Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bernie Sanders on labor markets

By Frank Moraes


Dylan Matthews just posted a great, short interview with Bernie Sanders. It is about the Gang of Eight immigration bill that most everyone is so excited about. Sanders is not and it looks like he will vote against it. What really struck me was that his position is almost identical to mine: we need to normalize the 11 million undocumented residents but the rest of the bill is mostly bad.

Primarily, his concern is on the issue of employment. He is rightly highly skeptical that firms can't find American workers. He said, "Again, if there's such a crisis, why haven't wages gone up?" That's the critical question. The conservative response is usually, "Those jobs aren't worth that much." The idea here is that companies would go out of business if they had to pay enough for American workers. That is a decidedly non-conservative argument these conservatives are making. Basically, the logic is: the government should provide low wage workers to inefficient businesses. It's madness.

Sanders is really focused on technology jobs. He noted that in the last 11 years, wages have risen only 4.5%. What's more, he noted a clear mathematical problem with the push for more H1-B visas, "I find it hard to understand that, when nine million people in this country have degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, only about three million have jobs in these areas." Part of the answer is that high tech firms tend to be picky, and highly resistant to hiring older workers. (By "older" they mean over 30 years old.) But the larger issue is just that there is a market for about 3 million tech workers and the industry is just lying about the availability of workers in order to keep wages down.

Unfortunately, Sanders hedges a bit. He also blasts the H2-B visa increases that will provide for even more seasonal workers. That's all good. But he says many times that there are companies who just can't find workers. He even provides a full tilt apologia for his home industry:

There are areas when you do need foreign labor. Here in Vermont, while I wish it were the case that kids would go into dairy, they do not.

Look, I understand: the man is still a politician and he has to take care of his constituency. But as Mitt Romney said, "Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." I'm sure that if the Vermont dairy industry paid better, more Americans would take the jobs. I'm sure that Sanders understands this, of course. But he doesn't need the Vermont Dairy Industry Association raising millions of dollars to campaign against him.

The whole spectacle of Bernie Sanders making these arguments ought to cause belly laughs from the nation. Supposed hardcore capitalists like Paul Ryan don't understand the basic economics of the system they publicly worship. Meanwhile, socialist Bernie Sanders understands exactly how the economy works—the labor market anyway. And maybe there's a reason for that. As I discussed last night, most conservatives are very confused about how market economies work. Maybe understanding capitalism has a tendency to moderate one's views.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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