The Economy Hub With Michael Hiltzik
Supreme Court ruling puts state regulatory boards in crosshairs

Want to get paid for shampooing someone's hair? In California, you may need to have at least nine months of experience and pass a licensing test overseen by the state barbering and cosmetology board, whose members include salon professionals.

Do you clean dogs' teeth for pay as part of a grooming service? You might run afoul of the state Veterinary Medical Board, which includes four veterinarians and a veterinary technician among its eight members. The board treats tooth cleaning using anything but a toothbrush as veterinary medicine — and the unlicensed practice of which is a crime punishable by up to a year in jail.

These are just two of countless ways that members of a business or occupation can close the doors to others by using their authority on a state regulatory board. This smacks of "restraint of trade," a fundamental no-no in antitrust law. Until a few weeks ago, such state regulatory boards thought they had an exemption from the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has now set them...

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How Indiana's new anti-LGBT law puts the state and businesses in a bind

The business community's response to an Indiana measure legalizing discrimination against LGBT persons in Indiana under the guise of religious "freedom" has been encouraging, even uplifting. 

Several businesses and business organizations warned Republican Gov. Mike Pence in advance that their relationship with the state might change if he signed the bill. On Thursday, he did so anyway, in a ceremony to which the press and public weren't invited. (To quote the Chicago Tribune's Rex Huppke: If you're signing a law "in a private ceremony with no media coverage, it might be a bad law.")

Reaction from the business community has been swift. Marc Benioff, the CEO of San Francisco-based Salesforce.com, immediately canceled "all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination." That's not an empty gesture: Salesforce bought Indianapolis-based Exact Target, an email marketing company, for $2.5 billion in 2013. 

The big annual gamers conference Gen Con,...

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Shock and awe: Congress may do the right thing on children's health

The moments when Congress appears to function effectively are rare and fleeting these days. So it's proper to recognize that the House is on the verge of taking the right steps on the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which was on the cusp of losing its funding later this year.

A bipartisan deal likely to be voted on before the House leaves for recess Friday would extend CHIP's funding for another two years, or through fiscal 2017. What's more, the extension comes without the cutbacks that House Republicans were proposing as recently as a week ago, not to mention the spectacularly draconian cuts embodied in a Republican discussion draft last month.

We reported two weeks ago that CHIP was dangling over the cliffside of extinction because the state agencies that administer the program need to know its funding is secure well in advance of the deadline. Hanging in the balance was healthcare for more than 2 million children in low- and lower-middle-income families that earn too...

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IMF agrees: Decline of union power has increased income inequality

Discussions of the causes of income inequality typically focus on financial deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy as key drivers of the trend. In a new paper, the International Monetary Fund broadens the debate by taking a closer look at the effect of declining union power.

The IMF's analysis undermines the accepted wisdom that lower union membership affects chiefly low- and moderate-income workers. The fund's analysts, Florence Jaumotte and Carolina Osorio Buitron, find instead that the impact of declining unionization is felt across the entire income spectrum. The trend not only reduces the welfare of the lower income worker, they find; it makes the rich richer: "The decline in unionization," they write, "appears to be a key contributor to the rise of top income shares."

This is important because assaults on union power and members in the U.S. are on the rise. Most recently, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a "right-to-work"--that is, union-busting--law, an action he's sure to...

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How should journalists treat candidates who deny climate change?

In the not-so-distant past, it would not have been unusual or unseemly for journalists to identify political candidates making grossly unscientific assertions -- that aliens walk among us, say, or the moon is made of green cheese -- as crackpots.

Climate change, however, seems to have made cowards of the press. Although the scientific consensus is absolutely indisputable that the climate is warming due to human activity, the issue is typically reduced to a some-say-but-others-dispute debate dividing Republicans (usually deniers) from Democrats (usually accepters). 

On his invaluable PressThink blog, press critic Jay Rosen raises the question of how reporters should deal with climate change deniers on the campaign trail. He observes that "claims that climate science is a hoax, or that human action is not a factor are not defensible positions in a political debate." But he's still at a loss to say exactly how the press should report these claims. 

The issue's importance is underscored by...

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Are we reaching the tipping point on restaurant tipping?

The gradual move toward a higher minimum wage in many localities has revived the debate over restaurant tipping--not that it's ever been too far below the surface.

There's a good reason for the new attention on tipping: a differential between the minimum for tipped and non-tipped workers has been introduced in some places along with the higher minimum. It's also advocated elsewhere, typically at the suggestion of restaurant owners who say it would moderate the strain on their bottom lines.

Seattle, which will move toward a $15 minimum wage over the next seven years, will introduce a differential on April 1, when the city hourly minimum rises to $11--but $10 for workers who make least $1 an hour in tips. The federal minimum wage is nominally $7.25 an hour, but it's only $2.13 for workers who get tips. In California, where the minimum wage is scheduled to rise to $10 an hour in January, there's no discount for tips.

A couple of recent essays underscore how perplexing and pointless...

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