Monday, August 25, 2003

I'm sitting at a job site waiting for a delivery of sheetrock and metal stud. Not much else to do today, but I have the run of the place.

Jack Balkin: "I think there is some irony in the ACLU trying to keep John Ashcroft from speaking."
After reading his post, I think I agree.

Nathan Newman uses this graph from the EPI in his first post on the minimum wage. The discussion continued here as I mentioned below, and now here. I added my usual comment, and got the usual non-response.

Nathan, in response to a simplistic argument about how wages are determined, says this: "If wages were set by "the marginal product" of that labor, you would see the same prices globally for the same work. You don't. What sets wages is the alternative to that work-- starvation, rural sharecropping, prostitution, or McDonalds burger-flipping. And the degree of welfare and other social transfers unquestionably changes the calculus of what jobs people will accept. How much it changes it is an open question, but to argue it has no effect ignores a range of economic theory." This comes closest to a discussion of the sort of question I ask economists and which they never answer. In regards to the graph above: What are the reasons for the decline of the value of the minimum wage? To what degree is it the result of "market forces" as such as opposed to a changing sense of the social -rather than purely economic- value of certain kinds of work? If mainstream economics describes an attempt to steer a form of "natural" growth, like that of plant or a vine, what is not natural about the increase in income disparity? If economic forces are treated as natural why not other social forces as well? What is not "natural" about the lack of political education in the populace? What is not "natural" about racism? Even liberal economists speak with these sort of naturalist assumptions, and for some very good reasons. We all understand at this point that simply ordering people how to behave doesn't work, but that does not mean that economic activity is somehow different from all other behavior. Economists and their fans remind me of sportswriters who see everything through the lens of their appreciation for one game. But basketball is related to soccer and through that to hockey and so on to all team sports and from there down the line to ritualized competition and ritualized warfare. Economic activity, as social activity, is governed by many different kinds of force and pressure. I have to cut this short since my delivery has arrived. In my dream world economics would be treated as a subcategory not of mathematics and logical analysis but of behavioral anthropology.

(any grammar repair on the above will have to wait)

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