“To Be Sold: a Negro Man”

On Christmas Day, 1773, we published the advertisement seen below, alerting readers of their opportunity to purchase “a Negro Man.” This ad, and others like it, helped our founder, Daniel Fowle, stay in business.

We were reminded of this by Monday’s tweet from The Adverts 250 Project [adverts250project.org], which bills itself as “An Exploration of Advertising During the Era of the American Revolution, 250 Years Ago This Week.”

This abhorrent practice was routine at the time. Most papers did it. On the day this ad appeared, the South Carolina and American General Gazette [1758 – 1782] published 21 ads related to the trade in people: slaves for sale, slaves wanted for purchase, and rewards for the return of runaways. Often these ads ended with the line, “inquire of the printer.” In such cases the printers personally and privately steered buyers to sellers.

According to a spreadsheet generously shared by Jordan Taylor, a leading scholar on this topic, we published a total of 37 such ads in the years 1757 through 1779. But Daniel Fowle, our founder and a collateral ancestor of our editor, did more than just facilitate the slave trade. He profited directly from enslaved labor through most of his career. He worked his African pressman so hard that Primus lost his ability to stand fully upright.

The Dublin-born Reverend Arthur Browne* [1699 – 1773] in the ad shown here was the first Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, organized in 1732. He seems to have had at least three enslaved servants, since, according to the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire [BHTNH], in addition to the nameless Negro Man in the ad, he also bequeathed one negro man each to his wife and his nephew. Fans of irony will be pleased to know that his former Rectory at 222 Court St. now serves as the headquarters of BHTNH.

It is an article of faith in certain political circles that acknowledging this truth is difficult or harmful, so much so that laws are being passed which outlaw the teaching of these truths in public schools in order to spare the feelings of school children.

According to this line of thinking—and given this newspaper’s direct connection to the slave trade, and the lasting benefit it has brought to us—we should be too ashamed to show our face. To the contrary, though, we find reading this history and writing about it to be deeply rewarding. Such opportunities to illuminate both the past and the present don’t come along every day.

The only shameful thing we see here is a transparent attempt by cynical adults to hold onto power by whitewashing history—hiding behind schoolchildren all the while.

* The Reverend’s son, Arthur Browne, Jr., born in Portsmouth in 1743, joined the Army at 16 and became an artilleryman. He was at General Wolfe’s side when he received his fatal wound on the Plains of Abraham. When Browne died in 1827, he was the last survivor of that battle. “Upwards of five thousand friends, gentlemen, and peasantry, were assembled to pay their last mournful respects to this inestimable veteran.” – Naval and Military Magazine, June 1827

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What’s New at the DLD?

For many years we mocked the Portsmouth Herald as “The Award-Winning Local Daily.” Then, at the suggestion of one of our volunteer distributors [Hiya, Murph!] we modified that bit of shorthand by dropping the no-longer-operative “Local.” New developments require a new acronym. We hereby announce DLD—short for the Dying Local Daily.

Now we are sad to speculate that the Portsmouth Herald may not be long for this world. Readers should, of course, bear in mind that, at 267 years and counting, we are accustomed to taking the long view. We have no inside track here. And we’re not suggesting that it’s time to start buying souvenirs. Certainly not at $2.99 a pop!

No, the paper which was once the apple of Fernando Wood Hartford’s eye will stumble forward for some indeterminate time to come. But its odds of making it to the end of this decade look pretty slim.

Like his backer Frank Jones had some nearly half a century earlier, F.W. Hartford [1872 – 1938] came to town in the 1890s and really shook things up. With Jones’s money he bought the Penny Press, which he later re-named the Portsmouth Herald. At the time the town had seven newspapers. By the time Hartford got through buying competitors and shutting them down, there were only two: The Herald and yours truly.

His motive was, of course, money. In Hartford’s heyday, and for decades after, newspapers were licenses to print the stuff. Their return on investment was the envy of other sectors. Why share? In addition to being the local media baron, Hartford served half a dozen terms as Mayor.

His son, Justin Downing Hartford, had grand plans when he took over, which seem to have largely been unrealized. His own demise resulted, a few years later, in the sale of the Herald—and the Gazette—to Canadian mogul Lord Kenneth of Fleet. But we digress….

In February of 2007, the Herald proudly announced that it was leaving its Maplewood Avenue digs—purpose-built on land cleared by the North End Urban Renewal project it had touted in its pages—for a “new $21 million, 70,000-square-foot facility at 111 New Hampshire Ave. in the Pease International Tradeport.”

Those shiny new Goss Magnums had their last run just sixteen years later, on March 19th of this year. Since then the paper has been printed in either Auburn, Mass., a little southwest of Worcester, or in Providence, Rhode Island. As a result, the time between deadline and delivery is stretched by about two hours. For a daily, that makes a difference—or it would, if the news was timely.

So, what is the latest in this sad saga? That “new $21 million, 70,000-square-foot facility at 111 New Hampshire Ave.” has now been vacated completely. The paper’s news and advertising staff have schlepped over to Suite 330, 210 Commerce Way. For those unfamiliar with the Portsmouth Office Park, that’s behind the Market Basket on Woodbury Avenue.

That news was depressing enough, but what stirred us to write this premature obituary was the headline of an alleged news story published on the Herald’s website on Tuesday: “Study Finds Amazon Has Lowest Online Prices.” The byline? Amazon.

For publishing such an insult to its readers, one could argue, the Herald’s right to exist should be declared null and void.

That may be a moot point, though. The current owner has long since fired most of the paper’s staff. Now it has sold off the real estate and pocketed the proceeds. What’s left but to discard the husk?

We see two possibilities here for bold, community-minded locals. They could raise some scratch and make an offer while the carcass is still twitching. Or, they could step in, unencumbered by history, deliver a coup de grâce, and start from scratch. What ever happened to the gang that put out that gorgeous one-off broadsheet in 1999 or thereabouts? What was it called? The Piscataqua Times? Bat Signal time!

But, make an offer to whom? Gannett? Or its owner, SoftBank Group, the $300 billion Japanese holding company?

We say go directly to the top: SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son. “Known for his eccentricity and criticized because of his hubris,” according to Wikipedia, “his sanity has been questioned in the media prompting him to reply with humorous assent.”

Sounds like a man with whom one might bargain.

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Lurching around town as the solstice approached, our Wandering Photographer managed to steady himself long enough [1/1250th of a second] to capture this image of the North Church steeple, just minutes before sunset—which, on that day, December 16th, occurred at the ungodly hour of 4:08 p.m. Whatever other horrors may beset us in fortnights to come, for the next several months, nights will be shorter and days will be longer.

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Ten Victories for the Working Class in 2023

From the picket lines to state houses to the White House, champions in the fight against inequality landed huge wins.

by Sarah Anderson

Looking for something positive to celebrate on New Year’s Eve? Consider lifting a glass to the hardworking people behind these inspiring victories of 2023.

1. The ‘Year of the Strike’

More than half a million American workers walked off the job this year. In October, companies lost more workdays to strikes than in any month during the past 40 years.

Big 3 auto workers, Hollywood writers and actors, Las Vegas and Los Angeles hotel staff, and Kaiser Permanente health care employees were among those who used strikes to score big bargaining table wins. For UPS drivers, the mere threat of a Teamsters strike was enough to secure historic wage hikes and safety protections.

After renewing contracts with Ford, GM, Stellantis, and UPS, the UAW and the Teamsters doubled down on efforts to organize the unorganized. The Teamsters picketed outside 25 Amazon warehouses, demanding a fair contract for unionized drivers at a California-based delivery service for the notoriously anti-union retailer. The UAW set their sights on non-unionized car companies, causing so much indigestion among Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai executives that they immediately hiked wages for their U.S. employees.

2. Black workers organizing in the south

To move the needle on the country’s dismally low 6 percent unionization rate, the labor movement will need to make inroads in tough territory, particularly in historically anti-union southern states that have been magnets for investment.

Two union victories in 2023 are the latest proof that this goal is not impossible. The United Steelworkers won an election at a Blue Bird bus factory in Georgia with nearly 1,500 predominantly Black workers. In three Alabama cities, AT&T Mobility workers at In Home Expert hubs joined the Communications Workers of America.

3. A crack in the anti-union tech sector

The past year also saw union progress in another historically union-averse territory: the tech sector. Earlier this month, Microsoft forged an agreement with the AFL-CIO to remain neutral in organizing drives among their U.S.-based workers. This will make it easier for about 100,000 Microsoft employees to unionize, with potential ripple effects across the industry.

4. New trifecta states

In Michigan and Minnesota, pro-worker state legislators hit the ground running after Democrats won state trifectas in 2022.

Minnesota passed a blizzard of pro-labor reforms, including paid sick leave for most workers, minimum pay and benefits for nursing home staff, and wage theft protections for construction workers. Teachers will be able to negotiate over class sizes and nurses will have a greater say in staffing levels. The new laws also ban non-compete agreements and “captive audience” meetings designed to undercut union support.

This year Michigan became the first state in six decades to roll back anti-union “right-to-work” laws. They also restored a “prevailing wage” law requiring construction contractors to pay union wages and benefits on state-funded projects.

5. Cities lead the way on low-wage worker protections

The federal minimum wage for tipped workers has been stuck at $2.13 since 1991. In that vacuum, states and cities are taking action. This year, restaurant servers and other advocates in the nation’s capital successfully beat back last-ditch industry attempts to undercut a victorious 2022 ballot initiative to phase out the local subminimum tipped wage. After a multi-year, hard-fought campaign, DC’s tipped workers got their first raise this past summer, putting them on track to earn the full local minimum wage by 2027. The Chicago City Council also passed a five-year tipped wage phaseout plan, set to begin in 2024.

App-based delivery drivers in New York City had to fight back in 2023 against Uber, DoorDash, and other corporations’ efforts to block introduction of the nation’s first minimum wage for their occupation. Gig companies finally lost their legal challenges to the pay rule in late November. Delivery driver pay rose to $17.96 an hour on December 4 and will increase to $19.96 when the legislation takes full effect in 2025.

6. College campuses as labor hotbeds

Organizing among graduate and medical students continued to explode in 2023, with the highest number of union elections among these groups than in any year since the 1990s. In the first four months of 2023 alone, over 14,000 graduate students on five campuses voted to join the United Electrical union — all by margins of over 80 percent. Campuses across the country coordinated organizing efforts through a series of teach-ins and other events under the banner of Labor Spring, an initiative that will continue in 2024.

7. Stock buyback blowback

Many of the labor battles of 2023 skewered corporate executives for underpaying workers while blowing money on stock buybacks, a financial maneuver that artificially inflates CEO stock-based pay. Two precedent-setting federal policies to rein in buybacks also took effect in 2023. For the first time, corporations faced a one percent excise tax on buybacks. The Biden administration also began giving companies a leg up in the competition for new semiconductor subsidies if they agree to forgo all stock buybacks for five years. This important precedent should be expanded to all companies receiving any form of public funds.

8. Collective bargaining requirements on federally funded construction projects

With megabillions in new public investment flowing into infrastructure projects, it’s critical that the administration ensure these taxpayer dollars support good jobs. This week, Biden officials took an important step forward by finalizing regulations requiring the use of “project labor agreements” between employers and workers for large federal construction projects. The terms of these pre-hire collective bargaining agreements must cover all parties — contractors, subcontractors, and unions. This important rule should be expanded beyond construction to contractors that provide goods and other services.

9. Trashing “junk” fees

Working class Americans fork out tens of billions of dollars every year on deceptive, hidden charges that raise the cost of banking and internet services, concerts and movies, rental cars and apartments, and more. In October, President Joe Biden announced a plan to put these “junk fees” where they belong—in the trash.

Under the plan, the Federal Trade Commission aims to force companies to disclose the total price of goods and services up front and slap violators with big fines. This will mean no hidden fees — and more money in working families’ pockets.

10. NLRB rulings on Amazon and Starbucks

Anyone wondering whether our labor laws need fixing need look no further than the fact that Starbucks and Amazon have been able to get away with refusing to negotiate with workers who voted to unionize for well more than a year. (Two years for the path-breaking Buffalo, New York Starbucks workers). On the positive side, Biden appointees at the National Labor Relations Board seem to be making the most of their current authority and capacity.

In August, the labor board issued a ruling that will make union-busting harder in cases where a majority of workers have signed union cards but the employer still demands an election. Under the ruling, bosses who engage in unfair labor practices in these situations will now be forced to recognize and bargain with the union without an election.

In the meantime, the NLRB is continuing to try to hold Starbucks and Amazon accountable for rampant labor rights violations. The board has 240 open or settled charges against Amazon in 26 states and they’ve issued more than 100 complaints against Starbucks, covering hundreds of accusations of threats or retaliation against union supporters and failure to bargain in good faith. Most recently, the NLRB ordered the reopening of 23 Starbucks cafes, alleging the company had closed them to suppress union activity, in violation of federal law.

Reflecting on 2023, Starbucks barista and union organizer Shep Searl marveled at how diverse workers, “from Teamsters to actors,” demonstrated that there are many ways to win through collective action.

“Every day, we’ve been absorbing that information and utilizing it in our mobilization and escalation plan,” Searl told Inequality.org. “We aren’t going anywhere and so much of that is inspired by the other campaigns. If we stand together, there’s no mountain we cannot climb.”

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Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project and co-edits Inequality.org at the Institute for Policy Studies. This work first appeared at https://inequality.org/, and is published here under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

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Towering forty feet above the usual horde of free-spending passersby, this magnificent conifer, a spruce, we suspect, has, like the proverbial lily, been gilded, as it were, with festoons of myriad lights. Whether they be the traditional incandescent sort, or newfangled light-emitting diodes, we are unable to say due to our own lamentable sloth. We can, however, assure our readers that the tree is, judging by the City’s website, non-denominational.

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The National Debt, Tax Farming, and Patent Monopolies

by Dean Baker

It increasingly looks like the Fed and the Biden administration have nailed the notoriously difficult soft landing, with inflation rapidly falling towards the Fed’s 2.0 percent target and the unemployment rate still under 4.0 percent. All the signs are that the economy will continue to grow and create jobs at a healthy pace in 2024 and that inflation will remain moderate for the foreseeable future.

With near-term economic prospects looking pretty damn good, we can be sure that the deficit hawks will soon be coming out of the woodwork. We can count on being regaled with talk of unprecedented levels of debt and deficits. We will hear of the need for cutting Social Security and Medicare, or cries for the creation of another deficit commission, which is the backdoor way of cutting Social Security and Medicare.

Since we all know what’s coming, we should arm ourselves with knowledge of tax farming. You’re probably wondering what tax farming is, and what it has to do with our current debt and deficit situation. In an odd way, it can tell us a great deal about how we should think about our deficits and especially our debt.

Tax farming was the practice of selling off the right to collect a specific tax. It was a common practice in pre-revolutionary France and in many other countries in prior centuries. The idea was that the government set a tax, say a customs duty on the goods that came through a specific port, and then sold off the right to collect the tax to a specific person. This gave the government an immediate infusion of cash, although it meant that it did not have access to the future revenue from the tax.

We actually still have similar practices. For example, back in 2008, Chicago’s then mayor, Richard M. Daley, sold off the right to collect revenue from city parking meters for the next 75 years for $1.16 billion. This gave Daley money to pay the bills in 2008 but cut off a stream of revenue to the city for the next seven and a half decades.

What is neat about the practice of tax farming is that the loss of revenue does not appear as debt on the ledgers. Obviously, if we are doing long-term projections of the city’s finances we would have to take account of the lost revenue stream, but the money the city got for selling the right to collect revenue from parking meters does not appear as a loan and add to the city’s debt. Nor do the payments going to the parking meter company count as an expenditure by the city, as would be the case with interest on a loan, so they do not directly add to the deficit from that side.

If we were looking at the city of Chicago’s budget the way we typically look at the federal budget, selling off the revenue from the parking meters was an absolutely brilliant move. The city effectively got a $1.16 billion loan without adding to its debt. That means the people yelling about an exploding debt or rising debt to GDP ratios would have nothing to say on this one. The debt did not rise.

Similarly, we don’t have to pay interest on this loan. That means when we are complaining about the rising interest burden, and how interest is becoming the largest item in the federal budget, we’re good with the parking meter deal. There are no interest payments here.

From Parking Meters to Government-Granted Patent Monopolies

I trust that even economists can understand how selling off the revenue from parking meters was effectively a loan to the city, but we managed to keep it off the books so that it doesn’t give deficit hawks anything to complain about. It turns out that government-granted patent and copyright monopolies are largely the same story.

At the most basic level, a patent monopoly or its cousin, copyright monopoly, is a way that the government pays people to do things. In the case of a patent monopoly, we are paying people to innovate. We tell them if they develop a new product or process, the government will give them a monopoly for a period of time, so that they can charge much more than the free market price. With copyrights, we are paying them to do creative work, like write a book, sing a song, or make a movie, or develop software. (Due to changes in the law in the 1990s, software is eligible for both patent and copyright protection.)

In this sense, these monopolies are different from the parking meter revenue sale, but in a way that should get the deficit hawks even more concerned. The parking meter revenue sale did not involve any direct economic activity, except for the relatively small number of people involved in negotiating the deal and transferring the money. It did not add $1.16 billion to GDP in 2008.

By contrast, patent and copyright monopolies actually do directly stimulate economic activity. We are giving out these monopolies precisely because we want people to spend time and money innovating and doing creative work. They do add to GDP.

This should matter a great deal to people worried about deficits. Remember, the problem with a large deficit is that it creates too much demand in the economy. The economy can’t produce enough to meet the demand being created by the deficit. This means that either we get inflation, or the Fed has to raise interest rates to reduce demand.

If government-granted patent and copyright monopolies are boosting demand, that should make us every bit as concerned as if the government was boosting demand with a large deficit. Incredibly, the deficit hawks literally never say a word about the demand created as a result of patent and copyright monopolies.

Patent and Copyright Monopolies and Government Debt

The value of these government-granted monopolies also doesn’t appear on the books as part of the government-debt. This means, incredibly, that we could double the length of all patent and copyright monopolies (even retroactively to ones already granted, as we have done repeatedly with copyrights) and not add a dollar to the government debt.

The payments that result from these monopolies are similar to the payments made to the parking meter company or the tax farmers. They are effectively taxes imposed on the population, although they are not collected by the government.

And these taxes can be very large. In the case of prescription and non-prescription drugs alone, these implicit taxes likely cost us close to $500 billion a year, as we pay over $600 billion for drugs that would likely cost less than $100 billion if sold in a free market. That comes to over $4,000 a year for an average family. If we add in the higher costs for medical equipment, computers, software and a range of other items, we are almost certainly looking at implicit taxes of well over $1 trillion a year. In other words, real money.

If we think of how these implicit taxes affect the economy, it is similar to how the parking meter payments affect the economy of the city of Chicago. They amount to money pulled out of people’s pockets. That makes them less well off directly and also less able to bear the burden of other taxes.

In the case of prescription drugs, there is the additional issue that a large share of the patent rents are actually paid by the government. Roughly a third of drug spending directly comes from the federal government through Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs. Another 15 percent is paid by state and local governments.

This makes the deficit hawks’ decision to ignore patent and copyright monopolies all the more absurd. If the government borrowed another $120 billion a year to replace the patent supported research done by the pharmaceutical industry, they would all be yelling and screaming about the big increase in the deficit. (This would be in addition to the more than $50 billion in annual research spending already supported by the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies.) But they would completely ignore the future savings from being able to buy drugs at the free market price rather than the patent-protected price. That may make sense in Washington, but not for anyone who actually cares about the future of the economy.

Government-Granted Patent and Copyright Monopolies Are Part of the Debt, or You’re Not Serious

The basic story here is that we have to recognize that granting patent and copyright monopolies are a way that the government pays for things. They are an alternative to direct spending. We have to recognize their economic impact if we want to do serious accounting of debts and deficits. The fact that their impact is almost universally ignored speaks to the seriousness of the current debate.

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Dean Baker is Senior Economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, where this article first appeared. We publish it under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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“It’s like I grew a set of antennae over there. When I returned, my reception equipment was different.”

– Henry Threadgill, American composer, saxophonist and flautist. Threadgill was a member of the U.S. Army Concert Band at Fort Riley, Kansas until a Catholic archbishop called his arrangement of a medley of national classics including “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” blasphemous. He served the remainder of his enlistment with the Fourth Infantry Division in Pleiku.

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