The Billings Outpost

Bleak future for Montana workers seen

Story and Photo - By JANE WHITE - For The Outpost

Montana’s dearth of trained workers and sparse internet infrastructure hamstrings the workers of Montana, especially those who want to earn big bucks in the global village of the internet age, says Danny Choriki, a self-described humanist, consultant, writer, strategist and techie.

Mr. Choriki spoke earlier this month at the Billings Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. He told the 23 people at the lecture that the dated nature of Montana’s internet infrastructure and its oil economy mire it in the past. Modern-day Montana remains stuck in intractable virtual territory, Choriki said.

Mr. Choriki attended Montana State University Bozeman and the City University of New York, where he did graduate work in environmental psychology, operations management in tech startups and “evaluation research of information technology in the public schools” of New York City. He said his main field of study now lies in how people deal with technological change in their daily lives.

His talk, “One Brief Shining Moment: Income Inequality in the Postmodern Economy,” characterized the 65-year-olds retiring today as the singular generation to benefit from the post-World War II Baby Boom, which was the most significant build-up of wealth in history.

Choriki said the time to celebrate shining moments is over, and he painted a bleak work picture for the future. Any worker in a single-earner situation or without a graduate degree would not make it today, especially in the internet economy.

“Income inequality, stagnant incomes now; only college grads and dual earner families make it today,” said Choriki.

The speaker described a wealth of actions by mine owners, industrialists and technology magnates who behaved like sociopaths in the way they either used people, then just threw them away or the way they massively stole.

Choriki said identifying sociopaths in the workplace is a popular topic in business literature.

“If you Google ‘sociopaths in the workplace,’ you’ll see that it has amassed quite a body of work over the last ten years or so,” wrote Choriki. For example, Martha Stout, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School wrote “The Sociopath in the Office Next Door.”

Another provocative title was “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work,” by Paul Babiak and David Hare.

Some of those sociopaths were mine owners and others relying on cheap labor in an unregulated system. Choriki said Montanans have not learned key lessons from the Treasure State’s history, such as actions by the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. in Butte. According to author Mary Murphy, who wrote “Mining Cultures,” Anaconda and other companies in the name of ever higher profits committed murder, squashed unions and wounded striking workers.

For instance, at the 1920 Anaconda Road Massacre in Butte, federal troops deputized mine company guards and shot a union organizer. The federal troops also wounded 16 others, “shooting all of them in the back as they fled,” wrote Murphy.

Another lesson from Montana industrial history lies in Libby and the poisoning of workers in its vermiculite mines. Federal funds still pay for the care of the workers – long denied any kind of union or other protection –  afflicted with lung disease caused by working in vermiculite mines. Unions that wanted to create laws to protect workers met with great resistance in Montana.

What have Montana’s business leaders been doing? They have not been forward thinking, as shown by the examples of other leading U.S. cities, Choriki said.

He cited the urban planning concepts of Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., as prime examples of excellent land-use planning, environmental innovation and human scale. He said Montana would benefit in the long term by becoming less dependent on natural resource extraction and more involved in the new internet economy.

He noted that Oracle recently decided to bring in its own labor force to work in its Bozeman facility.

“What Oracle is doing by importing labor keeps Montanans as just a grease spot along the road to the global village,” said Choriki. According to the author of Montana Cowgirl, a popular left-leaning blog, Oracle in late 2013 requested 600 work visas for future workers in Bozeman. Most of those workers would likely come from India or China, said Choriki.

In a long-term reversal of fortune, Mr. Choriki said Montana’s failure to invest in public education, infrastructure and to develop a cheaper way of living, while natural resources are faltering, has trapped Montana and the United States. Suburbs with lawns are too expensive to sustain. Long commutes are costly, poisonous to the environment and injurious to the psyche.

“Instead of driving, we could be dialing: this is an example of how communications technology should be replacing transportation. Having Oracle in Montana is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a vibrant internet economy. This is a failure of vision on the part of the legislative and executive branches of the government of the state of Montana.

“We should be pouring money into research and development, science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics - STEAM education from the ages of 3 and 4, publicly accessible multi-way video communications between all schools, libraries and public offices. We need open access to public data.”

He added, “We need to stop bending over backwards for the sake of any job. Montanans need to help themselves. We need to take advantage of others’ needs for our resources and charge them for the external costs (pollution, noise, environmental degradation, urban decay). We need to use that revenue to invest in ourselves, our futures and our children’s futures.

“We need to find a new piece of land Montanans can work to improve. Hence, the education, training, start up investments and infrastructure needed to build Montana into a ‘Global Village.’ ”

Choriki also cautioned against the lure of fast money in the Bakken. “We have Butte as a shining example of what to be prepared for when the fast money leaves. The Coal Severance Tax should be expanded to include any form of resource extraction, including lumber, grain, electricity, wind, coal and petroleum. The funds from the Coal Severance Tax should be applied to the various forms of resource extraction as well as loans and direct investment into Montana-based start ups and infrastructure that start ups need.”   

“Henry Ford knew that the early American version of a good business model was win-win. That is why he paid his workers enough so they could all afford a Model-T. The buy-low–sell-high model is not sustainable,” said Choriki.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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