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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The GOP Agenda: Drive Down Job Growth, Depress Wages

Some time yesterday, I decided that I would write about the GOP's anti-jobs agenda today. So I'm swinging through my feeds last night and I come across this -- MSNBC's Rachel Maddow stole my thunder.

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Let Robert Frank's final words from that interview be what you take away here; that the GOP's focus on the deficit to the detriment of employment is a "criminal misdiagnosis of the problem." I'd add that's a deliberate misdiagnosis.

I'm going to disagree with Maddow on one point; yes, the Republicans' efforts to kill jobs will hurt President Obama in the elections -- but no, that's not the only reason they're trying to strangle off job growth everywhere it rears its head. This is, to a much larger degree, about cheap labor.



What happens during periods of widespread, extended unemployment? Wages are depressed. The law of supply and demand dictates that a surplus of a product drives down the price of that product. Labor, as much as it seems more like an institution, is a product. You sell it to your employer or, if you're self-employed, you sell it to your clients. You're selling your mind, your muscle, your talent, your skill set, and your time. In a good labor market, you stand a much better chance of getting what that mind, muscle, and time is really worth. In a bad labor market... Well, not so much.

Enter competition. In a tough labor market, flooded with a surplus of workers looking to sell their product, price is driven down. You take what you can get, because demanding what you're actually worth makes you uncompetitive. If you're self-employed, you're priced out of the market. If not, no one is hiring for your skills at the wage you're willing to accept. Supply and demand dictates that when ten people compete for the same job, the wage that job pays drops, because one of those ten will be willing to work that cheap. Multiply the jobseekers and the price drops further. Presto-chango, instant cheap labor.

And this also explains why Republicans are attacking public unions. Unions keep wages up, through collective bargaining. In this case, competition benefits the worker, not the employer. A worker can say to a prospective employer, "Gee, I don't know... I can make more as a steamfitter for the state." Employers have to compete with unionized shops and this works in the jobseeker's favor. Get rid of collective bargaining or unions altogether and suddenly employers have all the control in setting wages and workers have none. Like they say, with unions you bargain -- without unions, you beg. This is true even of people who aren't unionized.

And, of course, there are the elections, as Rachel points out. Not only would high unemployment (theoretically) work against Obama's reelection, but the collapse of organized labor would put Democrats in general at a disadvantage. This second point is something that Republicans are admitting openly, although with a sprinkling of propaganda and BS: e.i., Democrats are "in bed" with "Big Labor" and the only reason Democrats are running to the workers' defense is so that they can keep getting campaign contributions.

It pays to remind everyone that when the Citizens United ruling came down, Republicans defended it by saying that unions would help offset corporate cash. It was a ridiculous argument; labor has nowhere near the money that multinational corporations have. But it also pays to notice that Republicans are now trying to do away with organized labor, so that previous argument is dead. Republicans, by their own admission, are trying to kill off the one thing standing between us and full corporate dominance of elections.

So, what's the difference between whether Rachel Maddow is right about the motives behind Republican job-killing or whether I'm right about it? Permanence. If Rachel's right, then after 2012, Republicans probably drop it to get reelected. If I'm right, high unemployment and low wages become the "new normal." A permanently depressed job market, with the accompanying low wages, will help corporations be competitive in a global market. Want to compete with China? Then be China.

From now until 2012, the conversation should be about jobs. There's a deficit problem, but there's no deficit crisis. There is, on the other hand, a jobs crisis. Democrats should talk about little else -- while making sure to point out all the jobs Republicans are actively and openly trying to kill.

And we -- i.e.,you -- shouldn't shut up about it either. In letters to the editor, in gripe sessions with our friends, in comment threads and blog posts and in forums and on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and what-all, the dominant question should be, "Hey GOP, where are all the jobs?" and "Hey GOP, why are you killing jobs?"

In Wisconsin, that message is working. A Public Policy Polling survey finds that, if we had a do-over on the elections today, Democrat Tom Barrett would beat Scott Walker by seven points. And nearly all of that movement away from Walker comes from Republican voters.

It turns out that even GOP voters are starting to come to a basic truth; the best way to save jobs is to put elected Republicans out of theirs.

-Wisco


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