Dignify this!

Posted: 14 February 2014 in Uncategorized
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The idea that Obamacare might reduce the dependence of workers on their employers even slightly is driving right-wing politicians and economists crazy. Paul Ryan says he’s worried about “adding insult to injury” because the “incentive to work declines.” Among the economists, there’s Casey Mulligan (expressing his concern about wiping away “the reward to work for millions of people), John Taylor (who accuses the Congressional Budget Office of malfeasance for delaying publication of information on “the disincentive effects on labor supply and demand”), and Greg Mankiw (who invokes the steady-state conditions of the Solow growth model to argue that, against all expectations, workers’ wages won’t really rise).

I understand that. All of them (and the list of like-minded politicians and economists could go on) will do or say anything in order to preserve the sanctity of the current wages system. Anything that lessens, however slightly, workers’ dependence on their employers must be opposed.

But what is Kevin Drum doing in attacking others for disparaging the “dignity of work”?

Even people who hate their jobs take satisfaction in the knowledge that they’re paying their way and providing for their families. People who lose their jobs usually report intense stress and feelings of inadequacy even if money per se isn’t an imminent problem (perhaps because a spouse works, perhaps because they’re drawing an unemployment check). Most people want to work, and most people also want to believe that their fellow citizens are working. It’s part of the social contract. As corrosive as inequality can be, a sense of other people living off the dole can be equally corrosive.m

How much dignity is there in working for the minimum wage washing dishes or slinging hamburgers? Where’s the dignity in earning more (say $24.21 an hour, the average for private nonfarm workers in American industry) and having your job shipped abroad? Or even taking home much more (say $950 a week, the average for union workers, which is $200 more than for nonunion workers) if you have absolutely no say in how decisions are made in the enterprise where you work?

The fact is, we’re not talking about the dignity of work. The question is, what’s the dignity of a particular kind of work, wage-labor? What’s the dignity of being forced to have the freedom to sell one’s ability to work in order to purchase the necessities of life? What’s the dignity of being locked into a job in order to have access to healthcare? What’s the dignity of working more and more, of competing with other workers for the available jobs, and of watching everyone in that position fall further and further behind their employers?

Talk to me about the so-called dignity of work when you can successfully answer those questions.

Comments
  1. […] been over this before but, like a bad penny, it just keeps coming back. . […]

  2. Great site. Plenty of helpful information here.

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  3. […] cause of workers) demand high-paying jobs and full employment, while mainstream economists (from Casey Mulligan, John Taylor, and Greg Mankiw to Dani Rodrick and Brad DeLong) promote what they consider to be the dignity of work and worry […]

  4. […] cause of workers) demand high-paying jobs and full employment, while mainstream economists (from¬†Casey Mulligan, John Taylor, and Greg Mankiwto¬†Dani Rodrick and Brad DeLong) promote what they consider to be the¬†dignity of work¬†and worry […]

  5. […] cause of workers) demand high-paying jobs and full employment, while mainstream economists (from¬†Casey Mulligan, John Taylor, and Greg Mankiw¬†to¬†Dani Rodrick and Brad DeLong) promote what they consider to be the¬†dignity of work¬†and worry […]

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