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Noam Chomsky: Richard Nixon Was 'Last Liberal President'

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Three Democrats have held the position of commander-in-chief since the Richard Nixon era, but if you ask philosopher Noam Chomsky, it was the 37th president and infamous Watergate casualty who was truly the last liberal to preside in the Oval Office.

During a discussion on HuffPost Live, Chomsky weighed in on the minimum wage debate, blaming neo-liberals for keeping talk of wage increases off the table until now.

"It's a shame that it's taken so long to even be a discussion," Chomsky said. "As for support, we may recall the last major program for helping families at the level of survival was under Richard Nixon. In many respects Nixon was the last liberal president."

In the 1950s and 1960s, before Nixon took office, minimum wage stayed on track with productivity. However, that pattern fell off in the next decade. After six years of stagnant wages and escalating costs of living, the Nixon administration stepped in -- in 1974, Nixon signed an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act. That law raised wages by more than 40 percent.

Fast-forward to today, and once again lawmakers and the White House have found themselves in a debate over what constitutes an acceptable minimum wage for Americans.

Obama signed an executive order a few weeks ago raising the minimum wage of federal contractors to $10.10 an hour. The president hoped that his move would encourage more businesses to raise their hourly wages as well.

But even the new $10 hourly rate is less than what minimum pay would be if adjusted for inflation. In fact, a 2012 study suggested that wages should have increased to $21.72 an hour, in order to keep up with worker productivity.

It's all part of what Chomsky described as a neo-liberal assault on economic policy. As he explained to HuffPost's Ryan Grim, "Part of the neo-liberal assault was the minimum wage in real value started declining, and not growing. As GDP of economy grew, as productivity grew, minimum wage stagnated. So it should be raised considerably."

Chomsky also expressed concerns over the yawning income gap and the threat it poses to economic health.

The top one or two percent have felt nearly all of the monetary growth, and corporate profits are higher than ever. But unemployment and under-employment rates remain high, which leads to a concentration of all the wealth.

"In fact it's a simple economic problem, it's cutting back economic growth," Chomsky said. "It means that ordinary people can barely consume, which of course cuts back economic growth."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated that the 2012 study correlated a minimum wage of $21.72 an hour to inflation, rather than worker productivity.

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