Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Dean Baker

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research

March 16th, 2011 10:29 AM

The Key to Rebuilding Workers' Power: Unrig the Rules

The battle in Wisconsin over the rights of public-sector workers holds the potential to reawaken workers across the country to demand their fair share of the economic pie. This could be an important turning point. However, if workers are to make real progress, they must move to alter the rules of the game. These rules have been deliberately rigged against them over the last three decades.

The most obvious of these rules are those governing the rights to unionize, such as those that Gov. Scott Walker directly attacked in Wisconsin. However, this is just part of the story. Unionization has become almost impossible in the private sector, since companies routinely fire workers engaged in an organizing drive.

It is illegal to fire workers for trying to organize, but the penalties are trivial, even if a fired worker presses a case before the National Labor Relations Board long enough to win. Companies will gladly pay a few dollars to the organizers they fire in order to avoid having a union.

It would be a very different world if there were real penalties for violating labor law. A woman in Minnesota got fined more than $200,000 for allowing people to download copyrighted music from her computer. Suppose companies paid the same penalty for illegally firing workers trying to organize a union as this woman had to pay for violating copyright laws. That might encourage some respect for the law.

But this is just the beginning. Over the last three decades, the government has signed trade agreements like NAFTA, the major purpose of which is to put US manufacturing workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in countries like Mexico and China. According to economics and common sense, workers in the United States will lose jobs or see their pay cut when they have to compete with workers in other countries earning one-tenth as much.

This situation is made even worse when the dollar is overvalued. If the dollar is overvalued by 20 percent, we are effectively giving a subsidy of 20 percent to foreign producers competing with our workers. It is not easy to overcome a 20 percent subsidy.
Therefore, a lower valued, or more competitive, dollar should be at the top of progressives' lists of demands.

The Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board can bring down the value of the dollar in international currency markets. If the current crew claims not to be smart enough, we can find people who are up to the job. A more competitive dollar would go an enormous way toward eliminating the trade deficit and generating jobs in manufacturing and other sectors that are open to trade.

The practices of the Fed more generally should be front and center in every progressive's agenda. The Fed's actions are enormously important in determining the course of the economy. If Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke had done their job, and reined in the housing bubble, we would not be sitting here with 25 million people who are either unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for work altogether.

We need the Fed to be governed by people who take its commitment to full employment seriously, not by people who see its job as serving the big banks. The Fed should be moving more aggressively now to bring down the unemployment rate.

More generally, it has to be prepared to occasionally take the risk of somewhat higher inflation if that is the cost of bringing down the unemployment rate. The world looked very different for workers back in 2000 when the unemployment rate was 4.0 percent than it does today. The Fed should be pressed to get the unemployment rate back down to a level that we reasonably call "full employment."

There are many other important "rules of the game" issues that should concern progressives. Corporate CEOs walk away with paychecks in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States because they largely pick the board that determines their pay. Increased shareholder power should be effective in bringing CEO pay in the United States back in line with pay elsewhere in the world.

We also need to rein in our patent and copyright system, which create enormous distortions in the economy while pulling hundreds of billions of dollars a year out of consumers' pockets and putting it in the hands of the pharmaceutical and entertainment industries. We pay an additional $250 billion a year from prescription drugs alone as a result of government granted patent monopolies, more than five times the cost of the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy.

The list of rules that need changing is long, but this is where a successful effort to rebuild the middle class must focus its efforts. As long as the economy is rigged to redistribute income upward, tax and transfer policies designed to help the middle class and the poor will inevitably fail. The right knows this; if progressives can't learn this basic fact, then we are spinning our wheels no matter how angry and organized we get.

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... www.theonion.com President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many? ...by Ray McGovern www.michaelmoore.com Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative...

Mar 2nd
9:25 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles