| The Economy |
"What are you going to do about jobs?"
If Maine had an official nursery rhyme that would be it - media and organizations giving out endorsements both sing it loudly. You have to admit it has a catchy tune, but what few seem willing to admit or even understand is that the words are wrong.
There is nothing magical about jobs. Jobs are not like legs, meaning that it is really difficult to lead a full life without them. In fact, many people lead really comfortable lives without jobs - you know, people with trust accounts or big savings created out of what they got when they may or may not have been working hard but sure were raking it in. Jobs are for those not fortunate enough to live without them.
And Maine has a lot of the less fortunate. There is no disagreement whatsoever about lots and lots of Mainers living in poverty, however poverty is defined. There is no disagreement whatsoever that too many children in Maine are growing up hungry, too hungry to learn in school, too hungry to avoid the medical consequences of malnutrition. Poverty leads also to addiction and crime and other evils that make Maine less than the way life should be. Maine has a lot of poverty. "Jobs" are the song being sung about the poor. It's catchy, it just happens to be the wrong song.
For starters, let's go back to what I said earlier: jobs are not a necessity. They are clearly not a necessity for the rich. And they are not a necessity for the poor either. What the less fortunate need is not necessarily jobs but food, clothing and shelter. In the debate that never ends private sector jobs are one way to give Joe the Plumber food for his family, but private sector jobs are not the only way - public sector assistance - welfare - can be an equally successful solution. We can solve poverty by becoming a full-scale welfare state.
The reason why a welfare state won't work is not by definition but by choice. The issue is raising enough boats far enough above the gutter that they can participate in the economy in a sufficient way. It is possible to do this with hand-outs. When it is the Too Big To Fail who are asking for hand-outs the response is a very comfortable hand-out indeed. But we as a people choose to never give the poor enough. And that means the economy is not given enough. Changing that mindset is not politically possible.
But we need to do something because economies are dependent on consumers. I don't mean the mindless consumption that was encouraged for decades, leading to crippling credit card debt and non-medical bankruptcies. What economies need are people who can participate at a safe level. When too many people live in poverty there are too few buyers for the goods and services being offered. And what gets left out of the song is that even in a rich land if the assets and resources are badly distributed the economy as a whole suffers. Apart from the unfairness in a nebulous moral way of 1% having 99% of the wealth (or whatever grossly unequal distribution is accurate) it cripples unto death any hope of a functioning market-based economy.
One person with a billion dollars can only eat so many meals in a week. Can only patronize so many car repair facilities. Can only take so many classes. Can only wear so many "lower class" clothes. A thousand people with a million dollars each can and will buy more. And 200,000 people with $50,000 each become the consumers society needs. One rich person may spend a fortune on designer clothing, but if there are not enough people who can afford to buy working clothes why will anyone make them? - and then what do the working poor wear? Billionaires and even millionaires do not support a working economy by themselves because an economy that depends on quantity - as almost all American economies do - and doesn't have the buyers has no chance of thriving.
And so this is where jobs come in. Or not. The economy does not care whether the source of people's assets is from hand-outs or jobs, what the economy cares about is whether what people have will enable them to participate in the economy in a meaningful way. Having one child is not irresponsible reproduction but it is impossible to raise an adult and a child on minimum wage. Do the math. It is impossible to take a job outside the home and not endanger a child not mature enough to care for itself when taking that job means that the child will need to care for itself. It is impossible to take a job that is not within walking or bicycling distance when you don't own a car and there is no public transportation, or when you need to carry tools you can not carry in your hands or on your back. It is not possible for both parents to work draining jobs that take them away from their child in order to make ends meet without it adversely affecting children - and children who grow up wild cost the State huge amounts in policing and emergency and addiction medical crises sooner or later.
Jobs that do not pay a living wage do not help the local economy. Small business fail because too many people have less than the equivalent of a living wage, which means not enough people can afford to support the small businesses that are the heart of a local economy. Jobs that do not pay a living wage help only employers who increase profits by keeping labor costs down. Those employers generally do very little reinvesting in Maine, they live and spend elsewhere. Jobs that do not pay a living wage add to the asset gap and that - as I hope we can agree - only further undermines the local economy as a whole.
The question is not really how to create jobs. Even if it were, because attracting jobs to Maine depends to a considerable degree on improving the physical and technical infrastructure and the skill level of the populace it is impossible to talk about jobs without talking about the huge connecting issues. Anyone who offers quick fixes to "the job problem" without acknowledging all the necessary groundwork is lying to get elected.
It is not definition that makes jobs necessary - what definition does make necessary is that an economy will be healthy only when a critical mass of the population can participate in it meaningfully. There is no way of solving this without an infusion of State capital.
The idea that the economy can be fixed without investing in it is an evil myth. The truth is that we the people are already spending huge amounts in keeping the economy unhealthy. Those people who commit crimes? we in Maine are spending $44,000 a year to lock them up. Click here to read my article on crime.
That is money that is doing nothing to help the economy other than paying a few prison guards but it sure as shooting is being spent. Those people who become too sick to work productively? As long as they remain sick they contribute nothing and whatever they consume is a tax on the economy - and if we stop helping them they become criminals and we know what that costs.
Money will have to be spent - we can spend it now and never ever get anything back, or we can increase what we spend now, investing in making our economy healthy, with a fair expectation that people who can participate in the economy will (because contrary to what the anti-hand-out crowd say most people would rather feel good about themselves by being self-sufficient and would rather live at better than an absolute-bare-necessities level if they have a chance). The quick fix; the only fix, really; is changing our tax policy so we can make the necessary immediate investments. Click here to read my article on taxes.
We also need to change the way we view business. Mitt Romney is running on a business-friendly platform. That is how and why we are in the mess we are in. Since Reagan we have been sweetening the pot for business who have not given the money back but kept it, creating in America one of the largest income and asset gaps in the world. What we need is business-less-friendly platforms. Policies that do not reward businesses for laying people off and cutting wages and benefits. Rejection of the Too Big To Fail principle - if we can afford to give bankers billions of dollars we can afford to give that money instead to the poor who need it and let the CEOs go bankrupt. Click here to read my article on our relationship with corporations.
The reality is that "Jobs" is a sound-bite substitute for the more fundamental issue of how our economy is supposed to work. Most media and organizations giving out endorsements don't understand this. Most candidates don't understand this either. If having a healthy economy matters to you then vote for a candidate who will work to give us one.
Maine needs a healthy economy! Maine needs Seth Berner!
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