Puppet economics

When a bit player from the Art Pope Puppetshow starts spouting lessons in economic theory, it's always a good idea to bring your hip waders. You can be sure you'll hear a lot about the power of free markets and enough trickle down bullshit to float any right wing boat. Which is exactly what Jon Sanders at the John Locke Foundation does this morning. Sanders has been an adjunct at NCSU in economics (which most likely means he couldn't get a real faculty job) and now he's paid to shill for the Puppetmaster. Today's missive starts with the obligatory swipe at a dedicated public servant, John Edwards, who does more in one day to help people in North Carolina than Jon Sanders will do in a lifetime.

North Carolina's State Treasurer is talking about it. So is this new coalition with the question-begging name, "North Carolinians for Fair Wages." It's been John Edwards' idée fixe ever since the ink was dry on the UNC press release announcing that its Center on Work, Poverty and Opportunity he would head was going to offer "innovative and practical ideas."

That part was predictable enough, right? Well pull on the waders because the shit gets thick from here on out.

They all want to raise the state's minimum wage, and they want to do it to help the poorest people in the state. And they couldn't have chosen two more opposing positions if they tried, because while raising the state's minimum wage might help a bunch of people, the one group it won't help is the poorest, least employable people in the state. Their problem is that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what jobs are. It's the same misunderstanding that causes people to oppose Wal-Mart and outsourcing overseas. They see jobs as discrete units, which they can manipulate.

With me so far? The problem is that everybody in the world besides Sanders has a fundamental misunderstanding of what jobs are. I suppose when you're living large on the Puppetmaster's payroll you probably do have a twisted view of what a job actually is. But that's a debate for another day.

Consider the rhetoric of what my colleague Travis Fisher calls the "anti-Wal-Martarians." Invariably you will hear them say, "Wal-Mart is shipping American jobs overseas." The next time you hear that statement, ask: What kind of crates do they use to pack up American jobs to ship overseas? How many jobs fit in a crate? Are they specially made crates with air holes so the jobs can breathe en route? Are there special protocols for running the crated jobs past those Foreigners Running Our Ports? How are jobs shipped overseas?

Jobs are obviously not discrete units that can be packed and shipped. But can't the government just raise the money attached to them so that their owners can live more comfortably? No, because jobs are not discrete units that are owned or not owned, either.

This is where the Puppet loses it. Like all who bow to the infinite wisdom of free markets, Sanders forgets that yes-or-no questions have two possible answers, not just the answer they prefer. Because in fact, the government CAN raise the money attached to jobs and has done so scores of times in recent history. The government consists of We the People - and we make choices (trade-offs) every day that affect the flow of capital, jobs and wealth inside our country and beyond.

Sanders goes on (and on and on and on) with high-flying insights about the inevitable collapse of the North Carolina economy if the minium wage were to be raised, and if you have nothing better to do, find your way to the Carolina Journal and enjoy a few chuckles. But you may just want to skip to the last paragraph.

The effect of an increase in the minimum wage will be fewer purchases of labor. Fewer jobs will come into existence. Those jobs that would have come into being under a lower minimum wage, don’t. Employers who might have earned wealth staffing those jobs, can’t.

Ah, the shadow of the Puppetmaster is revealed! Employers who might have earned wealth staffing those jobs, can't. In other words, "My bossman will only make $2 million this year on the backs of minimum-wage cashiers at Roses instead of $3 million."

There are so many things wrong and irrelevant about Sanders' role in the Puppetshow that it's hard to know where to begin. So I'll just begin at the end. Democratic societies make choices. Lately the choices have been driven by corporate greed and they have further enriched the most wealthy Americans while more and more families have slid into working poverty. Sanders wants us to believe that the Puppetmaster will take his ball and go home if the minimum wage is increased. He cites no evidence that is true.

If raising the minimum wage would actually make the Puppetmaster go away, that would be worth it no matter what the other consequences.


No link.

It's a shame I can't link to the Carolina Journal website, but I promised John Hood I wouldn't until they come clean about the lies and incompetence of the Republicans controlling the White House and Congress. I suspect that'll be a long time coming. But in the meantime, a promise is a promise.

Corporate Power

The other thing Sanders fails to take into account is the incredible power corporations have in the United States, in large part due to the generous tax breaks given to them by federal, state, and local governments. I'm not a corporation-hater, I see their value in society. But he can't really believe that corporations and individual employees have equal bargaining power, such that a low-wage employee can just walk away if an employer isn't offering him wages sufficient to live off of. No, the employee is going to take what he can find because his options are limited due to corporations paying Bangladeshi children 0.04 cents per hour to make the jacket sold to Americans for $199. Looks like really equal footing there.


I'm not a corporation-hater either. In fact I'm an owner in several successful businesses. But unlike Sanders, some of us see both obligations and privileges when we look at social contracts, not just privileges.

Thanks for your comment . . . and for stopping by today!

The Next Time You Hear a Republican Talk About Creating Jobs

Ask these questions: what are those jobs made of? could they be using cheaper raw materials? where will the job factory be located? can I get a job making jobs?

Better yet, the next time you hear someone use idiom or imagery to describe a process, ask all kinds of stupid questions that display a fundamental failure to grasp what is accurate in the imagery or idiom used.

"Why is it called cargo when it goes by ship, and a shipment when it goes on a train!?" It's funny when George Carlin says it; it's sad when it comes from the mouth of someone tryin to talk serious 'bout grown up stuff.

It reminds me of a time that I was watching Springer or something similar with a person of, shall we say, moderate intelligence. A woman was explaining why she blamed her husband's mistress more than her husband for their affair. Her reason: "Jerry, a woman can run faster with her skirt up than a man can with his pants down." While I was thinking "huh?" the person next to me slowly said "that is so true." The woman on TV had just won over my neighbor by employing something that sounded clever instead of saying something that made sense.

Lance, you're amazing.

But I wouldn't credit this particular Puppet with sounding clever or making sense.