Historically, the Democrats proudly have worn the mantle of “the party of labor.” In practice, though, there has been an interesting dichotomy: they undoubtedly are the party of organized labor, with unions being a major pillar of the Democratic Party; however, their policies often have increased unemployment and devastated the hopes of American workers.
One wonders how long the Democrats can contain the glaring contradictions between their ideology and their policies.
The most basic contradiction in Democrats’ schizoid relationship with working Americans is their attempt to portray themselves as being pro-labor while simultaneously adopting aggressively anti-business policies. They seem oblivious to a simple economic fact of life: If you want jobs, then you need businesses (unless, of course, you are a socialist who believes that government should employ virtually everyone).
To be clear about it, Democrats are not enemies of all businesses. Their anti-capitalist rhetoric often distracts many from noticing the close ties between Democrats and favored crony businesses. As Timothy P. Carney documented in his book Obamanomics a few years ago, even this most left-leaning of presidents understands the political advantages of having allies among Big Business. And certainly the close ties between Team +0.62% Obama and various green boondoggles is indisputable. Indeed, as I reported before, when I participated in a discussion on NPR Radio about corporate inversions, a representative of the progressive Center for American Progress came out in favor of tax breaks to selected businesses.
But unless Democrats are cultivating a reciprocally beneficial relationship between their own political careers and a corporate crony, their policies are inimical to business. Two recent examples are: 1) the slanderous accusations of unpatriotic conduct by American businesses seeking to escape the heavy domestic tax burden on corporate profits; 2) the machinations of the NLRB as it seeks to unilaterally transform the employment landscape of the franchise business model. Come on, people, you’ve got to get off your ideological horse long enough to see that your persecution of business reduces job opportunities.
Indeed, Democrats have seemed more unified than Republicans in recent years, but they are sitting on a powder keg. Two of their main constituencies—environmentalists and labor—are inherently incompatible. Think of all the jobs and income working Americans have lost due to environmentalist policies. Thousands of jobs in the timber industry vanished when environmentalists tried to protect the spotted owl. Farmers in California have lost billions due to restrictions on water flow designed to protect an allegedly endangered species of fish. Coal miners and workers at coal-fired power plants are themselves endangered species due to Team Obama’s war against coal.
One wonders how long it will be before working Americans decide to abandon a party that works against their livelihood. This will be an ongoing challenge for Democratic strategists and a luscious opportunity for Republicans.
Indeed, at the most fundamental level, Democrats can’t figure out if they are pro-labor or anti-labor. They seem to believe that nobody should have to work if they don’t want to. In this, they are very much like the naïve members of Occupy Wall Street who think that they aren’t free if they have to work.
This seems like a revival of the ancient Greek belief that only slaves stop to engage in labor. Of course, since somebody has to work to produce what we consume, that implies that the elite on the left feel that they should be exempt from work. Presumably, their opponents on the right should be the slaves working to support them in the lifestyle of their choice.
In his best-selling book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the progressive French economist Thomas Piketty expresses his distaste for people of modest means possibly having to work for someone who is—gasp—rich (see pp. 256-7). Apparently, progressives have lost sight of the fact that one generates and obtains wealth in a social division of labor by providing value for others. In other words, all jobs depend ultimately on serving others. Only a reverse snob or an ideologue (pardon the redundancy) would forget that rich people are human, too, and should be free to procure whatever goods and services they can afford.
It’s too bad that progressives are so blinded by revulsion for the rich (rich progressives excluded, of course) that they can’t see the good news of historical trends. Yes, some people don’t have to work because someone before (usually, but not always, a parent or relative) produced so much wealth for so many people that they accumulated enough capital to render labor by their descendants unnecessary. As each generation passes, more and more people are achieving this freedom. Rather than impede this trend, as progressives and Democrats seem bent on doing, they should try to strengthen and encourage this development so that more and more people have the option of whether to work or not. Perhaps, in some amazing future, robots will perform the tasks of labor. Until we arrive at that advanced economic and technological stage, however, Democrats would do well to get out of the free market’s way and let the market provide maximal and optimal opportunities for those who need and want to work.
Jobs are good. They help people. It’s too bad that Democrats too often kill off jobs and hurt people while spouting all sorts of pro-labor slogans.
The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor, Mark Hendrickson, is Adjunct Professor of Economics at Grove City College, where he has taught since 2004. He is also a Fellow for Economic and Social Policy with The Center for Vision & Values, for which he writes regular commentaries. He is a contributing editor of The St. Croix Review, sits on the Council of Scholars of the Commonwealth Foundation, and writes the “No Panaceas” column in the Op/Ed section of Forbes.com. Mark’s published books include: America’s March Toward Communism (1987); The Morality of Capitalism (editor, 1992); Famous But Nameless: Inspiration and Lessons from the Bible’s Anonymous Characters (2011); and God and Man on Wall Street: The Conscience of Capitalism (with Craig Columbus, 2012). Mark Hendrickson’s Archives at The Moral Liberal.