29 March 2017
Jobs! or: short-term thinking in democracies
For the current President, jobs trump everything. He's trying to roll back much of the Obama-era regulatory regime on the premise that if a government rule can be blamed for "killing" a job, it must go. His supporters, particularly those employers who expect to benefit from Trump's executive orders, seem to have no arguments against regulations except that they are "burdensome," which means that they compliance costs more than they care to spend. Pressed, they might talk a good game about reasonable stewardship and so on, but you can't help wondering where exactly they would draw the line. How much more pollution, how many more workplace injuries, how much more work-related illness can they tolerate than their political opponents? For now, however, none of that matters more than the promise of more jobs, and it may be that those who want jobs -- whether they'll actually be created or not -- are willing to risk more of the above than others think they should have to. Whatever damage might be done to the environment -- by reopening or expanding coal mining operations, for instance -- may seem purely speculative compared with the economic needs of the moment. But part of what makes the Trump movement "populist" may be a willingness, arguably characteristic of democracy itself, to prioritize the needs (or wants) of the here-and-now over long-term interests. I tend to identify that tendency in the hedonistic habits of modern "progressive" liberalism, which often seems to abhor any sort of sacrifice but the monetary sort, but whenever anyone proposes that sacrifice is necessary to preserve the environment or the planet's ability to sustain civilization, we see a similar resistance to sacrifice among so-called or self-styled conservatives. From right or left, appeals for sacrifice are heard as con jobs for con artists' benefit. In the present case, the supposed con artists are those environmentalist "hoaxers" whose real interest is power. In other cases, wars are presumed to be promoted by war profiteers. Either way, no one is presumed objective; self-interest is perceived behind all political advocacy, but especially when sacrifices and benefits aren't distributed equally. Suspicion can only grow when sacrifices are necessary immediately (as employers claim they must be when regulations burden them) and benefits are promised only gradually, or are negative benefits, e.g. no further deterioration of the environment. For that reason, despite progressive anger at the apparent stupidity of it all, climate conservation measures always will meet resistance, especially when opponents characterize them as "job killers." Those who want jobs now are content to defer payment to a future that may not come true. But if the time does come to pay, the one sure thing is that today's "job creators" will find a way to blame the opposing party for everything.