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Behind the rhetoric

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Spinmeisters do great job in sweetening candidates’ promises, and we may easily forget the election rule #1: read between the lines.

Even without the spin and twist, what contenders proclaim as a top priority tends to evaporate as soon as they finish decorating their new office. Take compassionate conservativism, for example. In order to win the swing voters, George W. Bush made sure nobody could mistake him for a regular, run-off-the-mill conservative. When the terrorists hit the Twin Towers, the president could no longer afford being meek. He got an enemy to defeat.

Four years later, another election night is approaching, and no matter what channel you tune in to, all you can get is fairy tales. It’s the undecided who have to be won, and the campaign teams are eager to serve Big Government desserts. Rhetorical differences notwithstanding, the candidates aren’t selling what globalized markets demand: small and flexible government that can quickly react to change. A spectator from across the Great Pond has trouble telling who is less statist.

With one exception: jobs.

Liberals have slammed Bush for telling the unemployed what they desperately need to hear – get an education, stupid. Democrats adore education; they display their Yale degrees with the same pride hunters reserve for their trophies. One has to wonder why the President’s advice doesn’t sound right to them.

Europe is giving its vast masses generous welfare perks, and few hope that leftist leaders who congregate in Hungary this week will finally notice the connection between supply and demand. As Mark W. Smith put it in his Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy handbook, if you reward it, you get more of it. European workers know they can have fun in the social safety net, and when you add troubled public schools to the equation, you’ll realize they have neither a compelling motive nor the means to get back on their feet.

John Kerry has a plan for everybody. He says to the unemployed that he’ll bring their jobs back from India. Tax credits for new jobs are supposed to offset the benefits of manufacturing overseas for one-tenth of the cost. A high-school kid with a calculator can debunk this fantasy in a minute. Unless Kerry assumes the voters won’t do the math, he must be hoping they want to postpone the reality check that was due in the 90s. They may. And if they do, America has a distinct chance of narrowing the EU’s lead in the unemployment rate.

Bush’s simple answer is ultimately the only right answer to the laid-off worker’s question, “What am I supposed to do now?” Go to school, learn a new trade, and make sure your choice is in tune with market trends. The government can help a little but the responsibility is yours.

Why is that undesirable for liberals? Look behind the wall of promises. Kerry’s plan includes a broader access to the unemployment benefits. That would create the most loyal constituency; dependent on the caring hand of the government, unmotivated, irresponsible. Do you want to see the ends? Book a flight to Frankfurt or Marseilles. When governments run out of money, they can’t rollback the New Deal they’ve been so proud of. Masses won’t let them, and conservatives have to take over to clean up the mess.

George Bush is no Goldwater of the 21st century but he’s proved he can grow in office. The biggest challenge to his capacities as president was September 11. A second term could be both quieter and more demanding. He should work on his Ownership Society theme a little more, then use it as a marketing brand for the project of removing obstacles that are blocking the American economy from going at full speed. Embrace outsourcing, welcome qualified workers from overseas, push for international trade agreements that actually promote free trade and work both ways.

It’s unclear whether Americans are ready for “more of the same” or “4 more years,” depending on who’s holding the microphone. Both statements are wrong in a way. It cannot be the same since 2004 is most definitely not 2000, and it shouldn’t be just 4 years of neoconservative revolution but a beginning of a long run towards more liberty, economical freedom and – when everyone’s ready – small government.

Who’s got more guts to spearhead a truly progressive agenda? For many years, Democrats have marketed themselves as elements of change that is, by definition, progressive. If a patient woke up in October 2004 after having spent thirty years in a coma, he wouldn’t know what to think. A conservative who liberated two nations in his first term, and a liberal who would trade their freedom for being more respected in Europe. History has a sense of humor.

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About Tomas Kohl

  • Eric Olsen

    Penetrating, sensible, logical, funny – one of the best analyses of the state of the state I have read in a long time – super job Tomas, thanks very much!

  • andy marsh

    yeah…what he said…I liked it!

  • Patiently waiting for the liberal trolls to appear: (ie Hal, Boomcrashbaby, Big Time Patriot)

    Good analysis and something the American liberal party will never point to. That they desire to create the same social and political nanny state that is the EU.

  • Shark

    “…Bush’s simple answer is ultimately the only right answer to the laid-off worker’s question, “What am I supposed to do now?” Go to school, learn a new trade, and make sure your choice is in tune with the market trends…”

    Another load of bullshit from a “conservative” who is lucky enough to still have a job.

    Education. Yeah. That’s the answer to the millions of skilled, educated people who’ve been laid off in their 40s and 50s:

    Learn how to use a laser price scanner or cook fries; that’s the “market trend” in America.

    Say you’re in your fifties, have about a half dozen skills, a college degree, and 30 years experience in at least three or four different industries.

    So what should one take at the local Junior College?

    What’s your “MARKET TREND”, oh wise one?

  • Shark

    BTW, “Marc” as long as you and your buddies are having a Right-Wing Circle-Jerk Daisy-Chain, there’s gotta be a ‘liberal troll’ to arrive and ruin your masturbatory fantasies.


    > – – – – – – – – -> o|o

  • Marc, have you ever done anything other than engage in gratuitous name-calling?



    Have you accomplished anything in any area of endeavor?

    Do you have any positions on anything that would indicate that you understand the underlying facts?

    Empty posts like #3 above would indicate you do not.

  • I think Shark has a point. It’s not easy for someone in his 50s to learn a new trade. However, is it impossible? Is he supposed to live off welfare checks until he dies (from boredom at 59)? Have a little more faith in the resourcefulness of the American people, man.

  • Tomas,

    Your rhetoric is pointed, but your analysis almost completely misses the boat.

    Kerry isn’t promising significantly expanded unemployment or welfare benefits, so your analogy to Europe is unfounded. He has enough he can’t pay for in his budget as it is. The social safety net is almost completely dismantled in this country, so fear not: Clinton made good on his promises and Bush has followed suit.

    Education is important to making more of the economy high-tech and in creating upward mobility, but that’s not an answer for working families or for the underemployed or unemployed in the high-tech sector. There have been lots of stories about the outsourcing of computer programming jobs in the news, and let’s not forget that the loss of manufacturing jobs also took away white-collar managerial jobs and executive jobs at many companies. These are highly educated people for whom community college isn’t the answer. Our economy isn’t sustainable without blue-collar jobs, and community college training isn’t entry to the white-collar world.

    Bottom line is that Bush’s answer for jobs being education isn’t good politics and won’t win him votes with working families in swing states where manufacturing jobs have been lost.

    I’m sympathetic to your bluntness since I’m young and also think that education could help a lot of folks, but your argument really isn’t one.

    That is all.

  • Bob,

    I did my homework and read Kerry’s plans, available for download at JohnKerry.com. They are in PDF so I can’t link to it directly, but you’ll find a paragraph saying that more people should receive unemployment benefits.

    And who says white-collar folks shouldn’t go to school if they can’t find employment with their current skills? Of course it won’t be a community college. Sometimes a 3-week training in a new, flourishing technology does the trick. I speak from personal experience.

    Your comment made me think. Thank you for that. I’ll improve my argument for the next time 🙂

  • Laura

    Good job Tomas.

    In the late 1800s American employment was based in agriculture, we evolved. Today, manufacturing output has doubled since 1980. Technology and innovation, not outsourcing, are the factors in the loss of mfg. jobs. And managerial and professional jobs have doubled since then.

    There are always going to be hard luck cases, ie. the 50 yr old displaced worker.

    If you only look at our service industry, the U.S. has a huge trade surplus. It’s a myth to equate “service” with flipping burgers and clerking at Walmart. IT, engineering, accounting, medicine and finance are service industries and we export the “product” of these areas.

    Should we have kept the horse-drawn plow because it employed more people? And now should we keep the assembly lines for the same reason? One has to maintain a certain faith in the resiliency of the American people not to hyperventilate about the loss of manufacturing jobs. I have worked in a factory. My father retired from a factory. I say good riddance, it’s time to face the challenges of the future in intellectual and technological enterprise.

  • It’s not true that “Technology and innovation, not outsourcing, are the factors in the loss of mfg. jobs.”

    Those were factors when the kind of jobs available changed in the past. The man behind the plow got displaced by agribusiness so he got a job in a factory. The buggy maker got upgraded to a job building automobiles.

    But things are different today.

    In the past, the displaced buggy maker could drive to Detroit and pick up on his life again. Jobs and capital, the factors of production and the profits stayed within the country.

    Today the new jobs are in China and India and Eastern Europe and points in between – the jobs have been off-shored and they won’t be back.

    The issue is bigger than off-shoring (a more appropriate term than out-sourcing for this phenomenon), it’s globalization. (I’ll ask the Free Trade Cultists to butt out for a while – read the whole thing before flaming out.)

    With the interconnectedness of the world today, jobs are being arbitraged – “American” companies are now simply going where they can get the cheapest labor and the cheapest good

    It probably started drifting into the state it’s in about the early 1980’s, when there was a sea change in what the IMF set as it’s mission. I didn’t notice at the time, in fact was what I thought was a ‘free trader’ mostly in the Republican camp (which changed shortly after I saw how radically Gingrich was breaching his ‘Contract With America’ by 1995).

    Off-shoring of jhobs is a serious problem and even the highest ranks of globalizers and free traders have started to worry. I blogged an item that includes the following clip from the Wall Street Journal:

    Migration of Skilled Jobs Abroad Unsettles Global-Economy Fans

    DAVOS, Switzerland — Many of the business, government and academic leaders who came here for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, traditionally a gathering of advocates of globalization, have voiced doubts over … whether the increasingly global economy will produce as many high-wage jobs in rich countries as once was expected.

    … the rising number of skilled, white-collar jobs migrating from rich nations to developing countries is raising fears that, in fact, well-paid workers in developed countries will have trouble finding equally well-paid computer, design and medical jobs at home. Many of the true believers in globalization at the Davos forum, which ended Sunday, worry that outsourcing also could erode political support for free trade internationally. [The Wall Street Journal 01/26/2004 subscription]

    (Links open in new windows.)

    There’s more on my site at Free Traders And Globalizers – Waking Up At Last? I’ve also posted several other items on the topic. You may be interested in some of the following:

    A perfect example of “ignorance is bliss” on jobs 02/25/04
    Why your job is moving to Bangalore
    Neocons on jobs: are they totally losing it? 02/16/04
    “Sending jobs overseas helps U.S.” – more from our misleader 02/10/04
    The Myth of Job Recovery 01/22/04
    Stop Subsidies For Offshore Jobs 12/16/03
    Let’s Sue the Republicans For Breach of Contract 12/08/03
    Get a job – in Shanghai or Bombay 10/20/03
    The “Cargo cult” Is alive and well – today it’s called “Free trade” 03/08/2004

  • Shark

    cheap foreign labor =
    cheap imported goods =
    no jobs in America except Walmart & fast food joints =
    plenty of cheap consumer goods available but very few of the 200 million min. wage workers can afford them =
    American ‘importer’ companies go bankrupt =

    …eat the rich?
    …storm the gated communities?

    It’s all good.

    And have a nice day.

  • That’s some kind of hyperbole. *No* jobs except WalMart and fast food? Damn!

  • Stopped the boldface?

  • Troll? I’m a Liberal troll? And I thought I was part of the Liberal “Smart Set” or at least the Liberal “Rat Pack”.

    Loss of jobs to overseas positions has been going on for a long time, it only gets a little more press now because its hitting White Collar jobs. Some people don’t think it’s a big deal because it hasn’t hit them YET. (I think that Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly could be replaced by some well-spoken people from India with a stack of RNC press releases in front of them for a FRACTION of the cost).

    There are only a few steps that I think we SHOULD take to help our workers and our nation. These are to control where we spend OUR tax money, not where private enterprise spends their money.

    I don’t think any company should get a government contract that doesn’t have its legal headquarters in the USA. If you want to dodge taxes in Barbados, fine, just don’t expect a single dollar back from the US Goverment. I also think that no tax money should be spent on work outsourced overseas.

    I especially think that important private information such as tax return information or homeland security lists and dats should NEVER be worked on overseas. Talk about your national security issues as well as keeping people secure from identity theft.

    Education is great, but its not the only answer. Washington State spent some money re-educating a lot of people to learn internet stuff, if that goes overseas what are they supposed to learn next time?

  • andy marsh

    Pretty good ideas for a “liberal troll”

  • I like ‘smart set’. Al will *love* the Mencken irony in that.

  • Eric Olsen

    this is an excelent and painful discussion and everyone speaks soem truth. The final issue is who is responsible for theindividual? Is it the government’s job to make sure everyone has a job? To create an economic climate of growth that is most likely to yield the “best” jobs to the most poeople? There is no ultimate “truth” on this subject, just perspectives and philosophies.

    It IS extremely difficult when a skilled professional in his/her 40s 50s or 60s loses his/her job. It sucks ass and there is plenty of agism out there although that is inevitably changing as the population ages. But has it ever been different? Japan has had something approaching “guaranteed jobs for life” corporate system but when was the last time Japan’s economy wasn’t stagnant? The ’80s?

    Is anyone “owed” a job? What does that mean? The faster the world changes, the less secure we are with our skills and the more nimble we have to be: there are very positive and very negative aspects of this, jsut like all change. Perspective is everything.