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Posts Tagged ‘economic growth’

We Must Create Good Jobs: Sherrod Brown Shows the Way Forward

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

February, the first full month of the Trump presidency, witnessed solid jobs growth of 235,000 with the headline unemployment rate little changed, at 4.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Services monthly report.

Trump has already tweeted to claim credit for the results, but neither his plan nor his administration were in place. In fact, the February figures, a record 77th straight month of jobs growth, result from the momentum of the Obama recovery, plus whatever benefit or harm came from Trump’s bombast.

The jobs growth will harden the Federal Reserve’s resolve to raise interest rates again when its Open Market Committee meets next week. The Fed is acting in anticipation of an expected rise in inflation, that is to date not much in evidence.

By raising rates, The Fed is choosing to put a drag on the economy, even though full recovery is a long way off. Nearly 15 million people are still in need of full-time work. The share of the population in the workforce – 60 percent – is still down from 2000. If our work rate were back to where it was, about 10 million more Americans would have jobs.

Over the course of the recovery, most of the jobs created are contingent – part-time, short-term, contract work – with few benefits and often low wages. Lawrence Katz and former Obama economic advisor Alan Kreuger found that a staggering 94 percent of new jobs created from 2005 to 2015 were “alternative work,” contract or short-term or contingent.

Trump’s trickle-down agenda – to cut taxes on rich and corporations so they will create jobs – doesn’t address this reality. In fact, corporations are swimming in money, and using it increasingly to buy back shares or for mergers that do little to create jobs. Companies, contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, don’t lack capital or access to it, they lack demand for their products.

Democrats are sensibly critical of the Trump agenda, but too many fall back to a defense of Obama’s policies as the alternative. Obama helped save the economy that was in free fall when he took office, and presided over record months of jobs growth, but his policies, frustrated by Republican obstruction, did little to counter the stagnant wages, growing inequality and increasing insecurity of the modern economy.

The challenge is not simply to expose Trump’s bait and switch on the working people who voted for him, but to lay out elements of a bold alternative agenda. Bernie Sanders modeled that effort in his surging primary challenge.

Now, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is up for re-election in 2018, has stepped  boldly into the breach. Brown has released a 77 page, meticulously documented report –Working Too Hard for Too Little – that delves into how policies and power have undermined workers, and offers the elements of an agenda to rebuild the middle class.

Brown’s central insight is a direct counter to Trump’s recycled voodoo. Trump believes that cajoling and bribing companies is the way to generate good jobs. Brown argues “It’s not businesses who drive the economy – it is workers.”   Workers with decent wages and secure jobs generate the demand that allow companies to grow and the economy to thrive. As it is, “Between 2000 and 2013, the middle class shrank in all 50 states. And that’s hurting our country. When hard work doesn’t pay off – when workers have no economic security and their paychecks don’t reflect the work they do – our economy cannot grow.”

The unemployment rate, Brown argues, isn’t the measure of a good economy. “The unemployment rate is one thing, but whether workers have jobs that pay a decent wage and provide security is another. And the unemployment rate certainly doesn’t reflect the frustration, the worry, the anger, the pain that workers feel.”

Senator Brown details how the policies that have structured globalization, technology, corporate management have undermined workers, savaged unions, and pushed companies to offshore, contract out, and cut back on jobs, wages and benefits.  He then offers a worker based alternative agenda, some old and some new.

He’d act directly to lift the floor under workers – requiring a $15.00 minimum wage, setting up a national fund to finance 12 weeks family and medical leave, mandating minimum paid vacation days and enforcing overtime pay.

He calls for empowering workers at the workplace– cracking down on labor violations, curbing wage theft, policing misuse of contract labor, and reviving the right to organize and bargain collectively. While Republicans are intent on destroying unions, Brown argues that clearly we all have a large stake in challenging the current imbalance of power in the workplace.

He details measures to help workers save for retirement – including matching grants and expansion of opportunities for part-time and short-term workers.

Then Brown offers a far more coherent plan than Trump to change corporate incentives. He’d create a “Corporate Freeloader Fee,” levied against all corporations “whose pay is so low that taxpayers are forced to subsidize their workers.” The fee would force companies to reimburse American taxpayers for the insult. He’d accompany this with offering companies that do right by the workers a tax break – if they “commit to staying in the US, to hiring in the US and to providing good wages and fair benefits for workers.”

The academic rigor – complete with footnotes – of Brown’s report is a rarity among politicians. It exposes House Speaker Paul Ryan’s much celebrated power points for the thin gruel that they are. Brown doesn’t see creating jobs as a standalone – affordable health care, better schools, access to colleges and good training, aggressive anti-trust and more are also vital.

Work unites all of us, Brown writes, citing Pope Francis: “We don’t get dignity from power nor money or culture. We get dignity from work.” With Working too Hard for Too Little, Brown has shown Americans that there is an alternative. The choice is not between Trump’s antics and more of the same. Good analysis leads to bold alternatives that offer a way out. His courage and his leadership should be applauded.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on March 10, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Robert Borosage is a board member of both the Blue Green Alliance and Working America.  He earned a BA in political science from Michigan State University in 1966, a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1968, and a JD from Yale Law School in 1971. Borosage then practiced law until 1974, at which time he founded the Center for National Security Studies.

Trump falsely claims he created thousands of new jobs, and news outlets lap it up

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

It was a huge announcement. An announcement so full of winning that we may even get tired of winning.

“Because of what’s happening and the spirit and the hope,” President-elect Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday, “I was just called by the head people at Sprint and they’re going to be bringing 5,000 jobs back to the United States.”

And just in case there’s any doubt about who deserves credit for these jobs, Trump was happy to take it. “I just spoke with the head person,” Trump claimed, “he said because of me they’re doing 5,000 jobs in this country.”

There’s just one problem. It’s not true. Or, at least, the suggestion that Trump is responsible for new, previously unannounced jobs is not true. The jobs are coming to the United States, but they are coming as part of a series of investments that were first announced in mid-October.

Sprint’s parent company, SoftBank, said in October that it would partner with a Saudi sovereign wealth fund to invest about $100 billion in the tech sector. On December 6, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son told Trump the company would use some of these funds to bring 50,000 jobs to the United States. Trump promptly announced as much on Twitter.


SoftBank confirmed to the tech news site Engadget that the 5,000 jobs Trump took credit for on Wednesday are “part of the 50,000 jobs that Masa previously announced.” The company added that the 50,000 jobs “will be a combination of newly created jobs and bringing some existing jobs back to the U.S.”

Yet, despite the fact that the 5,000 jobs Trump took credit for on Wednesday were already announced earlier this month and are part of a series of investments that were themselves announced in mid-October, numerous headlines presented Trump’s claim as fact.

Media critic Oliver Willis rounded up some of the headlines that emerged shortly after Trump’s attempt to take credit for 5,000 new jobs. Here, for example, is USAToday:

And here is CNN:

And here’s the Washington Post:

In fairness, some of these outlets reported additional details about what actually happened in the body of their stories, although the many news consumers who only read these headlines would still be mislead. Some outlets also published far more informative headlines. Here, for example, is Bloomberg:

Sprint, it should be noted, helped Trump push a favorable line. “We are excited to work with President-Elect Trump and his Administration to do our part to drive economic growth and create jobs in the U.S.,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said in a statement included in that release.

It’s also worth noting that Sprint has an incentive to help Trump use already-announced news to bolster his approval ratings. The company attempted a merger with its rival T-Mobile, but abandoned that effort in 2014 due to antitrust issues raised by the Federal Communications Commission.

After Trump takes power, however, Sprint could attempt to revive this effort under the new administration.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on December 29, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Ian Millhiser is the Justice Editor at ThinkProgress. He is a skeptic of the Supreme Court, hater of Samuel Alito, and a constitutional lawyer of ill repute. Contact him at  imillhiser@thinkprogress.org.

Income Inequality Is off the Charts. Can Local Policies Make a Difference?

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

The income gap between the classes is growing at a startling pace in the United States. In 1980, the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Today, they earn 81 times more.

The widening gap is “due to a boom in capital income,” according to research by French economist Thomas Piketty. That means the rich are living off of their wealth rather than investing it in businesses that create jobs, as Republican, supply-side economics predicts they would do.

Piketty played a pivotal role in pushing income inequality to the center of public discussions in 2013 with his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In a new working paper, he and his co-authors report that the average national income per adult grew by 61 percent in the United States between 1980 and 2014. But only the highest earners benefited from that growth.

For those in the top 1 percent, income rose 205 percent. Meanwhile, the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of workers was basically unchanged, stagnating “at about $16,000 per adult after adjusting for inflation,” the paper reads.

It notes that this trend has important political consequences: “An economy that fails to deliver growth for half of its people for an entire generation is bound to generate discontent with the status quo and a rejection of establishment politics.”

But the authors also note that the trend is not inevitable or irreversible. In France, for example, the bottom 50 percent of pre-tax income grew by about the same rate—32 percent—as the overall national income per adult from 1980 to 2014.

The difference? In the United States, “the stagnation of bottom 50 percent of incomes and the upsurge in the top 1 percent coincided with drastically reduced progressive taxation, widespread deregulation of industries and services, particularly the financial services industry, weakened unions, and an eroding minimum wage,” the paper reads.

Piketty and Portland

President-elect Donald Trump’s administration promises at least four years of policies that will expand the gap in earnings. But a few glimmers of hope are emerging at the local level.

The city council of Portland, Oregon, for example, recently approved a tax on public companies that pay executives more than 100 times the median pay of workers. The surtax will increase corporate income tax by 10 percent if executive pay is less than 250 times the median pay for workers, and by 25 percent if it’s 250 and over. The tax could potentially affect more than 500 companies and raise between $2.5 million and $3.5 million per year.

The council cited Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century in the ordinance creating the tax. Steve Novick, the city commissioner behind it, recently wrote that “the dramatic growth of inequality has been fueled by very high compensation of a few managers at big corporations, as illustrated by the fact that 60 to 70 percent of people in the top 0.1 percent of income in the United States are highly paid executives at large firms.”

Novick said that he liked the idea when he first heard about it because it’s “the closest thing I’d seen to a tax on inequality itself.” He also said that “extreme economic inequality is—next to global warming—the biggest problem we have in our society.”

Investing in children

There is also hopeful news in the educational realm. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in economics at the University of Chicago who has spent much of his career studying inequality and early childhood education, recently published a paper that lays out the results of a long-term study.

In “The Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program,” Heckman and others report that high-quality programs for children from birth to age 5 have long-term positive effects across a range of metrics, including health, IQ, participation in crime, quality of life and labor income.

Predictably, perhaps, the effects of the programs weren’t limited to children. High-quality early childhood education also allowed mothers “to enter the workforce and increase earnings while their children gained the foundational skills to make them more productive in the future workforce,” a summary of the paper reads.

“While the costs of comprehensive early childhood education are high, the rate of return of [high-quality programs] imply that these costs are good investments. Every dollar spent on high quality, birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children delivers a 13% per annum return on investment.”

The research is important because early childhood education has bipartisan support. Over the summer, the Learning Policy Institute released a report that highlighted best practices from four states that have successful early childhood education programs. Two of them—Michigan and North Carolina—are swing states in national politics. The others are Washington and a solidly red state, West Virginia.

Although it isn’t a substitute for other policy tools to address inequality, like progressive taxes, early childhood education has strong bipartisan support because it produces measurable payoffs for both children and the economy. One study found, for example, that the economic benefit of closing the educational achievement gaps between children of different classes would be $70 billion each year.

Early childhood education fosters an “increasingly productive workforce that will boost economic growth, provide budgetary savings at the state and federal levels, and lead to reductions in future generations’ involvement with the criminal justice system,” the Economic Policy Institute recently noted. “These benefits will, of course, materialize only in coming decades when today’s children have grown up. But the research is clear that they will materialize—and when they do, they are permanent.”

This blog originally appeared at inthesetimes.com on December 26, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Theo Anderson, an In These Times staff writer, is writing a book about the historical and contemporary influence of pragmatism on American politics. He has a Ph.D. in American history from Yale University and teaches history and literature seminars at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

Enormous, Humongous $42.6 Billion October Trade Deficit Is Unbalanced

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Friday that the October trade deficit rose to $42.6 billion from a enormous and humongous 36.2 billion in September. That’s a 17.8 percent increase.

October exports were down $3.4 billion and imports were up $3.0 billion. The goods deficit with China also increased, hitting $28.9 billion in October.

Scott Paul, President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM),

“The trade deficit is a drag on growth and jobs in the goods-producing sector. It is one signal of weakness that speaks to our challenges in global competition.

“It will take more than a Carrier deal to save jobs here and bring some home. For that, we need aggressive economic policies, including a rebalance on trade policy, a tax code friendly to manufacturing and patient capital, and investments in our infrastructure, research, and workers.”

Trade Deficit Damage Led To Trump

A trade deficit drains jobs, communities, tax revenues, and entire industrial ecosystems. A trade deficit is a deficit in people’s jobs and livelihoods. Forty straight years of trade deficits was also forty straight years of a system that treated working people like “economic units” to be used up and discarded instead of treating people like people. So the people finally reacted.

Forty straight years of trade deficits is a big part of what led to Trump.

Mike Konczal, in Learning From Trump in Retrospect, explains:

… [T]he divide among economists on trade is driven by the fact that labor economists study the real effects of unemployment on real people, where trade and macroeconomists treat people as just another commodity. …

I’d phrase it this way: are people just like a barrel of oil? In the abstract models of trade economists, commodities like oil will always get sold at some price, they will get to where they need to get to do so, and they’re largely indifferent on the process. Even when commodity markets are off, oil can sit in tankers floating in the ocean waiting out price moves, and it makes no difference to the oil.

Oil doesn’t experience unemployment as the most traumatic thing that can happen to it. Oil moves magically to new opportunities, unlike people who don’t often move at all. A barrel of oil doesn’t beat their kids, abuse drugs, commit suicide, or experiencing declining life expectancy from being battered around in the global marketplace. But people do, and they have, the consequences persist and last, and now they’ve made their voices heard. It’s the the dark side of Polanyi’s warning against viewing human being as commodities.

Balanced Trade Resolution In Congress

Representatives Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Mo Brooks (R-AL) have filed a House Resolution (H.Con.Res.175) to make balanced trade a national goal with a special emphasis on manufacturing and goods.

The resolution states, in part:

Whereas the United States has run 40 consecutive years of trade deficits;

Whereas the trade deficit of the United States has substantially increased in the last 25 years;

Whereas the overall trade deficit of the United States in 2015 was $532 billion, including a deficit of $758 billion in trade in goods;

Whereas the manufacturing sector of the United States has suffered a disproportionate impact from such trade deficits, resulting in substantial losses of jobs and industries;

… Whereas trade imbalances are unhealthy for the global economy and stagnate economic growth in deficit countries such as the United States and especially in the manufacturing sectors of such countries;

… Whereas persistent trade deficits hinder the ability of the United States to reach full employment and increase underemployment and reliance on low-wage and often part-time service sector jobs;

… That it is the sense of Congress that Congress and the President should prioritize the reduction and elimination, over a reasonable period of time, of the overall trade deficit of the United States.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

The Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) is “a nonprofit organization representing the interests of 2.7 million households through our agricultural, manufacturing and labor members.” CPA focuses on trade issues and promotes balancing trade.

CPA is sending out the word to Click here to tell your Representative to sign on to the Lipinski/Brooks balanced trade resolution.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on December 6, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

The letter from Carrier to its employees that Donald Trump doesn’t want you to read

Monday, December 5th, 2016

aaron ruparOn Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump traveled to the Carrier factory in Indianapolis, Indiana to tout the deal he helped orchestrate to keep about 800 manufacturing jobs in the United States in exchange for state and federal incentives, including $7 million from Indiana.

“Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences. Not going to happen. It’s not going to happen, I’ll tell you right now,” Trump said during a speech at the factory.

What Trump didn’t mention, either then or during a subsequent “thank you” rally later Thursday in Cincinnati, is that the deal he and Vice President-elect Mike Pence helped broker won’t prevent Carrier from outsourcing more jobs than are being saved in Indiana. The company will keep about 800 jobs at the Indianapolis plant, but will still move 600 jobs from Indianapolis to Mexico. Another 700 jobs are being moved to Mexico from a separate factory in Huntington, Indiana, which will be closed.

In sum, about 800 American jobs are being saved, but another 1,300 are disappearing. Those painful details were acknowledged in a letter Carrier sent to affected workers on Thursday that was posted to Twitter by Indianapolis-based journalist Rafael Sánchez.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-11-57-12-pm

Trump’s deal with United Technology, the company that owns Carrier, is good news for the workers who will keep their jobs, of course. But doling out huge tax breaks and other incentives to entice companies to keep jobs in the United States is bad economics, as Trump himself acknowledged on the campaign trail when he denounced government officials for believing that providing economic incentives to corporations keeps jobs in the United States.

During a Thursday appearance on CNBC, conservative economic policy analyst Jimmy Pethokoukis went so far as to call Trump’s speech at the Carrier plant “absolutely the worst speech” about economics in more than 30 years.

“The idea that American corporations are going to have to make business decisions, not based on the fact that we’ve created an ideal environment for economic growth in the United States, but out of fear of punitive actions based on who knows what criteria exactly from a presidential administration,” Pethokoukis, a scholar with the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said. “I think that’s absolutely chilling.”

On Friday, the latest jobs numbers reinforced that Trump’s Carrier deal comes amid a long-term downturn in manufacturing jobs in the country. While a net 178,000 private and public positions were added in November and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent, the lowest since August 2007, manufacturing jobs fell by 4,000. For the year, manufacturing jobs across the country have fallen by 78,000.

If the trend continues into 2017—manufacturing jobs in the country have been declining since before George W. Bush took office—Trump would need to strike roughly 100 Carrier-equivalent deals to stem the tide, at an untold cost to taxpayers.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on December 1, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Aaron Rupar is a Journalist at ThinkProgress. Twitter: @atrupar. Email: arupar@americanprogress.org

Will Artificial Intelligence Mean Massive Job Loss?

Friday, September 30th, 2016

arthurmacewan_cla_fall2012_hb_bioIn the late 1970s, my early years at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB), the Department of Economics had two secretaries. When I retired, in 2008, the number of faculty members and students in the department had increased, but there was only one secretary. All the faculty members had their own computers, with which they did much of the work that secretaries had previously done.

I would guess that over those thirty years, the number of departmental secretaries and other secretaries in the university declined by as many as 100, replaced by information technology—what has now become the foundation of artificial intelligence. As I started writing this column, however, I looked on the university’s web site and counted about 100 people with jobs in various parts of the Information Technology Department. Neither this department nor those jobs existed in my early years at UMB. The advance in technology that eliminated so many secretaries also created as many jobs as it eliminated—perhaps more.

My little example parallels the larger and more widely cited changes on U.S. farms in the 20th century—a century when the diesel engine, artificial fertilizers, and other products of industry reduced the percentage of the labor force working on farms from 40% to 2%. No massive unemployment resulted (though a lot of horses, mules, and oxen did lose their jobs). The great expansion of urban industrial production along with the growth of the service sector created employment that balanced the displacement of workers on the farms.

Other cases are cited in debates over the impact of artificial intelligence, examples ranging from handloom weavers’ resistance to new machinery in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution to a widespread concern about “automation” in the 1960s. Generally, however, the new technologies, while displacing workers in some realms of production, also raised productivity and economic growth. There has, as a result, been increased demand for old products and demand for new products, creating more and different jobs.

Historically, it seems, each time prophecies foretold massive unemployment resulting from major technological innovations, they turned out to be wrong. Indeed, often the same forces that threatened existing jobs created new jobs. The transitions were traumatic and harmful for the people losing their jobs, but massive unemployment was not the consequence.

Is This Time Different?

Today, as we move further into the 21st century, many people are arguing that artificial intelligence—sophisticated robotics—is different from past technological shifts, will replace human labor of virtually all types, and could generate massive unemployment. Are things really different this time? Just because someone, once again, walks around with a sign saying, “The world is about end,” doesn’t mean the world really isn’t about to end!

In much of modern history, the substitution of machines for people has involved physical labor. That was the case with handloom weavers in the early 19th century and is a phenomenon we all take for granted when we observe heavy machinery, instead of hand labor, on construction sites. Even as robotics entered industry, as on automobile assembly lines, the robots were doing tasks that had previously been done with human physical labor.

“Robotics” today, however, involves much more than the operation of traditional robots, the machines that simulate human physical labor. Robots now are rapidly approaching the ability, if they do not already have it, to learn from experience, respond to changes in situations, compare, compute, read, hear, smell, and make extremely rapid adjustments (“decisions”) in their actions—which can include everything from moving boxes to parsing data. In part, these capabilities are results of the extreme progress in the speed and memory capacity of computers.

They are also the result of the emergence of “Cloud Robotics” and “Deep Learning.” In Cloud Robotics, each robot gathers information and experiences from other robots via “the cloud” and thus learns more and does so more quickly. Deep Learning involves a set of software that is designed to simulate the human neocortex, the part of the brain where thinking takes place. The software (also often cloud-based) recognizes patterns—sounds, images, and other data—and, in effect, learns.

While individual robots—like traditional machines—are often designed for special tasks, the basic robot capabilities are applicable to a broad variety of activities. Thus, as they are developed to the point of practical application, they can be brought into a wide variety of activities during the same period. Moreover, according to those who believe “this time is different,” that period of transition is close at hand and could be very short. The disruption of human labor across the economy would happen virtually all at once, so adjustments would be difficult—thus, the specter of massive unemployment.

Skepticism

People under thirty may take much of what is happening with information technology (including artificial intelligence) for granted, but those of us who are older find the changes awe-inspiring. Nonetheless, I am persuaded by historical experience and remain skeptical about the likelihood of massive unemployment. Moreover, although big changes are coming rapidly in the laboratories, their practical applications across multiple industries will take time.

While the adoption of artificial technology may not take place as rapidly and widely as the doomsday forecasters tell us, I expect that over the next few decades many, many jobs will be replaced. But as with historical experience, the expansion of productivity and the increase of average income will tend to generate rising demand, which will be met with both new products and more of the old ones; new jobs will open up and absorb the labor force. (But hang on to that phrase “average income.”)

Real Problems

Even if my skepticism is warranted, the advent of the era of artificial intelligence will create real problems, perhaps worse than in earlier eras. Most obvious, even when society in general (on average) gains, there are always losers from economic change. Workers who get replaced by robots may not be the ones who find jobs in new or expanding activity elsewhere. And, as has been the case for workers who lost their jobs in the Great Recession, those who succeed in finding new jobs often do so only with lower wages.

Beyond the wage issue, the introduction of new machinery—traditional machines or robots—often affects the nature and, importantly, the speed of work. The mechanized assembly line is the classic example, but computers—and, we can assume, robotics more generally—allow for more thorough monitoring and control of the activity of human workers. The handloom weavers who opposed the introduction of machines in the early 19th century were resisting the speed-up brought by the machines as well as the elimination of jobs. (The Luddite movement of Northwest England, while derided for incidents of smashing machines, was a reaction to real threats to their lives.)

More broadly, there is the question of how artificial intelligence will affect the distribution of income. However intelligent robots may be, they are still machines which, like slaves, have owners (whether owners of physical hardware, patents on the machines, or copyrights on the software). Will the owners be able to reap the lion’s share of the gains that come with the rising productivity of this major innovation? In the context of the extremely high degree of inequality that now exists as artificial intelligence is coming online, there is good reason for concern.

As has been the case with the information technology innovations that have already taken place—Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook leap to mind—highly educated or specially skilled (or just lucky) workers are likely to share some of the gains from artificial intelligence. But with the great inequalities that exist in the U.S. educational system, the gains of a small group of elite workers would be unlikely to dampen the trend toward greater income inequality.

Income inequality in the United States has been increasing for the past 40 years, and labor’s share of total income has fallen since the middle of the last century—from 72% in 1947 to 63% in 2014. The rise of artificial intelligence, as it is now taking place, is likely to contribute to the continuation of these trends. This has broad implications for people’s well-being, but also for the continuation of economic growth. Even as average income is rising, if it is increasingly concentrated among a small group at the top, aggregate demand may be insufficient to absorb the rising output. The result would be slow growth at best and possibly severe crisis. (See “Are We Stuck in an Extended Period of Economic Stagnation?” D&S, July/August 2016.)

Over the long run, technological improvements that generate greater productivity have yielded some widely shared benefits. In the United States and other high-income countries, workers’ real incomes have risen substantially since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Moreover, a significant part of the gains for workers has come in the form of an increase in leisure time. Rising productivity from artificial intelligence holds out the possibility, in spite of the trends of recent decades, for a shift away from consumerism towards a resumption of the long-term trend toward more leisure—and, I would venture, more pleasant lives.

Yet, even as economic growth over the past 200 years has meant absolute gains for working people, some groups have fared much better than others. Moreover, even with absolute gains, relative gains have been limited. With some periods of exception, great inequalities have persisted, and those inequalities weigh heavily against the absolute rises in real wages and leisure. (And in some parts of the last two centuries—the last few decades in particular—gains for working people have not followed from rising productivity and economic growth.)

So even though I’m skeptical that artificial intelligence will generate massive unemployment, I fear that it may reinforce, and perhaps increase, economic inequality.

This article originally appeared at dollarsandsense.org on September 29, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

 is professor emeritus of economics at UMass-Boston and a Dollars & Sense Associate.

The Deficit Is Falling, But Where Are The Jobs?

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Isaiah J. PooleThe deficit scolds are getting what they wanted: Today the Congressional Budget Office announced that the federal deficit for this fiscal year is the lowest it has been for any year in the Obama presidency – $486 billion, or 2.8 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The rest of us, though, aren’t getting what we were promised. Conservatives have repeatedly told us that cutting federal spending, and reducing deficits, would unleash economic growth and create jobs. Instead, what we have to show for it is a languid economy at best, with only enough jobs for half the people who are unemployed and looking for work.

Economic growth is weak enough that the Federal Reserve, at its September meeting, agreed that it was not ready to signal that an interest rate increase would come soon, for fear of further hindering economic growth. “[I]t would be prudent to err on the side of patience while awaiting further evidence of sustained progress toward the Committee’s goals,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in its September meeting minutes. It added that “the costs of downside shocks to the economy would be larger than those of upside shocks” because it would be easier for the Fed to withdraw future stimulative efforts than to add them.

The evidence keeps piling up that the bipartisan consensus that we needed to focus on deficit reduction instead of full employment was disastrously wrong. Following that consensus has worked for Wall Street and the 1 percent – with the only stimulus to the economy being the Fed’s asset-buying program – “quantitative easing” – and near-zero interest rates, equity prices have risen to record levels. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which before the 2008 crash peaked at 14,164, today closed at 16,994, an almost 20 percent increase. That’s good if you own stocks, but if you’re a working-class American, what really counts is that your wages have been flat. In fact, when you account for the disappearance of high-wage jobs and the proliferation of low-wage ones, workers have seen an average decline in wages of 23 percent. Plus, with corporations focusing on boosting their stock price instead of rewarding their workers for their productivity with improved wages and benefits, there has not been the level of consumer spending that encourages a virtuous cycle of more hiring to keep up with consumer demand.

The shame is that we could have gotten the same news of a lower deficit from the CBO through a much better route. Nick Bunker at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth cites economists Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong, and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, as three of the powerful voices saying that the United States should have taken advantage of low interest rates and low inflation to spend heavily on infrastructure – and create jobs.

Summers and DeLong, Bunker writes, argue that “all expansionary fiscal policy can be self-financing—not only infrastructure spending but also other forms of government spending and transfers. … [C]urrent fiscal policy that quickly puts the economy back toward its long-run potential will be paid for by the future output it created.”

In other words, spending to put people to work on projects that support the future growth of the economy more than pay for themselves in the long run – including by tangibly lowering the federal deficit through growth. On the other hand, high unemployment is an economic cost, and slashing the budget in a mindless pursuit of low deficits does not erase those costs.

The news of a low deficit may have quieted the deficit scolds, but their flawed ideology has not gone away. Far from it. That’s why it’s important that we get the story straight, and tell it straight to people who will be voting in November.

This blog originally appeared in OurFuture.org on October 8, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141008/the-deficit-is-falling-but-where-are-the-jobs

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Obama: ‘Challenge of Our Time’ Is Making Economy Work for Everyone

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Image: Mike HallPresident Barack Obama today said that “a relentless, decades-long trend”—“a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility…has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain: that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.”

The president declared that “making sure the economy works for every working American” is the “defining challenge of our time” and drives everything he does as president. His proposals to reduce inequality include an increase in the minimum wage and “ensuring that our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to, so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class.”

In the speech at a community center in a low-income area of Washington, D.C., which was hosted by the Center for American Progress, Obama said, “[T]he premise that we are created equal is the opening line in the American story.” He highlighted a series of efforts throughout American history to put those words into practice—from Abraham Lincoln starting a system of land grant colleges; to Theodore Roosevelt fighting for an eight-hour day and worker protections; to Franklin D. Roosevelt fighting for Social Security, unemployment benefits and a minimum wage; to Lyndon B. Johnson fighting for Medicare and Medicaid.

“We built a ladder of opportunity to climb and stretched out a safety net so that if we fell, it wouldn’t be too far, and we could bounce back. As a result, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known. And for three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.”

However, Obama said, “starting in the late 70s, the social compact began to unravel.”

A more competitive world lets companies ship jobs anywhere. And as good manufacturing jobs automated or headed offshore, workers lost their leverage, jobs paid less and offered fewer benefits. As values of community broke down and competitive pressures increased, businesses lobbied Washington to weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage.

As trickle-down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashed for the wealthiest, while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither.

 

The result is “an economy that’s become profoundly unequal.” Income inequality has grown to record levels, with the top 1% having 288 time the net worth of the typical family, with CEO pay soaring from 20 to 30 times that of the average worker to more than 273 times and with the top 10% taking half of all income, up from a third since 1979. In addition, Obama outlined how upward mobility has been squashed at the same time.

The president said that growing inequality and lessened upward mobility “should offend all of us and it should compel us to action. We are a better country than this.” He highlighted that these trends are bad for our economy, pointing to studies that show that economic growth is more fragile in countries with greater inequality.

Obama then presented a “road map” of proposals to reduce inequality and restore economic opportunity:

  • Relentlessly push a growth agenda, making America a magnet for good, middle-class jobs in manufacturing and energy and infrastructure and technology, and ending incentives to ship jobs overseas;
  • Empower more Americans with the skills and education they need to compete in a highly competitive global economy;
  • Empower our workers. “It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class. It’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so that women will have more tools to fight pay discrimination. It’s time to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act so workers can’t be fired for who they are or who they love;
  • Target programs for the communities and workers who have been hardest hit by the economic change and the Great Recession; and
  • Revamp retirement to protect Americans in their Golden Years.

He said that “it was well past time” to raise the minimum wage for a growing service sector that includes “airport workers, and fast-food workers, and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty.”

Obama also called for renewing the extended unemployment insurance program for the long-term unemployed and protection of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that Republicans have targeted for cuts.

It makes a difference for a mother who’s working but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids, [and] it makes a difference for a father who lost his job and is out there looking for a new one that he can keep a roof over his kids’ heads.

He also told congressional Republicans, who have blocked and continue to block action on the economy—from creating jobs to raising the minimum wage to ending tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas:

You owe it to the American people to tell us what you are for, not just what you’re against….If Republicans have concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, or provide more ladders of opportunity to the poor, let’s hear them.

Read the full speech here.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on December 4, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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