Yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote a piece called “Always Low Wages. Always.” The repetition of the phrase “always” didn’t impress my conservative cousin from New York, and neither did Krugman’s analysis:
From the fact that GM employees earned an average of $29,000 in today’s dollars versus the $17,000 average for today’s workers at Wal-Mart, Krugman concludes that American workers can no longer count on economic security and we need to enact national health insurance and make no changes in Social Security.
Did it ever occur to Krugman to compare the salaries and benefits of Wal-Mart employees with workers at the old corner hardware store? I venture that Wal-Mart would fare pretty well. To equate auto workers with stock clerks at Wal-Mart makes as much sense as comparing Wal-Mart employees with college professors. Different industries, different skills. Of course, to imagine that someone without the benefits of an Ivy League education might have skills and a work ethic that the marketplace values is quite beyond Krugman’s limited horizon.
Has Krugman ever considered the possibility that companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s might offer a good opportunity for a young person with little skills to enter the labor force, gain some work experience and move on to a better position? They also might make sense as employers for housewives looking for part-time work or retirees with time on their hands seeking a little extra income. Krugman seems to acknowledge that Wal-Mart may be a stepping stone rather than a lifetime career when he points out that over 40% of its workers leave every year. Did it ever occur to him that they go on to bigger and better things.
The dynamism and mobility of the American worker seems to have eluded Professor Krugman. Does he seriously believe that Americans do not enjoy a significantly higher standard of living than they did in 1968? Companies like Wal-Mart that have lowered the cost of many of life’s basic necessities have played a role in this rising standard. Many of these workers would benefit from the chance to help build financial independence by having the option of investing some of their retirement savings in the American economy.
This whole diatribe was prompted when [my wife] asked me after reading Krugman’s column if we could think of anyone in either of our families who had a lower standard of living than they did when they were growing up. We couldn’t think of anyone. I wonder how many of us would come to the same conclusion. Yet I’m sure that Krugman or some other liberal scold will come up with numbers to show that we are worse off economically. They are “Always Out Of Touch. Always.”