6 months ago

Celebrating labor

Labor Day was established as a national holiday 125 years ago, championed by labor unions. Despite unions’ recent decline, we should still celebrate work. The market for labor is an important element of the liberal society, and peoples’ willingness to work for a living makes our economy function.

The decline of unions in America has been remarkable. Over 30% of workers were unionized in the 1950s, versus 10% in 2018. The private sector unionization rate is only 6.4% – about one out of 16 workers. A number of factors explain this change, like the decline in manufacturing employment; America still manufactures as much as ever, just with fewer workers due to automation. The shift of jobs to Southern right-to-work states has also contributed.

Less remarked is a more conciliatory approach to labor relations by management. The U.S. labor movement was always more about job conditions than politics. Americans formed unions over specific grievances; when management stopped offending workers, the demand for unionization declined.

The existence of a market for labor is significant, regardless of whether unions represent workers. Liberalism, in both its classical and modern forms, views individuals as possessing moral value, not means to other peoples’ ends. Liberalism transformed politics, from people serving the emperor, king, or dictator, to government for the people.

Throughout most of human history, some people have forced others to work for them as slaves, serfs, or conscripts. Forced labor implies unequal moral worth; Egypt’s pharaohs could make thousands of people build pyramids. Slavery persisted in the United States (and other nations) until the 19th Century. Twentieth Century authoritarian governments forced citizens to do their bidding.

The labor market assumes that everyone is free. The rich and powerful cannot force others to work for them; instead they must offer enough compensation to secure willing assistance. An unpleasant or dangerous task will require greater compensation. And people can leave one job for a better one.

Markets ensure that commercial interactions are based on mutual agreement. We need food, clothing and shelter to survive, and want more than the necessities of life. In the market, the suppliers of goods and services cannot be forced to produce for us. We must trade for the things we want, and for most of us, what we have to trade is money earned from a job.

The functioning of a market economy requires that people accept working for a living. We face a lifetime of working to afford the things we need. Accepting the need to work is a moral choice, to live through production and exchange as opposed to begging, borrowing, or stealing. One beneficial trend over the past fifty years has been the emergence of jobs resembling play more than work, like freelance writers, college football recruiting gurus, and YouTubers. But for millions of Americans, work is hard, exhausting, stressful, boring, and dangerous.

Widespread acceptance of the work imperative may be eroding. One sign of erosion is the decline in labor force participation for men aged 25 to 54. Anecdotes of college graduates living with their parents and not working are also troubling. And interest in a Universal Basic Income for all Americans reflects, I think, a hope that work may soon be optional.

Working for a living entails many costs: being away from family during the day, commuting to and from work, and being tired after work. It means relegating many enjoyable activities to weekends and vacations. Of course, work can also be a source of challenge and accomplishment as well as where we meet new friends. But it is called work for a reason.

Erosion of the work imperative makes our economy less productive and may undermine the freedom underlying the labor market. Our nation has relied on an all-volunteer military, the appropriate way to defend a free nation, since 1973. The willingness of enough volunteers is crucial here; failing to meet recruiting targets would likely produce pressure to reinstate a draft. The same dynamic could be in play in the larger economy. This is another reason to celebrate work this Labor Day.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

32 mins ago

Human clinical study begins at UAB for groundbreaking brain tumor treatment

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) continues to evolve as a worldwide leader in biomedicine, research and innovation.

Incysus Therapeutics, Inc., a Birmingham-based biopharmaceutical company, has now announced the initiation of a Phase 1 clinical study of a novel Drug Resistant Immunotherapy (DRI) technology for the treatment of patients with newly-diagnosed glioblastoma.

This trial is being conducted at UAB and is now active and open for enrollment.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM or glioblastoma) is a devastating and fast-growing brain tumor that typically results in death within the first 15 months after diagnosis. GBM is inherently resistant to conventional therapy and accounts for approximately 52% of all primary brain tumors.

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A release from the company outlined Incysus’ innovative DRI approach, which seeks to combine conventional chemotherapies with a γδ T cell-based immunotherapy to modify the tumor microenvironment and drive the immune system. By using alkylating agents such as temozolomide, chemotherapy can activate immunity through the upregulation of the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway. A significant challenge is that such chemotherapies also kill the white blood cells needed to drive an immune response. Incysus’ technology “chemo-protects” immune cells to allow them to remain functional while DDR activation creates an immune signal that allows directed killing activity against cancer cells.

Incysus is the first company to use this type of therapy in patients, and the research marks a landmark moment for Incysus, the overall biotech industry in Birmingham and anti-cancer research across the globe.

Dr. L. Burt Nabors, MD, the co-head of neuro-oncology at UAB and the study’s principal investigator, stated, “The initiation of this clinical trial represents a significant milestone towards developing effective immune-based therapies for the treatment of GBM. We are pleased to work with … the team at Incysus to bring this innovative therapy to patients for the first time.”

Further information on the clinical trial is available here.

Incysus is a UAB spinoff company. Its success in the Magic City — and this kind of potentially revolutionary research spearheaded by UAB — is a prime example of why many legislative and industry leaders in the state, especially in the Birmingham area, are calling on Governor Kay Ivey to fund a world-class genomics facility at the university. They argue that the project could make Birmingham the “Silicon Valley of Biomedicine.”

RELATED: Planned UAB genomics project could make Birmingham the ‘Silicon Valley of Biomedicine’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

52 mins ago

Amendment One puts kids first, politicians last

When Alabamians take the to the polls on Super Tuesday, they will either be concerned with the Democratic nominee for President of the United States or the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. More important to the future of Alabama is a constitutional amendment that would end our current model of a popularly elected state school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.

Supporters of Amendment 1 argue that this would be a major step in improving Alabama’s permanent residence at the bottom of the education barrel. As it is currently designed and managed, the state board of education is doing very little to improve the quality of education in the state. Board members are trying, but clearly nothing is working very well. Supporters of the amendment argue a shake up is the best hope for improving education in Alabama. In some respects the argument does not go far enough. That is because the current process creates negative incentives for board members; because they hold their office at the behest of voters, there is every incentive for them to avoid upsetting their constituents.

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That is the chief problem with the board as it is currently construed. Board members are not uncaring or ignorant or irresponsible. Instead, they respond to the whims and wishes of voters or other powerful political interests. No matter what politicians say, they are inevitably swayed by the whispers of voters and donors. Not because they are corrupt, but because they are human. All people are prone to this, which is why the framers of the Constitution created a system that checked and balanced one human tendency against another. It’s true that voters can provide a check on board members, but that argument does not account for an additional problem.

The second problem with the current system is that voters have limits to their knowledge about education in our state. Committed parents and citizens can often learn a lot about their own schools and school districts, but rarely does even the most passionate citizen have the time and mental energy to devote beyond that. Should Amendment 1 pass, the state Senate would have a direct responsibility to ensure that the governor appoints quality people to the board, but also to make certain that the Board is making progress in evaluating and improving the quality of education in our state.

Critics argue that an appointed board would lend itself to cronyism. That’s possible, but the executive and legislative branch often have competing interests, even when they share the same partisan and ideological commitments. Those competing concerns would help smooth over concerns about patronage and cronyism. Still, the amendment will not be an easy transition given the natural tendency of politicians towards vanity and self-promotion. The current system is of a worse nature, however, as it leaves the governor and senate almost powerless to impact education policy, which is instead run by another group of politicians with little incentive to do anything that might upset the voters who put them there.

But shouldn’t voters have a say in these matters? No, at least not directly. This is because education policy is a difficult matter, and it is hard for voters to adjudicate the success or failures of these policies beyond the very narrow window of their own experience. It’s fine that we elect local school boards; they are indeed local, and voters often see those board members at church or line at Piggly Wiggly. Only the most politically involved voters are likely to have any encounter with their board members, who are busy juggling very difficult conflicts within their own districts. Each district contains such a variety of constituents that it is almost impossible for board members to adequately address those concerns, instead pandering to the one or two constituencies most likely to keep the member in office.

There is a final reason to support Amendment 1. A central feature of modern politics is the tendency of politicians to see themselves as mouthpieces instead of statesmen. Some of that is natural but other parts of it are due to the incentive structure within our own government. This is as true in Montgomery as it is in Washington D.C., and Alabamians should care far more about the goings-on in our state capital than in our nation’s capital. Since our legislature is stripped of any real influence in state education policy and therefore little accountability to voters, it leaves them free to demagogue and pander on the issue without really having to stand before the voters and take account for their time in office. The same is true for the governor. By making the governor and the state senate responsible for staffing the state school board as part of an ongoing process of appointment and confirmation, these branches of our government would finally have real skin in the game. The success of our schools would be their success, and the failure of our schools would be theirs, also.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

1 hour ago

Gary Palmer honors the late NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson on House floor

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) honored Katherine Johnson with a speech in the House chamber on Thursday.

Johnson, who passed away recently at the age of 101, was one of America’s most important mathematicians in the space race. She pioneered a place for African-American women at NASA and was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

“Despite intense discrimination throughout her years at NASA she remained committed to advancing America’s space program,” said Palmer during his speech in her honor.

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“She hand-calculated the flight path for America’s first crewed space mission in 1961, and also helped calculate the trajectory for the famed 1969 moon landing,” continued Palmer.

Palmer also recounted the famous anecdote when astronaut John Glenn was about to become the first American to orbit Earth and he demanded that Johnson do the calculations for his mission. Glenn trusted Johnson more than he trusted NASA’s new computer system.

Watch:

“I stand with my colleagues in the House and with countless other Americans in gratitude for Mrs. Johnson’s hard work and pioneering spirit that have undoubtedly made our country a better place,” Palmer concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Shelby, Jones introduce legislation to make Alabama’s Black Belt a National Heritage Area

U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Doug Jones (D-AL) have introduced legislation to establish the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area, authorizing 19 counties in the Yellowhammer State’s Black Belt Region as an official National Heritage Area (NHA).

The bill – entitled the “Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act” and designated S.3363 – would allow for federal funding to be directed to the region over the span of 15 years. U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Mike Rogers (AL-03), Terri Sewell (AL-07) and Martha Roby (AL-02) have introduced a companion bill in the lower chamber, underscoring the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the effort.

“Designating Alabama’s Black Belt region as a National Heritage Area will not only promote tourism, but it will also increase public awareness of the natural, historical, and cultural assets our state has to offer,” Shelby said in a statement on Friday.

“Investing in this region to preserve these unique and diverse resources is important for future generations. If passed, this legislation could have significant impact for years to come,” he added.

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NHAs are partnerships between the National Park Service (NPS), states and local entities to protect and support conservation and public access. Through public-private partnerships, NHAs create a diverse, community-driven approach to increase heritage conservation, economic development, recreation and tourism. Currently, the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area is the only NHA in the state.

“Alabama’s Black Belt counties were originally named due to the area’s rich, black topsoil,” Jones stated. “While that is still an accurate depiction of the area, another is of the Black Belt’s rich history and culture. The 19 counties that make up Alabama’s Black Belt has been home to some of our greatest artists, writers, and leaders. This legislation will help preserve and celebrate this historic region through much needed investment.”

The established area would include Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington and Wilcox Counties.

The legislation names the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama (UWA) as the local management entity. The designation of a local entity, like UWA, ensures its ability to address the interests and needs of those in the surrounding communities, according to Shelby’s office.

Shelby introduced similar legislation during the 111th Congress and the 113th Congress.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council endorses Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race

Friday, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Council announced its endorsement of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race.

The National ICE Council represents approximately 7,600 officers, agents and employees who work for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) throughout the United States and its territories and possessions.

The National ICE Council endorsement comes just days before Alabama Republicans are set to vote in the party’s primary on Tuesday.

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“On behalf of the men and women of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, we’re proud to endorse Jeff Sessions for Senate in the State of Alabama,” Chris Crane, president of the ICE Council, said in a statement. “We know Jeff Sessions and we know what he stands for. As the United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions led the fight against sanctuary cities and illegal immigration, and was an unwavering champion of law enforcement officers across the nation. As a U.S. Senator, Jeff Sessions was the strongest supporter in the U.S. Congress of ICE, its mission, and its employees. We have no doubt that Senator Sessions will pick up right where he left off – standing up for law enforcement and the enforcement of our laws. We know he will continue to lead the fight against sanctuary cities that threaten our communities and endanger our law enforcement personnel across the country. And we know that he will keep fighting against radical open border policies that threaten our national security.”

“Jeff Sessions has always stood up to The Swamp and always worked to hold Washington accountable,” he added. “We need him now more than ever to stand up for what’s right and stand with President Trump to keep America safe.”

Sessions applauded the endorsement in a statement of his own, and warned of the threat sanctuary cities, open borders and illegal immigration pose to the nation.

“The men and women who serve with the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement are honorable law enforcement officers who serve at the center of this nation’s effort to end illegal immigration,” Sessions said. ‘I am honored beyond words to have the ICE Council’s strong endorsement. We have fought side by side against the powerful, special interest forces that constantly work to further the lawlessness that is occurring at the border. We stood side by side in the effort to elect President Trump. Sanctuary cities and open borders are a threat to our nation. They encourage illegal immigration, protect dangerous criminal gangs, and undermine the rule of law.”

“I am extremely proud of this endorsement,” he added. “No organization has been more committed to law and our national sovereignty than the ICE officers. Their endorsement is therefore extremely valuable. I believe the people of Alabama should recognize how important this endorsement is in understanding who can be most effective in the Senate. I have fought to stop sanctuary cities and I will not rest until our immigration laws are enforced and dangerous aliens are taken off the streets.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.