Articles on Changing Economic Conditions

In this post, I’ll highlight a few articles that offer an update on changing economic conditions. To get your attention, Amazon’s Jeffrey P. Bezos reported in on CBS’s 60 minutes that he has plans to use drones to deliver packages to your doorstep. The video will show you the concept. Lots of media outlets covered the story.

In the New York Times, there was this recent article, “Europe vs. Amazon: Anger Rising,” essentially saying that people in Europe are unhappy with working conditions in warehouses. The article make reference to this article in the Huffington Post, “Amazon Warehouse Staff In ‘Slave Camp’ Conditions, Workers Say.” Here’s an excerpt from the Post:

Online retail giant Amazon makes its staff work under “unbelievable” pressure in “slave camp” conditions, with employees at their warehouses having to walk 11 miles in a shift and collect orders every 33 seconds, an investigation has found.

David MIchael, from Eugene Oregon, commented on the New York Times article. Here’s an excerpt of what he said:

Well, let’s see, most of the comments here are based on hear-say and personal opinions, not on fact. Here’s my experience as a current workamper (seasonal employee) … I like it. At age 76, I get up at 4 AM, check the internet for a half hour while sipping coffee. My wife makes breakfast, and then together we drive 15 minutes over to the Fernley, Nevada Warehouse. Our RV camping site is paid for by Amazon. By 5:55 AM we punch in for the day and we are ready to start a ten hour day. Normally, five days a week meaning one day of overtime pay. … I am grateful for the work to spruce up our retirement savings.

It would be so easy to get pulled into the “corporate exploitation” vs. “proud worker” argument. I don’t think that’s the right discussion, however, so I’m not going to go there. Workers are people, not robots. While I’m happy that Mr. Michael found a job at Amazon that he likes, that does not mean that these working conditions are acceptable to everyone. Mr. Michael is lucky because he has a choice: he earns his retirement and chooses to work at Amazon a few months a year to “spruce up” his savings. If everyone working at Amazon had such a choice then there would be no issue; the exchange of labor for money would work according to the ideals of market based capitalism. The problem is that some people have only a bad choice: work at Amazon or don’t work at all.

On another topic, Arindrajit Dube writes in the New York Times, “The Great Divide: The Minimum We Can Do,” and concludes that a 10% increase in the minimum wage would reduce poverty by around 2 percent. It is a long article, and he provides some of the same background that I discussed in, “Working Till 2025: Life is Tough These Days.” Nevertheless, he adds some excellent research that I had not referenced before. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

By 2011, … over 43 percent of low-wage workers had spent at least some time in college.

inflation-adjusted minimum wages in the United States have declined in both absolute and relative terms for most of the past four decades.

while higher minimum wages raise earnings of low-wage workers, they do not have a detectable impact on employment.

While the evidence may not convince the most strident of critics, it has shifted views among economists. A panel of 41 leading economists was asked recently by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to weigh in on President Obama’s proposal to increase the minimum wage and automatically index it to inflation. A plurality, 47 percent, supported the policy, and only 11 percent opposed it, while the rest were uncertain or had no opinion.

Dube’s article is worth reading if you have the time. Paul Krugman wrote a new opinion column, “Better Pay Now,” that describes why he believes  we have good evidence to support raising the minimum wage, saying:

When it comes to the minimum wage, however, we have a number of cases in which a state raised its own minimum wage while a neighboring state did not. If there were anything to the notion that minimum wage increases have big negative effects on employment, that result should show up in state-to-state comparisons. It doesn’t.

He goes on to conclude:

An increase in the minimum wage, on the other hand, just might happen, thanks to overwhelming public support. This support doesn’t come just from Democrats or even independents; strong majorities of Republicans (57 percent) and self-identified conservatives (59 percent) favor an increase.

In short, raising the minimum wage would help many Americans, and might actually be politically possible. Let’s give it a try.

Raising the minimum wage is not the ultimate solution to future economic problems, but it is an intermediate step that we will likely have to take. As Dube points out, Roosevelt got the principle right when he said that working men and women are entitled to “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

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