There are 50,000 coal miners in the United States. There are 520,000 fast food cooks. Coal miners seem to loom a lot larger in our politics. Wonder why.
If Mr. Nussbaum had read pages 36 and 37 of The Armchair Economist, he’d know the answer. Coal mines are in pretty much fixed supply; new fast food joints are created all the time. Therefore new coal mining jobs are far harder to create than new fast food jobs.
So if conditions get better for coal miners, that’s good for existing coal miners. By contrast, if conditions get better for fast food cooks, more people will become fast food cooks, driving down the wages of existing fast food cooks and negating the improved conditions.
That makes it worthwhile for coal miners to lobby for better conditions, but not for fast food cooks. What’s relevant is not so much the current population of coal miners, but the ease with which that population can expand.