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Smart v. Stupid

The Republican conspiracy to cut your wages

Wherever Republicans have had the votes, they have used them to attack unions, attack retirement, attack health benefits and attack salaries. What do these assaults on personal prosperity all have in common? They increase the number of workers in the labor force. Why would that be good public policy? It’s not.

Labor is a demand commodity just like oil or water or soy beans. When the labor pool includes everyone who should be retired, it means more workers are competing for each job. Too many workers (more than a few percentage points more than total jobs) and employees lose bargaining power. When supply exceeds demand, workers are compelled to work longer and harder for less money. After the last few years, that problem probably seems familiar.

“It’s just Capitalism,” Republicans will tell you. But government that is organized to favor corporations and the rich is an economic theory called fascism. I’m not using the word just to get your attention. President Franklin D. Roosevelt framed it in 1942, at a time when fascism was fresh in the mind of every American:

“…[D]emocracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

Gov. Walker’s vision for Wisconsin is a perfect example. He argues evidence that unions lead to better pay is de facto evidence of harm. Harm to whom? Walker demonizes the very notion of good pay whenever he can. He likes to repeat a story about his brother, whom he describes as a “banquet manager:"

“In every way, they are a typical middle-class family here in Wisconsin. David mentioned to me that he pays nearly $800 a month for his health insurance and the little he can set aside for his 401k. He—like so many other workers across Wisconsin—would love a deal like the benefits we are pushing in this budget repair bill.”

To him, this story is not about why his brother’s job stinks. It is an argument for lowering the pay of government workers. The median salary for restaurant managers is $10.28 an hour. So by Walker’s logic, teachers should make $21,382. On the face of it, Walker’s brother doesn’t appear to have amounted to much. But maybe he is struggling because he doesn’t have the benefit of collective bargaining. Just sayin'.

By the way, Wisconsin teacher’s pay averages $51,121. They make what a loan officer makes, or an insurance salesman. They just don’t make a low wage, which seems to irk Walker.

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Paul Ryan’s cynical Plan to Eliminate All Services to Citizens, is another example. He wants to end Medicare. He’d replace it with vouchers, but since everyone is wise to the voucher thing, he calls it a “payment support plan.” Ryan’s plan pays some. The rest, old guy, is your problem. Does anyone actually believe that an 80 year old man who spent his career as a banquet manager going to be able to afford the additional cost of commercial health care for a man his age? Not without a job, he won’t.

Still not convinced? Ryan’s plan keeps tens of billions in oil subsidies. Defense, as America’s biggest source of corporate welfare, is sacrosanct. Today, corporations pay less than 10 percent of all taxes. In the Ryan plan, government collects taxes from you, gives you nothing in return, and passes your tax payments along to corporations. Fascism? Yep. In the age of kings, it was called “tribute.”

Lastly, Speaker John Boehner is fond of saying “Where are the jobs?” His party ran on “job creation” but has no intention of creating any. So they’ve thrown up two smoke screens. One is that government spending is responsible for high unemployment. Don’t look for the logic because there isn’t any. Spending of any kind—public, private, or piggy bank—leads directly to jobs.

Boehner’s other slippery explanation is “uncertainty.” It’s a generic concept he uses to justify claims that otherwise make no sense. Yet while the government has wasted fully two weeks preparing to shut down, Boehner has made every effort to increase uncertainty. In doing so he has revealed just how little he really believes of what he says.

So keep your eyes open. Whenever someone proposes an idea, ask yourself if it will make the labor pool bigger or smaller. Whatever else is good about it, this is a critical measure of how the plan will change your daily life. If it makes the pool of workers bigger, your wages will be lower. If it makes it smaller, your wages will grow. If it tanks the economy once more, you’ll be back to doing two jobs for the price of one. Again.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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“…[D]emocracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

— Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt