- Janine Berg writes about the need for strong public policy to counter the trend of growing inequality. And Gillian White traces the ever-increasing divergence between worker productivity and wages in an interview with Jan Rivkin:
White: Some say that the decrease of collective bargaining has played a role in creating the gap, how true do you think that is?- But of course, it's rather difficult to encourage public action to solve a serious problem when individuals can be punished merely for pointing it out. And Alina Tugend reminds us that without the protection of either a union or a constitution which limits the action of a government employer, workers may be risking their jobs merely by commenting on political matters.
Rivkin: There are a number of causes, one is the underlying shift in technology and globalization. Another is systematic underinvestment in the commons, which is a set of shared resources that every business needs in order to be productive: an educated populace, pools of skilled labor, a vibrant network of suppliers, strong infrastructure, basic R&D and so on. A third is shifts in institutions and politics and bargaining power, which is embodied in the decline in collective bargaining and the weakening of labor unions. There's no question that that is part of the story. How large a part? I don't think anyone has a well-informed perspective.
White: Is there a way to rectify the situation, to close the gap or at least create better outcomes for workers?
Rivkin: There are some forces at work that are unstoppable and we probably wouldn’t want to stop them even if we could. Forces of globalization, technological change—those genies are out of the bottle. But there are other parts of they dynamic that are purely choice. The damage done by underinvestment is a self-inflicted wound.
We need a movement toward cross-sector collaboration for rebuilding the commons and for sharing prosperity. We're seeing multiple examples of businesses that have realized that it’s in their interest to make sure that their workers are well educated, are skilled, that their supply networks are healthy, that the infrastructure in the cities where they operate is strong.
Investing in the commons should not be a substitute for raising wages, but wages are determined in a competitive market. It's impossible, for a company to justify paying an employee more if that employee hasn't been appropriately productive for the company. I think that business leaders just need to recognize that companies can't thrive for long if their communities are struggling.
- Kate McInturff answers some key questions about the wage gap between male and female workers. And Heather Mallick decries the increased expectation that young workers will put up with providing unpaid labour.
- Ted Fertik and Dan Cantor offer some lessons which progressives in the U.S. and elsewhere should draw from Syriza's rise in Greece, with these in particular standing out:
Lesson 2: Against the oligarchs and the "totalitarianism of the market" which serves as a cover for their interests, we, the forces of democracy, have to fight back.- Finally, Tabatha Southey laments the surface popularity of a terror bill whose glaring flaws would almost certainly sink in with a reasonable amount of study. Tonda MacCharles discusses the type of more-effective soft security which is being ignored in favour of the Cons' push for barely-fettered secret police. Michael Geist points out how dishonest the RCMP has been in exercising far less power than security services would have under C-51, while Jim Bronskill notes that the Cons are seeking to foist sweeping powers on CSIS after having broken a promise to create effective oversight. And Pete Dolack comments on the criminalization of dissent in Canada.
Only a few benefit from the oligarchs' policies, but they have the power and they have a grip on the political system. The oligarchs prevent the creation of a genuinely fair electoral playing field via a rigged campaign finance system and the rollback of voting rights. The oligarchs bring in cheap immigrant labour but prevent immigrants from getting citizenship. The oligarchs buy politicians.
Democracy -- real democracy -- is a threat to them.
America gave birth to the idea of popular sovereignty, but who in America today believes that it is the people who rule? We will get policies for the rest of us when the rest of us have real political power.
Lesson 8: No mourning for the golden days.
The immediate policies that the new Greek government proposes to implement are all rollbacks of "reforms" that were forced on them by their creditors. That could have been presented as going back to some tolerable previous status quo. Instead, the new government has denounced the old as corrupt and undemocratic, saying that it intends to destroy once and for all the grip of the country's oligarchs on power.
In the U.S., even as the "great compression" of the post-Second World War era produced steadily rising living standards for the (mostly white) middle class, it will be not enough to merely "restore the middle class." That slogan may poll well, but the challenges we face require new thinking and a new level of political energy.
There is no going back to 1965. Young people in particular -- and who can deny that the youthfulness of Syriza and Podemos is part of their appeal? -- will not be moved by policies purporting to return us to an America of which no one under 45 has any living memory.