American workers have not gained anything in many years, roughly forty years. This is nicely illustrated here. The reason is the rise of crony capitalism on the way to corporatism. In this case I’m being nice and not saying late stage capitalism although I think that is a more accurate description. But there is a problem with this article and greater problems in the responses that I see at this time.
To attempt to deal with these together in the interest of time I need to blend this. The problem has two halves that are historically distinct. The forty years to now in the US is a result of a very active attempt to destroy the workers movement of the New Deal that actually made America great. There were many aspects to that and not all of them were good. I grew up in that and remember well the power and abuses of the labor organizations. For the most part it did exactly that, make America Actually Great, by supporting a broad working/middle class and restraining corporatism and the consolidation of wealth into an oligarchy that is inherent in the capitalist structure.
We have had close to forty years of a well funded and organized campaign to destroy public life in this country. This used the greatest single failure in American culture, racism, to convince the middle class to accept this destruction of their tools to manage the nation and to sign over their wealth for protection. Xenophobia and misogyny are aspects of that racist tradition. The thing worked and all economic gains from that point were diverted to the rising oligarchy. That steady extortion and active destruction of any goal beyond greed built frustration, anger, hatred, and suffering with more and more services denied or removed leading to the current political collapse and pending economic collapse.
Needless to say this is a much large paradigmatic problem with poorly implemented open trade, petrochemical exploitation, and the creation of an American military empire. I’ll not do more than just mention this as this is complex and portions are nonlinear.
The result, in one small aspect, are the charts on American incomes and wages shown in this article. If time was static the narrow focus on wage increases would be strategic. One response here that represented what I could only call extremely naive libertarianism suggests that this messes up the market for wages. Of course it does. There is no ‘free market’ for wages in this country just as there is no free market for anything. The use of high minimum wage as in Seattle is a logical effort to manage reduction of suffering and the disaster of decades of worker income theft.
With a free flow of people, open borders, the full range of jobs could be filled and a free market of workers (not wages) could be achieved and maintained. This will need to be done very quickly to avoid complete collapse. But this is a very short term problem.
The future will be different from the past. I know this is a shock. The inability to realize this makes almost all the current stupidity a tragedy of immense proportions that will eat us all alive. Within ten years we will be approaching 40–50% unemployment. I may be off by five years and 10% either way but that is what the world looks like for post industrial societies.
We will never see that because the rioting will have already descended into endless civil war of the starving against the oligarchs in their fortified compounds. There will be periodic massive celebrations as one of those compounds falls and can be looted with inhabitants killed and goods distributed. Please think about that seriously for a moment. That is what we could face.
So $15 minimum wages and the stupidity of trying to wall in wealth should be obvious. We need now to begin massive redesign of our planetary social and economic structure. Amazingly this is evolving around us already as our species is perceptive and very intelligent in an intuitive way. That is not enough, though, as certain metropoles or urban areas will excel and others will be impoverished leading back to wars of city states for resources and agricultural lands to convert to automated food production. We can avoid that.
The issues we face now, and I haven’t even mentioned climate change that will drive upward of a billion people to leave the areas in which they can no longer survive, have nothing to do with 18th century political and economic theories. Those have portions that are still relevant but in ways we probably do not understand. We need to figure that out as we go. Free markets are excellent allocation systems when they are well managed but we need to get past the concept of scarcity to solve these problems.
My estimation is that we will scrap the old nation-states that are disintegrating anyway and focus on urban regions as our base administrative units with AI/ML based automated management. The focus will have to be on constructing new cities, as China has been doing, for massive climate migrations. Without incredible effort we will lose our most populous cities to the oceans and much of the equatorial regions to heat.
In the short term we need to move quickly to asset distribution through Universal Basic Income phased in to calm populations and allow us to eradicate racism and plan for the much larger changes coming.
With speed and hard work we can survive and, perhaps, build a planetary set of cultures that hold well being as the highest goal. These combined complex and nonlinear challenges are the biggest our sepcies has ever faced. We are close but failure leads to hell. Right now this country is on the expressway to hell with an insane idiot at the wheel.