Friday, September 09, 2011

How Buying The World A Coke Fuels Political Revolt Here At Home

John Nichols had it right. Obama's jobs speech needed to be a doozy. I'm afraid it wasn't. Now we'll see how Congress responds. Or if Congress responds at all.

The alternative to some decisive leadership from Washington on the economy is frightening. It is a vacuum. A vacuum that ends up getting filled with the kind of hokum being peddled here in Wisconsin.

The governor who famously promised to create 250,000 new jobs and 10,000 new businesses in Wisconsin by the end of 2014 laid out a simple plan for delivering on that promise. Cut the hell out of business taxes and reduce or eliminate government regulations, and we'll be swimming in jobs in no time.

Scott Walker is either a complete fool or a total tool. Or maybe he's both, but in any case the problems with his recipe for economic growth are coming into sharper focus with each passing day. Walker's approach means starving education. It means weaker consumer protection. And fewer environmental safeguards as well as a wholesale abandonment of green energy initiatives.

Even at this cost, if lower taxes and less regulation for business could ignite the state's economy, more than a few Wisconsinites undoubtedly would regard it an acceptable trade-off. But therein lies the other main problem with the just-get-government-out-of-the-way method of job creation. You can cut state business taxes to zero – which is where they already are for a good many companies – and you create hardly any detectable added incentive to create jobs here in Wisconsin. You can let corporations take advantage of consumers, rape the landscape and poison the air and water with impunity, and not make it one bit more logical for them to employ more people here in our state.

Two articles of economic faith used to bind us together – employers and workers, consumers and merchants. The first was that businesses needed investment in things like education because they needed a capable workforce. The second was that companies needed to look out for the general welfare because they needed a middle class. Without one, there would be no one to sell to. Technology and globalization have laid waste to both of those articles of faith.

With roboticized means of production, the sheer number of workers manufacturers need is not nearly as great. And in a global economy, they certainly aren't reliant on Wisconsin to supply them with the few workers they need. They can easily locate their production facilities elsewhere. Terms like offshoring and outsourcing and downsizing weren't part of our parents' or grandparents' vocabulary, but they are part of ours. So starving education in a place like Wisconsin is not as big a deal for today's capitalists as it used to be. An abundant supply of highly-trained workers in a particular place just isn't as valuable to them as it used to be. To the extent they need workers at all, they can go anywhere in the world to find them. And wherever they go, the workers they find will invariably be cheaper than those they left behind.

Likewise, having people to sell to in a little corner of the world like ours isn't essential to them anymore. In this global economy, the real sales growth opportunities lie outside our borders. Look at Coca-Cola. The average American consumed 394 coke products in 2010. In China, the average was 34. In India, 11. There are over 1.3 billion people in China and nearly 1.2 billion in India. Just over 300 million in the United States. How many more cokes is your typical American going to drink in a year? Coke has pretty much maximized its exploitation of the U.S. market, but has vast growth potential in countries like China and India.

Coca-Cola and so many other companies don't need to sell to us as much as they used to. And they don't need to employ us as much as they used to. Which brings our jobless recovery into much sharper focus. For working people, economic recovery happens when the jobs come back. But for the corporatists, economic recovery is when the profits come back. And they can be spectacularly profitable without selling to or employing people in places like Wisconsin. They'll gladly take another tax cut from the likes of Scott Walker and they'll be delighted if consumer protections and environmental safeguards go by the wayside. Makes their profit margin just that much bigger. But it won't make creating jobs in Wisconsin any more of a priority for them.

Maybe politicians like Scott Walker can't see it because they are blinded by their ideology. Or maybe they see it clearly and are happy to go along for the ride because it'll get them where they want to go. Eventually, average working people will catch on that the "job creators" are really just profit takers with no community or state loyalties. There certainly will be anger. Political upheaval and instability too. Even violence.

Unless wiser heads prevail and soon, we're headed for rocky times. Radical times. Maybe even revolutionary times.

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