Saturday, March 29, 2014

The harder you work, the more a slave you are

It is not your imagination — you are working harder and earning less. This is a global phenomenon, not one specific to any country. It is not a matter of the viciousness of this or that capitalist, nor the policy of this or that government.

Freedom” is reduced to the freedom of industrialists and financiers to extract the maximum possible profit with no regard for any other considerations and, for the rest of us, to choose whatever flavor of soda we wish to drink. Having wrested for themselves a great deal of “freedom,” the world’s capitalists have given themselves salaries, bonuses, stock options and golden parachutes beyond imagination while ever larger numbers of working people find themselves struggling to keep their heads above water.

U.S. chief executive officers earned 354 times more than the average worker in 2013. And even with the bloated pay of top executives and the money siphoned off by financiers, there was still plenty of cash on hand — U.S. publicly traded companies are sitting on a composite hoard of $5 trillion, five times the total during the mid-1990s.

On the other hand, it is very different for working people. A study of four decades of wage trends in the United States, for example, revealed that the median hourly wage is less than two-thirds of what it would be had pay kept pace with productivity gains. During the 1973 to 2011 period, the real median hourly wage in the United States increased 4.0 percent, yet labour productivity rose 80.4 percent. If the real median hourly wage had grown at the same rate as labour productivity, it would have been $27.87 in 2011 (2011 dollars), considerably more than the actual $16.07 (2011 dollars).

Low-wage workers in the United States earn far less today than they did in 1968, despite their having a much higher level of education now as compared with then. There are nearly three job seekers for every one open position. The lack of jobs reflects larger structural weaknesses, not a “lack of education”.

The federal minimum wage is 23 percent lower than it was in 1968 when adjusted for inflation. A Center for Economic Policy and Research paper surveying two decades of minimum-wage studies concludes:
“Economists have conducted hundreds of studies of the employment impact of the minimum wage. Summarizing those studies is a daunting task, but two recent meta-studies analyzing the research conducted since the early 1990s concludes that the minimum wage has little or no discernible effect on the employment prospects of low-wage workers.
One of the demands of the March on Washington in 1963 was a minimum wage of $2 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, $2 an hour in 1963 would be worth $15.35 today. Yet the federal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 an hour, and the highest minimum wage mandated by any state government is Washington’s $9.32. The $10.10 an hour lately proposed by the Obama administration sounds like an improvement when compared with current rates, but in reality it is the usual crumbs on offer by the Democratic Party — the White House is proposing two-thirds of what was demanded 50 years ago!

Almost every penny of the income generated by that extra work went into the pockets of high-level executives and financiers, not to the employees whose sweat produced it. Close to 60 percent of families below 200 percent of the poverty line have a family member who works full-time, year-round and 47 million U.S. residents rely on food stamps. At the same time, the world’s 1,645 billionaires have an aggregate net worth of US$6.4 trillion, an increase of $1 trillion in just one year.

Working people in Canada have fared little better. Labor productivity increased 37.4 percent for the period 1980 to 2005, while the median wage of full-time workers rose a total of 1.3 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Labor’s share of Canadian gross domestic product has shrunk. If median real earnings had grown at the same rate as labour productivity, the median Canadian full-time full-year worker would have earned $56,826 in 2005, considerably more than the actual $41,401 (2005 dollars.) In Canada, almost all income gains have gone to the top one percent.

 In Europe, a Resolution Foundation paper found a differential between productivity and wage gains for British working people, although smaller than that of the United States. It also found that British workers did not lose as much ground as did French, German, Italian and Japanese workers. That conclusion is based on a finding that the share of gross domestic product going to wages in those countries has steeply declined since the mid-1970s.

That German workers also suffer from eroding wages might seem surprising. But it should not be — German export prowess has been built on suppressing domestic wages. In 2003, the then-chancellor, Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, pushed through his “Agenda 2010” legislation, which cut business taxes while reducing unemployment pay and pensions. German unions allowed wages to decline in exchange for job security, which means purchasing power is slowly declining, reinforcing the trend toward Germany becoming overly dependent on exports. Average real wages in Germany declined 0.5 percent per year for the period of 2000 to 2008 while German labor productivity increased 1.3 percent per year.

While the article on the Counterpunch website reaches a conclusion that we should raise wages to boost consumer spending and create growth and declares that there is no individualistic solutions to structural inequality, the World Socialism Movement has a deeper, more radical analysis; that the capitalist system and its wages system has no solution. Full Stop!

No comments: