Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt The New York Times report that real wages are not increasing in tandem with recent productivity gains, which helps to explain why corporate profits are so high right now.
Here's a short excerpt:
The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards has risen steadily over the same period.
As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as "the golden era of profitability."
Of course, this is hardly a new story, since this has been the trend for the past several years. We're likely to hear more about it in the next couple of months, though, seeing that elections are just around the corner.
Mueller's entire article, which is only a few pages long, is fascinating. Here are some lengthy quotations to get you started:
. . . if it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are so demonically competent, why have they not done it? Why have they not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security experts, could so easily be exploited?
One reasonable explanation is that almost no terrorists exist in the United States and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.
[. . .]
. . . Americans are told -- often by the same people who had once predicted imminent attacks -- that the absence of international terrorist strikes in the United States is owed to the protective measures so hastily and expensively put in place after 9/11. But there is a problem with this argument. True, there have been no terrorist incidents in the United States in the last five years. But nor were there any in the five years before the 9/11 attacks, at a time when the United States was doing much less to protect itself. It would take only one or two guys with a gun or an explosive to terrorize vast numbers of people, as the sniper attacks around Washington, D.C., demonstrated in 2002. Accordingly, the government's protective measures would have to be nearly perfect to thwart all such plans. Given the monumental imperfection of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and the debacle of FBI and National Security Agency programs to upgrade their computers to better coordinate intelligence information, that explanation seems far-fetched. Moreover, Israel still experiences terrorism even with a far more extensive security apparatus.
It may well have become more difficult for terrorists to get into the country, but, as thousands demonstrate each day, it is far from impossible. Immigration procedures have been substantially tightened (at considerable cost), and suspicious U.S. border guards have turned away a few likely bad apples. But visitors and immigrants continue to flood the country. There are over 300 million legal entries by foreigners each year, and illegal crossings number between 1,000 and 4,000 a day -- to say nothing of the generous quantities of forbidden substances that the government has been unable to intercept or even detect despite decades of a strenuous and well-funded "war on drugs." Every year, a number of people from Muslim countries -- perhaps hundreds -- are apprehended among the illegal flow from Mexico, and many more probably make it through. Terrorism does not require a large force. And the 9/11 planners, assuming Middle Eastern males would have problems entering the United States legally after the attack, put into motion plans to rely thereafter on non-Arabs with passports from Europe and Southeast Asia.
If al Qaeda operatives are as determined and inventive as assumed, they should be here by now. If they are not yet here, they must not be trying very hard or must be far less dedicated, diabolical, and competent than the common image would suggest.
The rest of the article is filled with similar common sense reasoning about the threat posed by foreign terrorists to the U.S. mainland.
Andrew Gimson of The Daily Telegraph has written a very flattering column about the United States. That was nice of him, of course, but it's not why I'm linking to his article (which is devoted to the American willingness to die for liberty).
Here's the paragraph that prompted me to post this entry:
The idea has somehow gained currency in Britain that America is an essentially peaceful nation. Quite how this notion took root, I do not know. Perhaps we were unduly impressed by the protesters against the Vietnam war.
Mr. Gimson has a point, one that has been studied at some length, I might add.
If the role of warfare in American history is a topic that happpens to interest you, then I recommend that you read Geoffrey Perrret's A Country Made by War. It was published by Vintage in 1989.
Since I can't find the book anywhere on the Vintage website, I can only assume, unfortunately, that it is currently out of print. But finding it in a library or a used book store shouldn't be terribly difficult.
To some extent Dionne is certainly correct: various fault lines are being exposed in the GOP in the debates over immigration and stem-cell research. (And I've already pointed out the political desperation behind the recent Republican effort to raise the minimum wage. That's just election-year pandering of a fairly spectacular sort.)
But these disputes pale in comparison with the fundamental failure of contemporary conservatism to make good on its promise to reduce the size of government. Commentators have long refused to pay enough attention to the self-deception at the heart of contemporary conservatism that made this failure inevitable, namely, the conservative belief that the American people really want to reduce the size of government.
Most voters oppose spending cuts once they realize that the cuts threaten spending from which they benefit. Too many conservatives have kidded themselves for too long into thinking that this isn't so. This is why they've been able to insist that their conservatism is a principled one, but a movement grounded on such a huge piece of self-deception can't really be considered principled. Doctrinal coherence bought at the price of self-deception is really nothing more than opportunism.
In practice, of course, the obvious political adjustments had to be made. Tax cuts that favor big business and the affluent have been made politically palatable by means of deficit spending for the rest of the country. Hence the Bush administration's massive budget deficits.