seducing the workers

It’s become somehow intuitive that employment or inflationary statistics showing gains for workers are bad for business, bad for the economy in general. This is, of course, a reflection of the allegiance to shareholders and only to shareholders as the most important actors in the economy. It is also patently absurd. But this is how most business news is presented – from the perspective of business.

Similarly, we have negative externalities like pollution that have for so long gone unpriced – as though protecting some inherent right to pollute (freedom!) is the baseline from which all discussions about pollution must spring. As long as this right is free and unregulated, the logic follows, it will continue unabated and in the near term appear to be an intractable problem to be managed delicately with the appropriate tone and language – much like workers making too much at the expense of shareholders.

So now that Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is making noises about replacing John Dingell (D-Mich.) as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a position from which Waxman could and likely would push for more aggressive greenhouse emission limits, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, of course, signaling how “scary” that would be.

Yes, there would be implications for U.S. automakers and other manufacturers if we adopted a more responsible, perhaps incentive-based approach to how much and what kinds of pollution we spew into the air and with which we salt the earth – but shouldn’t there be? Who are we trying to mollify here?

The same questions apply to ‘saving’ the auto industry with suggested bailouts. From what are they being saved? From making horrible investment and design decisions about the products they offer? There is only one thing which can save them from that. It’s the same dose of reality that saves a worker from thinking that she will continue to have a job in an industry sector which has ceased to exist or moved to more ‘labor-friendly’ environs.  Confucius say:

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Image: Confucius presenting the young Gautama Buddha to Laozi