Representation and Returns for Regular People
By Alice Temnick
Is there a role for government in “nudging” a more equal distribution of profits in the form of increased compensation to workers for their value-added activities? What is the truth about wage stagnation or slowing rates of wage growth in the U.S.?
In this week’s episode, journalist Noah Smith and EconTalk host Russ Roberts evaluate various wage indices and measures in a lively debate that illuminates the complex variables affecting labor markets, wages, and structural changes in the diverse U.S. economy. These questions address topics from the conversation, and intend to encourage further thought and shared response.
1- This week, California became the first state to mandate female representation on corporate boards headquartered in California effective by the end of 2019. How might a similar requirement for worker (employee) Board representation (co-determination) be received by the public? Is this a role for state, federal, or any government intervention? Explain.
2- Smith mentions that the focus on the small quantity of labor in the IT sector should go to the number of warehouse workers and not the small number of tech engineers. Amazon announced raised wages for over 200,000 workers (October 2nd). Do you believe this raise to a $15 minimum wage is based on productivity gains? Why or why not? [Bonus question: How would EconLog’s Scott Sumner answer this question?]
3- Russ and Noah come to an agreement that data since the year 2000 presents a significant juxtaposition between rising corporate profits and wage rate growth (though not stagnation which represents zero growth). Russ suggests a filming of their discussion with multiple data charts to address their differing opinions as to the cause of this. What other factors or measures you believe should be included in this future discussion?
4- The idea of market power concentration by firms as a primary cause of slowed wage growth troubles Roberts. Russ suggests, firms’ productivity may have led to changes in the type of worker (lower skilled) that is needed, which would account for lower wages. To what extent do you agree with Russ’s skepticism about the claim that fewer firms in geographic areas leads to “squeezing” workers by reducing the cost of production that is wages?
5- A curious structural phenomenon in today’s labor market is the emergence of temp agencies through which firms are paying for a valuable service of acquiring workers, resulting in lower pay to workers. What incentives, for workers and/or firms, do you believe are driving this workplace trend?