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Do U.S. Workers Gain from U.S. Imperialism?

According to PERI Co-Director Gerald Epstein, since the mid-1980s, the short answer to this question is "no." Among the reasons: U.S. workers disproportionately finance the costs of U.S. imperialism through their taxes; and cheap imports facilitated by U.S. imperialism hurt U.S. workers' wages and job prospects. U.S. workers also pay in blood, as they constitute most of the U.S. military. But Epstein argues that, from the 1950s – 70s, U.S. workers did gain from imperialism, since they had more bargaining power and they paid a lower share of total taxes.

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PERI Co-Director Gerald Epstein contributes a chapter in the newly published Routledge Group book, The Changing Face of Imperialism. In his chapter, Epstein attempts to answer the following question: Do U.S. workers currently gain from U.S. imperialism? The tentative conclusion is that U.S. workers do not, on balance, gain from U.S. imperialism, at least since 1985. Though they gain from more stable and (probably) lower oil prices and the prices of other commodities, this is offset by the tax system which shifts the cost burden of U.S. imperialism onto U.S. workers, and cheap imports from abroad which are facilitated by U.S. backed globalization that hurts U.S. workers' wages and employment. On top of that, of course, are the costs in blood to U.S. workers, who make up most of the military. The situation was probably different in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. At that time, U.S. workers had much more power to extract rents from U.S. capitalists, and globalization tended to work to the benefit of U.S. workers. Therefore, they had much more power to get a piece of the imperialist pie. Oil prices were extremely low and very stable. Taxes, which paid for U.S. imperialism, were more progressive, so workers had to pay a lower share.

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