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David Brooks on Our Wonderful Slave Economy

David Brooks writes today in the NYT that our economy properly rewards those with the best skills. What’s missing from his analysis is any questioning of whether it is best for those who can earn so much more than others to do so.

I think the Depression and service in World War II may have been a great leveler. CEOs in the 50s might have been able to earn as big a differential over their workers as CEOs do today, but they didn’t. They were concerned about their “troops.” They were pressured by labor unions, which were much more powerful than they are today, but I think they also had some moral considerations. There was a feeling of having been through a lot together. They thought that if it was possible to provide it, workers should have decent health care, enough money to buy a home, to take care of their kids, etc.

Now it’s every man (or woman) for themselves. There is no more concern about the troops. This uncaring attitude does work. The world had slavery for thousands of years, from Old Testament Bible days, through the Roman empire up to the American Civil War. A lot of people were very prosperous. Look at the remaining ante-bellum mansions in the South. It wasn’t economics that ended slavery.

So, Brooks’ argument that today’s management bonanza is good economics ignores the issue of whether it is good social policy. It’s the job of government to keep society from getting too out of whack. But today, “government” is largely in the employ of K Street, aka, big business. We may drift back to a society more akin to the old days of slave ownership, where illegal immigrants most closely approximate the slaves of old, but someday decency will prevail, either when CEOs become more moral, or when there is rebellion by the latter day slaves and serfs against their billionaire masters.

For the record, I am a hard liner on immigration. Business likes illegal immigrants because it can treat them like slaves. But the answer to me is not to grant liberal benefits to them; it is to make them come legally, and then grant liberal benefits, like health care and social security, to those who come legally. Don’t let them in unless they come legally.

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