World History: What if fair pay was normative?

Tonight a thought occurred to me: How very, very different would World History be if people had always been paid and always been paid fairly for their labor? How very different would present-day income distribution be in the United States–and across the globe?

Of course, we must recognize that notions of capitalism, pay, labor, and similar concepts are social constructs, but still, throughout history the more powerful have oppressed the less powerful.

Sometimes specifically stating the obvious can facilitate the formation of new thoughts:

Native Americans and Black Americans were enslaved en masse and almost never allowed access to any kind of currency. 

Immigrants from across the globe have arrived to the United States in hopes of finding the “American Dream” only to almost always find they are paid far less than able-bodied White men.

People of Color, crip people, and women, too, are deliberately paid less than able-bodied White men.

Most people in most jobs have always been paid starvation wages.

Humans are not inherently good. If they were, they wouldn’t fight so hard to pay people so little, if they pay them at all.

Imagine a world where people have always been “paid” equitably. What if this were as normative as discrimination and oppression? And I am not necessarily talking about the feared and misunderstood ideology of communism.

To be continued. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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4 replies

  1. It is a known principle in economics. The less you are paid, the harder you work. The corollary: The more you get paid, the less you have to work. The work gets done by the lowest paid people. That is why San Jose went/is going through a severe problem. The wealthier certain residents get (e.g. those in the tech industry), the higher the cost of living, including housing is for all. Those paid less, who do the work of the city, can’t afford to live there, and the city is losing workers for the jobs that keep the city moving, traffic cops, walking cops, sanitation workers, teachers, administrative assistants, delivery people, truck drivers, distribution center workers, general staff at hospitals and all businesses. These workers can’t afford the rent, let alone mortgage. They can’ even afford to commute.

    Now Santa Rosa is facing a similar problem, simply because of the loss of low-rent, low-cost housing in a city that already faced huge housing costs before the fire. Note that pretty much of the problem boils down to the fact that there is no cap on salaries, no cap on the cost of living.

    Most economies are based on one major principle: Price your goods/services to what the market can bear. In other words, go for the highest priced people are willing to pay. It works in a local economy. At some point, the wealthiest people willing to pay your high price will be fully tapped and you will have to lower your price to get a higher consumption of your goods/services. But look what happens when you can go national, or global. There is no such cap. You never have to pay attention to the local economy anymore. That is probably what caused our huge pay gap in this country and in others.

    I became aware of what a “local economy” was when I watched PBS’ Victorian Slumhouse this summer. I was struck by how the poor who lived in this large apartment building started their own busineses. How most served the people who lived right there in the same building. How some could turn out the amount and quality that higher paid individuals wanted. These people could start to move up the economic ladder.

    The main thing about “local economies” is that they are sourced locally, depend upon local workers, locally produced goods as source material to produce their product, and depended upon local buyers. The “market” was strictly local or majority local. With national branding, of course the jobs will move out of the rural areas and into the big cities. Are we stupid enough to expect differently? For those living in the city, “local” became “national” but did not have any real effects. Then it happened that only big cities could claim that.

    Then Walmart started to bring national to the local level, even in rural communities. But notice that they did not tend to increase jobs over time in those areas (and that includes jobs held by other competing or non-competing companies). They top out after a point because they do not source their manufacturing locally.

    When companies become global, they again tend to remove jobs from the US. Not just their jobs but all the jobs of competing small businesses that should be supplying them with their goods/services as these large corporations continue to grow larger.

    One should also expect another economic principle: that a stable economy means a natural fluctuation of prices/wages around a mean that tends to remain the same over the years. But deflation is the enemy of massive income growth for the larger businesses. It is also the enemy of the stock market, which is fueled by all the investors who have a lot of money to invest. The small investor, in 401k, IRA, Roth accounts, will never have enough in their portfolios to move the market. As such, their purpose is only to pretend to involve the larger group of consumers to make such a gambling operation continue to exist. Only the wealthy will benefit enough from the booms to make it through the busts because their income and lifestyle depend less on the stock fluctuations.

    So expansion to a larger market makes deflation less likely, causing an ever increasing salary for some, and resultant cost of living for all. Pay what the market demands, price what the market will bear. When you remove the possibility that you will tap out your higher-priced market, then you never achieve a stable economy. That is why I say that the indices of “stability” in the economy, including the job market, do not tell us truly how stable the economy is locally, and thus only tell us what the market is doing for the wealthy.

    No one has ever spelled out the implications of developing the global economy in these stark, realistic terms. Thus, the protests by a “populist” movement that too much emphasis on “globalism” are pretty much ignored by a group of people too wealthy to ever be forced to consider a local market again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for all of these thoughts and insights, Dr. Hyde. There are many books on my “to read” list. One of them is a basic textbook on economics. There are many questions I have that I think might be clarified some. In all my coursework, there was never an opportunity to take an economics class. One question I’ve had for a while is how does it “work” when one country “borrows” money from another country or pays another country money of some kind.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dr. Pegoda, I think you are referring to the “trade deficit.” I too have been baffled by it because some think that it means we “owe” something to another country because we sell more to it than we buy from it, or worse, that country “owes” more to us because we buy more from them than we sell to them. No, we are probably paying far less for what we buy from a country that we would pay if using our own resources. That is also more likely to occur because the country selling its resources to us tends to be operating at a lower cost of living, and thus does not price its resources to what the global market can bear. It probably doesn’t even have an industry that uses those resources at all or to the amount that we do. Again, facing up to reality may be far too painful for our buyers than they are willing to admit. More than likely this “debt” our sellers want to correct drives them to force that country to become more like us so that they will “correct” the deficit by buying/selling more from/to us.

      The problem with the trade deficit may well just disappear when we take into account the entire network of economies so that we buy more from a company that buys more from the country to which we sell less… ad infinitum, until, in the end, it all evens out. Just not as immediately as we would like.

      Liked by 1 person


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