Belabor It Day Thoughts

It’s not the most joyous of Labor Day weekends, and we all know why, so I won’t drag out the statistics and the sackcloth and ashes.  I think it’s undeniable that there are a lot of Randy Quaids from the “Family Vacation” movies all over the country right now (except in Texas), telling visiting relatives they like Hamburger Helper just as much even without the meat.  The President is going to reveal his “jobs” plan this Thursday, which early reports say will be the same mix of tax credits, infrastructure “investment”, and moral suasion he’s been pitching all along (Be still, my heart.)  I feel compelled to share an op-ed in Friday’s Orlando Sentinel from R. Thomas Buffenbarger – Buffy to his friends – the president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Upper Marlboro, MD titled “FDR’s Works Progress plan would put Americans to work”.  Mr. Buffenbarger’s piece begins with empathy for the millions of unemployed and those dealt a severe blow to their retirement funds by the falling stock market.  He then puts his thematic ball on the batting tee by trotting out a statistic that will have the average reader spewing their coffee in shock and horror:

In July, for example, the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index dropped from 50.9 percent from June’s 55.3 percent.  This was bad news for factories, as only percentages above 50 indicate that the manufacturing sector is expanding.

I was scratching my head a little over this bit of stunning news.  First, 50.9 is above 50, so does that mean the manufacturing sector is still expanding despite the decline between June and July?  Also, if the manufacturing index is 48 percent one month and the next is 49.5, does it mean that the index is not expanding because it’s still not above 50?  While we are still wobbly from Mr. Buffenbarger left jab to our logical chin, he unleashes a left hook extolling the FDR’s WPA (Works Progress Administration)…

What we need is an initiative in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, which put millions of Americans to work in the Great Depression on projects that improved their communities.  Whether an out-of-work accountant or a struggling dock worker, the WPA used the worker’s skills and expertise to improve our nation by building everything from LaGuardia Airport in New York to the Griffiths Observatory in Los Angeles.

…that sets up his devastating overhand right:

Following that model, our lawmakers can get unemployed Americans working again by using federal funds to update our factories, install the most state-of-the-art equipment, revamp marketing plans and simplify the way workers are managed.

Mr. Buffenbarger goes on to trot out some more questionable statistics, and the liberal bête noir that if we had all that money to spend on Iraq and Afghanistan, surely (Don’t call me Shirley!) we have the money to create jobs for Americans and provide economic relief for struggling families.

Well, some reading I’ve done states that the WPA was not the great success Mr. Buffenbarger sees it to be.  And I’m sure there are intelligent economists out there who would argue that it was – even some without an obvious bias as the president of the I.A.M.A.W.  I would just say General Motors right now is Exhibit A for the former crowd, with its languishing stock and thousands of unwanted Volts sitting around in dealerships; i.e. government does poorly what the private sector does well if left to operate fairly unfettered.  Note I said “fairly unfettered”; the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008 is an example of what can happen when government doesn’t provide an oversight role.  Executives of manufacturing concerns who can perceive demand for products they could produce through capital investment in their factories would lay out a business plan for the providers of capital (e.g. banks), borrow the money, upgrade their equipment, hire more people, etc.  Figuring out which factories are candidates for investment and which ones would be flushing taxpayer dollars (in Mr. Buffenbarger’s terminology “federal funds”) down the crapper is not something that would ever be done from Washington (or has been done from Beijing, or Moscow, or Havana) effectively.  Am I wrong here?

My son told me the other day that “You’re the nicest Oscar the Grouch I know.”  Gee, thanks, I guess.  I probably haven’t changed his mind here.  So on a chirpier note, let’s all enjoy the time off with family, the barbecue grill, the last frolic in the pool before it closes, and before we’re crushed under the treads of the Chinese economic juggernaut – oops, ignore that last part!

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