Monday, June 26, 2017


      In 2010, an amateur politician named Jimmy McMillan ran for Governor of New York as an Independent. His platform was marvelously simple: “The rent is too damn high.”

      He was wrong.

      The real key to Mr. McMillan’s inability, and the inability of so many others, to afford decent housing is that wages are too damn low. In many cases, they’re below subsistence, so that individuals who work full-time are forced to turn to the government for subsidies like food stamps and housing vouchers. Think about it. Wages for millions of jobs in the richest country in the world don’t provide the minimum necessary – food, clothing and shelter – to insure basic survival. If Walmart workers had to live on their wages, Walmart employees would be sleeping in the streets.

      So, let’s simplify. Let’s start with the obvious. Wages are too damn low.

      Given Trump’s, Hillary’s and Bernie’s various appeals to low-wage workers in the past election, the issue, even for Republicans, is what to do about low wages. Curiously, both Sanders and Trump proposed similar solutions. The various trade agreements concluded over the past 25 years, they claimed, have sucked high-wage jobs out of the country. Therefore, the United States should either renegotiate or abrogate these pacts, or add an import tax to return those high-paying jobs to the United States. Hilary’s solution was much, much simpler. It followed a long-established approach to problem solving called Occam’s razor. Always begin with the simplest solution to any challenge, from the purchase of a new refrigerator to the search for dark matter. Move to more complex analyses only if the simplest fails.

      The simplest solution to the problem of low wages is higher wages.

      Increasing the minimum wage, Hilary’s solution (and Bernie’s, too, at least in part), is by far the simplest answer. It’s nevertheless flawed, for what the Government giveth, the Government can taketh back. It already has. An historical chart of the minimum wage, reckoned in constant dollars, reveals the minimum wage’s high point to have been reached almost fifty years ago, in 1968. And while it’s risen somewhat over the Obama years, the hourly wage paid to minimum-wage workers is now approximately a third lower than it was in the late 60’s.

       Still using Occam’s razor, I propose an overhaul of the nation’s labor laws (the basic legislation governing the right to organize dates to the Wagner Act, passed in 1935) designed to give workers a chance to help themselves through unionization. I’m late to this party, however, because the Employee Free Choice Act has been waiting in the wings since 2007 when it was first introduced. The Dems in the House passed the overhaul while George Bush was President, but it did not survive a Republican filibuster in the Senate. No big deal because Bush, rather than sign the bill, would have sold his first-born daughter at a Taliban slave auction.
      Revived in 2009 with Barack Obama’s strong support, the Employee Free Choice Act again passed in the House, only to be sabotaged in the Senate by a small number of Democratic Senators. Led by Ben Nelson, the man who betrayed Obama on the public option, the list also included Arlen Specter, Blanche Lincoln, Tom Harper, Claire McCaskill and Diane Feinstein. (Yes, that Dianne Feinstein, the great liberal.) Given the defections, the bill could not overcome the inevitable Republican filibuster. It never came up for a vote.

      More to come.

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