Friday, January 01, 2010

Big issues on a small scale ....

Traditionally the Republicans have been the party of business, at least supposedly. Actually, as far as I know the Republicans were born as an abolitionist party. But be that as it may, the stereotype is that Republicans were the party trying to protect the rights/wealth of the privileged. Republicans like to use the language of business and economics to advocate policies that favor the free market, and complain about policies that place restrictions on the market (either to address pollution/global warming or the economic issues of the poor or labor). Now, you would think that sometime in the eight years of the (second) Bush administration or at least in the four years when the Republicans had majorities in both houses of Congress and the White House, the Republicans would have taken steps to address economic issues. In fact, considering there was an announced goal to create a permanent Republican majority, and that Republicans claim that taking the government out of the free market and everyone (including the poor) will benefit, it is surprising that Republicans seemed to go in the opposite direction and expanded government spending. They made some cuts in social spending, cut revenue collection by lowering the taxes (mostly of the wealthy) and ran of course they were running a couple of occupations while borrowing to spend more and reward everyone’s constituents (particularly those of Republican congress persons). But not the supply side revolution we might have expected.

So, again, again, why not? Republicans and conservatives (including conservative bloggers and on-line commenters) tell us that only if government would leave the market alone, life would be better even for our poorest. Yet when they had the opportunity to actually implement these ideas, they failed to move forward. No courage of their convictions? Or perhaps despite the fact the speak the words, they have no idea what the actual theories are? At least Reagan did some tax trimming, some of which might have even been targeted according to supply side principles. Of course, we may lay some of our current problems in the financial sector (and perhaps others in government) at Reagan’s feet.

Now this debate is being played out once again, in sort of miniature form, and mostly between liberal and conservative City Democrats. There are some suburban conservatives piping in and mostly taking the opportunity to tell the City that unless it wises up and starts oppressing African Americans and other poor City residents, the City will fall (further) into the economic abyss. But mostly it is progressives (and perhaps union leaders) advocating a prevailing wage and the Mayor (perhaps behaving true to form) complaining that such a policy will hurt development. To be fair, does he have a point?

Business getting money (a hundred thousand for most, thirty thousand for grocery stores) from the City would be expected to pay their employees whatever an average wage is within a particular geographic area for each particular job position. Does that disadvantage potential City developers so much as to assure their ventures will fail? If these potential developers need to offer lower wages to succeed, who will they hire? After all, to attract good employees, you need to offer a good wage. If you offer grocery store employees minimum wage, you will get only new employees, and those who were turned away from higher wage jobs. Of course, if you are locating businesses in disadvantaged neighborhoods, (the snide suburban Republicans say) all you will get in applicants are those who have never been hired or can’t be hired in the suburbs. The implication is that City businesses will only be able to sell to City residents (probably because of the inferior products they will sell) and because of the theft associated with City residents and the stupidity associated with City business people, will only survive if they pay poverty wages. Of course, that’s ok because we don’t really want the residents of poor City neighborhoods accumulating enough money to move to the suburbs.

Well, that might not be the Mayor’s articulated argument. In fact, I will be interested to hear the Mayor’s arguments. His 11th hour veto of the prevailing wage bill seemed clearly designed to tweak the noses of the current council. Yet I doubt he did himself or whatever cause he is trying to advance much good. If there are problems with such a bill (and I can see that there might be, although I believe several other cities have passed such laws), giving Council the opportunity to rewrite the bill might strengthen it against a court challenge. Ricky Burgess may have lost some support for the Council Presidency, mostly because of his connection to Pat Dowd. Dowd during his term has repeatedly chosen to take technically legally correct plans (such as saying his fellow Council members could not hire a lawyer during the whole LED billboard dust-up). But Dowd expresses these positions in a less than diplomatic manner. His argumentative style, frequently directed towards his fellow council persons (possibly more than towards the Mayor) have made him no one’s friend.

There’s talk that if Burgess doesn’t make it, and Peduto can not muster the votes to become President, maybe Theresa Kali-Smith will be advanced. I so far have seen no reason to think she would be anything but a puppet for the Mayor (Burgess similarly seems like he might be that too). I have also heard Kraus might be an option, and I suspect he might be a superior one. He has worked hard in his position, but he has acted diplomatically and made few enemies (except for those who naturally hate him for his sexual orientation). He may be the City’s best hope.

Meanwhile, just like with healthcare/insurance, there is no real debate on the economic effects of the prevailing wage bills, only shallow arguments from different ideologies, or perhaps just different political camps. The end seems inevitable, yet we may yet be surprised by the power Ravenstahl might yet wield.


Matt H said...

Smith would not be a puppet for the administration.

Did you read where she said that Burgess would be too close to the administration so in turn she hesitates to vote for him?

EdHeath said...

Honestly Matt, I don't know. But since she might be a rival for the Council Presidency, I am not inclined to place much stock in the statement you referenced.

I am willing to keep an open mind. Darlene Harris surprised me when she made a huge extra effort to solve the issue of animal control. Before, I had seen her as just an opponent of Pat Dowd for the school board, and someone who wanted to keep local schools with low enrollment open, perhaps to keep neighborhood kids from mixing with kids form other neighborhoods. Now, I don't want to get into the complexities of that issue, except to say I think there might be complexities there.

I will be interested in learning more about Ms. Kali-Smith in the coming months. However, considering what I know at this moment, I would be leaning more towards supporting Peduto or Kraus for Council President. Not that my opinion has any effect, except on my annoying posts or comments.