Don’t Blame Robots for Low Wages

So technological change is an old story. What’s new is the failure of workers to share in the fruits of that technological change.

I’m not saying that coping with change was ever easy. The decline of coal employment had devastating effects on many families, and much of what used to be coal country has never recovered. The loss of manual jobs in port cities surely contributed to the urban social crisisof the ’70s and ’80s.

But while there have always been some victims of technological progress, until the 1970s rising productivity translated into rising wages for a great majority of workers. Then the connection was broken. And it wasn’t the robots that did it.

What did? There is a growing though incomplete consensus among economists that a key factor in wage stagnation has been workers’ declining bargaining power — a decline whose roots are ultimately political.

Most obviously, the federal minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, has fallen by a third over the past half century, even as worker productivity has risen 150 percent. That divergence was politics, pure and simple.

The decline of unions, which covered a quarter of private-sector workers in 1973 but only 6 percent now, may not be as obviously political. But other countries haven’t seen the same kind of decline. Canada is as unionized now as the U.S. was in 1973; in the Nordic nations unions cover two-thirds of the work force. What made America exceptional was a political environment deeply hostile to labor organizing and friendly toward union-busting employers.

Where in the world is it easiest to get rich? | Harald Eia | TEDxOslo

In which society is it easiest to get rich? Contrary to common belief, it is not countries like the US or the UK that create the highest number of rich people per capita, but Nordic social democracies like Norway and Sweden. Counter intuitive as it may sound, high taxes, generous welfare states and strong unions makes a better environment for the people who wants to earn huge amounts of money, than free markets, low taxes, and minimal government intervention.

Harald Eia is a trained sociologist who works in television with comedy and documentaries.

For Wages, a Trump Slump

If the Trump economy were so wonderful, why would the speaker of the House feel the need to traffic in disingenuousness? Because the Trump economy isn’t actually so wonderful. For most Americans, it is downright mediocre, and it has deteriorated somewhat since President Trump took office, despite the healthy G.D.P. and unemployment statistics.

.. Let’s start with the good news. The unemployment rate keeps falling, and economic growth is solid. These headline numbers are the ones that Republicans emphasize

.. As a result of the growth, nominal wages — that is, the numbers people see in their paychecks, before taking inflation into account — are growing. You can see the pickup in the gentle upward slope of the chart’s solid gray line. Over the past year, the average hourly nominal wage has risen 2.7 percent.

.. Prices matter, too. When the prices of good and services are rising faster than nominal wages, people end up with less buying power. And that is exactly what’s happening now.

.. Events in the Middle East, Russia and Venezuela have reduced the supply of oil, even as a growing global economy is increasing demand. Trump has aggravated the situation by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, further raising oil prices.

.. My best guess is that real wages will do modestly better over the next year, barring another oil spike or an unexpected recession. But there is no reason to think that most Americans are on the cusp of truly healthy pay increases

.. They face too many obstacles:

Right now, Trump is presiding over precisely the wage growth that he deserves: zero.

Pop Culture Gets Radical

“Sorry to Bother You” and “Dietland” offer something we need at this moment.

When the history of this terrible moment in American life is written, I suspect the surreal and deeply radical indie film “Sorry to Bother You” will be a major cultural marker, like “Easy Rider” in 1969 or “Slacker” in 1990. Watching it — agog that it ever got made in the first place — felt like getting a little glimpse into the future, and not just because its dystopian satire is half a step away from our reality.

.. “Sorry to Bother You,” a sleeper hit, may be the most overtly anticapitalist feature film made in America.

.. If you want to get a feel for the zeitgeist behind the growth of the Democratic Socialists of America, the wave of unionizing in digital media, the striking teachers in red states, and the general broad seething fury about inequality that’s particularly pronounced among people who came of age amid the Great Recession, it’s a good place to start.

.. It’s about an African-American man named Cassius Green — he goes by Cash — living with his girlfriend, an avant-garde artist, in the garage of his uncle’s house, which is facing foreclosure. Desperate for work, he becomes a telemarketer, where his uncanny ability to feign the voice of a confident white man makes him a star, lofting him into a rarefied realm of high-paid, grotesquely immoral salesmanship. The movie includes subplots about unionization, (literal) debt slavery, viral videos, brutal reality television and the cultural worship of sociopathic entrepreneurs. (As well as weird disturbing stuff I don’t want to give away.) I’ve never seen anything like it.

.. In another time, the fantasies of violent leftist resistance in “Sorry to Bother You” and “Dietland” might have caused more of a backlash. But the scary obliteration of limits on the right has also opened up new imaginative space on the left. Donald Trump is trying to destroy liberal democracy, a system that seemed inviolable, before our eyes. Watching it happen, it’s hard not to wonder: what other systems might be more fragile than they seem?
.. At least for the duration of “Sorry to Bother You,” capitalism feels evil but also tawdry and preposterous, and labor solidarity seems sexy and exuberant.
.. Americans in their 20s and 30s, after all, are as a cohort poorer and more indebted than their predecessors, while being surrounded by comic-book villain displays of wealth. (Just this week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose family owns 10 yachtsproposed to make it harder for students defrauded by for-profit colleges to seek loan forgiveness.) They are the most diverse generation of adults in history at a time of vicious right-wing backlash from older white people.