Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Made In Dagenham" Puts Political "Jobs" Threats In Context

I've been thinking about a post about the current political reason for everything:  JOBS.

Yesterday when I saw the movie Made in Dagenham, I decided it was time to do the post. 

"Jobs" has replaced 'terror' as the ultimate political reason for or against anything.  Today politicians use the word "jobs"  to justify almost any proposal. But it's important to demand of politicians:
  • "Excuse me, but could you tell me the specific number of jobs in question?"
  • "Could you please outline the evidence that shows how many jobs will be gained (or lost)"?

Here are a few examples starting with probably the most bizarre -  US House Bill 2 that just passed the House:

This Act may be cited as the ``Repealing the Job-Killing Health 
Care Law Act''. 

Obama mentions jobs every time he can:
"We will be increasing U.S. exports to China by more than $45 billion, and China's investments in America by several billion dollars. Most important, these deals will support some 235,000 American jobs," said Obama. [VOA]

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell made jobs the key reason the state should cut oil taxes:
Gov. Sean Parnell said Thursday that the issue of whether to cut oil taxes comes down to a simple question: How important are new jobs to legislators?
Parnell has proposed changing the way Alaska calculates its oil production tax as a way to boost industry investment, create jobs and get more oil flowing through the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline.

And a couple days later, Parnell used the word "jobs" 17 times in his State of the State address.  To put this in context, here are the frequencies of some other words (and close variants such as economy, economics, economically, etc.) in the speech:

Alaska 52
economy  23
jobs 17
develop 8
education 8
mining 7
growth 5
safety 5
domestic violence5
children 5
oil 4
harvest (timber, fish, salmon) 3
natural gas 2
timber 2
fish 1
military 1
Hollywood films 1
health 0
Note:  These are just some of the key 
words that seemed  to be used frequently.

Parnell has submitted legislation to change how we tax oil companies to stimulate the economy and increase the number of jobs.
"We can, quote, 'lose' $5 billion in state revenue with tax changes and create more jobs for Alaskans, and Alaska's savings account could still grow, depending upon the assumptions used," Parnell said. (The News Tribune)
From the fiscal notes to the Governor's bill (SB 49)
Using the Fall 2010 forecast assumptions, this provision is expected to result in revenue impacts as follows:
  • FY 2013: -$   382 million 
  • FY 2014: -$   961 million 
  • FY 2015: -$1,126 million  
  • FY 2016: -$1,341 million  
  • FY 2017: -$1,423 million

Note the minus signs before the dollar signs.  He's saying, "Let's cut their taxes (our revenue) by $5 billion in five years and see how many jobs they'll add to the economy."

"Excuse me Governor, could you tell me the specific number of jobs that will be gained?"

Because if it isn't 30,000 jobs a year, I'm not too interested.

Because that average of $1 billion a year could create 30,000 jobs at $33,000 a pop.  Why gamble on what the oil companies might do?  That would give jobs to each of the
"estimated 29,300 Alaskan workers [who] were without jobs but looking." (ADN)
The last time an oil company added significant jobs to Alaska was when the Exxon Valdez hit the reef.  

It's better we use the $5 billion.  We could even offer private companies an incentive to hire workers by paying 25% of their salary for the first year.  We'd still have lots of money left over for working on one of Parnell's pet projects - like preventing domestic violence.  There are lots of possibilities that would give us more certainty than just cutting the oil taxes and hoping the companies will follow through with investments and jobs in Alaska.  

Made in Dagenham

Now, all of this became a lot more compelling after watching Made in Dagenham yesterday.  In that movie, women machinists in a Ford factory in UK went on strike in 1968  to be get equal pay as men.  Ford sent an American executive to UK who said Ford couldn't afford to pay women the same as men and such an increase would cause Ford to have to pull out of England and cost England 40,000 jobs.  

The strike went on until they were invited to meet the employment secretary Barbara Castle.   She struck a deal with them for 92% of the men's wages and a future equal pay law, which passed two years later. (Who knows when the US Equal Pay Act was passed?) 

Now, this was a movie - based on real events - so one has to allow for dramatic license.  However, there was a clear threat by the Ford representative to pull jobs out of England if the women got their way.  The women got their way and proved that the Ford threat was a bluff. 

Today corporations continue to make those threats.  I say $5 billion in the hand is worth a lot of jobs in the Bush.  I'd like to see the oil companies tell us how many jobs we get for that $5 billion tax cut over five years.  If it's not a bluff, well, with the price of oil predicted to continue rising (I picked just one link here, but you can google and find others on your own), at some point as the price goes up, if there is retrievable oil in the ground, the oil companies will come back and we'll make more for each barrel then anyway. (I know there are issues of shutting down the pipeline etc. but that could happen as the flow is reduced anyway.)

And, as the governor said in his speech, we have $8 billion in reserves.  And we have $33 billion in the Alaska Permanent Fund.  We can take this risk.  Most of the other states are in the red.   If we started to tap 5% of the Permanent Fund for the state budget - that was the original intent of the fund - say in 2018, that would go a long way to paying our bills. Or we could reduce the tax sometime in the future if someone can demonstrate with more certainty than the Governor has offered it would stimulate the economy more than we'd lose in revenue. 

My feeling is that like the Ford threat to pull out of England, the job promise the Governor offers in exchange for the oil tax revenue is an empty promise that will simply benefit the oil companies and do Alaska token benefit at best.

Would you give away large amounts of your income on the vague promise of better times to come in the future, with no backup evidence, let alone a signed contract?  Of course not.  Neither should we. 

One last note.  Labor unions missed a great opportunity to educate their members and the public by not promoting Made in Dagenham.  It shows what united workers can do, but it also shows the tensions that arise when there's a strike.   And it shows the important contributions unions have made to equal rights, though the union itself doesn't come off unscathed either.  It's playing at the Totem for $3.

1 comment:

  1. I like your questions to pin down exactly what jobs politicians are talking about. I might add another: what will these alleged jobs pay? Too often we spend more in tax breaks to "buy" a job than the job will actually pay its occupant during the course of the deal.


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