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by Barry Eidlin

One of the few bright spots amidst otherwise distressing news on growing inequality in the U.S. has been the success of efforts across the country to raise the minimum wage. While congressional gridlock has kept the federal minimum wage frozen at $7.25 since 2009, twenty-nine states have raised their minimum wages on their own, including in conservative “red states” like Arkansas and Nebraska. Additionally, several municipalities have raised their minimum wages even further, with cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles reaching as high as $15.00/hour in the coming years.

Many of these minimum wage hikes were the result of ballot initiatives, which voters approved in most cases by wide margins. Polling data shows that roughly three-quarters of Americans favor raising the minimum wage by up to 50 percent.

More broadly, there has been a wholesale shift in the terms of debate surrounding the minimum wage. Whereas the debate two years ago was over President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10/hour (an increase of nearly 40 percent), today the target number has shot up to $15.00. Mainstream Democrats like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo support that target, along with those further to the left like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

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PhilippeVanParijs

“The basic income approach is absolutely essential, but it is not part of the social democratic tradition. Think about it. The post-war consensus was all about national insurance, it was not about basic income. Now, either we are going to have a basic income that regulates this new society of ours, or we are going to have very substantial social conflicts.”

— Yanis Varoufakis, The Economist, March 31st 2016

 

 

[Ed note: Eduardo Porter of the New York Times recently wrote a column entitled “A Universal Basic Income Is a Poor Tool to Fight Poverty,” based on dodgy accounting and weak rational choice reasoning. Matthew Yglesias addressed the dodgy accounting over at Vox. On Porter’s argument that UBI would provide a “disincentive to work,” innumerable sociological studies have demonstrated how work can provide a fundamental source of meaning, purpose and intellectual stimulation; UBI would empower workers in the labor market so they feel less financial pressure to accept bad jobs and can thus pursue more meaningful work.

Porter also seems to think that the idea for UBI was created by Silicon Valley tech gurus and he argues that the idea is “poorly thought out.” In response, I reached out to an early and long-time champion of UBI, Belgian philosopher and political economist Philippe Van Parijs, professor at the Faculty of Economic, Social and Political Sciences of the University of Louvain. He kindly allowed me to repost this article from Social Europe. For more in-depth arguments, readers may consult the following works on basic income by Van Parijs: A Basic Income for All,” Redesigning Distribution, Real Freedom for All, and What’s Wrong with a Free Lunch-Matt Vidal]

by Philippe van Parijs

The idea of an unconditional basic income is in fashion. From Finland to Switzerland, from San Francisco to Seoul, people talk about it as they have  never done. Twice before, basic income was the object of a real public debate, albeit briefly and limited to one country at a time. In both episodes, the centre left played a central role.

The first debate took place in England in the aftermath of World War I. The Quaker and engineer Dennis Milner managed to get his “state bonus” proposal discussed at the 1920 Labour Party conference. It was rejected, but prominent members of the party kept defending it in the following years under the label “social dividend”. Among them were the Oxford economist and political theorist George Cole and the future Nobel laureate James Meade.

The second debate took place in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Another future Nobel laureate, James Tobin, advocated the introduction of a “demogrant”, along with Harvard economist and best-selling author John Kenneth Galbraith, also on the left of the Democratic Party. Persuaded by them, Senator George McGovern included the proposal in his programme during his campaign for the nomination as Democratic presidential candidate, but dropped it in the last months before the 1972 election which he lost to Richard Nixon.

The current, far longer and increasingly global debate originated in Europe in the 1980s. Interest in basic income arose more or less simultaneously in several countries and prompted the creation of a network (BIEN) that now has national branches in all continents. This time, however, the social democratic left is not exactly at the forefront, far less than the greens, for example, or than some components of the liberal right and the far left.

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In September last year the G20, including the US and UK, signed the Ankara Declaration that explicitly and formally recognised the importance of job quality. The Declaration committed the governments of the advanced economies to strengthening job quality as a route to achieving strong, sustainable and balanced economic growth that might also deliver inclusiveness and improved standards of living.

This declaration forms part of a trend in which supranational and inter-governmental organisations such as the OECD and European Union have introduced a number of initiatives to promote job quality and its economic and social benefits. The background is often concerned about the effects of the global economic crisis but in the context of recognising that there is no necessary clash of policy outcomes in wanting both more jobs and better jobs.

These international initiatives are welcome but need to translate into national government actions. However at national government level the explicit championing of job quality is less obvious.

The Scottish Parliament is bucking this trend.In 2015 it established an Inquiry into Work, Wages and Wellbeing that explicitly sought to understand the social, economic and health impacts of precarious employment, and which, at its heart, had an overt concern with the quality of Scottish jobs.

The Inquiry has just published its report: Taking the High Road. Borrowing directly from the arguments outlined in the introduction to Are bad Jobs Inevitable? by Françoise Carré and her colleagues, it recommends that the Scottish Government paves the high road and blocks the low road.

The Scottish Government wants to improve job quality by raising and setting employment standards, with a key role to be played by public agencies. It also wants better research on job quality, the monitoring of job quality and the development of a fair work index for Scotland.  The full report can be found here.

Image: Joe Diaz via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

randyAcademic readers will recognize not only the name but also the many scholarly contributions of Randy Hodson, who passed away a little more than a year ago. Remembrances, both personal and intellectual, have circulated intensely since Randy’s death, but until now they have been limited to the oral tradition. With the publication of the most recent edition of Research in the Sociology of Work, all that has changed.

In this brief article I want to provide an overview of this volume, in effect providing an invitation for readers to engage the articles therein.

Edited by Lisa Keister and Vincent Roscigno, the volume carries the hefty title A Gedenkschrift to Randy Hodson: Working with Dignity. And indeed, this is a hefty collection, for it contains much that leverages Hodson’s contributions, extracts their value, and leads the field forward in much the way that he would have hoped. This is must-reading for sociologists of work.

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by Rebecca Vallas

Dear Capital One:

Rebecca here.

A few weeks ago I signed up for one of your credit cards. Just a few weeks after the card came in the mail, I got an email alert from you about a tip I had left. Here’s what it said:

We noticed you gave an extra generous tip on March 14, 2016, for your service at Mackey’s… We hope you left this tip because your service was exceptional. So if it’s not a mistake—or if you’ve already addressed it—there’s nothing you need to do. Have concerns about the tip? Just sign in to look at the charge in more detail. You can also contact Mackey’s directly if you need to…

I looked closer at your email to see I’d left $5 on a $14 bill.

While my tip may have exceeded 20% of the bill (the percentage conventionally considered to be a “good” tip), it was just an extra two bucks—and well within the realm of what I consider reasonable.

As a former server—and as someone who spends her days working to fight poverty and boost opportunity in America—I was struck by the great irony of receiving these emails in the weeks leading up to the 25th anniversary of the last time Congress raised the tipped minimum wage.

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outsourcing

Image: The Blue Diamond Gallery (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Over the past three decades, income inequality has risen in most of the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. A recent analysis of 22 OECD countries from 1985 to 2013 found that inequality increased in 17 of them (including the US, UK, Canada and Germany), underwent little change in four (Belgium, Netherlands, France, Greece) and declined in only one (Turkey). Over the same period, in the 17 richest countries GDP growth primarily benefitted the top 10% of the population, with the bottom 40% receiving little from a quarter century of growth.

The prevailing explanation for rising inequality – the mainstream economics explanation – is that technology did it. There are no capitalists making investment decisions, no managers making employment decisions and certainly no class struggle. Only technical change, supply and demand. Here I want to make the case for the centrality of class struggle in driving inequality.

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blind audition

Image: Igen, CCO Public Domain, Pixaby

A lot of us are familiar with the story, thanks to economists Goldin and Rouse and later Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, about the innovation in orchestra auditions. In the 1970s, when auditions consisted of a musician performing in front of judges, orchestras were nearly 95% male.  When orchestras turned to blind auditions—ones in which the identity of the musician was hidden by a screen—women’s share of orchestras rose to about 25%.  These blind auditions, it seemed, allowed judges to assess musicians on quality alone, leaving no room for gender bias (or any other prejudices) to enter the assessment process.

This leads me to consider two questions:

  1. Does gender bias exist outside of orchestra settings?
  2. If so, can blind auditions minimize gender bias outside of orchestra settings?

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Image: Moyan Brenn via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

by Herbert J Gans

In 1983, social scientists went ballistic when political scientist Benedict Anderson described nations as imagined communities. He claimed that people falsely perceived it as a collectivity to which they belonged even though they knew virtually no one in it.

I argue here that the national economy is also imagined. Although everyone is thought to belong to it, it is not an actually existing social body, and thus cannot act.

Also known as “the economy,” the national economy has no leaders, participants or constituents, much less a social structure. It can therefore be described as an imagined social system – or in postmodern terminology, as an imaginary.

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by Herbert J Gans

In his recent post on sociology’s image problem, Prof Rojas included a definition of sociology as “the scientific study of groups.” It is the same one I was taught in graduate school seventy years ago, and think it is now long out of date.

Let me offer the one I have used in recent years: Sociology is the study of what people in formal and informal organizations, institutions, communities, states and other social structures do, think and feel with, for, against and about others.

Three of its virtues are (1) it can be abbreviated or expanded for different venues; (2) it avoids the thorny questions of whether sociology is a science, or what kind of science, and something in addition to being a science; and (3) it offers a more graphic image of sociology to the lay people etc who now ignore sociology or do not understand what it is.

Herbert Gans is Robert S. Lynd Professor Emeritus and Special Lecturer, Columbia University, Department of Sociology.