Reading Sen. Byron Dorgan's book, Take This Job and Ship It: How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politicians Are Selling Out America [New York: St. Martin's, 2006] made me have a sudden little surge of hope for our country. The book cover has recommendations from Tom Daschle, Lindsay Graham, Jim Hightower and several others. You couldn't ask for more.
His message is that the "free trade" policies of the US are ruining our country but it's not yet too late for citizens to demand changes. What we do affects the whole world, and Dorgan, D-N.D., says the "US cannot help the rest of the world by impoverishing its own people and bankrupting its own economy." What we need is not free trade but fair trade. With NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the US has lost about 750,000 jobs, mostly to Mexico. We now import cars, auto parts and electronics from that country. So steelworkers in Pittsburg and metal workers in Ohio suffer because labor is so much cheaper south of the border.
Interspersed with the grim economic facts are Dorgan's thoughtful quotes from some very rich, very smart people -- like Warren Buffet. He thinks our economy is now in real danger. This extraordinary American lives very simply in Omaha, Neb., and has always been successful in predicting large economic trends. So we should be worried that he is worried. Then Alan Blinder, formerly of the Federal Reserve, says that over the next few years 42 to 56 million jobs could be exported.
Big businesses have myriad ways of assuring high profits and low taxes for themselves. Finding low-cost labor, as when the Huffy Bicycle company of Celina, Ohio, moved to India, where workers are paid 33 cents an hour for a 12- to 15-hour work day, seven days a week, is just one example of "cost savings." At the same time, Huffy's CEO makes about $900,000 a year. Other better-known companies like General Motors and General Electric do the same thing. Levi Strauss is in Mexico now and Dorgan says Fig Newton cookies are made there too. I was surprised to learn that some airline maintenance is outsourced. Jet Blue sends its planes to El Salvador to be repaired.
Getting out of paying taxes is another ploy the companies use. Dorgan describes a big office building in the Cayman Islands that is "headquarters" for over 12,000 companies. What they are doing is using that address to avoid paying US taxes. Dorgan, who was once a state tax commissioner in North Dakota, says that as many as 63% of US corporations are not paying any income tax. All the anti-taxers of the world might want to remember that they, whether rich or poor, still drive on public roads, send their children to public schools, and get mail delivered to them every day.
Dorgan is a strong supporter of labor, reminding us that nonunion members often benefit from the gains that unions achieve. Outsourcing jobs, he thinks, is just another name for "union busting."
The motto of these companies seems to be that of Cornelius Vanderbilt of the Gilded Age -- "The public be damned. I'm working for my stockholders." In addition to the trade deficit of over $700 billion a year, Dorgan is concerned about our national debt, 40% of which is held by bankers in Japan and China.
My hope comes mostly from knowing that there are people like Dorgan who are working on these problems. His last chapter lists several others as concerned as he is, like Lou Dobbs, John Sweeney, and Bill Moyers. He even gives an example of a responsible company, Malden Mills, which, when the firm suffered a bad fire in 1995, held onto its employees through the rebuilding by giving them three months' pay instead of moving production overseas. [Editor's Note: Walden Mills was forced into bankruptcy in 2001 and creditors replaced CEO Aaron Feuerstein in 2003.]
Dorgan includes a list of what can be done "to take our country back and start building opportunity once again." The eleven suggestions go from developing an American Fair Trade Plan to encouraging labor unions and controlling "outsourced pollution." I was struck all the way through this book by how problems are intertwined. So are their solutions.
Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email BubbaBieri@aol.com.
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