard and that long doesn’t leave you any energy to enjoy your free time after work, and in fact, he was probably spending all his evenings just trying to recuperate from the day’s work while prepping himself for another day of marathon work tomorrow. I’m sure a lawyer could write a fantastic explanation of why they should be compensated extra if their professional work degrades the quality of their personal time. So far no lawyer has done minimum wage workers the favor of writing an explanation of why they deserve extra compensation for not being able to fully enjoy their free time.

If a lawyer worked as fast as possible for three months he could pamper himself all along the way with good meals, healthy snacks, massages and a big vacation at the end. Minimum wage earners can’t afford any of that. They don’t get to stop at cafes on the way to work. They have a hard time getting sick days, let alone vacation days. And for them, it’s not just three months. It’s their fate in life. That’s why poor people drink and smoke so much. Their life is fucked. There’s no hope for them. In hopeless times humans tend to turn to religion or hedonism for relief. If minimum wage earners got paid more I predict you would see a decrease in religion and hedonism. Think about that. Minimum wage jobs are so miserable they force people to turn to God or slow, euphoric suicide to cope. That’s morally fucked up. That’s an atrocity. That’s the kind of thing that generations from now, our descendants will look back on us and say, “Damn, that generation was stupid and backward. I’m sure glad we’re not that shamefully stupid and cruel now.” So how about we not be that stupid and cruel now? How about we compensate minimum wage earners for losing their personal lives. Better yet, let’s not take away their personal lives to begin with.


5. Compensation for humiliation

Some lawyers get to pick and choose their clients and their price. If a prospective client insults the lawyer or is obviously going to be a pain in the ass to deal with, the lawyer could charge the client extra to make it worth his time. Minimum wage earners get yelled at constantly by bosses and customers. Everyone is allowed to tear them down and use them as punching bags, and the minimum wage earner has to just stand there, wearing a demeaning company uniform and endure emotional and sometimes physical abuse from the people they have to spend almost every day of their life with.

There’s been a lot of research done on the topic of classical conditioning and bullying. If you insult someone and humiliate them every day, they’re going suffer. It’s immoral to do that to somebody. It’s downright sadistic to do that to somebody and then tell them that they have to come back every day for the foreseeable future and endure the same emotional abuse while smiling and pretending like it’s the happiest day of their life, and if they can’t maintain constant perfect bearing they’ll be thrown out into the streets to starve and die in the rain. That’s as messed up as the plot to The Human Centipede 2. If you’re going to have to spend your life eating other people’s shit you should get some kind of compensation for that. Better yet, maybe we should stop sewing retail employee’s mouths to the customer’s asses or giving bosses god-like authority to bully employees.


 6. Compensation for investment of labor

You can’t build a company with capital. Investors who provide employers with start-up capital expect a return on their investment, and everyone agrees that this is entirely reasonable. However, you can’t build a company without labor either, and the workers who invest the irreplaceable seconds of their lives at work don’t get dividends. They just get the lowest paycheck legally allowable and a kick in the ass the day they quit, get fired, their contract ends, the company goes bankrupt or gets bought out.

If you invest a few thousand dollars in a company at the right time you can get millions of dollars in return. You can invest a few thousand hours of your life in a company, and you won’t even get a thank you card. You have to be a complete sociopath to think that’s okay.


7. It’s the decent thing to do

Why should we pay minimum wage workers more? Because it’s the decent thing to do. That’s why. That’s all that should have to be said. Everybody knows it would make minimum wage workers’ lives better if they worked shorter hours and were paid a higher percentage of company profits. It would make people happier, and we would live in a happier society. That’s what the world is supposed to be like. Are we not good people? At least, don’t we want to be good people? Well… let’s be good to the people holding up the pillars of our economy.

Even if you’re a complete sociopath who doesn’t care about anybody else but yourself and you look at the world through a cold, calculating perspective, you should still want to raise the minimum wage, because the empirical cost/benefit analysis of economic oppression didn’t add up.


If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:


Predatory Capitalism Creates Poverty
Socialism and Communism
The Life of the Rich
The Life of the Poor
Oppression in the Workplace
Success and Retirement
The Housing Market
Healthcare in America
The Stock Market
Fixing the Economy
My Tweets About Economics

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