Incline Left!

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Workers and the economy

Oak Alley Plantation, LA

Image by faungg via Flickr

While the country faces a real crisis in terms of the debt and the budget deficit (slow progress is being made at the federal level in agreeing on $4 Trillion in spending cuts over 10-12 years), Republican state governors have declared war on unions and workers.

The war continues apace in Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Missouri, with measures to strip collective bargaining rights and stifle the formation of unions at the top of the GOP agenda.

Unfortunately, these measures do little to nothing to solve the economic problems of states and the federal government.

They make them problems worse.

Robert Reich posted a good analysis of what these type of measures mean for the economy on his blog Tuesday.

In looking back at what he calls “The Great Prosperity”, Reich outlines how unions were essential to creating the middle class and a stable economy. He goes further to look at a current example of how labor is buoying at least one European economy:

Germany is growing much faster than the United States. Its unemployment rate is now only 6.1 percent (we’re now at 9.1 percent).

What’s Germany’s secret? In sharp contrast to the decades of stagnant wages in America, real average hourly pay has risen almost 30 percent there since 1985. Germany has been investing substantially in education and infrastructure.

How did German workers do it? A big part of the story is German labor unions are still powerful enough to insist that German workers get their fair share of the economy’s gains.

That’s why pay at the top in Germany hasn’t risen any faster than pay in the middle. As David Leonhardt reported in the New York Times recently, the top 1 percent of German households earns about 11 percent of all income – a percent that hasn’t changed in four decades.

In the US, the top 1 percent take home over 20 percent of the nation’s income.

Unless we invest in infrastructure (broadband, smart electrical grid, roads, bridges, etc.) and education, we are really doing little more than bailing water out of the front of the boat into the back.

Coupled with the above, shrinking union representation in the workplace has seen wages that have been in stasis since the early 1980’s.

The wound of wage stagnation creates a cycle that keeps prosperity out of reach of most Americans. How is a worker supposed to purchase the products and services that fuel the economy if they aren’t paid a decent wage? An economy needs consumers. Where are they supposed to come from?

Either our goal as a nation is to raise all boats through good wages and a strong middle class, or it’s to purposely create wealth disparity favoring an increasingly tiny wealthy elite.

This system bears a strong resemblance to what southerners were defending in the Civil War — A plantation economy with the vast majority occupying the lowest rung (low paid workers and slaves) and the miniscule landed gentry reaping all the benefits.

In this type of economy, most of the rungs in the middle are empty or missing.

Such a system is in direct opposition to the generally shared conception of the American Dream — that perseverance and hard work leads to upwards mobility and prosperity.

This certainly is not my vision of America, and I don’t think it’s what a majority of Americans – blue or red – want for the nation.

I couldn’t put it better than Reich:

The current Republican assault on workers’ rights continues a thirty-year war on American workers’ wages. That long-term war has finally taken its toll on the American economy.

It’s time to fight back.



June 15, 2011 Posted by | Economics, History, International, Politics, Republicans | , , , | Leave a comment

Sweden’s Fascist “Sweden Democrats” Win

Early campaign sticker using the Bevara Sverig...

Image via Wikipedia

I was speaking to a friend of mine on Facebook. She lives in Sweden and was saddened and alarmed by this.

The Eurofascist “Sweden Democrat” Party made some gains in Sunday’s elections riding a wave of anti-immigration sentiment.

AP’s Karl Ritter reports:

The Sweden Democrats, a small nationalist party, entered Parliament for the first time, winning 20 seats to hold the balance of power between the 172 seats captured by the four-party center-right bloc and the 154 seats won by the three-party leftist opposition, according to preliminary returns.

Sweden has a long-standing reputation of tolerance, and had resisted an anti-immigrant  movement that swept through Europe in the 1990s.

I’ve traveled to Sweden once in the late 1980s, and remember being delighted by the openness and warmth of the people.

Recently, Sweden’s European neighbors have witnessed the  rantings of politicians like Dutch anti-Muslim Geert Wilders (who attended that protests against the Manhattan Islamic center) who seems in line with the goals of  Jimmie Akesson of the Sweden Democrats.

This mirrors the current climate in the U.S., where immigrants’ and Muslims share status as boogeymen du jour.

At the heart of at least the immigration issue are real problems the deserve discussion, but how do you discuss things with people who run TV ads like this:

A TV campaign advertisement by the Sweden Democrats showed an elderly Swedish woman trying to reach an emergency brake labeled “Immigration” before a mob of burqa-clad women pushing strollers could get to another brake with a sign saying “Pensions.”

Daniel Poohl, who is the editor of Expo, an anti-racist magazine in Sweden, indicates that racism and fear of foreigners have always been a problem there:

“Racism and xenophobia constitute a serious problem for society,” he said. “Combined with dissatisfaction and frustration, it has now gotten a voice in parliament.”

The article is accompanied by photos of the massive protests throughout Sweden against the Sweden Democrats election to Parliament, but it’s clear that the world is becoming a scarier and sadder place.

Update: Based on a reader’s reply, I corrected the above the reflect that Geert Wilders is, in fact Dutch (which I should have known). The reader also commented that the post presents a caricature image of the Sweden Democrats, which I admit may be true to the extent that I know only what I am able to gleen through the filter of media accounts. If this is so, I apologize. I still feel that nativist movements are sad. There are real problems with immigration, but hyperbole on both sides doesn’t help. To the extent I have been a part of that – I am sorry, and I will try to do better in the future.


September 21, 2010 Posted by | Immigration, International, Politics, Religion, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments