(Catch up on Part I here)
OK, so what? It's not like I'm breaking new ground here in explaining that Gilded Age-style capitalism is a race to the bottom in terms of employee compensation. The important questions are: How long can this continue? and What can be done about it? Veteran readers know that I hate the latter question but we will take a stab at it regardless.
As for how long this stagnation or even decline in wages can continue, the answer depends on how deeply you believe that the kind of people who support Scott Walker from their decrepit apartments in dying rural towns barely clinging to life on a SSI- and eCig-based economy have internalized the ration of shit sold to them by conservative bag men for the last three decades. It is a system of values that convinces a person to put hyper-jingoistic bumper stickers on their rusted out 1987 Plymouth Voyager and declare that America is #1, a viewpoint espoused with complete confidence despite never having ventured beyond a fifty-mile radius of the place he was born save for one high school trip to the Big City (Joplin). It is a system of values intended to convince a person you are paying $9 per hour that he doesn't want the myriad things he can't afford – vacations (What kind of lazy grifter takes time off of work?), decent schools (Homeschoolin's where it's at! Teach 'em some TRUTH for once!), decent food (What are you, queer or somethin?), higher education (buncha liberal bullshit), or any kind of cultural stimulation of a variety more refined than semi-pro wrestling. Once a person has settled into this mindset to enjoy the greatest country on Earth from the vantage point of Dogpatch, Alabama, it's hard to have much an impact using facts or logic. If people need nothing more to be happy than beer, church, shitty American cars, and a ranch house in some backwater, they're going to work for $10 or $11 per hour for a long, long time before they can be convinced to agitate. Hell, at $10 per hour in Cleveland, MS you might even have excess income if your expectations have been sufficiently lowered. If you do, don't worry. The State Legislature will build a casino to take care of it.
Conservatives are always telling us that no one can help us, rather we must help ourselves. Ironically, they're right in this instance. As long as people accept shit compensation and shittier treatment from their employers, they will continue to receive it. You can lead a horse to water, but if that horse watches Fox News eight hours per day it's going to be equal parts dumb, misinformed, and delusional. It will also probably hate black horses, and don't even get it started on donkeys. But I digress. This economic swamp we've been thrashing around in since 1980 will not be improved so long as millions of Americans fight to keep it as is.
That leaves us with the second question, what to do about it. Unfortunately I am not convinced that anything short of slow, steady progress by increments can have an effect. If the implosion of 2009 had no effect on attitudes toward taxation, wages, and government intervention in the economy then I can't imagine what kind of cataclysmic economic event would be required to change minds. We are witnessing the death throes of a group of people who are accustomed to living in "Their Country" and are sliding into demographic irrelevance. In a rare note of optimism, I will say that there is some hope to be found in increments in the last few years – a living wage law here, an extension of healthcare benefits there. These changes are being fought tooth-and-claw every step of the way, of course, but if you launch enough bombers you can guarantee that at least a few will make it to London. They're baby steps, but they're steps. Some people know what's up.
In the meantime, though, things will probably get worse before they get better as more states like Michigan and Wisconsin are depopulated and the electorate becomes one dominated by old, white, rural dead-enders with nowhere to go, like some economic Operation Gladio (and nearly as riddled with fascists). The iron law of globalized capitalism is that someone will always do it for less, and the only way right-wing elected officials will be able to compensate for promises of economic growth that never materialize no matter how many tax cuts are gifted to the Job Creators is to cut until they hit bone. Once that happens and their current gray-haired base of political support has gone to the great Denny's in the sky, we might have a chance. For people my age and younger, however, the changes won't come soon enough and we might as well get used to the fact that we are part of an economic lost generation.