Letters to the Editor

September 2002

Cover of June 2002 Columns

Cover of March 2002 Columns

Self-Fulfilling Prophesies

I read (I couldn't finish) the article on "Reversal of Fortunes" (June 2002). It seems to be a study of someone who believes in inequality finding the same. What a surprise! I believe that today we can no longer afford to wallow in these tired old hacks from the '60s. If the author [Sociology Professor Martina Morris] spent as much time selling pharmaceuticals or some other new economy product as she does finding inequality, she would be spending her summers in the Hamptons and not writing books on self-fulfilling prophesies. Economic inequality comes from studying subjects in college that have no marketability in the real world, spending your spare time abusing recreational drugs or watching CNN tell you how you are being discriminated against or that you belong to some oppressed minority. Martina, get a life!

Tom Weekes, '72
Telluride, Colo.

An Exceptional Time

Brad Broberg ends his piece ["Reversal of Fortunes"] with this quote from Martina Morris: "It is not clear why people in this generation deserve so much less than their parents." Has it not occurred to them that their baseline was an exceptional time having nothing to do with what people deserve? In the early 1960s I was amazed at the growth of personal incomes. My parents and my grandparents worked longer and harder than I did with less financial result, across all levels of education. To paraphrase Morris: "It is not clear why people in my generation deserve so much more than our parents and grandparents."

Gordon LaZerte
Lake Forest Park

We Won't Have A Country Much Longer

I assert that the decline of the middle class ("Reversal of Fortunes") is caused by three policies: the low minimum wage, trade with low-wage countries, and open-door immigration.

During the past three decades, productivity has increased by about fifty percent, and household income has increased almost as much. But-most households now have two breadwinners, not one. No matter how you include benefits, wages have risen far less than productivity.

For those at the bottom, it's even worse. Around 1970, the minimum wage was $1.60 per hour. Adjusted for inflation, it would now be $7 or $8. Adjusted for productivity, it would be $11 or $12. Instead, it's a little over $5. Millions of people who work full-time in the most prosperous country in the world cannot afford basic necessities.

And if a corporation can move a plant to Mexico, Vietnam, or Indonesia, they don't have to obey any of our laws or regulations relating to wages and hours, worker safety, or environmental protection-those have essentially become voluntary.

As for jobs that can't be shipped overseas, or filled at the low minimum wage, there's immigration. Bring in workers from Mexico or some other corrupt, dictatorial nation-people willing to live in misery and work for next to nothing, in hopes their children or grandchildren might have a decent life.

One result-most of the violent crime in the U.S. takes place in desperately poor urban areas. If not for such ghettoes, our homicide rate would be about the same as that of Western Europe.

But the worst problem is the potential for violent revolution. It happened in France. It happened in Russia. It almost happened here, during the 1930s. If we don't do something to ensure America's prosperity is shared by all, we won't have a country much longer.

Karl Stengel, '81
Colorado Springs

Common Knowledge

The article "Reversal of Fortunes" is more evidence that you can call anything research so long as you use some statistics. Virtually everything stated in the article is common knowledge, which makes its impact questionable. Moreover, the reason why this situation exists can be easily explained.

For example, one major reason for the decline in average wages of college graduates is the type of degree being awarded. You can get bachelor degrees in fields such as consumer sciences, gender and ethnic studies, and general studies. Go take a look in the Sunday Seattle Times and count the number of want ads that say "degree in women studies preferred." Many of these graduates wind up working at the local Home Depot or at a shopping mall because the material they studied has no real relevance to any company's line of work. Since the degree is of no real use to the employer, the salary is the same as that of people with no college degree, which tends to be lower. It therefore follows that the average salary of college graduates decreases-despite the incredibly high starting salaries of engineers, accountants and computer scientists.

The situation with non-college graduates is equally easy to explain. Who has not heard about the pathetic quality of graduates from our public school system? Despite the influx of huge sums of money, a shockingly high number of high school graduates cannot read or do math at even a seventh grade level. What business is going to pay $15.00 an hour to someone who doesn't realize that showing up to work on time is not a just admirable goal, but a requirement?

The key to resolving this situation is not more money. Young people need to be indoctrinated with the idea that they don't get to call the shots-i.e., if you want decent wages, you must satisfy an employer's requirements and not the other way around. You need to be prepared with marketable skills. At the high school level this means developing a work ethic and an ability to read, write and some math ability beyond basic arithmetic. At the college level it means choosing a field of study that interest you, but one that will also appeal to potential employers. Sadly, too many college students don't really know why they are even in college. It is no wonder they are ill prepared for the business world- and their salaries show it.

Garrison Greenwood, '92
Warrenton, Ore.

Destroying Those Who Keep Us Afloat

I have read with interest the responses the magazine has received to the article "Reversal of Fortunes" [Letters to the Editor, Sept. 2002]. Each one of the respondents identified some issues that exist today, but none addressed the broader problem we face.

It is true that many high school graduates are deficient in knowledge; it is true that there are students who elect to major in a non-marketable subject; it is also true that there are some who use drugs, or just use their time at the university for entertainment, partying, etc. But, there are thousands upon thousands of serious high school and university graduates, who are intelligent, interested and committed to valuable professions; engineering, mathematics, sciences, literature, history, and so on. Yet they face an uncertain future with dwindling opportunities and declining salaries. Entry-level salaries are now on the decline, and many among those "good" university products cannot find jobs.

The reason for these conditions lie in the changing structure of the U.S. economy. The process of "out-sourcing" to the lowest bidder, and the fact that many businesses and industries place no value on intellectual property and on locally controlled manufacturing, are the main culprits, and they bode ill to the future of the U.S. economy.

Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric, introduced a philosophy (he may not be the first, but he is the most prominent one) that can be summarized in a few words: Everything can be bought; intellectual property has no value, and the cheaper the better. It is legitimate to out-source research and development, manufacturing and services, as long as it is cheaper, regardless of the loss of control over ones future.

Regretfully, many corporations follow in his footsteps. GE has at present research centers in China and India. This huge corporation's spending on R&D, measured as percent of sales, is currently the lowest among the "Top 100 R&D Spenders" (2001 - 1.6 percent), and one of the lowest in R&D dollar expenditure per employee ($6,387). Other companies, like Boeing, admire this myopic approach and emulate it. Its investment in R&D declined from 3.9 percent of sales in 2000 to 3.3 percent in 2001, and since sales declined from 2000 to 2001, the dollar decline is much more significant. Jobs in R&D, engineering and manufacturing, are shipped to Russia, China, South Africa, etc.

The potential consequences are disastrous. Loss of well paying manufacturing, science and engineering jobs, and the elimination of many other jobs which support them, will destroy the largest group of consumers in the US, the group that keeps the economy afloat. With their destruction, who will all the businesses sell their products to? To impoverished Africa perhaps? We, the largest economy in the world, and by far the largest consumers, are the engine that drives the economies of many other countries. A decline in the number of our well paying middle class jobs, due to the incessant search by corporations for "cheaper" (not better), will erode purchasing power of the population, and will eventually destroy our economy, decrease our living standards significantly, and destroy the economies of many other countries.

Isaiah Bier, '77

College Degree is Not a Job Guarantee

It is with great amusement I read the letters to the editor in the latest Columns discussing "Reversal of Fortunes." Who ever promised that you would get a high salaried job because you obtain a college degree? A college degree is a union card. It allows you to work at the very least.

I graduated in 1978 from UW. I earned my degree in communications. The reason I wanted to get that degree is because I was divorced with two children and I needed a job that allowed me to continue as an active and involved mother and to help support my two sons. I interviewed a vice president of Cole and Webber, an advertising and PR firm known nationwide, and asked if I would be hired on the basis of my resume and experience without a college degree. He said, "There are so many people who apply and they are all qualified to some degree. There is no question that you could do the job but you would have to compete first on paper and not having a degree, while many others do, would disqualify you from the pool of prospects." So, I got my degree.

Subsequently, I worked effectively in a number of areas, but never made a high salary because I always opted for the more interesting, yet less lucrative job. I made enough to have an interesting life and successfully raised my two sons. I worked for two gubernatorial campaigns, Booth Gardner and Barbara Roberts, among other jobs. I worked in the Oregon Senate as a legislative aide for five years and now work with my partner in a small jewelry importing and wholesale business.

I didn't expect my degree to give me high paying job. ... The most useful class I took at the UW was communications theory, which at the time seemed rather esoteric, but it gave me a way to understand how to relate to people effectively. The UW degree did not give me a job nor did it give me a career-it gave me a way to solve problems. It helped me see ways to define the problems, set goals and develop methods to achieve those goals. It helped me cope with today's responsibilities as an active participant in government. It helped me understand how to appreciate what I see in other countries and cultures. I have more confidence in tackling big problems because I learned that I could. These are just a few of the things I gained from my time at the UW.

Minimum wage increases and jobs kept in the U.S. are not effective quick fixes to poor paying jobs. I agree with Mr. Stengel, that we must be responsive to the problems felt by many young families trying to earn a living wage, but I disagree on the solutions. As a society we are letting too many children fall behind without adequate health care, food and adult supervision due to all types conditions besides drug use and alcoholism. We need to improve our ability to work together to find realistic, practical political solutions if we want to avoid violence and chaos. Like it or not, the world has grown smaller and we cannot continue to use the world's resources for frivolous lifestyles to merely keep our economy moving. It is time to start preparing for a future.

A better future for the young people of our country should be a common goal. It is my hope that a college degree will mean that more people will develop better, practical and realistic political solutions and find nonviolent methods for change. We need to learn to apply our growing knowledge of the natural world to the reality of decreasing natural resources effectively in order to carry forward a society capable of great and proud traditions.

Laurel Whitehurst, '78
Vancouver, Wash.

Classes of Life and Death

Regarding Anthropology Professor James Green's "death class" in the most recent Columns ["Top of Their Class," June 2002], here's my idea. Why not have an anthropology class titled "Life Class"? And why not the "Joy of Living" class? I have always thought having your own funeral, before you die, was a good idea, but writing your own obituary is terrific.

David J. Keen, '72

Good-Bye 'Hello Lane'

Thanks for the nice March issue ["A Place Apart"]. I go to Seattle each summer and see the behemoth campus from I-5. It looks so crowded over there—more than I can believe. It was a pleasant relief to have you point out that there are some old places I remember fondly.

... "Hello Lane" ["Letters," June 2002] started out straight and was quickly subverted by some French wag who apostrophized it to "L'ane" (in French an ass, fool, ninny, dummy, etc.) The bloom was gone. Perhaps in '40 or '41, it ran from the northeast corner of the Quad toward Lewis or Clark halls. You were supposed to say "hello." Many did. There were 10,000 of us then.

I do enjoy the magazine far better than the old (slightly) humorous magazine of the same name.

Duane Matterson, '42
Pacific Grove, Calif.


Johnny Lee Louie, the first UW student-athelete to die of a sports-related injury. Photo courtesy of the Shoreline Historical Museum.

Johnny Lee Louie, the first UW student-athelete to die of a sports-related injury. Photo courtesy of the Shoreline Historical Museum.

Columns was in error when we said Curtis Williams was the first student-athlete at the UW to die of a sports-related injury ("Campus Mourns as Football Player Dies at 24," June 2002). Johnny Lee Louie, a 20-year-old high jumper on the 1965 track team, died Jan. 20, 1965, one day after being hit in the head with a 16-pound shot put during track practice at Edmundson Pavilion. Louie was a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and had lettered in track during the previous season. The accident occurred when Louie completed a practice jump in the high-jump pit and then ran past the shot-put barrier and into the path of a metal ball thrown by a teammate.

Also, the article "Tunnel Creator Honored by Scholarship" (March 2002) incorrectly stated that the Mitchell Point tunnel in Oregon served as a primary route across the Columbia until 1937. The Mitchell Point Tunnel ran along, not across, the Columbia River about 58 miles east of Portland on the Columbia River Highway. The tunnel was closed in the early 1950s when traffic was rerouted along a new, water-level route. It was destroyed in 1966 to make room for widening a nearby segment of that water-level route.

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Brief letters are more likely to be published; longer letters may be edited. Please include a daytime phone number.

Editor, Columns Magazine, 1415 N.E. 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98105
fax to (206) 685-0611

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