Monday, May 25, 2009

Race To The Bottom

Bill Foy, a retired Menomenee Falls investment banker, opines in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Milwaukee is unappealing to business because of card check, prevailing wage standards, mandated sick leave, property taxes, and the Milwaukee Public School system.

Is this investment banker really preaching to us, "...look beyond our present, personal gratifications and to consider how best to sustain and grow our business base for our long-term benefit and that of our children"? Is that what the financiers were practicing these last 30 years? Was is that forward-thinking, love-the-children mojo that culminated in the destruction of the world economy in 2008 and the near-Depression conditions we're in now? It's funny to see businessmen, again and again, failure after failure, still telling the rest of us how everything ought to be.

The problem is that we don't have federal standards regarding incentives and development. If we did, we wouldn't need to worry about prevailing wages and such because that would be the national standard. A model of labor and business working in cooperation - producing needed products and services, equitably sharing in the gains, and exporting this policy worldwide with our trading partners - lifting all boats. As opposed to our current development policies which are seeing too many citizens' economic boats capsize. When did we decide an honest day's work wasn't worth an honest day's pay?

To say mandated paid sick days are part of the problem is disingenuous at best. How can sick days, a policy only developed in the last year, be part of a long-standing business impediment problem? Mandated paid sick day policies are not yet implemented. Some communities in the Milwaukee area have already banned them. Conversely, 9 To 5 has found no negative effects from the enactment of sick days; the results have been positive.

Card check is another policy that has not even been enacted. These conservative businessmen are afraid of things that aren't even there. More than serious business impediment issues, Foy's complaints seem to just be proactive griping - getting the typical business-friendly talking points out there to frame and steer the debate.

We have only exacerbated the public school issue by implementing various semi-privatization schemes. Following private-sector models have not led to school improvement - as with health care, retirement, the airlines, etc. - though its proponents demanded it would. This looting of the public coffers has allowed private agencies to divert funding from public schools to unsupervised, untested, and underperforming voucher schools.

And, as I've written about here before, focusing on property taxes as if they were the only taxes paid is just plain sloppy analysis and presentation. As if property taxes were the only taxes we had to worry about. Property taxes are also part of a much broader discussion: how immensely an important source of revenue they are, what they pay for, the tax incidence - who the burden falls upon, policies they support, and how they've changed over time.

If we continue to follow the lead of these Captains of Industry, these Free Marketeers, we're going to be a nation of Walmart workers. We're supposed to be leading the world with a smart, efficient, sustainable model of growth enabling a high standard of living. But since we became enraptured with The Market we're racing backwards toward lower wages, poor health care, and without any pension or chance of decent retirement. This seems to be the "growth" model Foy and his ilk want us to continue to pursue. Why wouldn't he? He and his bretheren have made out like bandits off such policies while the workers below them were the ones having to provide the sweat, take the cuts, and make the sacrifices.

For Further Reading:

The Institute for Wisconsin's Future has admirably reported on: a) the falsehood of Wisconsin as a "tax hell," b) how the corporate sector underpays taxes by $1 billion, c) many corporate tax avoidance schemes, and d) correcting the many myths about "burdensome" property taxes.

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