Playing with economic dynamite
By golly, America is still an exporting powerhouse. In fact, the good ol’ U.S.A. is No. 1 in the world in exports! Our corporate leaders, backed by Republicans and Democrats alike in Washington, are now routinely exporting America’s most precious goods – our jobs, factories, technologies and middle-class opportunities.
With unemployment and underemployment devastating millions of families in our country, perhaps you’ve assumed that U.S. corporations simply aren’t hiring these days. Nonsense. They added 1.4 million jobs last year alone – overseas.
For example, more than half of Caterpillar’s new hires in 2010 were in foreign countries. Many more of this giant’s jobs are headed offshore in the near future, for Caterpillar, which was once an iconic American brand, has recently invested in three new plants in China. It will not only manufacture tractors and bulldozers there, but it will also begin to ship its design work and technology development jobs to China.
Likewise, DuPont, once proud of its U.S. workforce, has slashed its number of American employees in recent years, while increasing its Asia-Pacific workforce by more than half. Indeed, DuPont no longer considers itself American – “We are a global player,” sniffs its chief innovation officer.
Such homemade brands as Coca-Cola, Dell and IBM are also among the multitude of corporations abandoning our shores and our middle class. Of course, they keep their posh headquarters here so they and their top executives can continue enjoying all that America has to offer.
Calvin Coolidge once famously asserted that “what’s good for business is good for America.” That’s myopic enough, but today’s narcissistic CEOs are even more self-centered, declaring that “what’s good for business is good for business, America be damned.”
In fact, profits are up, the stock market is roaring, corporations are awash in cash, CEOs are reaping fabulous paychecks again, and – did you hear? – holiday spending reached its highest level in four years. Forget last year’s talk of gloom, all economic indicators are now on zoom, headed for a new boom!
Well, maybe not all indicators. There is still that pesky little problem of joblessness, for instance. Most politicos and economists, however, no longer want to be bothered with the fact that millions of our people are either unemployed or underemployed. Jobs, they say dismissively, are merely a “lagging economic indicator,” a problem that’ll take care of itself in the by and by. Just be patient. And be quiet.
But jobs have been “lagging” for years now, and there’s no sign that this problem will ever take care of itself. To the contrary, America’s corporate elite have learned that they can prosper by deliberately holding the workaday majority in a new normal of job insecurity.
No one at the top wants to admit it, but big business has quietly been imposing a structural transformation on our economy, shifting from a workforce of permanent employees to one in which most jobs are temporary, scarce, low-paid, without benefits and with no upward mobility. Of the 1.2 million jobs created by the private sector last year, for example, 26 percent were temporary positions, and in November, temp jobs soared to 80 percent of that month’s total.
What’s happening here is not merely a matter of a few million folks being momentarily down on their luck, but of an intentional dismantling of America’s middle-class structure.
The Powers That Be can talk all they want about a boom, but working families – America’s majority – know better. A boom for whom? they ask. They can plainly see that self-serving elites are jury-rigging the job market, lowering the standard of living and closing opportunities for millions.
The elites don’t know it yet, but they are playing with dynamite. Our society can tolerate such raw selfishness by the privileged few, or it can have democracy. It can’t have both.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.