Ezra Klein on a modern-day Grapes of Wrath "Want to learn about the plight of unemployed workers during the Great Depression? Head to Amazon.com and order John Steinbeck's Depression-era epic, The Grapes of Wrath," writes Ezra Klein in Bloomberg View. "Want to learn about the plight of workers during our own Lesser Depression? Head over to Amazon's warehouse in Lehigh, Pennsylvania, and watch them prepare your book for shipping." In Steinbeck's book, the Joad family travels to California to answer an ad for pea pickers, but when they arrive, thousands are looking for work. Someone put out the ad, one Californian tells Pa Joad, because the worker surplus means they don't have to pay their farmers a good wage. "In a weak labor market, when there are multiple workers aspiring for any one job, unskilled laborers have very little power," Klein notes. This imbalance exists in today's labor market, as you can discover reading an expose on Amazon's warehouse conditions in Allentown, Pennsylvania's Morning Call newspaper. The warehouses are kept so hot during the summer that many workers were treated for heat exhaustion. "Right now, there are about five unemployed Americans for every open job... the Joads would surely recognize the men and women competing to work in that hundred- degree heat, climbing over one another for the chance to support their kids."
George Will on Barney Frank and Fed independence Rep. Barney Frank "wants to strip the presidents of the Fed's 12 regional banks of their right to vote as members of the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee," writes George Will in The Washington Post. This makes him the "certain kind of liberal," Will writes, who "favors mandatory harmony." Five regional bank presidents can vote on the FOMC at one time, and last month, three of them voted against the decision to extend low interest rates. "Frank says he has 'long been troubled' from a 'theoretical democratic standpoint' by the 'anomaly' of important decisions affecting national economic policy being made by persons 'selected with absolutely no public scrutiny or confirmation,'" Will says. Frank worries the bank presidents are selected by an in-bred community of regional bank peers and "overwhelmingly" represent the financial sector and business so "they are not in any way representative of the American economy." "Not 'in any way'?" Will asks. Frank says the 7 to 3 vote for interest rates, "'is clearly less effective' influencing economic behavior than unanimity would be. Therefore, dissent must be discouraged as inimical to the national interest." Frank's opinions are a threat to Fed independence (though with Democrats in the minority, not a huge threat) because he implies that Fed leaders who aren't subject to public election or scrutiny should be eliminated, Will argues, making the Fed more pliant to political cultures. "It is notable that the left now has its Ron Paul. Notable and, in a sense, appropriate because one of liberalism's steady aims is to break more and more institutions to the saddle of centralized power."