Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How Low Can You Go?

Everybody limbo!

Megan McArdle takes some time out from defending the NRA and bankers to defend joblessness and hunger. Nobody wants to be a one-trick pony!

Harold Meyerson makes an argument that will be familiar to readers of this blog: stimulus doesn't work the way it used to. Workers have more skills, which makes it harder to create jobs to soak up an untapped labor pool--even if we did create large numbers of jobs swinging pickaxes, many unemployed Americans wouldn't take them.

Actually, Meyerson says that "Hopkins' initiative and ambition should be a model for our response to today's Great Recession" because of its relative speed and efficacy, but some people hear what they want to hear. He says that stimulus creates fewer jobs now because of huge increases in productivity, but reading comprehension has never been part of McArdle's skill set.

There are complex reasons why we have not built 21st--century versions of these job programs. For one thing, political resistance to such policies is higher today than it was 75 years ago -- in part because today's misery is less acute, since the nation now has programs such as unemployment insurance and food stamps. America lacks the sense of existential crisis that it experienced in the depths of the Depression. Also, a resurgent American right, panicked by Obama's ascent to the presidency, has stepped up its war against government initiatives. Its efforts have been augmented by those of the deficit-phobes, who have dominated public discourse at the worst possible moment for a nation in need of all the economic stimulus it can get.


There's a further difference between today's infrastructure work and that of the New Deal: It's much more productive, and hence employs fewer people. "The work itself has changed since the '30s -- or the '60s," says Robert Balgenorth, president of the state AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Council. An electrician, Balgenorth built high schools during the 1960s. "It took 15 to 20 electricians to build a high school then," he says. "It takes four or five today. Stuff that we had to assemble then comes pre-assembled today." Heavy equipment has changed as well. "You can haul more in bigger trucks today," he says. "You need fewer drivers."

Naturally, McArdle does not source her statements that workers have more skills now than in the 1930s, or that the unemployed won't take manual labor jobs. McArdle knows that the poor are poor because they are less moral and don't work as hard as, say, bankers. Because she does. So there.

Meyerson identifies a lot of the procedural barriers that I frequently talk about--the bidding and environmental safeguards that make federal projects very slow to get off the ground. But perhaps unsurprisingly, he doesn't really explore a huge barrier to a WPA-type jobs program: public sector unions. They are not going to let you hire a bunch of cheap workers and run crews without civil service protections.

That's because unions are not a huge barrier. Meyerson is far more concerned about whole areas of employment that will never recover.

What the nation needs economically, then, and what Obama needs politically, is a jobs bill that invests in home care and child care, boosts tax credits for domestic manufacturing (this is, in fact, the subject of one White House proposal), and hurls money into infrastructure spending (the kind of spending that Republicans oppose least). Obama then needs his own Harry Hopkins. The new Hopkins won't be able to dispense funds as quickly as the original, but he must convey the urgency and zeal for cutting red tape that Hopkins brought to the New Deal's job programs.

The globalization (and the attendant overcapacity) of production and the long-term effects of the financial crisis mean that the manufacturing and construction sectors, which have provided decent-paying jobs to millions of workers and economic vibrancy to the nation, aren't likely to recover on their own. Obama needs to talk to Americans about the constrained economic future they will face if those sectors don't revive, as well as the benefits of more early childhood education and senior care -- and why the nation needs a massive government commitment to those sectors to recapture its economic vibrancy.

McArdle attacks unions for all the usual reasons. They are the opponents of the elite. They take money out of the pockets of CEOs and bankers and real estate speculators and CDO salesmen and that cannot be allowed in a just and Godly world. It's sacrilege, and who needs proof when you have religion? But like fundamentalists everywhere, she grossly exaggerates the strength and power of her enemies.

Union membership had been steadily declining in the US since 1983. In 2007, the labor department reported the first increase in union memberships in 25 years and the largest increase since 1979. Most of the recent gains in union membership have been in the service sector while the number of unionized employees in the manufacturing sector has declined. Most of the gains in the service sector have come in West Coast states like California where union membership is now at 16.7% compared with a national average of about 12.1%.[6]

Union density (the percentage of workers belonging to unions) has been declining since the late 1940s, however. Almost 36% of American workers were represented by unions in 1945. Historically, the rapid growth of public employee unions since the 1960s has served to mask an even more dramatic decline in private-sector union membership.

At the apex of union density in the 1940s, only about 9.8% of public employees were represented by unions, while 33.9% of private, non-agricultural workers had such representation. In this decade, those proportions have essentially reversed, with 36% of public workers being represented by unions while private sector union density had plummeted to around 7%. Recently, workers have increasingly chosen union membership. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent survey indicates that union membership in the US has risen to 12.4% of all workers, from 12.1% in 2007. Private sector union membership has rebounded as well, increasing from 7.5% in 2007 to 7.6% in 2008. [7]

Looking at the survey data, it's easy to see why organized labor seeks the legislation and why Democrats support it. Unions, while still popular, have lost ground in recent years in workplaces and in public opinion. Just 7.8% of private sector workers are union members today, down from 17% a quarter-century ago.

Either McArdle has absolutely no idea what she is talking about (always a possibility), or she indulges in union-bashing because they are Democrats.

Election Day last November, 11% of voters checked a box on the exit poll indicating they were union members, and they voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by 61% to 38%, making them one of the Democrats' strongest groups.

Once again, unions stand in between something McArdle wants: big business-friendly government. She assumes that the Democratic party, which just handed over $ to banks, is anti-business and stands between money and the elite to which it rightfully belongs.

There's something ironic in the fact that the legacy of the New Deal is the inability to reproduce it.

And that irony would be...? The point of the New Deal was to prevent another economic disaster, not to prevent the labor market from changing. The New Deal has been under constant attack since it was passed, and has been substantially weakened. That is the fault of the Randian conservatives and venal politicians, not the New Deal.

On the other hand, it's not so necessary, either. People are richer now, and though it isn't perfect, our financial regulation is better.

We're in the middle of a global meltdown due to, among other reasons, lack of financial regulation, but it's "better." No numbers, no facts, no cites. And people are "richer now." How are they richer? If she means income inequality, yes, the rich are richer. But that doesn't help the family with few assets and no more unemployment insurance. They're still poor and they can't move back in with Mom and Dad like certain other people.

We're not at much risk of people starving to death. So there's no urgent need to create low-skilled jobs for them to fill.

That's a mighty high bar to set for the poor. Either they starve to death or McArdle doesn't care about them.

The Facts About Hunger & Poverty

Domestic Hunger Facts

49 million people—including 17 million children—live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. This represents more than one in ten households in the United States (10.9 percent).
4.0 percent of U.S. households experience hunger. Some people in these households frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day. 11.1 million people, including 430 thousand children, live in these homes.

6.9 percent of U.S. households are at risk of hunger. Members of these households have lower quality diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need. 24.4 million people, including 12.2 million children, live in these homes.

Research shows that preschool and school-aged children who experience severe hunger have higher levels of chronic illness, anxiety and depression, and behavior problems than children with no hunger.

Shrugging off the hunger pains of a child is a new low, but in this eternal game of Moral Limbo, McArdle's a champ, with the trophies to prove it.


Downpuppy said...

Basically, Megan has no idea of the different parts of the New Deal, e.g. the CCC & the WPA, and just took the chance for an easy shot at unions to please her increasingly witless fanbase.

Susan of Texas said...

So when are we going to hear from P. Suderman on the joys of being unemployed?

Kathy said...

ArgleBargle doesn't grasp that the term "shovel ready" isn't literal, that it isn't referring to bony men in ragged clothes (all in black & white) digging ditches; it actually means current up-to-date jobs which need doing such as Computer Programmer/Administrator/Data Entry and so on. Medical Records tech. School teachers; engineers for sewer construction, rocket design, GREEN TECH.

God DAMM is she Stupid.

zhakora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


What I don't understand is the consistency with she writes wrong statements. It's to the point that even if she states a correct fact, you assume it's wrong.

Also great picture.


Ken Houghton said...

"[A] resurgent American right...has stepped up its war against government initiatives. Its efforts have been augmented by those of the deficit-phobes, who have dominated public discourse at the worst possible moment for a nation in need of all the economic stimulus it can get."

The deficit-phobes such as Megan, who was one of the "80%...[who] thought America would have a serious fiscal crisis in the next two decades" (more like 2/3rds, but that's rounding error for her)?

Montag said...

Gee, no acknowledgment that private-sector union membership began to decline at around the time that Taft-Hartley was passed.

No acknowledgment that the WPA and the CCC were not exactly the same, that highly skilled workers (artisans, artists, musicians, dancers, theater production people, filmmakers, civil and mechanical engineers, surveyors, urban planners, draftsmen and designers and more, all benefitted from employment by the WPA).

McGargle's grasp of history is roughly on a par with her understanding of economics--inadequate and tendentious.

Downpuppy said...

Odd you should bring up Taft-Hartley.

Megan's understanding of it is rather limited -

Or openly declare that if unions didn't stop issuing reports in favor of a higher minimum wage, the administration would have to revisit Taft-Hartley?

After I harrassed her a little, she (you'll be shocked)

claimed I misunderstood.