Union membership and income distribution

In Who Killed American Unions, on the Atlantic’s website, Derek Thompson speculates about a connection between technological change and the rise and fall of union membership, which has shrunk to just 12 percent of the US workforce. I was struck by this graph, comparing the rate of union membership with the middle class share of aggregare income:

Writes Thompson:

The apogee of the unions was also the apogee of the middle class, when it commanded more than half of total income. As the union membership rate dropped, middle class share of income fell, too.

A tale of two shipwrecks

One in Brittany, France, the other in Cape Breton, Canada. One cleaned up in a month, the other untouched after four, with no cleanup in sight.

Here’s the TK Bremen shortly after it grounded on Kerminihy Beach, near Erdeven, Brittany, France, on December 11. 2011.

And here’s the M/V Miner after it grounded on Scatarie Island, Cape Breton, after a towing cable parted on September 14, 2011.

The much larger Miner was under tow, bound for a scrapyard in Aliaga, Turkey. Here are the two ships’ specifications:

M/V Miner TK Bremen
Launched 1965 1982
Type Bulk carrier General cargo & bulk carrier
Built in Quebec, Canada Pusan, South Korea
Length (LOA) 222.5 m 109 m
Beam 23 m 16 m
Draught 8.2 m 6.74 m
Gross tonnage 17,831 3,992
power 8,000 bhp 4,000 bhp
Shipwrecked on Sept 20, 2011 Dec 16, 2011
Shipwrecked at Scatarie Island, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada Kerminihy Beach, Erdeven, Brittany, France
Flag * Malta
Owner Pella Shipping Co., Thessaloniki, Greece Blue Atlantic Shipping Ltd., Malta


The Bremen was much more accessible than the Miner, having grounded on a mainland beach, while the Miner fetched up on remote, unpopulated, forbidding Scatarie Island. Though very different, the two areas share one thing in common besides shipwrecks: The dunes adjacent to Kerminihy Beach are a nature preserve, and Scatarie is a provincially protected wilderness area.

There the similarities end. As detailed in a photo spread on TheAtlantic.com website, 40 men worked day and night for two weeks to dismantle the Bremen and clean up the beach, at a cost of nearly €10 million euros (CDN$13.2 million).

“One month after the wreck,” reports The Atlantic, “the cleanup process is nearly complete.”

The French cleanup began:

The work continued:

Here’s all that remained of the TK Bremen as of Monday:

I won’t attempt to draw any lessons. I’m no expert, and the Miner is a much larger vessel in a much dicier location. But it may be worth noting that three weeks after the Miner went aground, NS Premier Darrell Dexter hadn’t been able to get any federal agency to take charge of the disaster. And I can’t recall any Canadian shipwreck being cleaned up the way France cleaned up the Bremen, let alone in two weeks flat.

Makes you wonder.

The website Boatnerd.com details numerous collisions, groundings, and accidents experienced by the Miner its previous incarnations as the Canadian Miner, the LeMoyne, and the Maplecliffe Hall. More information about the Miner here and here, and about the Bremen herehere, and here.

* According to Boatnerd, the Miner’s Canadian registry was cancelled last June. I was unable to determine its registry for the aborted trip to Turkey.

Dishing it out – feedback

Filmmaker Tony Comstock goes contrarian on Contrarian:

We’ve had a smattering of inbound links from the Dish going back to his days at Time, and our experience is that a link from Andrew Sullivan doesn’t generate the volume of inbound traffic, or the cash, it used to. Not nearly.

Whatever Tina paid Andy, I think he was smart to take it. I think he’s selling while his stock is high, and with more downside than upside. Business is, after all, business.

I’m not sure. One of the highest traffic days in Contrarian’s short history came fon an inbound link from the Dish — to Rosie the beagle’s obituary.  News stories about the Dish sale speculated that Andrew’s blog accounts one-quarter to one-third of TheAtlantic.com’s traffic.

The decision to sell does seem to have been all about money, a topic on which Andrew’s conspicuous silence continues.

Dishing it out, and out with The Dish

Andrew Sullivan, who writes the Daily Dish blog on The Atlantic‘s website, is one of these rare commentators who’s fun to read when you agree with him, more so when you don’t. If he weren’t the sole member of the selection committee, he’d be a perennial shoo-in for his own Yglesias Award, which honors partisans willing to criticize their own side when warranted.

In that spirit, I’ll register my disappointment at Sullivan’s recently announced decision to decamp for Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, which itself recently merged with the faded Newsweek.

sullivan-150CI’m a Dish addict, but following Sullivan to the Beast will be a tough slog. Tina Brown’s circus master tenure at the New Yorker tenure left a queasiness in my gut that bromides cannot erase. With the New York Times and The Guardian, The Atlantic is among a tiny handful of mainstream publications to embrace the internets with grace and wit. Andrew’s soon-to-be-former colleagues are too gentlemanly to say so, but that ought to have earned some loyalty. (Am I alone in reading a Zen subtext into their sparing au revoirs?)

Glenn Greenwald-125Coverage of the impending Dish-Beast nuptials in other media was notable for its lack of attention to the terms of the deal. When AOL bought Huffpo, the coverage was all about price. Not so when Brown and Colvin bought the Dish. (Andrew did not respond to an email asking about the financial details.)

But… onward and upward, as the pre-1992 New Yorker might have said. Who should fill the Dish space at TheAtlantic.com? I nominate Glenn Greenwald. Though superficially poles apart, he and Andrew share many qualities that make for great reading. Both are fearless, prolific, stubborn, indefatigable, diligent, whip-smart, and occasionally intemperate. Both read voluminously, with steely eyes for detail. Both harbor abiding respect for America’s battered democratic values. The Atlantic rightly prides itself on being a big tent operation, and Glenn would expand the canvas into welcome, and hitherto neglected, territory. Then again, maybe Greenwald feels some loyalty to Salon.com, which has hosted him for years.

Hey! Look over here! – updated

James Fallows

Contrarian regulars know of my admiration for the eclectic James Fallows, who writes and blogs for The Atlantic. James is in China this winter, finishing up a book, and while he does that, rotating squads of unterbloggers are filling in for him. I’m in the rotation this week, and I’ve posted three items so far:

A word about our sponsor

Meet Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim.

Alexander Graham Bell Defends His Butler.

My week of guest-blogging happens to fall amidst a crush of other work, so it’s unlikely I’ll get much posted here until things settle down. But I will alert you to posts at Jim’s site.

Japan’s found decade

Eamonn_Fingleton-150Eamonn Fingleton, an ex-pat Irish financial journalist who lives in Tokyo, takes a decidedly contrarian view of the Japanese economy. Far from stagnating for 20 years, as received media wisdom would have it, Japan’s economy has been ticking along just fine, he contends.

Guest-blogging for James Fallows at TheAtlantic.com website (where Contrarian will take a guest-blogging turn the week of March 14), Fingleton cites a couple of inconvenient facts in support of his analysis:

  • Japan’s current account surplus in 1990, regarded as the onset of its 20-year economic malaise, stood at $36 billion. By last year, it had risen to $194 billion.
  • Over the same 20-year period, the yen rose 65 percent against the US dollar, the strongest performance of any major currency.


How can such facts be reconciled with the “two lost decades” story? I don’t think they can. There is clearly a contradiction here, and after studying the facts on the ground in Tokyo for decades I find it hard to avoid the implausible-sounding conclusion that the  story of Japan’s stagnation is a media myth.

Certainly anyone who visits Japan these days is struck by the obvious affluence even among average citizens. The cars on the roads, for instance, are generally much larger and better equipped than in the 1980s (indeed state of the art navigation devices, for instance, are more or less standard on many models).  Overseas vacation travel has more than doubled since the 1980s. The Japanese boast the world’s most advanced cell phones, and the biggest and best high-definition television screens. Japan’s already long life expectancy has increased by nearly two years. Its Internet connections are some of the world’s fastest — something like ten times faster on average than American speeds.

The rest of  Fingleton’s argument is, to say the least, intriguing.