Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Economy According to John McCain

If John McCain were a product being advertised, you know he’d fail the truth in advertising test. He’s peddling the same old failed Republican economic orthodoxies wrapped up in brand new Arizona maverick garb. Here’s the picture painted in today’s Washington Post of his visit to one depressed town in coal mining country.

INEZ, Ky., April 23 -- Sen. John McCain stood before a small crowd in this tiny Appalachian town with the same mission he has had all week: convincing what he calls "forgotten" voters who are traditionally hostile to his party that he is a different kind of Republican.

"You just expect us to show a decent concern for your hard work and initiative, and do what we can to help make sure you have opportunities to prosper from your labor," he told a packed courthouse Wednesday, not far from the coal mines that provide most of the jobs here
The truth is it’s the same fake populism George Bush gave us in 2000 and 2004, when somehow he managed to convince America that Al Gore was stiff; John Kerry was French; they both were elitist; and he was the fun, regular guy you just had to crack open a Bud with. Except for the fact that W doesn’t drink beer, and he does protect billionaires rather than ordinary working people.

So does John McCain. All the while, though, he’s dragging out the rhetoric of a regular guy who feels the pain of factory workers in Youngstown, Ohio; African Americans in Selma, Alabama; coal miners in Inez, Kentucky; and the flooded out residents of the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. And he probably does feel empathy for them.

The problem isn’t that he's not a nice guy. It’s that he’s wedded to an economic policy that has failed the middle class time and again for eight years.
McCain is not likely to have an easy time of it. Appealing to blacks and rural Democrats may be difficult as job losses and gas prices have made the economy the leading issue on voters' minds. McCain's economic plan is heavy on tax breaks for big business and admonishments about not relying on the federal government for help. He proposes a cut in corporate income taxes from 35 to 25 percent, help for companies who depreciate equipment and other incentives.

"The Democrats do more for our area," said Rhonda York, who works for a day-care provider and is married to a coal miner. "Right now, it's extremely hard, with four dollars for gas."

In his speech Wednesday, McCain offered none of the promises of government help that President Lyndon Johnson did when he declared war on poverty in Inez 44 years ago. Instead, McCain vowed to enact tax cuts that he said will spur job growth, incentives for companies to bring high-speed Internet here, and job training for displaced workers.
Here's the difficulty: You just can’t train your way out of this economic downturn. To start with, the GDP has grown briskly for most of the past seven years. It’s produced record profits for corporations, none of which have actually spurred job or wage growth despite the promises of Republicans and conservative economists.

In fact, we’ve just experienced a period of astounding productivity, which should have produced job growth and higher wages. At least, according to classical economics it’s supposed to do that. But the fundamentals of that classical model have changed drastically and the prosperity that was supposed to lift all boats just rose for the rich and left everybody else stranded on a sand dune.

Those high tech jobs that McCain and his free trade economic advisers, like Phil Gramm, keep promising us are more likely to benefit Bangalore, India than Bangor, Maine or Inez, Kentucky.

Here’s the grim picture. The only way Americans can train their way out of today’s economic downturn would be if the whole population could learn to be neurosurgeons, orthopedists, and dentists – skilled jobs that aren’t exportable.

Of course there are jobs requiring lesser skills that also must be done on site. But now we’re in the realm of burger flippers. And it’s a toss up as to how much time it will take before good old American ingenuity produces a robot that can do those tasks cheaper than a human being. Once reliable sources of semi-skilled labor, like running a cash register at a supermarket checkout line, are being lost to technology that lets customers scan their own items and bag their purchases themselves. We pump our own gas. And in Target you can even do your own price scan and not have to rely on a sales person, all of which saves Target money too. It's those technological advances, which eliminate human labor, that are fueling the productivity gains and the profits for companies, while drying up the labor market and depressing wages.

So, there isn’t a whole lot left to do for middle income people with decent educations and good technical skills, who just are never going to be rocket scientists. And throwing money at rich corporations just isn’t going to change that. Only a new economic policy will. And the people who live in places like Inez, Kentucky know this.
But many locals said they were skeptical of whether McCain's policies would help lower-middle-class Americans. Even sympathetic Inez residents questioned whether McCain's economic policies would benefit the region.

Callaham, a Democrat, said he backs McCain because he believes the senator would be a more vigorous supporter of the region's coal industry. But Callaham said he remains worried that the senator's policies tilt toward the richest Americans.

"I'm not the top 3 percent, and that's an issue I really have a problem with Bush, who has catered to the top 3 percent of the country," he said.

When it comes to McCain, Callaham said, "That's an issue he's going to have to skate around."

Robert Gordon, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, said the average family in Martin County would receive nothing from McCain's tax cut, which excludes families earning less than $25,000 a year. "It's admirable that John McCain is visiting 'forgotten places,' but his economic plan forgot about the people who live there," Gordon said.
Actually, it hasn't forgotten about them. It's just not a plan that is capable of truly addressing their needs. No Republican plan is.

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