It's conventional wisdom that the post-industrial workforce doesn't want to be unionized. But survey data show that workers' desire to join unions has been growing since the 1980s, and a majority of nonunion workers would now vote for union representation if given the opportunity. So if workers want unions, why is unionization falling?
Commentators have also blamed the decline on everything from globalization to technological advances to the hollowing-out of American manufacturing. But those factors are only part of the story.
Canada's experience offers another answer. Canada has gone through many of the same economic and social changes as the U.S. since the middle of the 20th century, yet it hasn't seen the same precipitous decline in unionization. The unionization rate in the U.S. and Canada followed fairly similar paths from 1920 to the mid-1960s, at which point they began to diverge drastically.
Differences in labor law and public policy are at the root of this disparity...
At the current pace of redistribution, it won't be long before we realize the dystopian vision of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, comprising a celestial dwelling Eloi, who live in elegant futuristic dwellings and do no work, and a cave-dwelling group of Morlocks, who live in darkness underground, operating the machinery and industry that makes the Eloi's paradise possible.
Although many seek to justify this growing income inequality on the fact that the "1 percenters" are the entrepreneurs, the dynamic risk-takers, who create the employment for the rest of us, the truth is rather more prosaic. The real job creators are the bottom 90 percent, including those right at the bottom rung who would benefit from a minimum wage — consumers, those who spend nearly all of their income on real goods and services and hoard very little of it. And truth be told, without spending there are no sales; without sales there are no profits; without profits there is no demand for workers; without demand for workers there is no job creation; and without job creation there is no recovery!
A minimum wage is but a small minnow in an ocean of deficient aggregate demand — that fancy term economists use to describe society's collective spending power. The response against the minimum wage invariably starts with the proposition that unemployment is a "supply side" problem and that raising the minimum wage somehow creates additional supply side barriers which impedes the ability of the one percenters to hire more workers. That allows them to define neat equilibrium solutions which lead them to tell our policy-makers in Congress that wage cuts and pernicious welfare-to-work remedies are required to cure mass unemployment.
This myth allows them to make the leap — if unemployment is a "supply side" problem then increasing the minimum wage will not help, especially given (so goes the story) that most of them are scroungers sucking at the teat of big government via food stamps and welfare. Yes, it is true that lower-income people receive food stamps and the like, but that's because the legal minimum wage is far too low to feed a family even if the bread-winner works full time.
Just whose fault is that? Well, mostly conservatives who block minimum wage hikes. The fantasy is also extended to suggest that a modest provision of unemployment benefits allegedly increases the attractiveness of leisure, which allows these "scroungers" to relax on the beach, or sit on their couches drinking beer and watching TV all day courtesy of the hard-working people at the top.
The truth is far more prosaic. Most people would love to escape from the underclass of wages that currently fails to offer people a living wage, and leaves these people struggling to avoid unemployment, loss of community, and a collapse in self-esteem.
When the wealthiest of our society screw up royally — for example, by causing a global financial crisis — we think nothing of spending trillions of dollars to safeguard their privileges and standard of living. By contrast, we have done next to nothing for ordinary, hard-working people for decades, essentially leaving the minimum wage unchained, or unattached to increases in the cost of living.
Interestingly, if the supply side fantasists were correct, leaving minimum wage low is supposed to bring on a splurge of additional hiring by allowing employers to get away with slave wages. But, reality doesn't work that way. What happens in the real world is that low-wage workers go down to the shops and see that everything is more expensive. They are worse off than before, because the real wage has fallen, and therefore they consume less, which adds to our deficient demand problem. The economy gets worse.
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