Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Senator-Elect Webb's Complaint (via the Wall Street Journal)

An essay by James Webb, Senator-elect from Virginia, first published in the Wall Street Journal on November 15, has been circulating by email among progressives with unusual velocity.

Entitled "Class Struggle-- American workers have a chance to be heard," the essay argues that the new Congress has a duty to confront the growing class divide in America. Webb writes: "If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest." Some say Webb is an unlikely source for this brand of economic populism; he was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy. So surprising to read this from him:

In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Many earned pension programs have collapsed in the wake of corporate "reorganization." And workers' ability to negotiate their futures has been eviscerated by the twin threats of modern corporate America: If they complain too loudly, their jobs might either be outsourced overseas or given to illegal immigrants.

Webb's essay is long on rhetoric and short on solutions, but the implications of his indictment are substantial for trade, tax, labor, immigration, health care and even bankruptcy policy.

It's worth a read.

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