Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cheaper Still

Low wages are the prime reason the US economy continues to be sluggish for most of us. Suppressed income, of course, is not to be found on Wall Street, Corporate America, and the rentier class, but it has come to define much of the middle class even as the number of working poor continues to rise.

The US economy depends on consumer spending as the core of economic activity: if there is enough spending, it spurs GDP growth, if not, growth stagnates or even declines. We are, for better or worse, a consumption-driven economy. All economies are, to one extent or another, but the US is especially dependent on it.

For most of the post-war period, Japan, to give one comparison, has depended far less on consumer spending to fuel its own GDP growth. The difference was that Japan emphasized capital investment over consumption. Citizens there consumed less and saved more. All that capital investment created massive over production. That's where exports, disproportionately to America, came in. We consume, Japan saves and exports excess capacity. China and Korea have adopted this model.

Accordingly, some economists argue against policies that encourage savings. A dollar saved means a dollar not spent. While the argument is still made that Americans should save more, the counter argument says that doing so will only slow down the economy: Corporate America, small companies, and the employees that work for them all want everyone to buy their products and services. No customers means no sales, so no profits. It also means no employee paychecks and no tax revenues either.

All of which brings us to low wages; not jobs, not investment, not savings, not manufacturing capacity, but the wages Corporate America pays to the millions of jobs that already exist--it is those low wages are the at the heart of our national decay. Low wages are killing the American dream for many. Wages not only have not kept up with productivity for literally decades, but for many of us, wage declines are accelerating.

As compelling as it is, the specifics of America's evolution into a low-wage nation, complete with an overclass and mandated inequality, seem of little concern to many of us, even as we sense we have been victimized by a rigged system. It has taken years, decades actually, but the cumulative effects of neo-liberal, trickle-down policies, and their southern variation, what I call Dixification, have come home to roost.

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