Friday, March 18, 2016

Bernie Sanders is About So Much More Than "Free Stuff"

Market solutions are an excellent way of handling the production of goods and resources, but they do a lousy job of distributing them. Our economy has done a great job of increasing labor productivity, but a lousy job of returning the value of that increased productivity to the labor that produces it. There are lots of potentially-viable solutions for the economic problems we have. Increasing the minimum wage could do it. 

Minimum wage workers represent a very small fraction of the total labor force, and significant increases in the minimum wage have been shown in the past to have a smaller impact on consumer prices than they do on average wages. Higher average wages, in turn, lead to higher levels of consumption, which results in higher demand for production, which increases the demand for labor, creating (rather than destroying) jobs. Maybe the minimum wage is not the most effective means to accomplish the goal of increasing wages, though. It is, after all, a blunt tool.

Stronger protections for organized labor, however, would be a good replacement for minimum wage laws. Allowing workers to bargain collectively with their employers for higher wages and increased benefits evens the negotiating table, allowing all the parties with a stake in the success of a business to participate in determining the business's policies. This would allow for a more closely-tailored balance between the need of the workers and the profits of the owners, which is clearly a more surgical way of addressing depressed wages than a minimum wage increase.

Offering every citizen (or, perhaps, even every resident) with a guaranteed basic income and healthcare, designed to meet the minimal needs of everyday life, removes the need for people to accept a job simply because they need to afford food and shelter. This increases individual workers' ability to negotiate for better wages or working conditions, because the risk of unemployment isn't a one-way ticket to homelessness. This also removes some of the costs associated with supporting the subsistence of employees from the employers' hand, allowing them to price their salaries solely based on the value added to the business while society deliberately covers the externalities associated with those decisions.

The problem is that the Republican economic theory adopts none of these policies, and in fact opposes all three. The idea that individual unskilled workers who enter into wage agreements with sophisticated businesspersons do so on an equal basis and entirely voluntarily is a myth.


But support for Bernie Sanders, for me, at least, goes so much deeper than the economic woes of our society (woes which I, happily, have been largely shielded from by a privileged upbringing and higher education). Bernie Sanders is the only Presidential candidate seeking the nomination of a major party who opposes interventionist foreign policy. He is the only Presidential candidate seeking the nomination of a major party who supports publicly-funded election campaigns. He is the only Presidential candidate seeking the nomination of a major party who does not take money from billionaires to fund his campaign. All of these things mean something very meaningful to me, and none of these things have anything to do with wanting "free stuff."

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