Monday, April 29, 2019

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Cory Booker rightly questions why corporations are hoarding the wealth created by the work of their employees. And Richard Reeves wonders why so many workers are left unable to find jobs with even remotely decent wages, particularly without signing over their lives in the process:
(I)he Great Recession also shone a light on trends long predating the downturn, not least in terms of stagnant wage growth for so many workers. By comparison with the postwar years, economic growth has been slow for the last few decades. At the same time, the transmission mechanism linking economic growth to the wages of workers appears to have broken. The share of income going to workers has dropped sharply, from 65% in 1974 to 57% in 2017.

In the last few years, as the zombie gradually wakes up, household incomes and wages have begun to nudge upwards – but families are still having to work more hours to get the income they need. Women are working more, and earning more (though the pay gap remains). But as men work less, and earn less, many families are simply standing still in economic terms. Since 1979, the median male wage in the US has dropped by 1.4% for white men – and by 9% and 8% for black and Hispanic men, respectively. Workers at the top of the earnings and education distribution have seen their paychecks continue to fatten: not so on the middle and bottom rungs of the labor market. Wage growth remains torpid in the middle of the distribution.

At the same time, the volatility of incomes at the bottom of the distribution has grown, in part because of shifts towards the so-called “gig economy”, intrinsically episodic, and in part because of the rise of unpredictable schedules. Most American workers are still paid by the hour, and half of them have no formal control over their schedules. Two in five hourly-paid workers aged between 26 and 32 know their schedules less than a week in advance. Hard to arrange childcare on that notice. Many American workers are fighting, like the trade unions of old, on two fronts: for money, and for time.

Why? Why, for so many for middle-class and working-class Americans has “economic growth become a spectator sport”, as the liberal economist Jared Bernstein memorably put it.
Whatever material gains workers managed to achieve came at the price of a profound loss of sovereignty. In her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It), philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argues that CEOs are the new totalitarians, who “think of themselves as libertarian individualists”, while acting in practice as “dictators of little communist governments”. We imagine ourselves free but effectively barter our freedom away in exchange for pay, effectively handing over our passports as we punch in.

What most people want is a job that pays a decent wage and offers both some satisfaction and security. The harsher critics of the system, like Anderson, believe that these goals are incompatible at a deep level with capitalist dynamics. But at least for some, especially for white men, market capitalism delivered pretty well for at least a generation. This is why it was so important to fight to crowbar the doors open for women and people of color. The progressive goal was not to curtail the market, but to open it.
- Liv Grant writes that her work on David Attenborough's climate change documentary has left her with an inescapable sense of climate anxiety. And Bob McDonald points out the increasing costs and risks of climate breakdown as feedback loops reinforce each other.

- Irina Ivanova discusses the new reality that wind and solar power are the U.S.' most affordable energy sources - at least when the fossil fuel lobby isn't actively obstructing their use. And CBC News reports on the Libs' latest plan to match any environmental protection with an equal and opposite step toward destruction, as they've opened up oil and gas drilling in a marine refuge off the east coast of Newfoundland while banning it in protected areas on the west coast.

- Finally, David Mowat responds to the short-sightedness of the Ford PCs by writing about the importance of investing in public health in order to prevent costly and avoidable harms. And Kate Haynes highlights the significance of the social determinants of health which are being ignored by Ford.

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