Friday, February 12, 2010


There's hardly a TV talking head or Congress-critter or administration representative who can talk about anything other than JOBS. J-O-B-S! It's as though the crying need for jobs just arose (it has been around for 20 or more years). It's also talked about as though it were a virus that needed a cure -- 'if only the Congress would FOCUS on job creation," or "This year, the Administration's #1 priority is JOBS." Yet another triumph of American obfuscation. The problem is simply a lack of will, a lack of focus, a lack of the 'right idea.' Solutions, people. Solutions.

But of course the truth is far from this preposterous framing. The idea that businesses are not hiring because they lack a tax break is ludicrous. The idea that small businesses aren't thriving due to lack of credit is not borne out by any actual data. However, there's a mountain of data suggesting that the great wealth accumulations in our society are not producing any socially useful result.

The nation's rich and powerful have succeeded so well in convincing their fellow countrymen that their success is warranted that it is now a bed-rock principal of American social thought. Poor people deserve their fate, as do the young, the sick, and most especially the incarcerated. And young Mr. Trump deserves those millions because he has so very cleverly wrung them out of the American economy.

My experience in American business since 1980 or so has shown me that leaders who create shareholder value by simply taking it from those least able to protest -- employees, suppliers, customers. I have not seen American leaders in any great numbers succeed by innovation, commitment to excellence, developing new ideas, new markets. In short, American business leaders succeed by cutting jobs, not by creating them. Of course there are notable exceptions, but the overall drift is clear.

Consider the political orthodoxy that taxing things makes people do them less. This has been twisted by our elite to mean that all taxes mean less economic growth. Even Democrats lack the courage to denounce this nonsense for what it is. But where does the government get most of its money? From the press, one might think it's from beleaguered "small businesses," or from the sweat of our "entrepreneurs." But that's simply false. The vast majority of the government's revenue is from wage withholding -- in other words, job taxes. We have heaped so much of the government's need for money onto wage-earners, no one should be surprised that jobs are in short supply.

I have an idea. Let's tax wealth in excess of say, two generation's worth of expenses, and use those proceeds to eliminate payroll taxes. Let's also tax income in excess of, say, $500,000 per year and use the money to pay for healthcare -- and I mean to include corporations in that. Why shouldn't large business enterprises pay a significant portion of their income as tax? The idea that large businesses need special protection to form and to succeed is borne out by no actual evidence, and there's a fair amount of evidence to the contrary.

And finally, we have tried every trick in the book to get the private sector to create adequate levels of employment, so far with dismal results. I have said this many times over the last several years, but we will not exit this jobs crisis that began so many years ago until the government takes direct action in the labor market. Think Harry Hopkins hiring millions of new government workers in 1934, or government contractors and the military scrounging for every able-bodied adult in 1941. That is the kind of thing that will work. And to be an ongoing solution, those hires have to transition to something that is sustainable, such as alternative energy, healthier food production, improved community services, etc.

It's a hard enough challenge when one wants to do it. But when the entire power elite has for many years preached the gospel that we can do anything EXCEPT the one thing that would work, it's impossible. Unless and until we as a society start to embrace the kind of things that will actually work, we will continue to sputter along, failing a little bit more every day.

That concludes today's screed.

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