The Living Wage on a Dying Planet

Over at, I was reading through some letters on the subject of “The Dying Wage”, and ran across an interesting one:

The problem with the wage ethic article is that when foreign-made goods can be produced with a lower wage then they will not be produced here. We have only three choices:

1. Let the American worker work for the same wages they do in China or India and suffer a similar deprived lifestyle because the imports are cheaper. Real American wages have been declining since 1977.

2. Keep the minimum wage in place, let untaxed cheap imports flood the country and see millions of Americans with no work. If that happens we will have to support them on welfare until the system collapses.

3. Get out of the WTO, NAFTA, etc. and negotiate fair trade agreements that would equalize costs at the water’s edge. Once we do that we can make it more profitable for goods to be made here, we can put people to work, the taxes collected on imports would help balance the budget, the standard of living would rise and Americans could receive a fair wage.

Any minimum wage law that does not incorporate #3 above will result in disaster.

Allen James

What’s interesting is that this does not really deal with one very important thing that it could: that is, instead of dismantling the global trade system — a system by which some countries actually are managing to bootstrap themselves up into slightly more prosperity — why not just start using Real Cost for things like transportation of raw materials, of parts and completed good, and of the industry that keeps the world in cheap oil? It seems to me one of the culprits in the global market is that Real Cost — the cost of environmental cleanup and of peripheral costs to society for things like pollution — increased hospital treatment for respiratory illness, for one small example — is not being factored in. Companies worldwide are getting a free ride in this area. We have an illusion that it’s cheaper to ship things to several different countries only because we have an illusion that the cost of using oil to transport it is merely the cost of the oil itself.

Put a stop to that, and suddenly importing stuff from China is less cheap. It might still be cheap, but I would wager that the trash-import/trash-export industry would collapse (since plastic widgets at a much-increased price might no longer seem worth the trouble), and homegrown businesses might once again flourish — this time, fueled by new technologies, soon to be created, which will allow people to create all kinds of great things with minimal primary investment. Likewise, the market for cleaner, better energy sources would get much stronger. And you wouldn’t necessarily be wiping out trade, either, so that once cheap and clean alternatives with a low Real Cost exist, there might be a more stable infrastructure for the global trade that would probably resume. Meanwhile, it’s possible that at least some of the countries destabilized by thre effects of invasive industries might have found for themselves better ways of subsisting and modernizing than by keeping legions in sweatshops or providing raw resources for other nations, for pennies a day. This seems more of a win-win situation to me.

The trick is getting that past the energy-powers-that-be. Good luck, world.

In more recent news, I was shocked when my father tried to convince me we (humanity) wouldn’t necessarily be wiped out if the end of Global Dimming brought on a catastrophic, accelerated run of Global Warming and Global Roasting. He suggested we would colonize the oceans and then try the rest of the solar system. I was more dubious than he, which certainly says something, since there was a time when the roles would have been reversed in that conversation. It just goes to show you how much can change in a few years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *