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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Insidiousness of the "Job Creator" Meme

Something that has gained a lot of traction over on the Right is the idea that the Rich are the ones who create jobs. Apparently just as a byproduct of being rich, jobs are thrown off by them like some kind of magical aura. And this is why, we are told, the Rich cannot be asked to pay any more in taxes: because then they might get mad and take their ball and go home and deprive us of the jobs that spring up miraculously from their blessed footprints.

This is a truly stupid idea. Jobs don't instantly spring up out of wealth, jobs are created whenever there is a demand for some good or service that is not yet being met. Demand creates jobs -- talking about any other factor is just fussing about details.

But there is something else at work here, something more subtle and insidious: the idea that hiring someone is a gift, like alms. If you look for it, you see this idea popping up everywhere.

Over at No More Mister Nice Blog Steve M. reports that Glenn Beck is pushing a story about a coal mine operator in Alabama who was recently forced to endure listening to townspeople complaining about the degree to which the toxins his mine pumps out have poisoned their environment and sickened their children. But to hear Glenn Beck tell it, the mine operator is the hero and the sick children are the villains because the mine operator is creating jobs.

At The Exiled, Ramon Glazov reports "How an Australian Oligarch is Using Dirty Tricks and Libertarian Lies to Fleece Aborigines Out of Billions." One of the ways the oligarch -- Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, Australia's richest man -- is trying to persuade a tribe of aborigines to sell cheap their rights to an iron ore deposit (estimated to be worth $280 billion) is by promising the tribe jobs once he starts mining operations. But as Glazov points out,
if Forrest offers X amount of dollars "in jobs," that means he's also getting back X amount of dollars in labor. So, to be eligible for that extra $6.5m, the Yindjibarndi wouldn't just have to sign away their land; they'd have to pay for it with their own sweat as well!

That's why you shouldn't trust an oligarch when they claim to be offering millions "in jobs" -- it's not money, so much as the right to earn money, which makes it worth damn near $0.
And that last point is the one we tend to miss when we talk about how important the "job creators" are to our society: hiring people isn't an act of beneficence, it's a trade. The employer trades cash, the employee trades time, skill and labor. Both sides to the transaction should be understood to have contributed something of real value, and both parties to the transaction should be held in equal esteem.

(I once spent a summer working as a handyman on a large, ramshackle house in North Carolina's Outer Banks. The staff got paid once a week and the owner of the house liked to make a big deal out payday, dancing around the staff's common room and handing us our checks as if she were our fairy godmother bestowing gifts. It was obvious that she thought we were supposed to be grateful to her merely for paying us. But we all worked really hard at that job, and the implicit suggestion that our paychecks were some sort of present from her to us used to really piss me off.)

This seems to be another unintended consequence of America's tendency over the last 35 years or so to demonize unions and disparage workers, while exalting bankers, stock manipulators and venture capitalists: the idea that everything, including jobs, flows from the Very Very Rich down to the plebes, and that everyone who isn't staggeringly wealthy needs to tug their forelock and say "Thanks, Guv" to the Rich whenever blessed with the slightest bit of good fortune. Certainly that is what the Rich have come to expect. Since Obama has been in office the banksters' compensation is greater than ever, their tax burden is lower than ever, and yet they are still mad at him because he once called them "fat cats" and refuses to tell them that they are just the greatest, bestest, smartest people ever.

(Yes you are! Yes you are! Who's a pwecious widdle banker? It's you!)

But, you know . . . we didn't used to think like this, because we used to know it actually works the other way 'round -- prosperity and economic security grow from the bottom up. It'd be nice if we made an effort to start remembering that fundamental truth, maybe start trying to remind ourselves of it from time to time -- maybe it might help us to sack up and do the things necessary to stand this country back on its feet. Like making those "fat cats" start paying their fair share again.

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