The New York Times: More Lies
About The Economy
by Jonathan Tasini
February 16, 2007
If you want to get a good encapsulated
version of the moronic debate about the economy, you need not
go any further than today's editorial in The New York Times. The
Times reflects the thinking of the elites, particularly the educated
elites (read: New York Times reporters). The thinking in the editorial
may, in fact reflect elite perceptions--but it has little to do
with the real world facing workers.
Today's editorial is entitled "The
Autoworkers Pain." As a UAW member myself, I'm certainly
appreciative that The Times found space to recognize that, "American
autoworkers are suffering through another round of layoffs, factory
closings and buyouts." But, from there on, it's off to some
planet you would not recognize.
With the loss of three million American
factory jobs since the end of 2000 and the trade deficit at an
all-time high, it's easy to see China's spectacular growth and
assume that American factories are being gutted by foreign competition.
But global competition is not the whole
cause for the car manufacturers' problems, just as the answers
are not to be found in protectionism.
Well, duh, yes, the country is being gutted.
But, it's not because "American" factories are being
gutted by "foreign" competition. It's because of the
kind of world we're constructing that allows those jobs to "disappear"
and the kind of world we build to replace those jobs: a relentless
push to drive down wages and benefits. In the America of today,
no one is supposed to expect a decent pension anymore, people
are indebted beyond their eyeballs, 48 million Americans do not
have health care, 90 percent of the workforce doesn't have a real
voice at work (meaning, a union) and wages do not pay for the
basic necessities of life.
The editorial cites a statistic that "foreign
manufacturers invest billions more in the United States than American
manufacturers invest abroad. Toyota provides over 29,000 manufacturing
jobs in the country." Well, why do you think that happens?
Because Toyota can produce cars for LOWER costs here because it
operates non-union and is not responsible for the kind of health
care costs it carries elsewhere. America is a low-wage heaven
compared to other industrialized countries. Ponder that, all you
flag-waving politicians: is that the America you bleat about when
holding out our country as an example to the rest of the world?
And it goes on:
Many of the jobs that have disappeared
did not drain off to foreign competition, but to technological
change on the shop floor. Robots and computers have allowed far
fewer workers to produce more than ever. That kind of high-tech
manufacturing is one reason successful American companies like
Boeing and Caterpillar can compete with companies in countries
where the labor costs are low.
Oh, c'mon: do people at the Times really
still think Boeing and Caterpillar or any other large corporation
think of themselves as "American?" Virtually every company
in the Fortune 500, and many below that rank, are leaping around
the globe themselves in search of those same low labor costs.
The kicker for this editorial are the final two paragraphs:
This is not to ignore the human dimension. It is too easy for
free trade advocates to blame the robots and then ignore the pain
of the blue-collar workers they have sidelined. The suffering
in places like Ohio, Indiana and Michigan is very real, and so
is the political backlash that results. The long-term answer is
the vexing question of training American workers for a new world
of jobs. But there are more short-term issues as well, starting
with taking care of those Americans, middle aged and older, who
suddenly find themselves without jobs right now.
The burden falls on pro-trade politicians
and those who support them, unless they want to see high tariffs
and duties, which will ultimately choke global and domestic growth.
Just to start, pro-trade politicians have to make sure that a
lost factory job does not mean a drastic and lasting decline in
living standards, with no access to health insurance and no hope
for a college education for that worker's children. As the tide
rises, this country cannot allow millions to drown.
This is standard Times' fare--and it is
the way that the educated elites think of the problem. First,
as I've pointed out many times (and, yes, find the repetition
tiresome), education is relatively irrelevant: you want to say
you've been to school, fine. But, American workers are not dumb
and "training" is not the answer to the question of
what one does in a world where wages, not education, is the central
issue. Highly-educated people in this country are unemployed and
highly-educated, highly-trained people in India, for example,
have work because they get paid a fraction of the wages we expect
here. So, the real question we should be asking is: what is the
bottom line below which we, as a society, will not descend in
our pursuit to be "economically competitive.?" And,
what is the bottom line we should demand for other people in the
world, too, so they are not left to be exploited.
Second, this is not a debate about "protectionism"
and so-called "free trade." It's a debate about what
the rules should be that govern economic relationships between
countries and their people. Wal-Mart, just to use one of my favorite
examples (and you could pick any company you want), could not
function in a truly "free trade" regime because it,
among other things, thrives on a labor market in China that suppresses
competition over wages. So, spare me the rhetoric of "free
trade": it's a marketing phrase--it doesn't exist--and we
should do everything possible to banish it from the framing of
the discussion. And "protectionism" is the economic
equivalent of calling someone a communist in the 1950s: painting
people as virtually anti-American and, worse, retrograde simply
because they are questioning our economic system.
The only tide that is rising is the one
that people see washing them away in a sea of despair and economic
deprivation. It's a tide that obviously is unseen from the top
floors of the Times.