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6 economic myths debunked
Fact-checking the conventional wisdom
Dennis Sanders
volume:  
volume 37
issue 6
December 2016
imagestuff

Before, during, and after this election season, there are several economic myths that the capitalist system and its two party political representatives perpetuate, manipulate, downplay and upsell to justify their existence. We are going to examine, nay, debunk, six of these myths.

1. Immigrants take away “American” jobs.

Whenever the ruling class needs to stoke the fire of division within the working class, a convenient myth is to blame foreign workers for “stealing” jobs.

Actually, immigrants as a whole occupy the same cross-section of jobs that native-born people do in many professions — technology, services and manual labor. There are about 40 million immigrants residing in the United States. Just under half are fully naturalized citizens, 25 percent have some type of residency status, and only 25 percent are undocumented.

But when it comes to the most backbreaking, vulnerable, exploitive, and lowest paid jobs, such as in agriculture and hospitality, undocumented immigrants from the Americas have long been the labor force of choice for U.S. bosses. Capitalists prefer non-union undocumented labor because they can more easily abuse these workers as they see fit, and dispose of them when they need to.

It simply isn’t true that immigrants impact the wages of the native-born. Newer immigrants impact the wages of earlier immigrants, because they are the most “replaceable.” Bosses prefer to replace within the immigrant population, because it costs them less.

2. “Free” trade is good for all.

Trade, the exchange of goods, services, and knowledge between people, is a good thing. Our cultures can be enriched, we can learn other view points, and generally expand our horizons.

The problem is that trade is designed and conducted by the 1 percent, who have only the interest of growing profits, which they can do by finding new markets. No capitalist will say that out loud though!

So big business gets its politicians to glorify the “rule of law” and a “level playing field” and endlessly applaud the “growing” economy.

Here are the facts. Countries belonging to the World Trade Organization (WTO) control 90 percent of world trade and have put into effect 79 trade agreements since 2010. During this time, the global 1 percent has amassed 50 percent of the planet’s wealth and climbing, and the value of trade moving through their tax havens is at an all-time high and climbing. Meanwhile, the wages and benefits of the world’s working class have flat-lined or declined. Trade is “fair” for the capitalists only. And “free” only of corporate taxation. If workers happen to gain temporarily, it‘s a pleasant surprise. But if they don’t, it’s just the “cost of doing business.”

3. The wages of Blacks are recovering since the economic meltdown.

This lie doesn’t work on so many levels. One of which is that no one’s wages are recovering! In fact, nominal hourly wages (which are adjusted for inflation) have grown just 2.6 percent, year over year since the supposed end of the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

As for Blacks specifically, the situation remains literally unchanged. The wage gap between Black and white men narrowed ever so slightly in 2010 and has been creeping back up ever since. The disparity has been at least 20 percent since 1990.

The wage gap between Black women and white men never really declined. In fact, the wage difference between Black women and white men was 34.7 percent in 1990, and it is 34.2 percent today.

This myth that Black America is recovering has absolutely no merit. And neither do the claims of politicians of both parties, particularly the Democrats, who have ruled over 26 years of no wage improvement for Black workers.

4. Women have cracked the glass ceiling.

It is easy to get distracted from reality with female presidential candidates and corporate CEOs making headings daily, enduring incredible sexism, and responding with a remarkable toughness. But this is a tiny percentage of women, and for the vast majority the story is bleak indeed.

Let’s cut straight to the starkest fact. In 1975, women made 59 cents on the dollar compared to men, and in 2015, 79 cents on the dollar. Black women in 2015 made 66 cents on the dollar compared to men! That is, 40 years to gain a pittance.

This is a bitter but predictable fact. We are living under capitalism after all, which depends on racist and sexist bigotry to shovel in the profits.

5. Government/public sector workers make too much money.

The exact opposite is true. The status of public sector workers, at the local, state and federal levels, has been declining for years.

The pay for public school teachers has eroded so badly it is scary. Compared to comparable private sector workers in 1994, there was a 1.8 percent wage gap between the two sectors. Now it is 17 percent!

State and local government jobs generally require more education than comparable positions in the private sector, but government workers make about 10 percent less and often face frozen wages. Benefits make up a larger portion of total compensation for public workers. Significantly, governments are simply shifting more of the cost burden of benefits over to their workforce.

6. Compared to other people of color Asians have it made.

First of all, almost no one in the working class “has it made,” as shown above in the other myths. Asian Americans make up 3.5 percent of the U.S. working class, and have the highest rate of college graduates at 59 percent. There have been recent reports (generating near hysteria from right-wing pundits and academics) that Asian Americans have reached parity with white men. When you look at the myth from an average of all Asian Americans, you get a very simplistic, misleading conclusion. The success of the few well-educated men pulls up the rest of the numbers.

The primary gain for Asian American men has been among professionals in the sciences and in technology. Educated Asian American women still make 79 cents less on the dollar than their male counterparts, and are at parity with educated Black and Latino men compared to white men.

Asian Americans without a full college education fall into the same stagnating or declining economic status as other people of color.

• • •

Capitalism in decline will continue to manufacture giant myths to foster a divided working class. Debunking these lies is a critical job for us all as we build class unity.

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