Cheney Free Press -


Despite excess labor, universal living wage right around the corner

Guest Commentary


March 21, 2019

Homelessness has been cussed and discussed with no solution in sight. With no viable plan, most government officials wring their hands and hope the problem will go away.

The latest suggestion is to pay the homeless a living wage. Thus, the unfortunate street people could afford the requisite training to find jobs.

I guess this is possible. The evening news interviewed an ex-homeless lady who received money from a private charity and was eventually able to open a coffee shop, thus, becoming a local success story.

We sometimes forget that other countries can have experiences similar to ours. Homelessness is an international problem. The government of Finland tried living wage payments and found no change in the number of homeless finding employment, but they felt better about themselves, so the experiment was a success.

As distasteful as it is to those of us who were raised to value capitalist ideals, there may soon become a time when universal standard of living payments become an economic necessity. Not for just the homeless, but for everyone.

Economists have worried for centuries about our planet’s ability to feed itself. Predictions of wide spread famine, however, have proved to be unfounded.

In my great grandfather’s day, 40 acres and a mule would support a family. By the time I was a boy, a farmer could care for a quarter section. Those with hired help were well off with a half section. Today’s farmer requires two sections. Improved equipment and methods have increased yields and reduced labor.

Within the next three generations the total population of the world is expected to level off at around nine billion people. Modern farming methods can feed that number. In today’s world, hunger is caused by politics, not by supply. The demand for organic methods and free range chickens is only possible when there is a surplus of food. We humans can feed ourselves into the foreseeable future.

The labor required to produce goods and services is also decreasing rapidly. As industry became more efficient, the work day was gradually reduced from 12 to 10 then 8 hours per day. Many workers now enjoy four-day work weeks.

My uncles worked in automobile manufacturing plants. One was a welder and another was a painter. Those jobs are now done faster and better by robots. The same is true in other industries as well. My father’s factory job no longer exists.

My first job off the farm was bagging groceries at the local market. Modern scanners increased the efficiency of the checkout station and eliminated my job.

Self-checking stations are becoming more popular and reduce the need for clerks. As we become more automated and efficient, more and more traditional jobs will be unnecessary.

Excess labor is a new phenomenon. For the first time in history we are approaching a position where we have more labor available than is required to produce all that we need.

Some analysts believe the homeless situation is a result of excess labor. The first to suffer unemployment are those with minimum skills. Check the homeless camps, I don’t think you will find many engineers and MBAs.

On the other hand, you find mostly those who cannot compete in a market that has an excess of unskilled labor. Minimum wage laws only cover up the problem.

Fifteen dollars an hour for fast food workers is in fact a subsidy for unskilled labor. The current subsidies are forced on employers, but what are we going to do as the population of unemployables gets bigger and bigger?

If history is an indicator, there will come a point where government will take over and pay all citizens a minimum living wage. Our government should quit fighting within itself and contract some think tanks to tell us what world society will look like when our great-grandchildren are in charge.

Frank Watson is a retired Air Force Colonel and long-time resident of Eastern Washington. He has been a free-lance columnist for over 19 years.


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