Saturday, January 11, 2014

Perhaps the rise of a startling new “inequality” will wake up upper middle class ...

Perhaps the rise of a startling new “inequality” will wake up upper middle class progressives to see income inequality as their core concern — NOW THAT IT IS HAPPENING TO THEM!

For decades the top 90 to 97-98-99 percentile incomes about kept up with overall income growth. 50 percentile incomes remained stagnant — 50-90 grew proportionately to their place along the slope.

Since 2007 something like 95% of overall income growth has been going to the top 1%.

Now that (it really is) ALL 99% frozen out of income growth — the growth everyone rushes to track the progress of every quarter -- now, at last, our deckchair rearranging politicians may be able to hear the political opportunity knocking for reforming the American labor market (and concomitantly the political forum) from the ground up — now that most of their upper middle class friends are caught in the same pay and benefits tailspin.

Obama’s 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty show was anemic “Promise Zones”, promising affordable housing (anybody really ready to massively build?), education (ghetto schools don’t work because students -- and teachers! -- see nothing to strive for when nothing attractive awaits them in the labor market when they leave school*) and of course tax incentives for small businesses. Get me “Model Cities” from the sixties.

Krugman most recently cited the core inequality roots as the evaporation of labor bargaining power (add concomitant lost political muscle) — mostly due to virtual de-unionization of the US labor market. The only solution for that in the purely mechanical sense (whatever we think of its political possibilities) is legally mandated, centralize collective bargaining — wherein everyone doing the same sort of work in any geo locale (where applicable — airline workers would cover the whole country) negotiate one contract with all firms.

Jimmy Hoffa pioneered this kind of bargaining in the US with his national freight agreement for all truckers. Centralized bargaining was instituted post WWII on continental Europe* by INDUSTRIALISTS (not the radical left) to keep labor from going on a race to the top, conserving money for rebuilding. Magic bullet: it stops race to the bottom just as surely: the world’s only example that I know that truly fairly balances labor markets.

Spread worldwide over decades from French Canada to Argentina to Indonesia — to the US? No other labor market setup possesses the potential to restore what we used to think of normalcy to American economic (and political) life.  Supermarket workers and airline employees would kill for centralized bargaining – good place to start.

Maybe now that the “Great Wage Depression” (I prefer to the saccharine “inequality) has lowered the boom on progressive leaders upper middle class circles too, maybe now same will reach for the only plausible permanent solution: centralized bargaining.

Obama may even wake up some day and realize he has a unique historical opportunity to become a culture changer (like MLK was) without needing to obsess over becoming a political loser (like JFK did).

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