Let’s face it. The governments of the U.S., England, Mexico, India, France – and throughout the world – determine how much each class of citizens shares the productivity and resources of their nations.
Our own federal government passed exemplary legislation in 1938. In the middle of the Great Depression, a liberal President Roosevelt and Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. At a time of increasing worker productivity and an unemployment rate of 20 percent, government leaders decided that workers weren’t making enough money, and more adults should have jobs.
The FLSA dictated that the minimum wage would be 29 cents an hour, children under 16 couldn’t work full time jobs, and those who worked over 40 hours a week would be paid time-and-a-half for overtime. Overnight, America’s standard workweek went from six-days/60 hours to five-days/40 hours.
Dire predictions that this legislation in the middle of a depression would be a disaster for our country never materialized. In fact, it and other major New Deal legislations were major steps in creating the greatest middle class in world history.
If today’s corporate CEOs make tens of millions of dollars and keep most of it, and cash-strapped workers lose government benefits and have to pay increasing sales taxes and fees – it’s the result of government, and not a “free market.” All markets are always controlled by somebody all the time.
From Microsoft to General Motors, if corporations want to reduce the pay of their workers, they get government to allow low-income workers from other countries into our country. Or, they get government permission to abandon our country and its workers to produce, without penalty, products and services in low-wage countries.
One of today’s greatest fictions is the half-truth that better education is the key to raising incomes for those at the bottom of the income scale. Although it certainly is true in general, it isn’t true for specific kinds of jobs. Nurses aides in hospitals don’t have enough education to be nurses, but they do have the education they need to do their vital jobs. Their pay is pathetically low because leaders of our country don’t believe they deserve a decent wage. Same is true of all those “uneducated” citizens who do the vital hands-on grunt-work to build and maintain our nation.
When the U.S. created the world’s greatest middle class, manufacturing workers made progressively better incomes because government protected their right to negotiate for better pay and working conditions. Higher unionized manufacturing wages stimulated higher wages throughout the economy.
Advanced robotics and automation are now the biggest threats to decent-paying jobs. What are the odds that the values of today’s leaders of our country would allow New Deal types of solutions for future unemployment, lower wages or reduced workers’ standard of living? Say, to reduce our standard workweek from 40-hours/five-days to 32-hours/four-days, and still make a living wage? Or Medicare for everyone?
Chuck Kelly, of Charlotte, is author of “The Destructive Achiever; power and ethics in the American corporation.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org