Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."





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Sunday, December 16, 2018

A FEW MORE FACTS


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.

9 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

Since books in the U.S. have a cover price, I use them to calculate the loss of buying power.

I entered the university in 1964, the minimum wage was $1.25, and I have in my bookcase a copy of Aristotle's Ethics published by the Library of Liberal Arts which I used in my freshman year, cover price $1.45. Excellent quality paper and sewn binding.

How much would that cost today? Paper still in good condition after 54 years and a whole lot of underlining. Binding still firm. Let's simplify and say that it cost an hour of work at the minimum wage in 1964. You sure couldn't buy a book like that for an hour of work today ($7.25) nor two hours of work ($14.50) and probably not three hours of work ($21.75).

Anonymous said...

I can find the Aristotle's Ethics--indeed his entire corpus in Greek--for free online. I use my local library extensively for the internet (as do dozens of high school students every evening). We need some perspective here in terms of how poverty is measured and what we are measuring. Take a look at indicators of poverty in 1968 vs 2018. It is shocking how much the bottom 40 percent now have today in terms of real goods.

s. wallerstein said...

There were libraries back in 1964 too.

My sister is a librarian in the U.S. and from what she tells me, they're cutting back on spending on libraries everywhere since "everyone" is connected online. Where she works (in a supposedly progressive metropolis), they sold off the book collection in the library, fired all the library assistants, and closed the library as a physical space (which was a nice heated free place for non-busy people to sit, read, chat with the librarian and come in from the cold), although she still is in charge of cultural events there.

The last time I was in NYC I stopped in the public library (Queens) to use the bathroom and to kill an hour before meeting someone for lunch. I had to wait to use a computer since they were all occupied and they only gave me half an hour of computer time, which was fine for me, but not enough for a student without other access to a computer.

Dean said...

I, too, am a librarian in the U.S. The whittling away at library budgets has indeed been an ongoing plight. Now and then, we hear less dire contrary stories. I know first-hand the benefits of libraries to their users. For example, when we first taught visitors to the public library how to use pre-Web Internet tools -- Gopher, WAIS, etc. -- we heard an occasional account of success at job-hunting online. So, while I agree with Anonymous @2:37 PM that some technology sometimes affords some people opportunities they wouldn't have had decades ago, I also think s. wallerstein @3:12 PM has not lost perspective in comparing the costs of books vis-à-vis minimum wage. Home 'net access isn't cheap. (I pay upwards of $50/month at home. Do I spend anything approaching that amount on books? Of course not.) Regular, convenient access even to free online texts (which aren't necessarily optimal for long stretches of reading) is not itself free. The library mitigates this by providing 'net access to its users, just as it provides free access to books for limited times.

RM said...

Since this

https://www.patreon.com/posts/who-benefits-tax-23330257

begins by noting a mechanism that contributes, in France, to a feature that’s been emphasized here—the advancement, though relatively small, of the 40 percent situated between the very rich and the declining lower 50 percent—I thought it might be of interest. In the third paragraph, note is taken of social impoverishment “when communities are deprived of services and amenities that have sustained them,” something that s.w. remarked and Dean has corroborated.

Charles Pigden said...

Wasn't Abu Baker the first Caliph?

Charles Pigden said...

Damn you autocorrect! Abu Bakr

s. wallerstein said...

This article about Corbyn, Sanders and the return of socialism to the public political conversation seems relevant.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/dec/17/the-next-left-socialism-in-the-uk-and-the-us

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Correct, Charles Pigden, Abu Bakr was the first caliph. My error reveals my ignorance!