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Moyers: Rampant Capitalism Has Created a Social Disaster -- How Do We Right the Ship?

The public rescued the One Percenters after the financial crisis and now their wealth is skyrocketing once again. But what about the rest of us?

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Well, if that logic is really going to play in your mind, then you should keep lowering the wage. Because if you only made it four dollars an hour, just think how many more people could get a job. But a job under conditions that make life impossible.

BILL MOYERS: Who decided that workers at the bottom should fall behind?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, in the end, it's the society of the whole that tolerates it. But it was Congress's decision and Congress's power to raise the minimum wage, as has happened from time to time.

Even this time, not to be too critical of our president, but when he was running for office, he proposed a $9.50 minimum wage. Here we are in the beginning of his second term, and something has happened to make him only propose a nine dollar minimum wage. So even he is scaling down, perhaps for political reasons, what he thinks he can accomplish. When, if we just wanted to get it back to what it was in 1968, it would have to be $10 or $11 an hour.

BILL MOYERS: Many economists say, "We just can't do that because it would be devastating."

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, the truth of the matter is that there's an immense economics literature, I'm a professional economics person, so I've read it. And the literature goes like this. On the one hand, there may be some jobs that are lost because an employer having to pay a higher minimum wage, will not hire people or will hire fewer. That will happen in some cases. But against that, you have to weigh something else. If the 15 million, that's the estimate of the White House, the 15 million American workers whose wages will go up if we raise the minimum wage, we have to count also, the question, those people will now have a higher income.

They will spend more money. And when they spend more money on goods and services, that will create jobs for people to produce those goods and services. In order to understand the effect of raising the minimum wage, you can't only look at what will be done by some employers in the face of a higher wage in lowering the employment. You have to look at all the other effects.

And when economists have done that, economist from a wide range of political perspectives, you know what they end up with? There's not much effect. In other words, the two things net each other out and so there isn't much of a change in the employment situation overall. To which my response is, "Okay, let's assume that's correct. At the very least though, we have transformed the lives of 15 million American working people and their families from one of impossible to get most of what America offers, to a situation where at least you're closer to a decent minimum life."

BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting then that there is no economic reason why those at the bottom should not share in the gains of economic growth?

RICHARD WOLFF: Absolutely. There is no economic reason. And in fact, I would go further. We know, for example, that the lower the income of a family, the more likely it is to cut corners on the education of their children because they don't have the resources. So here's an unmeasurable question about the minimum wage.

How many young people who are born into a minimum wage family, that is it's so low as we have it today, will never get the kind of educational opportunities, the kinds of educational supports, to be able to realize their own capabilities and to contribute to our society? That alone is a reason, whether you think of it in terms of the long-term benefit of the country, or you just approach it as a moral question or an ethical question. By what right do you condemn a whole generation of young people to be born into families whose financial circumstances make so much of what they need to become real citizens impossible?