11 August 2017

Bosses want capitalism for themselves and feudalism for their workers

It's a reminder that economics isn't just about supply and demand. It's also about who has the power to make demands. Which actually has more to do with government policies than market forces. Things like how high the minimum wage is, how easy it is to form a union, and, yes, how tough noncompete laws are all affect the balance of power between capital and labor independent of the unemployment rate. So does the welfare state itself. Indeed, businesses have historically been opposed to Social Security, Medicare and, more recently, Obamacare not only because those programs cost them money, but also control over their workers. When the government helps people be able to afford to retire, companies can't afford to hire quite as many of them — not if they want to maintain their profit margins. That's because workers have more bargaining power when there aren't as many of them actually looking for, well, work.

The same kind of logic, by the way, applies to stimulus spending. As economist Michal Kalecki argued back in 1943, a government that hires unemployed people is a government that doesn't have to give business what it wants to get them to hire unemployed people. The more the government does, then, the less sway businesses have over the economy and everyone in it.

Matt O'Brien