Click-bait, capitalism, corporations, and company – some contemplations (or, How I Spent My Weekend)

Click-bait, capitalism, corporations, and company – some contemplations (or, How I Spent My Weekend) September 23, 2019

So it turns out I have a jumble of things to write about, and I’m not keen on putting them into a tightly organized set of articles as they really out to be as really all they have in common is that that’s what went on and what I was thinking about this weekend.  So let’s just go somewhat in order —

Starting with Friday night, when my husband and I went on a walk and, along the way, I said, “I think I have had enough success with pageview counts at Forbes for my articles on Chicago pensions and the election this month that I’ve reached that crossover point where my per-click earnings exceed the minimum payment,” and we brainstormed about articles I could write about what the various presidential candidates have to say about Social Security and retirement generally speaking, and stopped in at Dunkin’ Donuts for a coffee (literally, a coffee, since I don’t drink coffee but my husband does), and, like a couple teenagers, browsed on our phones, that is, looking at the news and candidate’s websites, and discovered the Elizabeth Warren proposal for “accountable capitalism,” which I had written about at the Patheos blog rather than at Forbes a year ago, even though there’s a clear connection to retirement, because if she were able to get legislation passed obliging large public companies to have 40%+ of the board comprised of representatives elected by employees, stock values would drop (per an estimate by a lefty wonk), and, while folks like the aforementioned lefty blogger are perfectly happy with that outcome because they view stock as only owned by rich people, in reality 50% of US-owned American stock is owned by retirement funds, DB or DC, IRAs or employer-sponsored.

So while my husband watched TV in the study, and after he went to bed, I took that prior article, updated it and boosted the retirement connection, hunted around for updated statistics (there weren’t any, so I kept these), and then, shortly before midnight, set the post to publish at 7 the next morning.

Elizabeth Warren Wants to Cut The Value Of Your Retirement Account.”

Was it a click-bait title?

Yes, I could have gone with something like “Elizabeth Warren’s Plan For Accountable Capitalism Could Do More Harm Than Good,” or something similarly bland.  I could have gone with the question-asking version, “Does Elizabeth Warren Want To Cut The Value Of Your Retirement Account?”

But commenters at my website (recall that since there are no comments at Forbes and I like the reader feedback, I use to invite comments) accused me of click-baiting — yet at the same time, they said my title should have been something like “Elizabeth Warren Wants to Give Workers A Fair Deal In The Fight Against Corporations,” or the like, which suggests that the title isn’t really their gripe.  And comments have been largely in defense of her proposal, so there’s that.

But over the course of the morning, the article started getting traction.  “Oh, look, Forbes flipped it into Flipboard!”  “Oh, look, it’s got more hits from Google now.”

But then after lunch it was time to get ready for the Events of the Day:  we had gotten tickets for an afternoon performance of Anything Goes at the theater near home (it’s a professional theater, but hardly one of the big-time ones), for us, my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, and an aunt and uncle driving in from St. Louis.  The show was at 3:00 and we ended up picking up my parents (recall that their assisted living community is about 20 minutes away, and they can’t drive any longer) a little later than we should have, taking into account the fact that it takes dad a loooog time to walk down the hallway to the elevator and then out the door, so we had a bit of a challenge getting everyone seated just before the show started.

And, as I had hoped, Mom and Dad enjoyed the singing and dancing even though they didn’t particularly follow the plot of the show.  (Reality is, they didn’t even understand that we were taking them to a theatrical performance, thinking that I was just taking them to a movie, until we got there.)  But I was also pleasantly surprised that the rest of us enjoyed the show, too — for as small a theater as it is, the cast was large and (near as I can tell) talented.

Afterwards, we picked up food we had ordered at the Olive Garden and brought it to the assisted living community, where we all ate in a semi-private part of the dining room (for a small fee, they provide the tableware and clear the table), then went up to their apartment and talked.  The apartment isn’t big, but it had adequate enough seating for everyone.

I was pleased with how this all went — even though it was just the “restaurant” = dining room, the set-aside portion of it really felt like we were at a restaurant, they had some nice ambient music in the background, and yet it was a lot quieter than a “real” restaurant would have been, so much less need to worry about how well mom and dad could hear.  And I wanted the peace of mind of knowing that when dad was tired, there would be no additional delay in getting him back to his apartment.

And on the one hand, well, it was nice to see my aunt and uncle who we hadn’t seen in a while, and they told us about their young-retiree biking adventures and we shared pictures and so forth.  But both mom and dad were more passively watching than actively participating in the conversation, and not for lack of trying to engage them.  Somewhere along the way I read that folks with dementia simply have a harder time processing a conversation — the equivalent, I suppose, of conversations in Germany, when it’s my husband and his extended family and I try to follow the general theme of the conversation but can’t keep up well enough to really be a part of it.

So we talked about everyone meeting up again for another such performance, whether it’s for another musical of whatever kind or for the Christmas Carol production that they always do in December, but I wondered to what extent my parents enjoyed having a group of us gathered together, and whether we should attempt another effort to get mom’s other sisters and brother gathered together, or whether they’d be better off with smaller gatherings with just one visitor at a time, or whether they’d really be better able to engage with a smaller group but would nonetheless be happier with the idea of being celebrated with a large group.

And at intermission, and as we’re picking up the food, and periodically during dinner, I’m checking the Forbes pageviews, and the counter keeps growing.

And I’m looking at the comments, the largest number of which, as I said, were in support of Warren’s plan, because of how badly, in their words, American corporations mistreat their employees.

And I began to think to myself, “self, this is a problem.”  Irrespective of whether corporations really are as bad as all that, it’s a problem for Americans to believe this.

And after I got home that evening, I did some more checking on the candidates’ websites and some google searches and ended up with a follow-up article, “Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Capitalism, And Retirement Accounts: The Dog That Didn’t Bark,” which said, basically, Warren and Sanders have sooo many plans on their websites, and yet they don’t have a proposal for an expansion of the OregonSaves-type state-run autoenroll IRA that moderate Democrats are promoting, and that’s unlikely to just be happenstance, but rather calls into question whether these candidates believe in the private sector playing a role in retirement, or not.

And I finalized this Sunday morning before bopping over to church.

Here is yesterday’s first reading:

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy

 and destroy the poor of the land!
 “When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
 “that we may sell our grain,
 and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?
 We will diminish the ephah,
 add to the shekel,
 and fix our scales for cheating!
 We will buy the lowly for silver,
 and the poor for a pair of sandals;
 even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
 Never will I forget a thing they have done!

Amos 8: 4-7.

The Gospel reading was a kind of weird one with the parable of the prudent steward who made friends of his master’s debtors before getting fired, and the priest didn’t really put in much effort into explaining it but just went off on tangents.

But it was kind of fitting to have scripture decrying companies who cheat their customers, no?  And yet there is a wide range of corporate behavior that is ethical but places priorities in different spots.  Some companies have as their business model treating their employees particularly well — paying them above-market wages and giving them generous benefits — and sometimes that gives them a competitive advantage, if they want to get the most skilled and dedicated workers in the available workforce, or if customers are willing to pay more because of this (or if they promote themselves as valuing the environment or buying from American vendors, or whatever), and sometimes it’s simply a matter of the owners collectively choosing to conduct business this way.  But it’s not unethical to purchase product from the lowest-cost vendor (assuming that vendor isn’t violating ethical standards) or to pay employees what the market will bear.  Consider, too, Chick-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby — they’re privately owned and can choose to close on Sunday even though they forgo profits because, as a privately-owned company, that’s their choice.  What about a public company CEO?  Could he choose to forgo profits when he has a duty to the collective stock-owning investors?

Anyway, the pageviews kept increasing.

And I’m doing the math of exactly how much the next check will be, but at the same time I’m getting frustrated.  Yes, whatever the secret sauce is that triggers the Google algorithms (which I understand to, in general, be a mystery to everyone but Google), I seem to have accidentally stumbled into it.  But dangit, my article a month ago on multiemployer pensions was also important and virtually no one read it.

But nonetheless I’m still thinking, “how long can I ride this wave?” and renew my efforts this morning to find something else that Elizabeth Warren is on the record as saying about retirement, collect a few links, and then find a reference to a 2005 book, which was a jackpot, as in that book, unlike her glum, “no one can save, the government should do it for you,” approach she takes now, she promoted it as being entirely realistic to save 20%, of which 10% goes to retirement, 5% to early house payoff, and 5% to other future dreams.


Does Elizabeth Warren Believe Saving For Retirement Is Possible? Turns Out, She Did – In 2005” as of midafternoon.

And I think I’ve pretty much exhausted the possibilities for presidential-candidate linked retirement articles.  Biden doesn’t have much of anything to say and Bernie is mostly a clone of Warren on this point.  I considered doing something on the lower-tier candidates but their websites merely have other iterations of Social Security benefit increases which are fairly unremarkable; maybe I’ll have another go at it later, but it is in the nature of such an article that it would be about the lesser-known candidates and thus be less likely to trigger the Google algorithm to promote my stuff.

It’s also the case that when I first had my success with the Andrew McCabe article right after I started writing at Forbes, we celebrated with a Lego Saturn V rocket.  Now?  I might “celebrate” by subscribing to a publication or two, but, since I’m no longer working at my old job, it’s no long bonus “fun money” but just earnings of the sort that is unpredictable from one month to the next.

And, incidentally, as I type this, these are my current pageview counts:

“. . . Cut Your Retirement Account”:  445,629.

Do Warren and Sanders believe in retirement savings?:  35,635

Warren’s 2005 opinion:  20,165 (and counting – this is still generating substantial pageviews).

Which is light years away from my typical dribs and drabs of 1,000 here, 3,000 there.  But again, I don’t know how long this’ll last, or what strategy to adopt to keep this “streak” going or whether as soon as I turn my attention to Eldercare in the Netherlands (what I was drafting when Mayor Lightfoot made the news and got me into writing about Chicago pensions again) everyone loses interest.  And I still say that I want to be successful enough that I make news rather than just respond to it (e.g., write about something I think is important for people to know, and some journalist reports on it).  But whether I can hold on to this pageview success for long enough to get to that point, or whether Google reprograms their algorithm, or I just run out of hot topics, and it’s someone else’s turn, I don’t know.

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