Uncommon Sense

January 11, 2022

Why Are We Working So Hard?

It seems indisputable that Americans work harder now than ever before. Questions abound such as “why do we allow this?” and “what is it about our culture that makes this a positive?” and yada, yada, yada.

I remember reading an article in Scientific American quite some time +ago along the lines of “labor saving devices don’t” . . . don’t save labor, that is. When household appliances came around, like the electric vacuum cleaner, we ended up vacuuming more than we ever swept the same floors with a broom. The authors believe they identified the culprit: our standards changed. In the case of the vacuum cleaner our standards of cleanliness changed when a new level became available without large amounts of labor to pull it off. In that case, we were the cause of the additional labor. In this case. . . ?

Economists looked at post-war America and claimed that productivity gains would result in workers dropping from a 40-hour workweek to as low as a 15-hour workweek, well before now.

Well, what happened?

Greed happened.

For that prediction to have come to be, productivity gains had to be large, and they were. Check. Then those gains need to have been credited to the workers and their hours reduced at the same pay. Uh, that didn’t happen. What happened is the increases in income from the increases in productivity were pocketed by executives and owners. Call it the “Trickle Up Effect.”

Why any reputable economist would think that workers would benefit by their hours being reduced at the same pay is quite beyond me. In the after-war period, worker’s wages went up in lock step with worker’s productivity, but that was because labor unions fought tooth and nail to get those pay increases. There were more strikes post-war than I could count. But the oligarchs saw what was happening and bribed our politicians and judges to disempower unions, and as the number of strikes fell, so too did the pay increases. Those pay increases actually fell to almost zero (when corrected for inflation). And since you are probably not as old as I am, you probably don’t remember that pay increase came in pairs. One part was called a “cost of living adjustment” which corrected salaries for lost purchasing power due to inflation, and the other part were actual pay increases, aka “raises,” often based on productivity increases or flat out company performance.

And, it wasn’t enough that the fat cats took all of the wealth created by those productivity increases, they also chiseled workers wages, including outright wage theft, chiseled numbers of jobs, pushed jobs that lacked union coverage (by replacing union workers with contract workers), and then doubled down with the Big Kahuna of tax scams. They transferred tax burdens from corporations and the wealthy onto the middle class. Ronald Reagan bragged about pulling off a major tax increase without negative press in the form of “Social Security withholding.” We got a small tax cut (the fat cats got a bigger one) and at the same time we ended up paying that back and more as increases in SS taxes.

The US ranks near the bottom in taxes paid as a percentage of corporate income. Oh, and corporate profits are at an all-time high, setting new records every year if not every month for the past decade or so.

The lesson is clear. We can have our piece of the pie, but only if we are willing to fight for it. If we stay passive, it all slides uphill, against gravity, into the pockets of the already wealthy.

4 Comments »

  1. Every bit of this is SPOT ON true. Every word of it Steve! Bravo. 👏🏻

    Trickle Up Effect. I freakin’ LOVE IT!!! Spot on as well Sir!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Professor Taboo — January 11, 2022 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  2. Well said, Steve.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by grouchyfarmer — January 11, 2022 @ 10:45 pm | Reply


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