Republicans display eagerness to
repeal reforms of the last century
With its incessant attacks on labor unions and all other American institution embodying the idea of social responsibility to other human beings, the 2012 Republican National Convention seems to be time-traveling back to the Robber Baron era, seeking to fully repeal all the reforms of the last century, starting with “Obamacare.”
Delivered explicitly by Governors. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the GOP is calling for re-establishing a social order where the power of “job creators” is liberated from any constraints on the human costs of their decisions, their hoarding of economic gains, or any attempt by the government to soften the resulting human misery.
To make the case for this return to a structure where the very notion of “society” is essentially eliminated for the subordinate majority but government continues to dedicate itself to the enrichment of those who single-handedly generate jobs and wealth, the GOP spokespeople outlined a case for a 21st century form of Social Darwinism (however, their attachment to the discredited theory of evolution remains utterly fixed and unshaken.)
Just as private-sector unions supposedly undermine US competitiveness (although inconvenient data indicates that American workers are faring less well than their counterparts in other advanced nations in terms of wages, benefits, and time off the job), unions in the public sector serve only to unfairly exploit the beleaguered taxpayer, so the rights of teachers, snowplow drivers, nurses, librarians, and social workers must be severely constricted, as Walker has done in Wisconsin.
The resulting drop in families’ ability to meet their needs and the loss of collective buying power from major cuts in public employment is viewed as a marvelous victory over “big government" union leaders in Washington, DC, permitting a shift of public resources in states like Wisconsin from public workers making $40,000 to $50,000 a year to $2.3 billion in tax cuts to corporations over the next decade.
Their idea of a vision of the future turns out to be a replay of the past, when men like oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and railroad baron Jay Gould ruled over an American society inhabited by a cowering, impoverished majority.
Developments of the last several decades would seem to indicate that the Republicans are well on their way to realizing their ideal world. The extreme polarization of wealth, which places the US in thesame bracket as backward, brazenly elite-dominated societies like the Philippines and Central American banana republics according to the CIA’s annual World Factbook, is at its most extreme in 90 years.
The richest 1% haul in 24% of all income, and vacuumed up fully 93% of all income creases in 2010. Already securely dominating both the federal government and most state capitals, the political influence of the 1% has been massivelyenhanced by the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court that equates unlimited corporate spending in campaigns with “free speech.”
For the vast majority of Americans, the vast cuts in union membership—have led to a shrinkage of income across the middle class, slicing into the spending power of workers who never considered joining a union. “The share of the workforce represented by unions declined from 26.7 percentto 13.1 percent from 1973 to 2011, “ reported Lawrence Mishel in a new study by the Economic Policy Institute on the relationship between declining unionism and declining living standards across the middle class.
“The middle class may have been doing less well over time, but they were always the largest share of the population and held the largest share of income,” pointed out progressive economist Jared Bernstein in response to a disturbing new Pew Foundation report on the economic effects of the last decade on the middle class.” They still comprise the largest share of households, but just barely, at 51 percent, and their share of total income, trending down for decades, is now slightly below that of the top tier group.
But despite these elite-demanded sacrifices by the middle class, the Republicans’ dream of genuine freedom for the job creators is still in serious jeopardy because of the supposedly ever-intensifying threats posed by Big Labor and Big Government. The labor movement and the federal government collaborate in continually re-distributing wealth generated by the tireless energy and ingenuity of the enterprising “makers” and hand it to the unworthy “takers,” as Ryan would categorize it.
In the words of Haley, Obama is the embodiment of Big Government, as when he allowed the National Labor Relations Board to take legal action against Boeing for punishing its unionized aerospace workers in Washington state by attempting to move jobs to Haley’s state of South Carolina, where wages are $5,000 below the US average and only 3.5 % of the workforce belongs to unions. As Haley put it,
“They [Obama and the NLRB] sued this iconic American company. It was shameful. And not worthy of the promise of America.
American businesses deserve a federal government that doesn't stand in their way, not one that tries to chase them overseas.”
While Haley and other Republican promoters of "free-market" fundamentalism always blame actions by government or unions in "forcing" corporations to relocate overseas, they have nothing to say when CEOs reveal their astonishing lack of loyalty to the US itself as they seek to maximize profits:
· "Ford is not an American company.
· "What we [Cisco Systems] are trying to do is outline an entire strategy of becoming a Chinese company.
· "The United States does not have an automatic call on our [Colgate-Palmolive's] resources. There is no mindset that puts this country first.”
· "We’re [McDonnell-Douglas] in the business of making money for our shareholders. If we have to put jobs and technology in other countries, then we go ahead and do it.
· "We at NCR think of ourselves as a globally competitive company that happens to be headquartered in the US.
Yet government can play a constructive role, as Haley and previous leaders of South Carolina see it: they can divert money otherwise needed to improve third-rate educational, healthcare, and other public institutions and transfer the funds to giant corporations like BMW in the form of incentive packages. South Carolina, among the nation;s poorest states—bestowed $230 million upon the German luxury carmaker. These massive subsidies have become increasingly widespread despite the findings of think tanks like North Carolina-based MDC that “there is substantial evidence that tax breaks do not significantly affect plant closing decisions.”
While employers should be free to coordinate their activities and maximize their profits and political power by joining together in corporate lobbying groups, the decision of workers to form unions is socially destructive, permitting “labor bosses” to negotiate with job creators as if they were equal contributors to society and as though forcing employers to pay higher wages was a proper aim. As Milton Friedman, right-wing economist and servant of brutal dictatorships from Pinochet’s Chile to China, declared about Spartansburg, SC, “When unions get higher wages for their members by restricting entry into an occupation [an outright falsehood casually offered by Friedman], those higher wages are at the expense of other workers who their opportunities reduced.”
The fear of unions has been so intense in the past that South Carolina actually discouraged unionized firms from locating there, worried that the union virus would infect the entire workforce.
South Carolina has long systematically held down union membership by its “right-to-work” law that prevents unions from collecting dues from all workers for whom they are legally required to represent and fight. Only unions, among all American associations and institutions, are subject to this perverse requirement that allows non-members to enjoy the same benefits as those who pay for and actively participate in seeking to improve the lives of members and the public. The so-called “right-to-work” law also creates an illegal but easy-to-use door for direct employer interference in the union, by favoring non-members and punishing activists.
Ryan used part of his speech to claim that President Obama, despite all the resources available to the free-spending federal government, made seductive promises to General Motors workers in his hometown of Janesville, Wis. yet failed to save the plant, a story I have outlined in detail here, here, here, here, here, and here. But reflecting the prevailing GOP mentality that “fact checkers , Ryan felt free to present a shamelessly distorted picture of the GM plant’s closing. (Ryan also had the temerity to attack Obama for the collapse of the Bowles-Simpson debt reduction plan, incredibly failing to mention his own vote against the plan.) Even the exceedingly cautious Politifact column labeled Ryan’s claim on Janesville as false, as did National Public Radio this morning.
MSNBC’s Al Sharpton nailed Ryan’s revisionist version of the Janesville GM story almost immediately after the speech While Obama in fact delivered a stirring speech to the GM workers in February, 2008, GM actually closed the plant just before Christmas, 2008, a full month before Obama even took office.
Soctt Walker tried to fault Obama’s GM bailout for failing to revive the Janesville plant, conveniently omitting the fact that the Republicans—joined by such “liberal media outlets as the NY Times—insisted that the Obama administration impose draconian cuts on the UAW and avoid attaching any strings of increased US employment in exchange for the approximately $92 billion in federal aid given to GM and Chrysler.
The result of this pressure, to which the Obama’s Wall Streeter-dominated bailout team capitulated, was that GM has virtually doubled the number of cars prodced in Mexico, China, and Korea and imported into the US, while the Janesville plant has remained closed and community devastated by Ryan’s fierce opposition to safety-net programs like extended unemployment benefits, food stamps, healthcare, and assistance in avoiding foreclosures, which have quadrupled in the local county since 2000.
Despite this evidence of his own role in suppressing the growth of family-sustaining jobs and voting against desperately-needed assistance to his own district (and even New Orleans after Katrina’s devastation), Ryan responded with extravagant promises of 12 million new jobs over the next four years.
Ryan offered nothing but a more extreme form of the tax cuts, deregulation, and “free trade” that produced no new jobs during the George W. Bush years, but with the “brown-nosing” skills recognized by his senior class back in high school, he managed to made the promise with great sincerity and a straight face, drawing thunderous applause.