Sunday, 1 October 2017

This is Why the Identitarian Left Sucks.

David Ruccio has been fighting an uphill battle for a while: why Americans (or Australians, for that matter) seem incapable of calling the working class, working class?

In 2011:
"Here in the land of high unemployment and increasing poverty [aka US of A], we refuse to call things by their correct names."
In 2016:
"Well, it seems, Americans are still struggling with the notion of the working-class (and of class more generally)."
He presented this chart (taken from a report from the Economic Policy Institute) as part of his argument for the usefulness of "working class" as analytical category:

That is a good chart, I think.

Let's begin with the beginning. The EPI study defines working class thus: it's "made up of working people without a college degree" (66.1% of the labor force in 2013, as they put it). Although incomplete, by that definition the working class still "supplied most of the labor".

With that in mind, it shows real wage change for whites, blacks, and Hispanics (further categorised by gender): altogether, six historical series, starting in 1979 and ending in 2014 in the US. Gender, race, and ethnicity being some of their main concerns, contemporary identitarian lefties (in the US or abroad) should be very interested. Data on race and ethnicity, however, are often presented in an ambiguous manner, as the Hispanics ethnic category overlaps with several "races" (chiefly, whites). The authors of the EPI avoided that trap, as the note under the chart says: Hispanics here means explicitly Hispanics of all races, including white.

The chart compares those six series with a seventh (in red) corresponding to productivity growth (productivity defined as real GDP -- or another measure of aggregate income -- divided by hours of labour). We'll consider productivity later.

A first observation: in terms of real wage growth, females outperformed males over the 35-year long period 1979-2014 (it would be interesting to see whether this remains true since 2014), with cumulative real median wage growth ranging from 8.6% for Hispanic females (the least increase for females) to 12.8% for black females to a maximum for females of 30.2% for their white counterparts.

Males, on the other hand, regardless of race or ethnicity, saw their real wages shrink over that period: -3.1%, -7.2% and -9.8 (non-Hispanic white, black, and Hispanic males, respectively).

Independently of gender, Hispanics (of all races) were the worst performers, getting bronze (8.6% and -9.8%); blacks got silver (12.8% and -7.2%) and non-Hispanic whites gold (30.2% and -3.1%)


Additionally, the report shows (chart F) that -- although at a glacial pace -- the initial wage levels difference between non-Hispanic white males and the other five categories has either narrowed or not increased. The median Hispanic female, for instance, used to earn 56% of what her white male workmate did back in 1979. In 2014 that increased to 65%. After white males, the best paid in 1979 were black males (77% of the median white male): 21 percentage points above the median Hispanic female; by 2014 that gap reduced to 16.


What could modern identitarian lefties conclude from that?

A possibility open to them is that "whiteness" (re-defined to exclude white Hispanics) still pays a dividend: after all, regardless of gender, non-Hispanic whites did perform better (or less badly) than their black and Hispanic counterparts. There's room for improvement there. I suspect that would be a popular conclusion. A little more awkward is the fact that blacks, too, outperformed Hispanics of all races, yes?

Equally unappealing to them, I suspect, is the conclusion that the gender gap is shrinking. Right now, "maleness" doesn't seem to be working for men, regardless of race/ethnicity. Are we now supposed to talk about "femaleness"?


While identitarian lefties entertain themselves with those deep moral conundra, we can go back to the productivity series, which, as an old-fashioned Marxist I find more interesting anyway. This is what the EPI report says:
"Figure E shows that since 1979, median hourly real wage growth has fallen far short of productivity growth—a measure of the potential for pay increases—for all groups of workers (not just those without a bachelor's degree), regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender".
To put that bluntly: Even for those workers who performed best, since 1979 the value of output per hour of work grew more than twice what the real wage grew (62.7% versus 30.2%). Instead of having lefties squabbling among themselves about what category of workers is unduly better off, there's a lot of untapped surplus there to increase every worker's wages, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. As Paul Krugman is credited with saying: "Productivity isn't everything, but in the long run it is almost everything".

Old-fashioned Marxist readers may further realise that situation sounds a lot like an increase in the exploitation rate. Doesn't it? But, of course, we know that the Marxist view is "simplistic".

The report adds:
"These data show that wage stagnation has been a problem for the entire working class, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. As such, it is easily the most pressing common issue for an increasingly diverse working class, and solutions for reversing the trend are clearly defined. Wage stagnation can be directly traced to a number of intentional policy decisions on behalf of those with the most income, wealth, and power—decisions that have eroded the leverage of the vast majority of workers while directing most of the gains to the top."
Identitarian leftists (or capitalists and their flunkies) may scream that the "working class" notion is "simplistic" as loud as they want, as a working class commie, I'm happy to agree with the EPI. It's a whole lot simpler.


  1. Good post.

    "As Paul Krugman is credited with saying: "Productivity isn't everything, but in the long run it is almost everything"."

    Krugman's quote has a different context. It's supply-sider intuition. Fails to realize that it's output which drives productivity and less the other way round.

  2. Feminism has helped white women. Hurray!

  3. These lefties of whom you speak sometimes call themselves Marxists. But they never talk about class. Or they never get round to it, with all these other battles to fight.

  4. Thanks for the comments, guys.

  5. Poor Uncle Sam...

  6. WSWS interview with Chris Hedges