Wednesday, March 30, 2011

we don't have a worker shortage

Rick Santorum says we have a worker shortage when our unemployment rate is around 9% and the true joblessness rate likely several percentage points higher. Dan Savage, for some reason, agrees with him, and advocates allowing more immigration. We don't have a worker shortage. We have a jobs shortage. I think our immigration policy is daft, and I think anti-immigrant animus is very often driven by simple xenophobia and racism. But to say that what we need for the benefit of our economy is to drive down wages through importing more workers, after decades of stagnant real wages and spiraling income inequality, is nothing short of cruel.

Nothing is stranger to me than the "workers have it too good" school of "progressive" thought that is out there right now. Workers have taken it on the chin in this country for 30 years. A coordinated and explicit campaign was begun during the Reaganite/Thatcherite revolution to "discipline" workers, and boy, have we disciplined them. Meanwhile, nothing at all has been done to discipline the financial sector, despite the massive damage that sector has done to our economy and civil society. Companies are recording record profits but are not creating new jobs. To give in to these corporations by continuing to lower the cost of labor is the absolute opposite of what we should be doing now.

The improvement of workers' rights, safety, and compensation that occurred from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century was one of the greatest improvements to human welfare in history. Period. Labor unions, and eventually, workplace regulation, changed the conditions for workers from dangerous, dirty, poorly compensated, and totally under the power of bosses to far safer, far cleaner, far better compensated, and far more powerful. This is a non-negotiably positive social good, and it is at the very heart of any left-wing project. You cannot claim to be on the left in any meaningful sense if you want to worsen the conditions of workers. Yet I keep encountering this bizarre strain of supposedly left-wing argument that advocates for worse conditions for workers-- less bargaining power, less regulation, worse compensation-- to... do what, exactly? Hope that this will result in corporations doing better things for workers? We've been waiting on that hope for decades. Enough.

Here's what we do: force them to spend. Force them to create new jobs. Give them a simple, stark choice. Cap the amount of capital that a corporation can sit on without creating new jobs, and dramatically tax that capital if they don't. Tie taxation to a ratio between profit and job creation. Force their hands. Because this way is not working. They are not giving us what we want as a society. It's an abusive relationship that we have with our corporations and its time to stop trusting them and waiting and instead compelling them to give back.

Meanwhile, I would hope that bloggers who advocate worse conditions for workers because of some kind of corporate-deferring "realism" would consider the median household income in this country, their own wealth, and the fact that they never advocate for policy that will hurt their own bottom lines. Might be a good idea to introduce a little of that perspective.


edwin said...

Is the problem that the multinationals don't give us enough, or is the problem the multinationals?

Stephen said...

It's interesting that these discussions are always framed in terms of potential benefits to corporations (who "need" lower wages) and not in terms of the common good (which is assumed to be identical to that of corporations and not of workers or the unemployed). This seems to be symptomatic of society that has lost any sense of a common good; as I would hear people say in a Rust Belt city in which I lived, "It's everyone for themselves out there." Even the working class has bought into the corporate perspective of limited goods that are due to those who trampled on others. This is an ideological rather than merely an economic disaster. Even the Catholic Church does better in terms of advocating for a living wage than do many if not most working class people in the U.S. today.

Petey said...

"...when our unemployment rate is around 9% and the true joblessness rate likely several percentage points higher"

If by "several", you really mean "many", then you are getting close to reality.

U-6 unemployment is over 16%, and that's an improvement over where we've been for the past couple of years since the Bank Panic.

We're looking at U-6 unemployment in the double-digits for a 10 to 15 year span, which is causing a huge amount of utterly preventable human misery.

Bloggers don't talk about it, because bloggers are writing for the college educated class, where unemployment is only in a moderate dip. But for the two-thirds of the country without a 4 year degree, whom the bloggers don't give a damn about, this is a multi-decade depression.

Of course, if the Obama administration had allowed the 111th Congress to merely send adequate state transfer aid using the 50 vote track in the Senate, we could've cut a couple of points off the U-6 unemployment rate. But that didn't fit the Obama administration's political positioning desires, and so the voodoo economics continue. Obama has handled the situation straight from the George W Bush playbook.

And basically, no one with a voice even cares.

paul h. said...

"Even the Catholic Church does better in terms of advocating for a living wage than do many if not most working class people in the U.S. today."

Actually that's an extremely good point ... they're one of the only groups that has a coherent, holistic view of the human person

Anonymous said...

National Bolshevism Now!