Is Labor Waking Up to Inflation?

What rivets us is that this is at bottom a monetary story. Even when union members’ wages appear to be higher, they are being paid with dollars that are worth less.

AP/Paul Sancya, file
United Auto Workers on strike at a Ford plant at Wayne, Michigan, September 15, 2023. AP/Paul Sancya, file

Could it be that one of the stories in the coming election is going to be the awakening of labor to the possibility that its interests do not lie, if they ever lay, with the Democrats? This hope certainly emerges as the latest inflation numbers tick up, with what Larry Kudlow calls “Bidenflation” having pushed consumer prices up a staggering 17 percent since President Biden acceded to the White House. No wonder labor is angry.

It would be a mistake to make too much of labor’s awakening. It would surprise us were a majority of union voters to go for the Republican in 2024, even if President Trump is making a pitch. It would not surprise us, though, were the percentage of the union vote going to the Democrats to show a decline, with the gains, in what is likely to be a hardscrabble election, going to Republican candidates pressing for jobs and growth.

What rivets us is that this is at bottom a monetary story. It centers on the fact even when wages appear to be higher they are being paid with dollars that are worth less. That is, but a shadow of what our dollars were valued at in monetary specie back in, say, the early 1970s. When we abandoned the Bretton Woods system, a dollar was worth a 35th of an ounce of gold. Now it’s fallen to less than a 1,900th of an ounce of gold.

That is, the dollar has shed more than 98 percent of its worth in terms of classical monetary value. Our government is going to be spending $1 trillion a year, or some 15 percent of its outlays, just to service its debts by fiscal 2025, our Red Jahncke predicts. “Unsustainable and crippling” is how Mr. Jahncke describes that level of debt and its annual interest burden. To get that money, Uncle Sam will have to go on a borrowing binge. 

It is now 50 years since our country’s plunge into the abyss of fiat money, meaning money not tied to gold or silver — specie — but instead left undefined in our law. A Federal Reserve Note can today be redeemed only for another Federal Reserve Note or base metal slugs. The historic link between the dollar and specie had put a brake on government borrowing — and spending — while also keeping a lid on inflation.

Just what has labor got after 50 years of fiat money? Is it better off than it was during Bretton Woods, which carried it from the end of World War II until 1971? In that span, unemployment averaged 4.6 percent. A higher percentage of the workforce was unionized than ever — some 34 percent in 1945. It was at about 25 percent in 1971, when we abandoned Bretton Woods. Under a regime of fiat money, it has plunged to 10 percent.

The rate of union membership has fallen along with the decline in the value of the dollar — and, in turn, union members’ pay. This explains why, as CNBC recently reported, “wages in the U.S. have stagnated since the early 1970s.” No wonder the UAW chief, Shawn Fain, laments that “inflation has been hammering us,” that “our wages have regressed over the last 10 years,” and that his members are falling “further and further behind.”

This is echoed by Senator Sanders, who gripes that “weekly wages” for working Americans “are actually lower than they were 50 years ago after adjusting for inflation.” An industrial relations professor at MIT, Thomas Kochan contends today’s labor unrest stems from the fact that “union members are looking at their loss of income — because of high rates of inflation” and “looking to catch up on lost income.”

Mr. Biden doesn’t seem to get it. Just the other day, he was crowing that “we’ve climbed out of our great economic crisis” and claiming that Bidenomics is “beginning to work for working people.” Oh, yeah? What’s labor’s share of the national debt? Yet even the New York Times notes these remarks come as just 22 percent of Americans see the economy improving, and 70 percent think it’s getting worse.

The inflation that Mr. Biden unleashed by his reckless federal spending is a major reason why. This is also a story of the growing movement toward a state-run economy and how the Democrats are trying to steer the economy to the left, pushing, say, electric vehicle mandates and other “climate policies” that are, as Mr. Kudlow puts it in his understated way, “completely unbalanced” and “insane.” 


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