The young may be understandably incredulous, but the Great Compression, as economists call it, was the single most important social fact in our country in the decades after World War II. From 1947 through 1973, American productivity rose by a whopping 104 percent, and median family income rose by the very same 104 percent. More Americans bought homes and new cars and sent their kids to college than ever before.
Since those not-so-long-ago days, American productivity has continued to rise, but American wages have fallen. It is no accident that corporate profits make up a higher share of the US Gross Domestic Product than they have since the mid '60s, while the share going to workers is at its lowest since 1947 (when measurement began). Meyerson quotes Goldman Sachs economists who report that "'the most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income.'" "Globalization" can take some of the blame for the degradation of American workers' wages and benefits, but only some: as Meyerson points out, "productivity gains have outpaced median family income by 3 to 1" since 1973.
"Globalization," in any event, is not a force of nature; it is a deliberate and highly successful strategy to undermine the power of American Labor through ruthless exploitation of powerless workers outside the US. American multi-national corporate employers commit globalization; it doesn't just happen. And maybe it wouldn't happen in the form it has taken, at least not without more resistance from the American public, if it weren't for another change since the mid-20th Century alluded to by Meyerson: a "generosity of spirit" that made both the Civil Rights movement and the Marshall Plan (I would add, the Great Society) possible. It seems to me that that generosity (qualified as it was) has been replaced, through the assiduous efforts of the mainstream media in service to the political right, by a cramped paranoiac suspicion of the world around us. (We always thought we had enemies, but now it seems we have no friends--no human ones, anyway). Our corporate masters steal from us all alike and in plain view, but we are too distracted by the shadowy human boogey-men we see on TV--undocumented aliens, single mothers, drug addicts, terrorists, greedy trial lawyers, taxes--to notice. We have to close our borders, build and fill prisons, check IDs, slash welfare, raise armies and drop bombs, or they will get us. Generosity, hospitality, cooperation, it seems, are too dangerous, too expensive, and naïve to boot.
Meyerson correctly says: "Devaluing labor is the very essence of our economy." Devaluing humankind generally makes devaluing labor, and the exploitation of everyone who has to work for a living, easy.
Happy Labor Day.