Wednesday, January 22, 2014


My DECADES OLD, DECADES LONG EXPERIENCE with the "disaster" -- not the saccharine "inequality" -- of the American labor market as a Chicago cab driver:

Between 1981 and early 1997 the city allowed one 30 cent increase in the mileage rate on the taxi meter -- at which 1990 midpoint the city started building subways to both airports, allowing unlimited limos, putting of free trolleys between all the hot spots downtown (the Aquarium used to be our busiest pick-up after O'Hare -- OH, AND -- 40% more taxicabs.

In New York City (where I came from) the mileage charge was (in 2004 dollars) $2.25 a mile after the last successful taxi strike in 1974. By early 2004 the meter was $1.50 a mile. Since the union was broken by the lease system (private contractors) the entire 75 cent deficit came out of the drivers' side. Guys were going back to India for a better life. This in the only place on earth where wealth is a plateau not a pinnacle.

If we get a $15 an hour minimum wage the meter will have to go up a dollar and hour in Chicago, at least -- if you want any cabdriver. Our job has been outsourced at home just like fast food -- from an income that could buy a house and send kids to college (maybe for an 84 hour week -- I've done it -- to four guys sharing an apartment. If no one showed up for $8 an hour -- no American born workers (too busy selling crack to survive) at McDonald's you'd learn to pay 25% more fast.

I remember the summer before the New York meter was finally raised to $2 a mile -- someone from the city was quoted as too many empty cabs built up in the garages: "Maybe we'll add A LITTLE SOMETHING TO THE METER." [Emphasis mine.]

Maybe our progressives ought to start to get real with their sense of proportion and think past -- way past -- adding "a little something" to les miserable's wage (40 years after New York's last successful taxi strike).

Yesterday Harold Meyerson pointed out in the American Prospect that raising the minimum wage is just the beginning of the way back out of the American labor morass -- the last thing we need is a minimum (defined as anywhere in the vicinity of LBJ's 1968 minimum wage), minimum wage.

And don't forget about the ultimate answer to our labor woes: legally mandated centralized bargaining. The specter of that might really focus you better on the scale of the "real world" that you talk about in your pieces. I wrote something about it a while back, here:

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