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.

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