Today I saw a post from the Facebook of the It Gets Better/Trevor Project about a public school teacher who is facing potential consequences over some anti-gay comments on Facebook. I feel that’s a totally reasonable action, considering that the comments are public if the school administration was able to find out about them, and that they could be as potentially harmful for students as if he had said he doesn’t think black people should get married, or doesn’t believe in interracial marriages, or Jewish marriages. I was therefore shocked to see how many people were saying that this was violating his first amendment rights, that even though they disagree with his position, OBVIOUSLY, he had the right to say it on his Facebook without any repercussions. And that discriminating against him for choosing to publicly voice his beliefs is just the same! as discriminating against people for being gay, non-Caucasians, or what have you!
Seriously, I’m almost too irritated to write this blog post. What the hell? These are all people who support the Trevor Project, so I’m guessing they consider themselves “enlightened”–it just goes to show you that even people you agree with can be ignorant of basic things like the Bill of Rights.
This crops up anytime someone loses their job, or their sponsors, or faces some kind of employment-related consequence due to exercising their ability to speak a bit too freely for the tastes of the people who give them money. People say, they have the right to do whatever they want in their private lives! It’s a violation of free speech! Blergedy-blerg-blerg.
It’s simply not true.
- The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. That’s it. It doesn’t promise you that you can go around running your mouth in public and not get fired from your job from it. It really doesn’t. It says that Congress can’t make it illegal for you to have an unpopular opinion, to voice any kind of opinion, to have an opinion counter to what the government may think you should have. You can’t get hauled off to jail (unless you break slander or libel laws, but that’s another story).
- If your job finds out about what you did, it’s no longer private. If you want your right to privacy, you need to protect your right to privacy by keeping things private. Social media is not private unless you lock down your page and don’t allow access to people that you work with (coworkers, students, teachers, clients and customers, management, the list goes on). When you let in the public, it becomes a public space. If you keep your profile private and share things with trusted people in your private life only, then your boss will never, ever know whether or not you violated policies, because guess what? It’s PRIVATE. Now, it would be a different story if your boss hacked into your Facebook or your e-mail or your protected Twitter when you had it set to private and that’s the only way anybody you work with could see it; that is a violation of someone’s privacy.
- Discriminating against someone because of what they are is not the same thing as someone facing consequences for something that they do. Almost every business or place of employment has Ye Olde Employee Handbook that details the actions that you are not allowed to perform in order to keep your employment in good standing. The business gets to decide that as a condition of giving you money. They’re not allowed to say, “You can’t work here because you’re gay,” and they’re not even allowed to say, “You can’t work here because you disagree with gay marriage,” but they are definitely allowed to say, “you can’t work here because you publicly expressed some opinions that we feel are a negative representation of us as an entity.”
- Not allowing businesses or employers to create policies that protect them from harm is just as bad as not allowing individuals to speak their mind. Imagine a world where you, as a boss, couldn’t do anything if one of your employees was, say, telling all of your customers his philosophies being in favor of white supremacy. Even if he wasn’t doing it at work–maybe he was out in the world talking to your customers, and because of it, customers were complaining to you and telling you that, sorry, as long as he’s employed there and is going to continue to spew hate speech, they can’t continue to patronize your business. So you can’t create a policy that protects your business from your employees’ “free speech,” and you go out of business. Is that fair? After all, as a boss, you aren’t asking for people not to have these opinions, or even not to express these opinions, just not to express these opinions in a place and in a way that would harm your business. If someone has a real problem with that policy, they don’t have to work for you. Businesses and employers should be allowed to protect themselves–if the employee’s freedom of speech impinges on the employer’s freedoms to run their business and project the image that they want of their business, then the employee has to concede to the policies that they set when they accept employment. The employer has the right to expect certain behavior in return for a salary and the right to protect the image of the business (and thus, their livelihood).
If you are one of the large percentage of unemployed people in America, this might be a familiar pose to you. As of right now, the unemployment rate is a staggering 9.0%–objectively, that may not seem like a large percentage, but in reality, that’s about 13.9 million as of January 2011, which doesn’t even include people who are underemployed and barely getting by. Of those, 6.2 million people had not been employed for 27 weeks or longer. So, for many Americans, unemployment is a very pertinent issue at the moment.
What put me in mind of unemployment was a post that cousin made on Facebook. ”You can’t be for job creation if you’re against job creators,” he said. And I wholeheartedly agree with that–but not in the same way that I believe he does. The notion of “don’t punish the job creators” has been floating around as an incentive to lower taxes on the wealthy/entrepreneur class in order to create jobs. Now, I don’t agree with that assessment, which makes some people cry “class warfare against the wealthy!” and “don’t you want the economy to recover?” Trust me, I want the economy to recover. I want to open my own businesses one day, and despite being a flaming liberal, I’m also a pretty staunch capitalist. While I have expressed the opinion that some functions should or could be run more efficiently by the government, that’s also due to my strong belief in capitalism; if a system can be run more cheaply, and better, and save consumers money for things that they need (like healthcare), they have more money to buy things that they want or start a business of their own, create jobs, and generate more wealth for our society as a whole. I’m extremely capitalist. I want to get that out of the way so I don’t get crap about being some commie lib. I’m not talking about wealth redistribution. I’m talking about wealth generation.
The first person who reads this whole post and accuses me of talking about wealth redistribution will have your comment creatively, and probably rudely, edited, because you clearly didn’t really read what I’m about to say and are so hypnotized by talking points on Fox News that you can no longer think for yourself.
That having been said, “punishing” the job creators with taxation isn’t going to have much, if any, negative effect on job creation. The reasoning for not taxing them as much seems sound–”Oh,” they say, “if you tax entrepreneurs, they won’t create businesses, they won’t hire as many people, because it will be too expensive.” That sounds reasonable–on the surface. But really think about it for a minute. If you could go into business for yourself and make more money than at your job working for someone else, would you, even if you had to pay more taxes? Yeah, you would. It’s the American dream, and even when the wealthy were being taxed at 90% in the 50′s, we had economic growth. We were coming out of a depression, and coming strong–from the end of WWII until 1970, our economy was booming. If you own your own business, as opposed to working for someone else, the only limit on how much money you can make is how much demand for your product or service you can generate and how much of that demand you can supply. Even if you’re being taxed, you can make more–a lot more–working for yourself if you have a sound business and good product or service; working for other people, you’re subject to their pay scale, their work-week, their rules, and unless you are making commission or percentage-based wages rather than a flat hourly or yearly salary, you have an upper limit as to how much money you can make. (Even with percentage-based wages, you have a lot of factors you can’t control: you have to sell their product, follow their company policies, generally work within the confines of their space, so you don’t have ultimate control over anything besides how well you sell a product. Effectively, that also puts limits on your ability to generate income, although they are more esoteric.) So, I don’t think that taxation is going to squelch the entrepreneurial spirit. Small businesses were thriving in the 50′s, despite high tax rates. That’s not just theory, it’s proof that business can not only survive but absolutely thrive at higher tax rates.
Furthermore, my main beef with the idea that lowering taxes on the entrepreneur class creates jobs is that that doesn’t have anything to do with the mechanisms by which jobs are created in a capitalist system. Let’s look at one very specific kind of tax cut that is supposed to encourage employers to hire more people–namely, getting a tax cut if you hire more people. I want to own a restaurant one day, so I’m going to use myself and my future (but for the moment, fictional) restaurant as an example. It’s a small business and my employees probably won’t gross more than $20,000 a year (it’s a casual restaurant) unless they are management. One tax credit aimed at hiring new employees was set at $5000 per new employee. (This was proposed by President Obama.) But before deciding whether or not to hire a new person, ”First, I’d look to see substantial growth in the number of clients that need servicing,” says Ms. Skriloff, a small business owner who was quoted in the linked article. The tax credit, it seems, would not be a major consideration when choosing to add more employees to her business. Why is that? Because a $5000 tax credit doesn’t nearly offset the cost of a new employee if the employee isn’t necessary for business.
Let’s go back to my casual restaurant. Let’s say that I hire a new cashier at $8.00 an hour, 30 hours per week. That employee is grossing $12,480 per year, not including any additional overhead that I will have for training or other expenses that go with hiring and maintaining an employee. If I don’t need a new employee, or even if I’m on the fence but I find I can easily get by by working a few additional hours myself or re-arranging schedules, I will save at least $7480 not hiring a new employee, despite the tax credit; if I were to employ that same unnecessary employee longer than the first year, the only year in which I get the tax credit, their salary will continue to cost me money that I am not making up in revenue. Why would I spend an extra $7480–and then at least $12,480 per year afterward–to create a job that will not earn extra revenue for me? On the other hand, if I have sufficient demand that necessitates that I hire an additional cashier to help keep up with the orders, I will hire that cashier whether or not I get the tax credit, because if I don’t I am losing money. Jobs will always be created for demand because a business owner wants to make as much revenue as possible.
Small business jobs–and large business jobs, for that matter–are created when demand is sufficient enough that the revenue from the additional business generated will not only offset the cost of an additional employee but will also cause the business to profit from the addition of a new employee. A tax break for hiring a new employee will only be a factor if it pushes the revenue of hiring a new employee higher than the expense–and even then, you potentially have subsequent years of employment to consider if you don’t expect rapid turnover. Additionally, continuing to lower taxes on the entrepreneur class does nothing to create jobs. If a business owner has extra revenue due to tax cuts, that revenue is quite irrelevant to job creation; jobs are created to produce revenue, not because of excess revenue. In a capitalistic system, the majority of jobs are created by supply and demand. I will hire an additional cashier if it helps me sell more food. I won’t hire a cashier merely to get a tax credit, and I won’t hire a cashier because I have some extra money because my taxes are lower. Job creation does not arise out of an altruistic, benevolent whim; jobs are created when there is work to be done. If you look at the companies that have created the most jobs–Wal-Mart, Microsoft, UPS, McDonalds, et cetera–these are the companies that are widely popular among American consumers. Consumption creates jobs.
Not tax cuts.
Tax cuts for the wealthy do increase job loss, however. That’s right, I said it–lower taxes on the wealthy means fewer jobs. Consumption creates jobs, as I said–that could be reworded as spending creates jobs, as consumers go out and spend money. Government spending also creates jobs quite often. What would happen if we put more money into education? Teachers could get raises, and then would spend more money in the private sector, and more spending would mark a demand increase and jobs could be created. More teachers could be hired, which would have the same effect. New books could be purchased, which would be done through a private publisher, which would create more demand and could lead to job creation in the publishing industry. Same with technology as they replace or build on the equipment available to students. Perhaps a school will do what my high school did and add a new wing to accommodate more students and classes; that will create more revenue for contractors, who are suffering a high unemployment rate right now. All of those industries that see a revenue increase have employees that will be paid, and perhaps new employees that will be hired to meet this new demand, and those employees will go out and spend their money and create jobs elsewhere.
What happens when we decrease funding to schools because of less tax revenue? Schools make do with what they have; they cut back spending; they cut back salaries; they cut back hiring; they don’t replace books or computers or upgrade technology nearly as often. They cut out entire programs, such as music, which creates revenue in the private sector when the schools and students need to purchase instruments, sheet music, chairs, music stands, gasoline for field trips, special clothing, food and supplies for celebrations and parties. You see, even if taxes are higher for the entrepreneur class, they get a lot of that money back because it gets spent in the private sector and generates revenue for businesses. Whether it’s a government employee’s salary that is spent on goods and services they need for their private life, or supplies or labor needed for the job that are in the private sector, the money is spent. That’s why it is called government spending. It doesn’t disappear into some communistic hippie void. Increased spending correlates to increased demand which generates revenue which creates jobs.
Or, maybe you own a company that is frequently hired by the city to repair the roads, and the city cuts back on repair spending because of tax cuts; when this happens, you lose revenue. You may have gotten a tax break as the owner, and that’s nice and all, but you would probably be making more money if you had that repair work. Let’s face it, you can only get a credit on the income you earn, and if you are earning less because of less spending… well, you’re just earning less, period. If the government had plenty of money to spend on repairs, your revenue would only be limited on the amount of wear and tear that motorists cause (which is apparently a lot, since I keep narrowly missing potholes EVERYWHERE IN COLUMBUS, grr) and the amount of work your company could do with your resources. You save on taxes, you generate revenue; you can’t create tax savings, so your savings are limited to the revenue you can generate, which is, in turn, limited by tax cuts because of decreased spending overall. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather pay a higher tax rate if it meant that I could generate a lot more revenue in return. Work generates revenue. Spending generates revenue. Not working and not spending does not generate revenue. So lowering taxes decreases overall revenue because it decreases spending, not only by the government but by private citizens who are losing revenue from lack of work from government spending.
But, you may say, if those entrepreneurs have more money, won’t they spend more money and create jobs anyway? I mean, isn’t it all the same, whether they have it or someone else has it? Hmm. It’s a good point. Let’s think about the spending habits of wealthy Americans. Some wealthy Americans make a high salary but don’t manage their money well, and spend most of it, and yes, those types of people would likely create some jobs. I would wager, though, that many, if not most, wealthy people, don’t spend the majority of the money that they earn. Being wealthy probably seems glamorous to most who are not, and it probably seems like it’s all shopping sprees and caviar, but I don’t imagine the majority of wealthy people live that way. For a normal person, there’s only so much spending you’re going to do on a day-to-day basis; I’d estimate that the bottom 85%-ish of people (being generous, I’d actually probably peg it closer to 90% or 95%) spend 75% – 100% or more than 100% of their income on a regular basis. Food, clothing, housing, transportation, entertainment–all of that cash is going out into the economy. Out of a sample of 1000 people that had the same wealth distribution as people in the US, that would be 800-950 people who are spending just about everything they earn and sometimes even more on credit.
For the 150 other people with enough income to live very comfortably and have a significant amount of money leftover? I very much doubt that they are running out to spend down to their last penny. They’re saving. They’re investing. They’re purchasing the same necessities we are (maybe nicer ones, maybe not, probably in slightly larger amounts), they’re spending some on entertainment and luxuries, but the amount of things that the individuals purchase are probably not astronomically higher than the amount of things we individually purchase. They’re not using the majority of that excess to create consumer demand, which is one of the reasons that the economy is so much weaker right now. The rich are still rich–if the economy flourished because of spending by the rich, if the economy flourished because the rich created jobs with extra money, it wouldn’t be in trouble right now. They still have money to spend, their taxes have been decreased already, and their spending power has probably not been very affected unless they lost their jobs or their businesses. Middle and working class people? Unemployed people? Not spending nearly as much as they did a little over a decade ago. The significant change has been to the spending habits of the middle and working classes, not the wealthy classes. If you can locate the significant change, you can locate the source of the problem and work toward finding the solution. The source of the problem is that the lower classes don’t have any damn money. Tax cuts for the rich are hindering, rather than solving, that problem.
So, why do politicians tell us that “job creators” need to be taxed less in order to create more jobs? If that were true, our economy would be bursting right now. Job creators are taxed less, via the Bush tax cuts. Job creators did not use their tax revenue to create jobs–and they shouldn’t have according to any traditional business sense, or even common sense, because that would only increase costs and not revenue. I’m not saying that the entrepreneur class is at fault here for not using that money to create jobs sooner; “having extra money from taxes” is an asinine reason to create jobs. Having work that needs to be done to meet need or demand that can’t be accomplished with your current staff level is the only economically sound reason to create a new job. And what I find blackly hilarious about this completely transparent attempt to put a few more dollars in their pocket (not create jobs) is that they’re really just shooting themselves in the foot–if we’re not working, if our jobs aren’t enough to make ends meet, we can’t spend and generate revenue for them. If we had more money, we’d spend more, and they would earn more; that’s why business was booming in the 50′s and 90′s–it didn’t matter if the rich got taxed more, because the spending increase that resulted from it was making everyone more prosperous. Guess who is making money off of this deal? The politicians who are convincing everyone that it’s a good idea and raking in the corporate donations for this great “benefit” of lower taxes.
Ladies and gentlemen, rich or poor, we’re all getting screwed in this deal. Write your congressmen.
Many people in America are against the idea of sweatshop labor, which means that we are generally in favor of workers’ rights–we believe, for example, that workers should have breaks, that they should get paid if they work over and above a standard work week (if they’re on an hourly salary), that they should have a minimum wage to ensure a baseline standard of living. Our worker protections aren’t that great, though; minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation for years, and many bosses find ways to get around paying for overtime–some even get around letting employees have breaks or meals. What would you do if you were employed at a company that you felt was treating you unfairly–if they were not paying you enough for your services (like, you are a “supervisor” but you’re doing the job of a manager for less pay), if they were finding loopholes to make you work overtime for little or no extra pay, if they make you clock out for “breaks” and then make you keep working? If you were at a job where you couldn’t get benefits even though they were promised, or where your benefits were being taken away?
I suppose the first step would be to complain to the next highest boss, if your immediate boss was causing the problem. This could be very effective, but it could also be a company-wide policy. What next?
You could look for another job. If you have a nice nest-egg saved up, or your spouse has good benefits, you may have the freedom to pursue a different career; if you’re living check-to-check and your family relies on you for benefits, like many–if not most–working-class families, finding a new job isn’t always an attractive option or even a possible option. If your kids need health care now, then leaving your job for another job where you may have to wait six months or more for your benefits to kick in just won’t work. If your rent or mortgage can’t be paid during the transitional period, or groceries can’t be purchased, then starting a new job isn’t even an option.
You could hire a lawyer to represent you and work things out with your company. If you have the money for that, it’s great; if not, well, that’s not even a viable option–not to mention that your employers will probably not look very kindly on you if you bring a lawyer into the mix, and you may lose that job anyway.
You could organize the other workers and go on strike or collectively demand that you stop being treated unfairly. This does work, and it works for several reasons. The first is that the power of many people is greater than the power of one person; one person can be fired, transferred, swept under the rug, shuffled around, be permanently put on hold, and unless one of the above options is a viable option, one person is simply forced to deal with it when they’re being mistreated at work. I thoroughly believe, and I think most Americans would agree with me, that having to “put up with” being mistreated at work is un-American. Many people who are organized, on the other hand, pose quite a problem. If everyone quit, not only would it be a short-term disaster for productivity, but it would be a media sensation–the only replacements management may be able to get for those workers would be those who are desperate for any kind of job (although, in this economy, there are a lot more of those than usual, which has led to more workplaces treating their employees less well) and may or may not even be skilled enough to do the job. The company would look bad, and some people may even boycott, causing them to lose profits–if they’re a government agency, the people in charge may not get re-elected, or the people who appointed them may not get re-elected, and the people in charge could lose their positions. Many people can afford to hire lawyers and representatives where one person probably cannot alone. Many people can come together and work out the most important priorities, where individual opinion may be completely unfocused.
Does this situation sound at all familiar? I’m talking, of course, about unions. Unions offer protection for working-class people who cannot otherwise afford protection. Unions offer protection for those who are the most vulnerable to shady business practices–because People In Charge have proven time, and time, and time again that they can and will take advantage of their workforce in any way possible. They have proven that they can and will skirt the law as much as possible, find loopholes in laws, and do everything in their power to turn the highest profit (or, in the government’s case, trim the budget as tightly as possible to make room for “more important” things than the workers or to look good for re-election). Most who have a direct financial benefit from slashing employee wages and benefits will do so time and again, until they are literally compensating the absolute minimum amount that they can get away with; in my opinion, it’s a hugely one-sided conflict of interest, and that’s why unions are needed to step in and negotiate terms. Who would you want to have deciding your pay scale–a person who will get more money for each dollar less that they pay you?
Take Wal-Mart, for example. Wal-Mart promises fantastic benefits if you come to work for them–health care, the whole nine yards. When you go to work for them, though, it’s a different story–it can take one to two years for benefits to kick in, and only full-time workers qualify for some benefits; a mere 25% of people working at Wal-Mart, the largest employer in the U.S., is a full-time worker. Wal-Mart also won’t let workers unionize. (Hmmm, wonder why not.) Why don’t people who work at Wal-Mart just go get better jobs? For one thing, it’s extremely classist to assume that people who work at Wal-Mart have the qualifications, or should have the qualifications, to get “better jobs.” Until college becomes required to everyone and/or free like high school, some people will not have the education or qualifications to get better jobs because they don’t want to go or they can’t afford to go. And, it doesn’t really matter, honestly, if they do or not–Wal-Mart will find people to replace those few people who have enough qualifications and skills to move on to better jobs, and the consumer demand for Wal-Mart workers is so high that there will always be jobs to be had there. We as consumers create a need for jobs at Wal-Mart, despite the fact that the working conditions are less than desirable. As long as Wal-Mart is able to hire unskilled labor and as long as we shop there and create a need for cheap labor, there will be workers with crappy working conditions.
For people who do go out and get “better jobs,” many times, those jobs are better because of unions, whether workers are unionized or not. Union jobs are good jobs; they’re negotiated to be fair, and they help keep the industry more balanced. A non-union job can only afford to go so much lower than union jobs to get quality workers; otherwise, they will only get the cast-offs who didn’t get hired on for a union job. Very rarely, a non-union company that has very high ethical standards will have the same effect on an industry. Starbucks was one of the first service industry companies to offer health insurance to part-time employees. They offer stock options and other benefits if you work 20 hours a week or more. Slowly but surely, similar companies are following suit and offering better working conditions for employees. But companies like Starbucks, who do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing, are few and far between. Without unions, many employers would be cutting more and more corners, everywhere they could, to save a few dollars at the workers’ expense. With unions, they are unable to do that nearly as much.
Governor Kasich in Ohio and Governor Walker in Wisconsin have been trying to diminish the unions for government employees. Why? According to Cincinnati.com, “Proposed legislation that would significantly alter Ohio’s collective bargaining law could create jobs and enhance the state’s economic competitiveness by saving hundreds of millions of dollars now being spent due to generous union contracts, Gov. John Kasich said in Cincinnati today.” This is total bollocks, because the only things that create more jobs are government projects that spend tax money (a major one was the intercity railway that Kasich put the kibosh on) and consumer demand where we spend our money; cutting government spending does squat toward creating jobs, and will probably make the economy leaner. A business doesn’t hire people if they don’t have a need to, period, so this is an asinine reason to gut the unions. Governor Walker wants to completely abolish the employee unions for “budget cuts.” Walker even lied, claiming that taxpayers are responsible for paying government employee pensions (they aren’t, Forbes.com is the source), and said “. . . we can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots.” Is he joking? I know that, in Ohio, most government employees have been receiving leaner and leaner benefits, being forced to take unpaid days off, all in the name of balancing the budget; many government employees make less than $50,000 a year, some far less. Do you know any highly-paid teachers? How ’bout bus drivers? No? Cops? Firemen? No? Government employees generally don’t live in the laps of luxury (unless you’re, oh, I don’t know, a governor or a senator), and we all know that. Public employees the “haves”? Are they joking?
No, they’re not joking–and they’re doing their level best to cut their state budgets on the backs of the state workers. We can’t buy into their misdirection, though. They’re not trying to trim the budget to “create jobs,” they’re not trying to make sure public employees “pull their own weight.” They’re trying to look good so they can get re-elected and get campaign contributions, or possibly get elected to the senate–or maybe even run for President. That’s what they care about. They do not care about workers, and most people in America are workers–in fact, the working and middle classes of America probably have the greatest spending power in the world, and we have the biggest voting power in the country. It’s time that we put aside silly political games and started supporting each other. If you wouldn’t want protections taken away from you at your job, please get behind the state workers whose protections are being threatened. It’s them now, but it could be us next. If you live in Ohio or Wisconsin–I’m an Ohio resident, myself–let your governor know that you won’t stand for them preying on those who can’t protect themselves for their own gain.