Re-coupling Productivity and Wages: A Post-Election Bleg for the Hive Mind
Over at TPM, Josh Marshall has written what I believe to be by far the best — and for Democratic strategists, the most challenging — post-election analysis I have seen to date.
According to Marshall, those Monday morning armchair quarterbacks from the left who are questioning why the Dems did not run on their record are largely missing the point. As Republicans and some Democrats have already correctly guessed, a rebounding and/or strong overall economy means little in an election if the vast preponderance of voters aren’t feeling its benefits. But Marshall goes one step further and pokes a hole in the second most popular shoulda-woulda-coulda, that the election might have somehow gone differently had the Donkeys run on inequality.
Democrats have toyed (and I use that term advisedly) with the issue of rising inequality for the last two elections. But let me suggest that as a political matter inequality is a loser… Fundamentally, most people don’t care particularly how astronomically wealthy people are living their lives. It is a distant reality on many levels. They care a great deal about their own economic circumstances. And if you are not doing any better than you were 5 years ago or a decade ago or – at least in the sense of the hypothetical median wage earner – 40 years ago, that’s going to really have your attention and shape a great deal of your worldview and political outlook.
Instead, counters Marshall, Democrats should focus on policies designed to re-couple productivity and wages. And although this issue may indeed be intertwined with the issue of inequality, Marshall is correct that the difference between the two are meaningful. Focusing on inequality is largely a populist trap. Railing against the super-rich can be cathartic and it can conceivably lead to limited victories at the ballot box, but it’s neither a solution to existing problems nor a guide to governing nor public policy.
Earlier this year when I was writing about my fears that the Left was beginning down the path that has made the Right an all-ratings/no-governance shell of what it once was, one of the questions thrown to me where I came up short was, “What would be the catalyst for the Left’s favoring of bumperstickers over public policy?” I am beginning to think that the answer might end up being the issue of inequality. Indeed, inequality as a political touchstone has all the earmarks of the Tea Party-ism that made the GOP into a such a joke over the past six years: Conspiracies led by shadowy, all-powerful, Illuminati-like figures who are shielded by a sinister media complex as they steal Our Country; all the while allowing those common Janes and Joes most outraged to be easily manipulated by the very political forces that are largely to blame for the fix that got everyone to be so outraged to begin with.
Or to be more succinct: Saying “F**k you, Koch brothers!” isn’t actually a public policy solution, no matter how many times you shout it.
The solution that Marshall proposes — finding policies that might re-couple productivity and wages — is the opposite of populism, in that it will require a lot of work by the Democrats. Because, as he himself notes, the Dems
don’t have a policy prescription to make that change… The great political reality of our time is that Democrats don’t know (and nobody else does either) how to get wage growth and productivity growth or economic growth lines back into sync.
Again, he’s right. Focusing on the obscenely wealthy (which to my eyes, is what the Left is doing more and more) is a way to beat the drums and get out the vote, but it isn’t a way to govern once you get those votes — which, again, sounds depressingly and suspiciously like the GOP in the era of movement conservatism.
If you haven’t, you should take the time to read Marshall’s entire case. For a while I’ve been growing slightly disenchanted with TPM as it’s dipped more and more into page-clicking-celeb-gossipy stuff, but this post is a good reminder of why I find TPM to be head and shoulders above most other political blogs out there.
As for the threads, I’ll throw this question out:
How do we go about re-coupling productivity and wages?
It’s a complicated and nettlesome question, obviously, and I’m sure that folks of different stripes will have different approaches. I’m very curious to see what people here might come up with.
Whatcha got, hive mind?
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