“unintended consequences” by Paul Hudon

Historian Paul Hudon, the author of The Valley & Its Peoples: An Illustrated History of the Lower Merrimack and the recently published All in Good Time, contributes the following essay:

It’s my guess that most of us have seen one or two TV commercials pushing drugs. Good drugs of course. Drugs like Cymbalta, Abilify, and Spiriva, not bad drugs like crack, smack, and meth. Those commercials came to mind the other day as I read an op-ed piece in the LA Times. The byline said Rick Wartzman and the headline was a real grabber: ‘Texas, the jobs engine.’ The tag line that followed was clarity itself — ‘Conservatives hail it and liberals dispute the story, but one thing is certain about the Lone Star State’s employment success: The number is real.’ All told, the piece is a masterwork, a textbook model of the genre: 820 words, not one too many and all of them efficient, lined-up straight to the point. This thing builds a focus for the reader’s attention and never lets go.

And yet he lost me. Near the middle of his 820 words, Rick Wartzman admits that “thorny tradeoffs surely exist” in the world of Texas job creation.

Here’s how he describes the “tradeoffs” —

Texas is attracting businesses, in part, because it has low taxes. But that, in turn, makes for a smaller safety net, which is one reason Texas has a high incidence of poverty and, compared with every other state, the biggest proportion of its population without health insurance. There are also serious questions about the quality of jobs in Texas. A “right to work” state, it is tied with Mississippi for having the biggest percentage of workers paid at or below the minimum wage.

This is where TV drug ads started running in my head because Wartzman’s tradeoffs read like the litany of warnings you’ll hear spoken in voice-over when one of those ads appears on your screen. Any drug will have side effects, and the side effects noted in those TV commercials — the drug’s tradeoffs — may be mild (dizziness and blurred vision) or severe (difficulty in breathing) or flat-out terminal (coma and death). Other ads will have some one on camera reciting the drug’s warning label like the ad was a message of personal concern meant just for you rather than a statement of statistical realities mandated by federal law.

Make no mistake, jobs Texas style or TV drug sales, either one, it’s all about the fork in the road where statistical reality leads off one way while down the other way lies the path where you and your body contend for a life — a life that requires oxygen, water, and regular meals; the fork in the road where brain’s calculation of risk (reality) parts with mind’s expectation of better and more (story). That’s where we weigh options and choose one. With most of us most of the time, story wins. How else could we drive our cars or board a plane? (http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx)

Wartzman twice refers to ‘the story.’ First time, the ‘story’ is in ‘dispute’ between conservatives and liberals. That’s in the tagline — see above. Second time is in his last sentence, where the dispute is settled. That’s where he says that ‘for those on the left to dismiss the state’s jobs story out of hand, just because Republicans have embraced it as a showpiece, is counterproductive and foolish.’

Once again we have to acknowledge the writer’s skill. ‘Just because’ makes the whole piece, but it moves in there on the rhythmic sense of his prose and does its job so the reader never has to notice he’s taken the bait. ‘Just because’ puts ‘the left’ where Rick Wartzman wants you to find us. In the slough of despond. Those two words say that on the left we know very well ‘what’s actually happening’ and are so frustrated by the fact of it that the fact of it alone drives us to foolish denials.

So, what is it that’s ‘actually happening?’

This is Wartzman’s version. ‘Since the recession officially ended, Texas has created more than 4 of every 10 new jobs in America.’ For weeks he was unable to get that startling statistic out of his head. ‘The number is real,’ Wartzman tells us, and he repeats this, giving it a verbal underscore — ‘there’s no escaping it.’

Here is my version. A thirty-year campaign to defund the American worker’s fall-back has finally payed-off. Billions were spent to convince American voters, left, right, and center, that government was on their backs. Other billions were spent buying legislators to write the regs that make the free market free. The sum of it is that Americans workers now have no option but to accept any job and lump the tradeoffs. What was once ‘the world’s best poor man’s country,’ is now Texas, the job engine, looking very like the third world.

Could be worse, and it will be. There’s no escaping it. Just google ‘Georgia,’or Wisconsin,‘ followed by ‘prison labor.’

One Response to “unintended consequences” by Paul Hudon

  1. C R Krieger says:

    There is the whole issue of the social safety net.  There is the wholt issue of getting Americans back to work.  The question is, where do we draw the line?

    Worse, there are questions as to if Keynes had a clue.  Thus we got a half-hearted stimulus that was about preserving government jobs, especially state and local.  Remember the theory that the Japanese and Germans are the ones who pulled us out of the Great Depression, and not FDR.

    Today’s New York Times “Sunday Review” is full of such talk, except for the possibility that Lord Kaynes might have been wrong.

    Are Democrats expending their energies on “social values”, when the social safety net is what is important?

    Regards  —  Cliff