By Dean Baker
In its efforts to provide us exactly what we don’t need now, the New York Times gave us an utterly pointless piece by Yuval Levin telling us that we shouldn’t worry about national politics and instead focus on helping our neighbors and communities. This paragraph tells it all:
“More often, though, our deepest problems aren’t really amenable to resolution by a president. These problems have been adding up to something of a social crisis, evident not only in the breakdown of our political culture but also in the isolation and despair that have driven up suicide and opioid-abuse rates, and in a sense of alienation that leaves whole communities feeling excluded from the American story and in turn angrily rejecting it.”
Well Mr. Levin may not understand this, but many of the “deepest problems” he describes are actually pretty direct results of the people who serve as president or in Congress. Since he refers to deaths of despair, we now know that a major cause was the loss of millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs due to trade. This job loss was the result of trade agreements that were explicitly designed to put our manufacturing workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world, while largely protecting doctors, dentists, and other highly paid professionals from the same competition.
People, most often women, also face very deep problems when they can’t get decent child care for their kids. They need to work to put bread on the table, but they don’t make enough to ensure that their children have safe high quality care. We can tell similar stories with access to health care and housing.
One of my favorite stories is that if the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity growth since 1968, as it did from when it was created in 1938 until 1968, it would be $24 an hour today. Imagine a world where the lowest paid worker earned $48,000 a year and a two-earner couple would earn at least $96,000 a year.
Yeah, people will still be lonely, families will break up, and we will all have to deal with the deaths of loved ones, but I would be willing to bet that there would be a lot less “isolation and despair” in that world. And, the reason we don’t have this world where the lowest paid workers get $48,000 a year is because of decisions made by our presidents and Congresses. We really don’t need people like Levin trying to hide that fact.
This column originally appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.