Saturday, March 14, 2015

Would Prosperity Matter?

3/14/2015—The extent to which working people have contributed to the prosperity of the owners of capital is truly astounding. Since 1979, I read today, productivity has grown over 60%, but wages have climbed only 6%. Put another way, if wages had matched productivity, which in economic theory they should, the median wage today would be $54,000 rather than $35,000. That is a lot of money and it has gone to shareholders of corporations rather than to workers.

Now, what America should do about that, or whether anything could be done about that, is one question. But another question is whether a more equal distribution of the fruits of labor would make any difference.

That second question asks what you think the basic problem in America is. If you think the basic problem is economic, then obviously you try to do something directly about the money. But if you think the basic problem is something else, then you do something about the money, but also you look to do something else as well.

A friend of mine said last night that the basic problem in America is a general social breakdown. Students are dropping out of school. Families are not being formed. There is a general lack of social solidarity. There is great distrust.

If he is right, let’s ask whether a fairer distribution of income might contribute to more social cohesion? Would students be more likely to stay in school if they saw themselves getting really well paying jobs? They might. If the median income were much higher, would some people marry and raise children who now decide not to do so? They might. So, even if we accept what could be called a conservative view of America’s troubles, that the troubles are moral, we might decide that economic inequality has to be aggressively dealt with.

For me, the more fundamental breakdown is not economic or moral. It’s hard for me to give it a name. Let me say for now that the problem is that we hate each other. And it may even be deeper than that. Our language may be exhausted. (But that would not prevent us from doing something to spread the wealth around.) Maybe all our troubles start there.

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