Before I started writing this column on why paychecks are likely to keep shrinking even if unemployment starts to inch down, I consulted Google to see if the term Marxism was trending upward. It was and has been ever since the end of December, the conclusion of a year in which workers’ share of the U.S. economic pie shrank to the smallest piece ever: 54.4% of GDP, down from about 60% in the 1970s.
No wonder Marx is back in fashion. It’s been more than 100 years since the German philosopher predicted that capitalism’s voraciousness would be its undoing ”” as bosses invest more in new technologies to make things more cheaply and efficiently and less in workers themselves, who, deprived of fair wages, would eventually rise up and revolt. That hasn’t happened, of course, though depressed wages certainly contributed to the revolution in Egypt, not to mention lots of other instances of public unrest over the past few years. But the fact that wages in the U.S. and most other rich countries have been falling since the 1970s and went off a cliff after the recent financial crisis is going to become a more pressing economic and political concern. Just think how hard it will be for Obama to sell himself in 2012 if salaries are still falling.