Earlier this week, Joseph Stiglitz wrote a column about the sluggish response to the economic crisis. “The response to the private sector failures and profligacy that had caused the crisis was to demand public sector austerity,” Stiglitz said. “The consequence will almost surely be a slower recovery and an even longer delay before unemployment falls to acceptable levels.”
Yeah, pretty much. And of course, since the real perps are “too big to be responsible,” scapegoats must be found.
For example, it quickly became conservative orthodoxy that the financial crisis was caused by lowlife deadbeats who irresponsibly took subprime mortgages they couldn’t pay back. And this was made possible by government “do-gooders” who promoted these loans. The real perps who cooked up mortgage selling schemes and who made out like, well, bandits, are not blamed.
One goal this skapegoating serves is getting government completely out of the mortgage market, of course, which would probably mean the end of the 30-year fixed rate mortgage. But first, the Powers That Be have to convince the public to clamor to get the government out of the mortgage market.
Unions have been scapegoated for all manner of financial ills lo these many years, and they are still being scapegoated, even though only 12.3 percent of American wage and salary workers belong to Unions.
And lately public employees have been in the scapegoat spotlight. Obviously, we’re all being set up to cut public employees’ salaries to help pay for the tax cuts for rich people.
Earlier this week, Michael Powell wrote in the New York Times,
Ever since Marie Corfieldâ€™s confrontation with Gov. Chris Christie this fall over the stateâ€™s education cuts became a YouTube classic, she has received a stream of vituperative e-mails and Facebook postings.
â€œPeople I donâ€™t even know are calling me horrible names,â€ said Ms. Corfield, an art teacher who had pleaded the case of struggling teachers. â€œThe mantra is that the problem is the unions, the unions, the unions.â€
Across the US, politicians are railing against the terrible abuses of powerful union bosses, especially in state government. … What is perverse about this trend is just how vastly it misunderstands what went wrong with the American economy. No one is denying that this is a time for belt-tightening. Or that some unions have problems. Or that some union contracts look over-generous in austerity America. But the fundamental truth remains: powerful and reckless unions did not cause the Great Recession by rampant speculation. Nor did an out-of-control labour movement cause or burst the housing bubble. It was not union bosses who packaged up complex derivatives to sell in their millions and thus wrecked the economy and put millions out of work. Nor was it union bosses who awarded (and continue to award) themselves salaries worth hundreds of millions of dollars for doing nothing of social value. Neither was it the union movement that was bailed out by the taxpayer and then refused to change its habits.
All that was the work of the finance industry.
Yet, as America continues to search for solutions to its economic problems, it is the labour movement, and not the banking sector, that is getting it in the neck. This is despite the fact that many unions, especially in such cases as the bailout of Detroit’s automakers, have proved themselves highly flexible in sacrificing wages and long-held workers’ rights in order to preserve jobs. Meanwhile, the finance industry, where true and meaningful reform has failed to happen, still squeals as if President Obama were a raving socialist. Or, in the helpful and moderate words of Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”
You see where this is going, right? Good-paying jobs are an evil thing. People who work for a paycheck had better learn to make do with less. Unions and public employees are just the first targets.
All kinds of lies about public employees are being mouthed by political leaders and repeated in media with complete impunity. For example, a big talking point from last summer was that there had been a huge increase in public employees — proof that Obama was growing a “big government.” But the increase was just the temp employees hired to conduct the census.
The recent stories about the New York sanitation workers who sabotaged snow removal is part of the problem. The source of the story was one Republican councilman, and I’m sure everyone in the country heard it.
Recent stories claiming that public employees make outrageously high salaries is based on bogus manipulation of statistics. Robert Reich wrote,
They say public employees earn far more than private-sector workers. Thatâ€™s untrue when you take account of level of education. Matched by education, public sector workers actually earn less than their private-sector counterparts.
The Republican trick is to compare apples with oranges â€” the average wage of public employees with the average wage of all private-sector employees. But only 23 percent of private-sector employees have college degrees; 48 percent of government workers do. Teachers, social workers, public lawyers who bring companies to justice, government accountants who try to make sure money is spent as it should be – all need at least four years of college.
Compare apples to apples and and youâ€™d see that over the last fifteen years the pay of public sector workers has dropped relative to private-sector employees with the same level of education. Public sector workers now earn 11 percent less than comparable workers in the private sector, and local workers 12 percent less. (Even if you include health and retirement benefits, government employees still earn less than their private-sector counterparts with similar educations.)
The talking points are also going after public employee pensions, claiming they are crippling the nation financially. But most of these pensions are mostly funded from pension funds public employees pay into through their careers. Pensions already are quickly becoming as extinct as dodos in the private sector.
The American public is being manipulated into accepting less — less money, less security, less upward mobility. And they’re being distracted away from the real thieves, the real bandits draining us dry.