This is by far the best piece I’ve seen by Mark Thoma.
Building on a recent speech by Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Raskin, Thoma takes a clear stand against the idea that the national debt is our most important problem. We need to focus, instead, on “reversing the polarization of the labor market – the hollowing out of the middle class and the associated rise in inequality over the last thirty years or so.”
As everyone surely knows by now, the last few decades have not been kind to workers in the middle and lower parts of the income distribution. Technological change, globalization, and the decline of unions that gave workers political clout and countervailing power in negotiations over wages, benefits, and working conditions have eroded the economic opportunity and security that the post World War II era brought to working class households.
During that time it was possible, with little formal education, to get a relatively secure job offering decent pay and benefits. But those days are mostly gone, and changes in labor market conditions during the recent recession highlight the longer-term trends. Consider, for example, four facts from a recent speech by Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Raskin.
First, around two-thirds of the jobs lost during the recession were in moderate-wage occupations, but more than one-half of subsequent job gains have been in low wage jobs. As she says, recent job gains have been largely concentrated in lower-wage occupations. Second, since 2010 the average wage for new hires has actually declined. Third, about one-quarter of all workers are “low wage” (just over $23,005 per year in 2011 dollars). Finally, involuntary part-time work is increasing, and more than a quarter of the net employment gains since the end of the reces-sion involve part-time work.
But then Thoma misses what is probably the most important—and certainly most surprising—part of Raskin’s speech: her support for alternatives to capitalism.
Yes, that’s right: after acknowledging the limits to Federal Reserve policy (“while monetary policy can help, it does not address all of the challenges that low- and moderate-income workers are confronting”), Raskin looks beyond capitalism for a solution:
The Evergreen Cooperative in Cleveland, Ohio, is an example of a network of worker-owned businesses, launched in low-income neighborhoods, to support local anchor institutions. The cooperatives were initially established to provide services to local hospitals and universities that had agreed to make their purchases locally. This model is effective because it capitalizes on local production, and because it forges a local business development strategy that effectively meets many of the anchor institutions’ own needs.
It’s also effective because, in the midst of the Second Great Depression, the model of worker-owned businesses represents an alternative to the economic and social system that has failed us so badly in recent years.