Make No Small Plans
Aug 22, 2008 | 01:16 PM
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting page-one piece today on how wages have lagged behind inflation in the US, while keeping up on Europe. This is of course because Europe has a stronger welfare state and stronger unions. Workers get a larger share of the total pie.
According to the WSJ, Euro-zone wage and salaries in first quarter 2008 rose 3.4 percent, roughly matching the inflation rate, while in the US wages lagged far behind, as they have since 2001. And though the usual story is that decent wages cause higher unemployment, Europe's rate of joblessness has been coming down while ours has been going up.
If Obama is elected president, it will take a Roosevelt-scale shift in the structure of the US economy to alter the path we've been on for the past three decades, one where productivity has increased but most of the gains have gone to the very top. A more progressive tax code will help, but most of the mischief occurs in the primary income distribution. Before the mid-1970s, we had both a more equal distribution of earnings and a more progressive tax system.
A stronger trade union movement would also help, and Obama has pledged to work for and sign the Employee Free Choice Act, which makes union busting more difficult and allows for union representation as soon as a majority of onsite workers sign cards.
But it will take a transformation on multiple fronts to change the basic trajectory of worker insecurity and inequality. This includes all of the above: a fairer tax code and labor laws, and living wage law, and better unemployment compensation and job training. I have also argued in the Prospect and in Obama's Challenge that government could begin by spending the money to assure that every human service job--taking care of our children, our parents, and ourselves when we are sick our old--should be a profession that pays a professional wage. These are also the jobs that cannot be outsourced.
We need transformations on all these fronts. Obama has the philosophical convictions that favor such a comprehensive program. But he will need to fight like hell for the resources.