Friday, April 21, 2006


The Road to Serfdom

These are your wages: Total compensation stayed constant only because medical care costs exploded. This forced families to work longer hours to maintain the same standard of living. Meanwhile, productivity-- which parallels what business shareholders take home looks like this: Source: The Catholic Church
I'm guessing that the "productivity" in that graph isn't the traditional definition of "productivity", i.e. amount of work produced per person per unit of time. Employers are getting more product out of fewer people by making the people work more hours.
It's an interesting question, MEC, one that we debate regularly over at DeLong's. As you say, companies (of which Wal-Mart is a shining example) have produced a productivity miracle by re-inventing slavery: forcing people to work without pay.

There are various kinds of productivity, the most widely useful of which is multi-factor productivity. The kind you mention is called labor productivity. The church's document doesn't specify which kind of productivity is measured.

Productivity, however measured, has been soaring, especially since ca. 1995. As a political matter, it's an incredibly important statistic, one which has a decisive impact on federal monetary policy (think mortgage rates and car loans), the value of the dollar, and other things. And yet the reasons for it are not well understood, even by people like Alan Greenspan. I think that there is some sort of book cooking going on, that could mean that the graph should show a slightly lower slope.

But in terms of understanding what is going on in terms of wealth polarization, it doesn't matter. The compensation line shows that as people work harder, faster, smarter, or off the books, they get no benefit. The productivity line shows that every nickel goes to owners and shareholders. That picture is confirmed by other statistics.
Short version: We're not more productive (by whatever standard) because we're rewarded for it, but because we'll lose our jobs if we don't keep producing more and more.

And then we lose our jobs anyway.
Well, what do you expect? If you produce as much as two people, one person is redundant. I refuse to go through the self-checkout line or otherwise attack someone else's employment.

Human society is heading toward a crisis of work. As we currently define work, there's not quality jobs to make people comfortable and not enough overall jobs to keep people employed. In some countries, unemployment is 30, 50, even 70%. And in those places, there is despair, violence and the seeds of terrorism.

And yet there are children who go uncared for, trash lying by the side of the road, old people abandoned and lonely, land washing away for want of basic care....

The end of work is an existential threat. Either we human beings find a way to define work so that we can all participate and achieve reasonable satisfaction, or civilization will reach its end.
The ridiculous increase in productivity means more things at cheaper prices. More things at cheaper prices means a higher standard of living. Nominal wages mean nothing. $19.99 CD players is one example. Find me one of those in 1985, when wages were just oh so high.
The ridiculous increase in productivity means more things at cheaper prices. More things at cheaper prices means a higher standard of living. Nominal wages mean nothing. $19.99 CD players is one example. Find me one of those in 1985, when wages were just oh so high.

Phil, who's making those $19.99 CD players? Not American workers -- they lost their jobs when their old company took the big tax breaks they got from the Republicans and used them to move their businesses offshore.
oh, and charles... you might be helping to keep employed the cashiers, but you're helping to put out of work the people that build the self-checkout machines. explain that away...
and i just don't get it; if wal-mart is so evil, why do so many people choose to shop and work there? even on your website i have yet to see wal-mart use violence as a way to repeatedly employ its workers or generate sales.
are american workers more important than foreign workers?
Nice attempt to avoid the issues raised by your own comments, Phil. And have you stopped beating your wife lately?

As you well know, it's rather difficult to afford even $19.99 CD players -- which you for some strange reason associate with the productivity of American workers, even though these players are all made overseas -- when you don't have a job.

But you didn't come here to have an honest discussion, you came here to troll. Pity. If your mind wasn't always set to perform mindless trolling exercises and the sort of lame pseudo-debate tricks most of us outgrew in junior high school, you might actually learn something.
Here's a hint: If you're making minimum wage, you can forget about renting an apartment anywhere in the US, much less owning a home in, say, Fairfax, Virgina:
sorry, you brought up the foreign workers; i was just following suit.
hint hint, if you're making $1 an hour, you'd have the same problem.
so what's your point? plenty of folk out there make more than the min wage. are they just lucky? do you ever wonder what determines a wage? employers would much rather pay their employees $0. higher profits, right? so what makes them offer salaries that exceed the min wage? tough one, huh?
and how'd you know i'm a wife beater?
Meanwhile, in the real world, far away from what Phil gets from the folks at FOX News, incomes declined 3.8 percent from 1999 to 2004, even as productivity increased 3.0 percent.
Phil, you might be very surprised. As a wealth creator, I'm very much in favor of increasing productivity.

But I also know the difference between money and wealth, and I have a pretty good nose for when economic statistics are being cooked. I had a conversation with someone at one of the premier money houses yesterday. The fear that Bush is falsifying the economics data is palpable.

As for Wal-Mart, I'm afraid you're simply ignorant. Physical violence is routinely used at the sweatshops used to stock the store. But evidence has also been put together to demonstrate that Wal-Mart has coerced huge amounts of work off the clock, systematically denied women raises to which they were entitled, and employed illegal aliens on a scale that the Egyptian kings would have awed the Egyptian kings. They employ illegal tactics to bust unions. Having done the exercise of guesstimating how much of Wal-Mart's money is generated through crime, I don't think it's profitable at all.

But, as PW says, you haven't faced the facts. American workers have been paid less and less and been forced to work harder and longer. This is not productivity. This is servitude.

Our ancestors left England to found a country free of debtors's prisons. At least some of our ancestors fought to end the pernicious system of slavery. The assault on wages is un-American.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

More blogs about politics.
Technorati Blog Finder