According to economists the economy is the labour market is fine as unemployment is relatively low. The truth is different from the on-paper measurements. High employment numbers don’t mean much if the jobs don’t pay well and the working conditions are miserable. The modern “gig economy” is to blame for this counterintuitive economic situation. Governments are starting to catch on that these “modern” jobs aren’t nearly as beneficial to workers or the economy as more traditional jobs were. As a result new laws are being passed to prevent workers from being exploited by the likes of Uber and other gig economy giants.
AB 5’s reclassification provision would also allow gig workers to unionize, granting them a modicum of protection. Big Tech greeted previous unionization efforts with outright hostility. In November, Google publicly fired five engineers involved in union activity. Other companies, like Uber, use antitrust law to bar drivers from collective action to address their concerns.
A more radical approach would be to break up the Big Tech monopolies that have such a tight grip on California and its economy, making it more difficult for these companies to dictate the terms of employment. Presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have vowed to dismantle giants like Facebook and Google if elected. Sanders’s plan, arguably the most ambitious, would order companies to offer workers more benefits and higher wages and pensions. Workers would also need to make up at least 45 percent of companies’ board memberships, ensuring that they would have a seat at the table when executives make decisions that affect their livelihood.
Thanks to the efforts of billionaires, and other corrupt individuals, union workers have been portrayed as lazy and inept. If anything, the opposite is true. Workers in unions have different goals than business owners insofar that workers just want to earn a good living while owners want to extract profit from consumers. Young workers today have noticed that the profit motive has left behind has the cost of living increase and wages remain stagnant. This has forced many young workers to unionize, and that unionization push is starting where a lot of young people end up working: kitchens.
Public opinion has recently swung in the other direction. Just over 10 percent of Americans are in a union now, considerably less than the 34 percent in 1954. However, more than half of Americans now say they view unions favorably, a number that has risen from around 41 percent since the recession. If there’s a silver lining to the ongoing decline of unionization, it’s that now, “membership in unions has gotten so low that people don’t even have a negative view of unions anymore,” Rogers says. There’s less of the cultural baggage associated with being in one, the slate has been wiped clean. Many of the organizers I spoke to said they’d never been in a union before, and either had no idea what they were about until recently, or a positive impression based on a dictionary definition of a union as a group of people with common cause arguing for their rights.
You’ve probably already seen this pop up in your filter bubble a couple weeks ago but I want to make sure it’s not forgotten. Facebook (and likely other platforms) are being manipulated by powerful interests to edit what can be said and shared on their sites. They are self-regulating to benefit themselves at the cost of our democracies. Sacha Baron Cohen, known for his comedy, has gotten serious about calling out Facebook and the “silicon six” on their complicity in spreading hate. It’s up to us to support him and do our best to fight back against these corporate interests putting profits before all else.
Zuckerberg tried to portray the issue as one involving “choices” around “free expression.” But freedom of speech is not freedom of reach. Facebook alone already counts about a third of the world’s population among its users. Social media platforms should not give bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target victims.
Zuckerberg seemed to equate regulation of companies like his to the actions of “the most repressive societies.” This, from one of the six people who run the companies that decide what information so much of the world sees: Zuckerberg at Facebook; Sundar Pichai at Google; Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google’s parent company, Alphabet; Brin’s ex-sister-in-law, Susan Wojcicki, at YouTube; and Jack Dorsey at Twitter. These super-rich “Silicon Six” care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism — six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law. Surely, instead of letting the Silicon Six decide the fate of the world order, our democratically elected representatives should have at least some say.
Democracy is rule by the people and it’s up to the people to ensure that this continues to be the case. Currently the growing inequality in democracies is threatening the very existence of these societies to continue, but there is a simple solution. If we ensure that billionaires give back to the society that they used to make their wealth then we can continue to thrive. Every billionaire made their money by extracting wealth from others and we can’t forget that. If we don’t make billionaires contribute back then we’ll continue to have many social problems. Perhaps it’s time for something radical and outright ban billionaires?
But there are far more urgent reasons than poverty to get rid of billionaires and reverse the trend of economic polarization. A growing body of economic and political-science research demonstrates that Gilded Age–type inequality does not just mean having too many with too little. It is warping the very social fabric of the country, stifling mobility, innovation, investment, and growth, and putting the country at political risk.
Given all this evidence, wealth taxes are not simply a way to pay for programs for the poor. They are a way of reducing the incentive for the rich to soak up all that money in the first place. They are a way of pushing the steps of the income ladder closer together to make them easier to climb. They are a way of ending what two leading economists on inequality, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, call “oligarchic drift,” and its attending political risks. They are a way of building a healthier economic future for everyone—including those 400 families up at the tippy top.
With inequality increasing throughout the world she jurisdictions are fighting back by raising the minimum wage. Business owners must pay employees at least the minimum wage set by the government, no matter how little they want to actually pay people. Minimum wage increases were rare for the first years of this century so it’s good to see places like New York raise theirs. An added bonus of the recent wage increase is that business have seen revenue gains similar to that of the workers.
The focus on single restaurants also ignores the larger economic impact of raising the minimum wage. According to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, if low-wage workers have more money in their pockets, they will have more money to spend, potentially expanding the number of consumers who can afford to eat out.
In fact, some people — including those from the Economic Policy Institute — have posited that a minimum-wage increase will actually lead to an increase in employment because of the effects of giving low-wage workers a raise. Other advantages to restaurants may include lower turnover rates and better job performance.