Call me a crazy conspiracy nut if you will, but I’m beginning to wonder if there is more to the Republican obstruction of every attempt to deal with the high unemployment than worry over the deficit or some commitment to ideology. Is it possible that the opposition to legislation that might improve the employment situation in this country is purposeful; that it suits the Republicans’ business sponsors to have large numbers of Americans out of work?
At first common wisdom suggested that the Republican obstruction of any new stimulus package was a political ploy; that they hoped the economy would be so bad that Obama would not be re-elected. More recently their actions have been attributed either to an unhealthy obsession with the deficit or to a zealous commitment to shrinking government at whatever cost.
But as any first year business major can tell you, high unemployment can actually be a great boon to employers. After all, in times of full employment, employers have to compete for workers. Wages go up and benefit packages have to be more attractive. But when millions are out of work, wages can be pushed lower and benefits can be reduced. More importantly, profits soar as labor costs are reduced.
Of course, that’s exactly what we see happening. Employers are offering lower and lower salaries (just compare what the average college graduate is offered today as a beginning salary compared to what he or she was offered just a few years ago). Meanwhile the cost of benefits is being increasingly shifted from employers and onto the backs of employees. Isn’t it just possible that the gradual impoverishment of the American worker is not the accidental outcome of market forces, but the result of a deliberate policy intended to reduce the cost of the workforce and increase profitability?
The theory doesn’t demand some secret society made up of shady corporate moguls conspiring with their representatives in darkened rooms. It only requires that the business elite occasionally remind politicians that high unemployment helps keep labor costs low. More to the point, the process helps move labor costs down toward whatever minimum the economic elite believes is optimal. It is also clear that the elite believe labor costs are too high. Just look at their attacks on the pay and benefit packages won by unions. Virtually any working American who makes a decent living today is under attack; and this attack, ironically enough, comes from people who are far wealthier than the folks they’re going after.
Nor do the politicians who support high unemployment face any risk by maintaining the dismal status quo. After all, the occupant of the White House usually gets blamed for problems in the economy. In fact, even as the Republicans have stymied every attempt to boost job creation in our country, they point at the President’s policies as the source of our economic troubles. They even call their corporate supporters, Job Creators, while their policies effectively keep people out of work and searching for work, for any work, at almost any wage.
You could argue that high unemployment takes a toll on society as a whole and no sensible politician would want it to continue, but there is a portion of the population that is not only not suffering under the current policies but is thriving instead. This is also the population that is financing Republican politicians and supporting their obstructionism on employment policy. They’re not concerned about the state of the economy as a whole. Why should they be? They’re doing fine.
The truth is we now have two economies. One is thriving, while the other struggles; but economic policy is almost entirely dictated by the people in the thriving economy, to the detriment of those unfortunate enough to find themselves locked into the economy that is not.
Maybe I’m reaching to wonder if there is some diabolical plan is at work here, but the business community and the politicians that serve them aren’t ignorant of basic business principles. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that the people who are making out like bandits in this economy are really anxious to change things. And it’s hard to imagine that businesses are anxious to compete against each other again and have to offer higher wages and better benefits. I also can’t imagine that the politicians that the economic elite support and influence are unaware of how their policies serve their sponsors.
On the other hand maybe there’s nothing deliberate about their policies. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that things are working out so well for them.