The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “jobs summit” today is less a “jobs summit” and more an effort to further sabotage the Obama administration’s efforts to reform the economy and make the economy work for working people.
It is also a whine-fest, chock full of right-wing, blame-the-socialist-in-the-White-House talking points. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas H. Donohoe’s “open letter” to President Obama, Congress “and the American people” blamed the “tremendous uncertainty” created by administration and congressional policy proposals for their reluctance to invest in job-creation. “This is why banks are reluctant to lend and why American corporations are sitting on well over a trillion dollars,” he said.
The “economic uncertainty” argument, however, is quite thin.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones didn’t buy it a couple of weeks ago when Fareed Zakaria posited it in a lengthy article he wrote for Newsweek based on anonymous interviews he had with a series of corporate CEOs.
I really have to call BS on this. Fortune 500 CEOs probably do have some genuine uncertainty about the tax and regulatory environment going forward, but big companies work with that kind of uncertainty all the time. It doesn’t stop them in their tracks. What’s more, most of the current uncertainty revolves around financial regs — which aren’t a big deal to nonfinancial companies — and healthcare regs, which aren’t a big deal to most non-healthcare companies. In other words, this stuff just doesn’t have an enormous effect on the vast majority of the companies we’re talking about here.
Zakaria’s CEOs chant in unison about the evils of regulation, but for a hive mind they’re surprisingly vague on specifics. Zakaria mentions health reform, although essentially all of the “top 500” nonfinancial companies already provide coverage; cap-and-trade, whose future is uncertain; and financial reform, which is likely to help these nonfinancial companies obtain credit (while retaining their access to the kinds of derivatives they use for risk management purposes.)
The CEOs are uniformly polite, as such collective entities usually are in sci-fi movies. “Many … voted for Barack Obama.” “They still admire him.” It’s the “politics,” and their (eerily unanimous) perception that he’s “anti-business,” that adds an additional brake on their desire to spend. Here’s the bottom line: Any executive of a publicly-traded company who failed to spend the money needed to serve a ready-to-buy customer base would be violating her or his duty to stockholders and would probably be fired immediately.
Their problem isn’t politics – it’s customers. As in, they don’t have any.
Business isn’t spending because consumers aren’t spending. Consumer expenditures are flat and savings rates are up. Households have the same concerns about the economy that CEOs have, and they’re reacting the same way: by spending less and hoarding cash. Granted, they don’t have to answer phone calls from Fareed Zakaria while they’re doing it, which simplifies their day somewhat, but otherwise the reaction is strikingly similar.
Greedy consumers: Where are they when you really need ’em?
Karoli on Crooks and Liars last week accurately nailed the motivation behind this jobs summit:
Anyone who thinks the unemployment situation is a product of poor governing on the part of this President can’t recognize a class war when they see it. The real issue on the table here is corporate power and control.
Consider the recent Luntz-style attacks on the unemployed. Rather than addressing the reasons for the stubbornly high unemployment rate, they choose to demonize those who are unemployed. We’re too stupid, too lazy, or we want to be paid too much to rehire.
Of course, none of these things are true, but they offer cover for CEOs to duck the true questions about why they’d rather simply sit on the cash and forego expansion for now. They’d rather do it because they can. Because they can afford to wait until they have a puppet in the oval office who will do their bidding, who will call off the regulatory dogs, and who understands unique corporate challenges.
And what is the bidding of the Chamber right now? Donohoe is blunt:
- Give the wealthy “all of the tax relief passed in the prior decade;” including the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which if they are extended beyond their expiration this year would add $678 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years.
- Keep arguing that benefits for the poor and elderly are “the primary culprit” for our deficit problems, and encourage the “catfood commission”—the White House deficit commission, whose co-chairs appeared at the Chamber summit—to “modernize,” also known as eviscerate, these programs.
- Let business plunder the environment, and, yes, we’ll let the government get a measly share of the spoils. “For example, there are numerous oil, gas and shale leases” that industry should be allowed to tap, as well as “80 percent of our national forest land” that could be chopped down and converted into fluffy toilet paper and other consumer goods.
- Pass pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, even though those agreements as currently written would continue the erosion of America’s manufacturing base, the flow of American jobs overseas, and the degradation of working and living conditions of workers in those countries.
- Turn as much of the rebuilding of the American infrastructure over to “private investment” as possible while removing “the regulatory, legal and financial roadblocks.” That last bit is astonishingly brazen: After seeing some of the worst examples of unbridled greed and callousness trashing our economy and most recently the Gulf of Mexico, Donohoe dares say with a straight face that we need to eliminate even more rules for business as we privatize what has been and always should be public goods.
The Chamber is spending millions of dollars on television advertising trying to convince the public that the policy solutions advocated by progressives, many of which are being embraced by most Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration, would cripple job creation. What the public should remember when they see these ads is that the Chamber’s promise of 20 million jobs is illusory; what the Chamber is really looking for is the Bush administration’s right-wing free-for-all on steroids. It’s not about your job, it’s about their profits. Consider how poorly the middle class has fared in the decade that conservative policies, and imagine how much worse economic conditions for the middle class will get if the Chamber has its way.