FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fukushima Economics

by ELLIOT SPERBER

A well-known, liberal economist was discussing the increasing polarization of wealth in the US, the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, and the minimum wage, among other issues, the other day on a relatively popular radio program. In addition to his other remarks, the economist (who once served as Labor Secretary) noted that when it is adjusted for inflation the minimum wage is today lower than ever. He also added that if the minimum wage were adjusted for productivity levels, it would amount to something like $15 an hour in today’s dollars. Among other things, he suggested something that on first blush sounds entirely reasonable, but on further reflection seems highly problematic. For the economist suggested that, in general, economic conditions would be markedly improved if fast food workers were to receive an hourly wage of something like 15 dollars. Not only would more people be able to afford a higher quality of life, he argued, but the increased money in circulation would create even more jobs.

Yet while such a wage raise would undoubtedly alleviate much short-term misery, it would do little to correct deeply-rooted socioeconomic problems in the long-term. For even if, for argument’s sake, all fast food workers received livable incomes, not only would there still be a huge pool of unemployed and underemployed people in the world (even fast food jobs are hard to come by these days), the production of meat, according to a 2006 UN report, is so harmful that it imperils the livability of the entire planet.

Not only does the meat industry pose more of a harm to the planet’s water, air and soil than the automobile industry, its harms extend beyond the general environment: the employees of the fast-food industry systematically suffer occupational diseases; the people who consume, and increasingly rely on, fast food for inexpensive nourishment suffer all sorts of serious health problems as a result; and, of course, these harms extend as well to all of the other animals slaughtered in the process – not to mention the forests and ecosystems destroyed to create pastures for raising animals. To be sure, rather than raising wages and further “developing” the fast food industry, a sane political-economy would work toward banning this ecocidal industry altogether.

Such a suggestion will no doubt strike many as lying outside the bounds of political reality. Yet, what makes such a statement seem so unrealistic is less its practical content than an ideology that is itself quite literally unmoored from reality – one that not only mistakes a set of social conditions that are wholly contingent on all sorts of historical and geographical variables for a natural and necessary Order, but one that is downright ecocidal as well. Indeed, any honest, critical, non-dogmatic assessment of our present and future ‘Fukushima economy’ must recognize that our vast technological knowhow and our copious resources are hardly being employed in a sane or humane manner. Rather than providing goods and services that people actually need, more often than not our economy produces disposable, carcinogenic garbage. From fast food and fracking, to automobiles and disposable plastic bottles, without hyperbole the present political economy may be said to spread more harm than good. Rather than wage increases, then, and the creation of more toxic jobs (among the other reforms that do little to ameliorate – and just as often exacerbate – our socio-economic predicament) what we really ought to do is rethink our entire political-economic system.

Before discussing a minimum wage, or a maximum wage, we should ask the basic question: what is the point of an economy in the first place? Is it to create jobs, and to make money? Or are jobs merely incidental? Are they an end in themselves? Or are they but a means to the creation of those conditions necessary for human flourishing? One may even go so far as to argue that an economy is only legitimate to the extent that it creates such conditions; and that a society (especially one holding itself out as a just society) has an actual duty of care to supply these conditions directly. If one accepts the argument that a society has such a duty of care, a society’s failure to supply such conditions amounts to a breach of this duty, and to a forfeiture of its legitimacy.

With more and more people living in poverty, and most of the 99% of us carrying unconscionable levels of debt; with the degradation of the natural environment leading to epidemics of cancer and other preventable diseases (not to mention other widespread injustices, like the so-called “justice system” itself) it is not difficult to see that this society has failed to satisfy this duty of care. Nor is it difficult to see that this political-economy’s march along its ecocidal path is precluding the possibility of satisfying such conditions in the future.

As we discuss the two year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street – as collective wealth in the form of forests, and minerals, and schools, among other parts of the public sphere, are further privatized and given to businesses to “develop” – and as a 1,000 year flood submerges portions of Colorado as a result of these antisocial policies – we must recognize that though it may be important to support efforts to secure livable incomes for all, we must also recognize that increases in mere “purchasing power” (as opposed to a meaningful, truly egalitarian redistribution of political power and resources) only contributes further to our toxic Fukushima political-economy.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney and contributor to hygiecracy.blogspot.com. He lives in New York City, and can be reached atelliot.sperber@gmail.com

 

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail