Today the U.S. Senate voted to give the President “fast-track” authority to pass a new, comprehensive trade agreement with Asia-Pacific countries (better known as the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership/TTP). U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has fought this measure. He notes that similar trade deals have led to a decline of the middle class and wealth inequality in America. TTP could make these problems worse. Sanders notes that American workers will now have to compete with workers in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 56 cents an hour. Who wins this game? Major corporations and the billionaires who invest in them. Who loses? Look in the mirror.
The TTP has not been approved by either the Senate or the House. What happened today means it will likely pass the Senate. One thing we can count on: Bernie Sanders will keep fighting for working people and the middle class.
We fret about unemployment in the U.S., but we seldom consider the problem in other countries. Huffington Post linked to an article at 247wallst.com that lists European countries with the highest unemployment. Japan and the U.K. have slight higher unemployment. Countries like Greece (26.4%) and Spain (26.3%) face much higher, rates which are similar to estimates for the U.S. in the Depression of 1930s.
What if the U.S. had 25% unemployment? We would have a major problem. Even at the current rate, many job seekers are having problems finding jobs. Worse still, wages have flat and in some cases declined. Like Paul Krugman, I believe the government should play some role as an employer of last resort. It’s not a matter of the clichéd attack on Keynes that one worker fills a hole and another fills it. There is work to be done: infrastructure, public safety, education, and healthcare. We need to invest to build good country where everyone has opportunity. We have the wealth. We need the will.
Ralph Nader has been trying to keep Americans safe for over 50 years. He has written an essay for Common Dreams that considers the gap between CEO compensation and pay for working people. Today CEOs make 340 times average worker pay. In 1980, that figure was only 42 times average worker pay. Nader suggests that this difference is a good reason to increase the minimum wage. As Nader says, that’s a good “first step.” However, we need to look beyond the minimum wage. Whether we change the income tax structure or add a wealth tax, those who have the most – including very profitable corporations – need to contribute more to the common good. We need to move beyond the greed ethic and think more about how to preserve our common culture.
According to an article by Travis Waldron of Think Progress, 25% of the hourly workers in the U.S. have to make do with wages that are less than $10 per hour. Waldron documents that this kind of job is increasing. Many of these workers are employed by very profitable corporations.
Clients always ask me about unemployment, which I admit is a problem. However, wage stagnation and decline is a much bigger problem. Today I met a client who works in healthcare as a medical assistant. He has three certifications. A year ago he was working a 40 hour week and only making $14 an hour (about $28,000 a year, not much in Chicago). Last week he learned that his company had fallen on hard times, his hours have been cut to 28 a week and his pay cut to $12 an hour. Hourly employees have been given no indication that the company’s owners or managers have made a similar sacrifice. Is this the America that some call exceptional? I’d call it embarrassing.
[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond jobs and careers.]
The 1% speaks for the 99%.
Nick Hanauer is a rich man, an entrepreneur, part of the 1%. He gave a speech at TED that lasted a little over five minutes. However, if you go to the popular website, the speech can’t be accessed. Hanauer’s talk was deemed too political.
Hanauer argues against the claim that rich people like himself are job creators. He says, “Sometimes the ideas we are certain are true are dead wrong.” Instead, he points to consumers, especially the middle class, as the true catalysts for economic growth. Using himself as an example, Hanauer asks how much the rich can stimulate the economy. They can only buy a limited number of cars and clothes.
Like all myths, this one comes wrapped in metaphor. Hanauer looks at the term “job creator” and say it is just a “small jump” to “the creator.” The wealthy give them selves a special status, even if it’s not justified by any hard evidence. Hanauer considers the last ten years and says the increase of wealth at upper incomes should mean we have a great economy. Instead, we have one of the worst in history. “We’ve had it backwards for the last 30 years.” Hanauer concludes that the “true job creators are middle class consumers.”
TED’s decision to take down this talk is very disappointing. The site features presentations by liberals and conservatives, including Arianna Huffington and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom. Luckily for us, the wonder of the internet has preserved Hanauer’s talk. It can be accessed through articles in Huffington Post and the Atlantic. I remain a big fan of TED, but, in this case, the people who run it were not true to their own principles.
Hanauer has written two books that outline his political beliefs, which can also be explored at True Patriot Network, Hanauer’s project with his writing partner Alan Liu. This website promotes a progressive version of America based on these values: “service, stewardship, tolerance, and equality of opportunity.” It offers ways to engage on the issues that Hanauer and Liu define as true patriotism.
Agree with him or not, Nick Hanauer cares about this country. His voice deserves to be heard.