Monday, November 23, 2015

Offing "The Agenda" Before the Agenda Offs Us

Dean Baker writes:
The time has long since passed when we should be arguing about whether global warming is happening or whether the consequences will be serious. The question is what we are prepared to do about it.
And the answer is… “set targets”?

As long as adopting shorter work weeks and years to achieve full employment is off the agenda, doing something meaningful about climate change is also off the agenda. Shorter hours is not a panacea for full employment or slowing man-made climate change. But excluding shorter hours from the policy mix is the opposite of a panacea — guaranteed toxic.

It is no mistake that shorter hours are off the agenda. It is not happenstance or serendipity. The best way to describe the thinking behind the exclusion is a kind of rentiers’ marxism-in-reverse. Marx’s model of capitalism predicts an “increasing organic composition” of capital. In the absence of capital devaluing crises, such an increase makes labor increasingly scarce relative to capital.

Shorter hours would make labor even scarcer relative to capital. Price of labor goes up, returns to capital go down. Can’t let that happen. This is America, where “free enterprise” rules and the rich buy the public policy regime — and whatever economic policy rationale justifies it — that suits them.

So achieving full employment and mitigating climate change are off the respectable economists’ agenda. The question is what are we prepared to do about that?