Economists: Improve the Economy by Empowering Workers

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Attacks on unions isn’t anything new, even when workers are asking for safer conditions or a little job security. What is new is that economists are starting to realize that we need stronger worker groups to advocate for labour or the economy as a whole suffers. Over the last few decades we’ve witnessed the rise of massive corporations that bully governments and workers; inevitably this process will gut the productive parts of planet (with fantastic short-term gains!). So, if we want our economy to do well for decades on end we need to ensure that all people involved in it get a share of the benefits.

A complementary approach would be to increase workers’ power. Historically, this has been most effectively done by bringing more workers into unions. Across advanced economies, wage inequality tends to rise as the share of workers who are members of unions declines. A new paper examining detailed, historical data from America makes the point especially well. Henry Farber, Daniel Herbst, Ilyana Kuziemko and Mr Naidu find that the premium earned by union members in America has held remarkably constant during the post-war period. But in the 1950s and 1960s the expansion of unions brought in less-skilled workers, squeezing the wage distribution and shrinking inequality. Unions are not the only way to boost worker power. More radical ideas like a universal basic income—a welfare payment made to everyone regardless of work status—or a jobs guarantee, which extends the right to a government job paying a decent wage to everyone, would shift power to workers and force firms to work harder to retain employees.

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Productive Companies Include Workers on Their Board

Interview

Since the late 1970s (coinciding with the rise of neoliberalism) wages have stagnated while executive pay keeps rising. This has led to inequality being one of the largest issues facing companies and countries in the 21st century. Accordingly, people sick of neoliberalism have been looking into ways to address inequality and the subsequent economic stagnation. One solution is to have workers sit on the board of their employer. This results in better treatment of the workforce while providing more opportunity for growth in efficiencies within the company.

Research has found that the setup reduces worker turnover, boosts salaries and productivity, and supports income equity. Shareholder returns do suffer slightly, but researchers largely agree that tilting the flow of revenue back toward workers is a good thing.

It stands to reason that the concept holds a great deal of sway over the American public. The gulf between CEO and shareholder earnings and that of employees is often as extreme as 25 to one. Wages for regular workers have held largely stagnant over the last three decades, as executive salaries have ballooned. Bringing actual employees to the table where these decisions are made could serve to flatten the cliff between management and workers.

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Even More Research that Raising Minimum Wage is Good for Everyone

happy workers in a factory

Haters keep telling us that minimum wage is too high, which is really saying they would love free labour for private profits. Those haters are also not thinking about the economy at large. A new, massive, study on the impact of minimum wage concludes that minimum wage increases help people who aren’t currently being paid enough and that the benefits to that group cascade upwards on the economic ladder. Trickle down economics is a clear failure and trickle up economics looks rather effective!

The study is indeed impressive. Census researchers Kevin Rinz and John Voorheis used data from the bureau’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement, which surveys more than 75,000 households. The authors then link this data with administrative filings from the Social Security Administration on wages and track the changes between 1991 and 2013. The study stands out for covering such a large number of people over such an extended period.

“[R]aising the minimum wage increases earnings growth at the bottom of the distribution, and those effects persist and indeed grow in magnitude over several years,” the authors write. At the same time, there’s little indication that other people will lose their jobs as a result of the minimum wage—the outcome conservatives always warn about.

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The Happiest Workers are Self-Employed

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It’s Wednesday my dudes, which means you’re likely midway through your work week. If you’re looking for a boost in productivity and happiness you may want to consider working for yourself. People who are self-employed report being happier than people who work for bosses in a recent in study about workplace happiness. Of course, being self-employed isn’t for everyone but if you’re looking for a change maybe it’s time to strike out on your own!

Professor Warr said: “Professional workers who are self-employed really value the autonomy they have. They have the freedom to innovate, express their own views, have influence beyond their own role and compete with other companies and people.

“They really get to use their own expertise, so don’t seem to mind working long hours. They can find meeting high standards really fulfilling.”

Co-author Professor Ilke Inceoglu added: “Being engaged in their jobs makes people feel energised and pleased with their own contribution.

“Measuring how engaged people are in their work is therefore a really useful way to gauge their wellbeing and shows we must move beyond just looking at job satisfaction.”

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Read the full study.

Millennials Don’t Want to Work for Jerks

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Generational distinctions are mostly meaningless, although sometime there is a glimpse into cultural trends based on age. One generational difference that is a good one to see (among many) is that “millennials” don’t want to work for jerks. Workplaces used to worship the leaders who pushed people around and were overly assertive; today the standard is changing to bosses who actually realize that humans work for them and they aren’t just disposable “human resources.” Sure, there aren’t as many jobs out there as before, but we must remember that millennials have grown up in an economy without care for them (serially underemployed with no job security, pension, or even a ‘normal’ 9-5 pay cheque), so a jerk boss has little sway to keep employees around since millennials don’t have much to loose by going elsewhere.

Let’s hope that the changing workplace to a friendly space can also make the economy a little more human too.

In some workplaces, making a colleague cry is considered a sadistic rite of passage. In the culture of commerce, behaviour that would be inexcusable in pretty much any other context is not only tolerated, but rewarded.

To what end? What real benefits are conferred on a business when its leaders are nasty? Abusive behaviour sure doesn’t spur productivity: A 2006 Florida State University study of 700 employees in a variety of different roles found that those with abusive bosses were five times more likely to purposefully slow down or make errors than their peers, and nearly six times more likely to call in sick when they actually felt fine. Nor does it do much for employee morale: As Stanford organizational behaviour professor Robert Sutton wrote in his 2007 bestseller, The No Asshole Rule, brutish managers “infuriate, demean and damage their peers, superiors, underlings and, at times, clients and customers, too.”

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