[Marxism] Bob Pollin appearance on Bill Moyers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 24 07:48:33 MST 2003

Last night PBS's "Now with Bill Moyers" aired an interesting show on how 
the American working class is being screwed. You can read a transcript 
at: http://www.pbs.org/now/

Bob Pollin, who has been talked up in Alex Cockburn's Counterpunch 
newsletter and Nation Magazine articles (which usually duplicate 
themselves), provided a running commentary.

Although he has a reputation for opposing globalization, Pollin had this 
to say:

 >>MOYERS: We've been hearing many voices today being raised in favor of 
rolling back the clock on free trade and revoking NAFTA and trade 
privileges for China. Economist Robert Pollin disagrees.

POLLIN: Because NAFTA has accelerated a process that's gonna happen 
anyway. What we have to do is think of ways to expand those types of 
jobs that are not exportable and turn them into decent jobs. There's no 
reason, for example, why working at Wal-Mart or the Wal-Mart equivalent 
has to be a lousy job. Historically, it's a lousy job while working in a 
steel mill's a good job because steel mills were organized and that took 
a long time. And so you had labor laws that promoted that. And if you 
had labor laws that promoted organizing at Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart could be a 
decent... why shouldn't it be a decent job? Why shouldn't it be a decent 
job to be a waitress? Why shouldn't it be a decent job to clean my 
university office? Those are the kinds of jobs that aren't going 

Although I have a lot of respect for Pollin's integrity, this seems to 
be an ahistorical approach to the problem of declining wages. Steel mill 
jobs became a good job because of WWII wartime production and US 
hegemony in the aftermath of that war.

Those jobs began to disappear after competition from Germany, Japan et 
al put downward pressure on profits. US Steel, for example, found it 
more profitable to lend money than make steel. Other steel companies 
closed their doors.

The reason Wal-Mart jobs don't pay well is that the company itself is 
involved in selling low-profit items. Everything is based on volume. The 
minute this stops being profitable, the capitalist owners of Wal-Mart 
will shift into some other sphere of the economy. Unskilled jobs, 
however, will never pay what they used to pay--unless, that is, the USA 
launches an old-time imperialist war.

Most of the left-Keynsian discourse in the academy seems rather innocent 
of the rather frightening prospects over the next 25 years or so. It 
appears nostalgic for the "good old days", which were not that good. If 
capitalism needs war to prosper, then an alternative is needed. That 
alternative will require revolutionary struggle, something that is even 
more frightening to routine-minded people than the consequences of a 
system in terminal decay.


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