Launching his “White House to Main Street” tour, President Barack Obama spoke at Lehigh Carbon Community College, north of Allentown, Pa., last Friday. During his prepared remarks, he noted that while the economy seems to be growing again, unemployment still hovers in double digits because companies won’t staff up. Then he offered this explanation:
Now some of this is because they’re still trying to get out of the red brought on by tough times this year and they’re still seeing consumers pull back because people got overextended on their credit cards; those home equity loans suddenly didn’t look so attractive. And so people are spending a little bit less.
But part of what’s happened also among a lot of companies is they figured out how to squeeze more productivity out of the workers that they’ve got; they’re working people longer hours, they’re doing more overtime, or not, but either way they’re producing the same amount of product or providing the same services without hiring more people.
And that’s something that we’re going to have to really work on. [emphasis added]
Look at that last sentence again. The president believes that increased per-employee productivity is a problem that he needs to “work on.” In other words, the president sees his challenge now as how to get the American worker to be less productive, so that companies require more employees to maintain current output.
Indeed, existing workers are putting in slightly more time, as the Chicago Tribune reports: “Economists were encouraged by an increase in the average workweek to 33.2 hours from 33, which was the lowest on record.”
But the new Obama crisis is that these same workers are producing more goods and services. The president seems to believe that greedy corporate bosses have not only driven their fatigued wage-slaves to put in an extra 12 minutes per week, but that they’ve also “squeezed” them for more output per minute, thus assuring the unemployed will remain sedentary.
This “problem,” of course, already has a couple of tailor-made solutions within the president’s worldview: academia and labor unions.
If any industry has figured out how to get Americans to produce fewer goods in more time at a higher cost per item, it’s labor unions. For decades, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has partnered with GM, Chrysler, and Ford to reduce productivity while increasing employment.
Now GM and Chrysler have teamed up with the U.S. government, using that same recipe to keep the Treasury teetering on the brink of insolvency, the national debt skyrocketing, and the currency feeble — thus promoting decreased productivity even outside of the auto industry.
Case in point: while most bailed-out financial sector firms seem likely to repay their loans to the Treasury, the New York Times reported that GM and Chrysler won’t, thus causing a net loss of about $30 billion for taxpayers.
Oddly enough, during the first stop of the president’s “White House to Main Street” lecture tour, the president condemned the entire financial services industry as greedy and irresponsible:
PRES. OBAMA: So there was just a lot of funny business going on, on Wall Street, and everybody was participating up and down the line because they were all making a lot of money. [emphasis added]
While the president lavished criticism on the financial services sector, on the health care sector, on the previous administration, and on Congress, somehow, during 45 minutes of talking about jobs, he didn’t even mention organized labor — not once.
How can organized labor help to “solve” the high productivity crisis?