There’s a bit of an internal contradiction in this tired, old republican narrative that keeps being recycled. This narrative that derides government dependence and smugly assumes that their own set of economic values reduce that dependence. But looking at republican policies, it becomes clear that those very policies foster the dependence they claim to deride.
Drive Down Wages
Overall republican policy has been little more than a direct assault on living wages for Americans since the mid to late 1980s. Teachers, professors, workers, scientists, people working in the public sector have all been criticized as having wages and benefits that were too high. They, first, claimed there was a need for increased efficiency. Then they targeted individual groups, leveraging a form of class envy to target college professors’ tenure, teacher benefits, the pay and benefits of any and all union workers.
The result of this wide-ranging leveraging of envy to degrade the US middle class has been a lowering of overall standards of living, wages, and benefits for the larger American public. And it is this assault that has necessitated the US dependence on debt for growth for so many of its citizens.
Perhaps the most obvious sign that republican policy is directly against rising standards of living for the US population at large is a broad-based opposition to the US minimum wage. Republicans often deride the need for a minimum wage at all, much less its increase even if it lags behind inflation. And, at every turn, republicans have attempted to undermine the principle supporting a minimum wage, even pushing for a return to the dark days of child labor and children competing with parents for wages.
Ship Jobs Overseas
When republicans have failed to drive down wages and lower benefits, they have pushed for moving large corporations, institutional employment, and services to lower wage areas. This has occurred within the US where corporations have ‘raced to the bottom’ by moving facilities to lower wage regions in the south. The result has been a dessication of jobs in developed regions while the lower wage regions become more and more dependent on government assistance (explored more below).
But the most extreme manifestation of this policy has come in the form of encouraging businesses to move production to places like China. Now, US workers are forced to compete with foreign workers in areas that are far less developed than the south. Areas that haven’t even industrialized. This creates a major distortion in which advanced society Americans are forced to compete directly with slave wage labor.
At a speech to Bain investors, republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney bragged about how Chinese workers ‘lived in dormatories,’ shared bathrooms with twenty other workers, were paid 26 cents an hour, and worked extremely long shifts. In republican parlance, this is the ideal work-force. And it is this kind of workforce that is destroying the American standard of living.
A wise economic mogul, Henry Ford, once noted that, in order to support business, workers required wages high enough to purchase a decent portion of the products they produced. And so Ford paid his workers enough to purchase the automobiles his factories pumped out. The same goes for American society. If you want a wealthy civilization able to enjoy the benefits of modern life, work compensation must rise to meet that aspiration.
Driving down wages and shipping jobs overseas, however, creates another result — increased reliance on debt and public support.
How Republicans Build a Dependency Society
So now we come full circle. If job wages and benefits are always heading down; If jobs themselves, to greater and greater degrees, are heading overseas; then how do you still grow the economy?
There are two methods — expand debt and/or expand government assistance.
In the first method, credit becomes cheap and easy to access. Middle class workers, seeing their wages drop, turn to cheap credit to support families, keep their homes or purchase ever-more-expensive food and fuel. This expansion of debt creates a bubble that sustains economic growth for a while. But, overall, the unsustainable nature of debt comes crashing down and the number of poor expand.
It is a sad fact that the result is that people robbed of their access to the American dream by a combination of declining wages and benefits and debt dependence become a part of a growing class of poor and disenfranchised. The only agency, at this point, able to provide assistance to these people becomes federal, state, and local governments. Charity organizations and churches lack the larger ability to rise to this challenge, because the size of the problem generated has become so large. In the end, the result of republican policies, therefore, becomes government dependence.
Right To Work States and Food Stamps
One policy that has resulted in a devastating decline in wages and massive increases in individual independence has been the perpetuation of ‘right to work’ laws in many republican states. These laws remove the ability of people to organize and bargain through unions and, by extension, to participate in the wealth generation process. As a result, right to work states have seen wages decline and food stamp roles explode. Georgia, for example, has fully 19 percent of its population dependent on food stamps. In Mississippi, more than one in five people rely on government food stamps due to the work and wage destroying republican economic policies.
Creating a Requirement for Government Assistance
It is a sad irony that republican rhetoric and republican policy are at diametric opposition. An analysis of policy results shows the bald lie in republican talking points. In short, republican policy is directly designed to increase need, increase, dependence, and reduce an individual’s ability to remain independent of outside support. Republican policy is the very definition of dependence multiplying. Opportunities for luck and good fortune are reduced. And rewarding individual pluck, diligence, and hard work is taken away. In the end, more people must turn to the very government policies republicans attack politically — social security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, public education — for assistance. And the end result of removing these programs while creating dependence upon them would be an explosion of American poverty.
For these reasons, and for a number of others, republican economic policy is fundamentally dis-enabled to advance American recovery from the worst economic recession since the great depression. A recession, in vast part, resulting from failed republican policies.