THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The “Myth” of Stagnant Incomes

One of the interesting things about college is the opportunity to take courses in subjects so far outside your major that students as well as professors cast suspicious looks at you.  That is, until they start to realize that you might actually be taking the course because you’re interested in it, not for an “easy A” to repair your GPA.

Gilgamesh and Friends
One of these courses outside the College of Business was “Myth and Creation” offered by one of the leading Biblical scholars in the world, Dr. Eugene Charles Uhlrich at the University of Notre Dame.  One of the first things we learned is what a “myth” is.  It doesn’t mean a lie, but (briefly) is a way of expressing a worldview, a way of expressing a truth in (semi) fictional form, more or less.
That’s why when we saw Robert Samuelson’s column in yesterday’s Washington Post, we experienced a “double-take.”  The title was “The Myth of Stagnant Incomes.”  (11/19/18, A-21)  Did Samuelson mean the truth of stagnant incomes expressed in a way that might not be factually true, or that the belief that incomes are stagnant is a lie?
As it turned out, Samuelson meant the latter, which makes one wonder how his column made it past the editors at the Post.  After all, if incomes are not stagnant, and are — as Samuelson claims — actually rising for the “poorest fifth of Americans,” why is there such a push to raise the minimum wage?  In fact, although Samuelson appears at times to be somewhat equivocal about the minimum wage per se, he has been almost strident in his declarations that “the poor’ (whom he says have experienced increased income) must get more money because their incomes are stagnant!
Not quite, but close enough; why not get out of the wage system?
Googling Samuelson’s name and “minimum wage” results in numerous columns over the years (one from July 11 of this year) complaining that the incomes of the poor are not increasing — and we weren’t looking too hard, either.  All of a sudden, however, incomes have not been stagnant, when for years Samuelson has been saying exactly the opposite.
Then there may be a problem or two with the column itself.  Reading carefully, and then again to make certain, we did not see one mention that the figures he was using had been adjusted for inflation.  Of course, since some key figures are left out of the Consumer Price Index, it doesn’t make the statistics any more accurate, but the omission was still puzzling.
Bird-in-Hand Rush Hour.
Nor is that all.  There was no indication of a simple fact that many economists and all politicians seem to forget.  That is the fact that yesterday’s luxuries are today’s necessities.  The cost of living can rise dramatically, for example, if you replace that $750 horse (average cost for an untrained animal) that cost $2,500 to maintain (per the American Association of Equine Practitioners) with a $36,270 (industry average as of January 2018) automobile that costs $1,500+ in fuel just to keep running . . . in a good year.
Now multiply that by the cell phones, computers, etc., etc., etc. and especially the rising cost of education, and you’ll start to get a feel for what real income stagnation is like for people who actually have to live with it.  Every improvement tends to cost more than what went before it, even if the cost falls over time . . . at which time it is replaced by something even more expensive.
Of course, all of this would be moot if every child, woman, and man owned the capital that was producing the cars, computers, cell phones, food, clothing, shelter, etc., etc., etc., so that the amount of demand in the economy more or less equaled the goods and services available for sale because supply would equal demand, production would equal income, and so on.
One way to link production power and consumption power back together again is the Capital Homestead Act.  Attention then could be focused not on income, but on helping people become productive so that they have income without having to manipulate the system.