Both S. Wallerstein and Jerry Fresia ask penetrating questions in response to my rueful post, “What we have lost,” but before I try to reply to them, let me offer another data point in my effort to flesh out the implications of the Piketty et al. essay. This table shows the evolution of the federal minimum wage over its lifetime, normalized to 2014 prices. The change between 2014 and now is small, of course. Notice that the minimum wage rose steadily from 1938, when it was introduced by Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression, to Johnson’s final year in office, 1968. It then declined in real terms [because periodic raises did not keep pace with inflation], sinking during George W. Bush’s second term to a level it had not seen since Truman was in office. It is now $7.25 an hour, which is two-thirds what it was, in real terms, fifty years ago. In short, the minimum wage fifty years ago had a much greater equalizing effect on the American economy than it has now.
One of the many proposals being discussed on the left is the guaranteed minimum income. When I googled around, I discovered to my amusement and astonishment that among those who have advanced versions of this proposal are the first imam of Islam, Abu Bakr, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Paine, and Paul Samuelson. The only person missing from this list is Jesus, and I think his miracle of the loaves and the fishes can be taken as a step in that direction.