A CURRENT VIEW OF THE PERENNIAL HUMAN LABOR CONUNDRUM   

The reader will recall that the price for human labor seems set by supply and demand, modified by political intervention. Inconveniently, supply, demand and politics are all highly variable with time and circumstances, both ambulatory. Our dismal science adds the Iron Law of Wages to the consideration: The price of labor is generally biased toward the cost of workers’ subsistence. For our competitive species, that seems no more than a restatement of supply and demand.  

During the last century, organized labor and politicians joined to raise the price of labor in response to both the expanded Income inequality of the Roaring Twenties and the privations of America’s Great Depression. The partnership strengthened by the needs of World War II and the subsequent Korean War; one result was an almost equal sharing of economic progress by all income levels, an implicit expansion of America’s middle class. But that was temporary; it could not be sustained as industrialization spread among lower cost competitors elsewhere. Concomitantly, the lion’s share of U.S. income is no longer widely shared; reverting to the pattern of the 1920’s, it again flows to the top. In a species of competitive individuals of mostly comparable abilities, it should not surprise that exceptional economic gains are acquired by a talented/fortunate few. – or that ambitious politicians seize the fact as opportunity.

Hunter-gatherers probably became farmers gradually; no jobs were lost. The replacement of farm workers by machines wasn’t as leisurely, though the labor-hunger of the manufacturers helped, as did the Civil and subsequent wars. Today’s labor market problem, a product of progress in electronics, seems to loom larger than any that have gone before. Simply, too much human labor that once created customers has been obsoleted, superseded or downgraded by advancing technology and that, together with offshore competition and inviting immigration policies, is redistributing income, collapsing a middle class no longer protected by industrial monopoly.  

 In the 1970’s, working mothers began to replace U.S. Stay-Home Mothers to maintain living standards; the now massive presence of women has reshaped the labor force. This defenestration of the once ubiquitous middle-class housewives has also reshaped the lives of their families. Children into whom proximity once transferred familial and religious cultural patterns are now acculturated by government employees at schools intended to produce compliant, dependent citizens; family and religious influences are becoming vestigial. Only increasingly authoritarian government remains to wield the previously shared authority.   

In the workplace, the reportedly plentiful jobs are increasingly menial and Part time; the U.S. Labor force participation is declining as growing numbers of workers find it necessary to hold multiple jobs or leave the recorded work force. Technological and competitive economic developments seem likely to extend the trend.  Obviously, such conditions threaten political stability. The U.S. also faces challenges to its election system and with many others, unsustainable debt and increasing inflation, all conferred by its government. This assuredly seems an ending, without indication of what, hidden underneath, may be beginning for our successors.   However it seems likely that the competitive price of human labor will continue to combine supply, demand and human politics, thereby remaining a conundrum.

About Jack Curtis

Suspicious of government, doubtful of economics, fond of figure skating (but the off-ice part, not so much) Couple of degrees in government, a few medals in figure skating; just reading and suspicion for economics ...
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s