Lately a debate about corporations as “job creators” (usually in contrast to government regulation as a “job killer”) has been waging in the media. I’m guessing that most of you can see through the hype to the real issues at stake. But, just in case, here’s my take:
Businesses are job creators, but only in the sense that they hire workers to facilitate making stuff or delivering services that make them money. They don’t create jobs for the sake of providing employment. Creating jobs is just a means to an end, and the end in question is profit.
Profits are produced when goods and services are sold for prices greater than the cost of production. For this reason, profit, at least short-term profit, is maximized by keeping the costs of production as low as possible, including the cost of labor.
And what are those labor costs? Lots of stuff, including wages, insurance, and measures to insure worker health and safety. It’s stuff like protecting workers from toxic chemicals, moderating the pace of assembly lines, and providing proper lighting, protective gloves and glasses, breaks, days off and overtime pay, all of which adds to production costs and much of which is imposed on companies by government.
That’s why the business sector doesn’t like regulations that get between them and their employees. They like determining wages and benefits, and establishing working conditions by private decision in order to serve their private interests. Government regulations force public accountability in the public interest and that adds cost and reduces short-term profit.
That, from my point of view, is what the fuss is all about. Businesses want to operate in private, without the intervention of government ‘cuz government represents the public, and that public is, inconveniently, made up mainly of people who work and see it as in their interests to demand liveable wages and safe working conditions.
So why is all of this basic stuff about jobs and business being written about in a blog about racism?
Because the poorest workers are the most in need of government protection, and the most vulnerable of poor workers include workers of color. That’s been true since the days of slavery. Remember, government, not business, ended slavery.
Back when the government only served white male property owners, our laws protected slaveholders and allowed men to engage in super-exploitation of women whose often uncompensated labor is a huge and largely unexplored contribution to the creation of wealth in America. But the government giveth, and the government taketh away. By abolishing slavery and later neo-Slavery via convict leasing, government, as an instrument of the public interest, forced serious changes that transformed our country.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you will agree that this transformation was for the good.
Bob Wing points out in Race and Nationality: The Racial Formation of Asian Americans, 1852–1965 that,
Until the 1840s or so, European immigrants to the United States or what became the United States had an inviting situation…The Irish and other European immigrants became white the day they landed on these shores…The often neglected dialectical opposite of Black oppression is white supremacy and white privilege: the obverse of the enslavement of Blacks was the monopolization of political power, land, skilled trades, and all other forms of rights, property, and privilege by whites, including immigrants. Combined with the ready availability of land opened up by the devastating Indian wars, until the end of the nineteenth century, the majority of whites…became bourgeois or petit bourgeois property holders of one kind or another.
This system is the historical foundation of structural racial inequality in the U.S. What brought it to an end was government intervention and regulation.
Of course, slavery is only the most heinous example of profit-making gone wild. Since slavery and neo-slavery were abolished, workers, especially workers of color, have continued to be exploited and mistreated. Their best hope? Get organized, join a union, and, if all else fails, get the government involved.
This is why we should all be very concerned about casting business as the job creating heroes on white horses who will save us from our economic woes if only we can get government out of the way. History teaches us that, left to their own devices, business will put profit before people, even if it means treating some people as nothing more than property.