Monday, June 5, 2017

Work To Do

If you're on food stamps, and you're able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you're on disability insurance and you're not supposed to be — if you're not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work.
Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Housing Secretary Ben Carson Says Poverty Is A 'State Of Mind'
Okay, I'll bite. Doing what, exactly? The reason there are (not all that many) people who are able to work but who are on food stamps or disability insurance is that they can't find jobs.

One thing that's vexed me for years is people telling me that there are plenty of living and family-wage jobs out there "for people who are willing to work." Jobs that allegedly don't even need higher education, specialized training or prior industry experience, and will allow one to grasp the American Dream.

"Great!" I respond. "Tell me where they are. I know some people who'll be happy to move to get them."

And it's always the same answer. Crickets.

Now you could make the point that there are plenty of landscaping and agriculture jobs out there that Americans could take from migrant workers. And there are people who make the point that Americans would take those jobs from migrant workers, if we removed safety net programs. These are commonly described as "jobs that Americans don't want." But guess what - the migrants don't want them either. Sure they're better than the jobs that are available in their home countries, but when was the last time you read about a migrant family that scrimped and saved to put a child or three through college, with the ambition of having the child be the single most educated farmhand or landscaper you'd ever met? Part of the reason why there are so few serious and workable plans to deal with illegal immigration into this country is that for farms and the like to compete for workers would require them to raise their wages. And we all know who, in the end, would likely pay for those wage increases. But I digress.

I understand Mr. Mulvaney's contention that the United States needs every able-bodied person to be working, rather than living (if you can call it that) on government benefits and transfer payments. But the simple fact of the matter is that we don't need everyone eligible to work to actually do work.
We are going to do everything we can to help you find a job that you are suited to and a job that you can use to help take care of you, yourself, and your family.

If you're in this country and you want to work, there's good news, because Donald Trump is President and we're going to get 3 percent growth, and we're going to give you the opportunity to go back to work.
I don't know where Director Mulvaney gets the idea that simply growing the economy by 3% is going to magically create demand for human labor, given that we, as a nation, have been putting an awful lot of energy into coding software and building robotic systems that can do many of the things that people can do. Anyone who drives for a living is in the crosshairs of companies who want to make autonomous vehicles ubiquitous, and to the degree that the plan is that "driverless cars" would be shared more often than owned, they've also got a number of autoworkers in their sights. And if computers turn out to be markedly better drivers than people, you can see the auto-repair industry taking a hit... The list goes on, and it's unlikely that the robot car makers will need all of those people to staff their factories.

And that doesn't even take into account simply opening new plants in other countries, where the overall standards and costs of living are lower. Low-skilled or unskilled service jobs don't pay that much, and initiatives to pay for higher education or solid vocational training to give people skills tend to run into angry Republican voters riled up about other people getting "free stuff."

Government cannot simultaneously work to increase the profitability of businesses and the need for labor while treating those things as being in an adversarial relationship with one another. The reason why Ronald Reagan's vision of supply-side economics didn't work as planned was that "supply creates demand" only to the degree that prices can float freely; even if that means dropping below the cost of production. But any reasonably on-the-ball business owner knows to slow or stop production before things get to that point. And if they miss the mark, that's what warehouses are for. And even if government eases off a million dollars in taxes, unless more than a million dollars will come from investing it in production, it makes more sense to simply pocket the money.

I understand the commonly-held idea that the best thing to do for people is to help them become self-sufficient (to the degree that anyone who isn't effectively self-employed, or otherwise independent of someone else's decisions can ever be genuine;y "self-sufficient") by putting them to work, rather than needing assistance from society at large. But the assumption that the demand for labor is there, and that it simply needs to be "unleashed" by cutting taxes and/or government services has yet to be demonstrated. Granted, the saying goes that there's a first time for everything, but sometimes it worthwhile to keep in mind that it's only a saying.

No comments: