Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Just a little historical perspective on jobs. Like many things in recent history jobs, as we know them, didn’t always exist. Tribal societies didn’t have jobs where people went to work for a certain length of time and received an agreed upon compensation. Often they were tribal societies that didn’t have money or clocks. Still essential work was done and usually no one starved or everyone starved. The Inca empire before 1533 was an example of an advanced civilization without unemployment, poverty and almost no crime. Each person had their roll in a thoughtfully structured society. All that changed with the Spanish conquest.
Much of the work done in feudalistic, societies was performed by slaves, or virtual slaves such as serfs, indentured servants and children. It is only in the last hundred years or so that the present concept of workers rights has been viewed as something people are entitled to; although that concept is under attack by the far right.

As important as jobs are in a capitalist society, not everyone needs to work and not all work is meaningful or necessary. Children and students don’t need to work, stay at home parents don’t have to work if they have enough income. Those who are mentally or physically ill might not work. Those who are rich might not choose to work and the same is true of retired people. If we are really worried about jobs raising the retirement age would make the jobless rate much worse.

Most social problems have solutions and it is just a matter of determining the best course of action. The jobs problem is certainly solvable but the political debate rages on while little real headway is made on this issue that will likely determine who we elect as President and which party we think can bring down the unemployment rate.

The Republican positions on lowering the unemployment rate are certainly narrower in scope than the Democratic solutions. Lower taxes on the rich and corporations and less regulation on business is simply, easy to remember and doesn’t work. When I say it doesn’t work I’m speaking from a utilitarian perspective in that it doesn’t even come close to providing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. We have clear evidence that it doesn’t work because we have tried those solutions before and they failed. What they are advocating is nothing more than the Laissez Faire capitalism of the 1800’s, or the neo-feudalism of the Victorian Age that produced vast economic inequality. It may provide extra wealth for those who are already rich and it may allow corporations to do want they want to do instead of what they should do, but there is no consistent data I know of that by following that simple plan a lot of jobs would be created. No matter how many times they say Ronald Reagan and the magic of the free market that isn’t going to change. For the voter who doesn’t want to think too hard about complex solutions, such as good jobs for more people, it gives them a belief system that is absolutist in nature to the point where deviation and compromise are not an option. Full employment isn’t even a Republican objective; at least I’ve never heard them say it was.
On the other hand Democrats have some core values about jobs. They believe in the right to belong to a union, to have a retirement program, to have a minimum wage, to have sick leave and paid vacations, safe working conditions and to have affordable health care. Beyond that most Democrats believe that government can do things to create jobs and to prevent jobs from being outsourced. Other countries like China have had an active role in developing industries that manufacture goods and expand clean energy. The criticism of this is that government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in the business world. What if we had sat back and allowed General Motors to fail? Sometimes American businesses need government help to succeed and need to partner with government on research and development. We need to give incentives to businesses that hire Americans and penalize those companies that outsource American jobs. President Obama has a lot of practical measures in the American Jobs Act that should work if he can get it passed.

Roughly one out of thirteen Americans has a government job but at this point in time about 16% of the work force would like a full time job. Hiring people to repair infrastructure as outlined in the jobs bill is a good start. One of the really big problems with jobs is too many people are salaried employees. They are working seventy hours a week and being paid for only forty hours. If a law were passed that required that all employers must pay employees for all hours worked pay time and a half would be for hours over forty that would reduce unemployment significantly. In fact, Republicans often advocate cutting employees to save money and that results in paying unemployment benefits to laid off workers while the remaining workers have to be paid overtime to get the work done. Another big part of the jobs problem is that corporations play one state off against another by trying to lure companies away from other states by lower taxes, subsidies and right to work laws. States would be far better off financially if they would simply adopt uniform rules that would not allow corporations to pick and choose. We should pass buy- American incentives so that American manufactured goods can be competitive with foreign made goods. That may not be free trade but other countries protect their economies and so should we.

Finally, the Republican argument that government cannot be the solution to the jobs problem appears to be false when you go on the internet and look at the unemployment rate of countries around the world on Wikipedia. it shows that the United States has a 9.3% unemployment rate. Turkmenistan 70%, Yemen 35% and Honduras 27.8% shows that countries with really bad government and no social safety net to speak of have few jobs for their people. On the other hand Monaco 0.0%, Belarus 0.7%, Singapore 1.9%, Malasia 3.2% and China 4.1% shows that governments that actively work to provide opportunity for all can come close to full employment. Even countries that don’t have a high standard of living such as Cuba 1.6% and Vietnam 2.9% can at least prevent severe poverty and homelessness.

Dave Silva

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