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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, April 12

Gapers Block

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They drip into our cities, lowering the standard of living, depressing wages and taking away jobs. It is plain to see: any economist worth his salt knows it to be the case. And yet, through cowardice or pandering or opportunism, our elected officials turn a blind eye to the menace, in many ways even surreptitiously condone it or explicitly laud it.

It is time we take a real stand on this issue. We need to have the courage, even when it may be politically unpopular, to say: "Enough is enough."

As in, "Enough with the big-box retailers. Enough with the enormous construction concerns. Enough with the enormous tax giveaways to lure companies that offer no benefits. Enough, enough, enough."

You want a bogeyman who is really undermining the quality of life of the average American working person? Look at the top, not at the bottom. Look at the conspirators at the Chamber of Commerce, whose legislative agenda is one word — Exploitation — writ large in pristine script on a vellum scroll. Don't look at the rank and file folks, those who marched by the hundreds of thousands last month and will do so again this May Day. Labor, which is the superior of capital, has to be able to move as easily as capital, if not easier. If CEOs can move their company's wealth — built by Americans — out of the country, why can't Americans — and Mexicans, and Canadians, whomever — move about with impunity, too? The strength that comes with the amalgamation of capital at the top of the economy has lead people to think that yeah, all that wealth up there — that's what means something. When in reality, it is labor that created it and has some stake in how it is used (e.g., not for paying undocumented workers bare-subsistence wages and then calling immigration on them when they act up).

And while everybody shakes in their shoes about undocumented workers coming into the country to get exploited as they work with no protection and no peace of mind to support a family, voters are also consistently bombarded by arguments about "job creation" and "chasing jobs out of the state" from candidates for office. It has become so entrenched in the political discourse — "chasing out jobs" — that nobody stops for a minute to consider what people are actually saying.

Really? You really think there is some situation wherein businesses will get up and leave the state to such an extent that unemployment levels will spike, leaving a significant number of Illinoisans destitute? Really?

And this is the fault of high taxes, they say, and high labor costs due to bloated state worker salaries and unionized workforces, especially in the trades.

Between the immigrants and the business hiking up their skirts and skipping town, it's amazing anybody has a job.

The reality of it is, though, that the problem Illinoisans face is not the jobs that are leaving, but the ones that are staying.

Do you honestly think that if state fees and taxes on businesses were 2 percent lower, Maytag wouldn't have shut down Galesburg? There is no way, at the end of the day, that Americans can compete with obscenely low labor costs in Mexico and in the developing world; and there is no way we can afford to turn states into "enterprise zones," like they have in Guatemala and Honduras, where corporations can come in facing basically no regulation at all.

But the rhetoric is seductive: Iowa and Missouri and Indiana are offering businesses good tax breaks, so all the jobs will go there. Furthermore, if we build a 100-foot-high electrified fence with machine gun nests every 20 yards all along the Rio Grande, all the sweet gigs cleaning up rubble on empty lots at 4 in the morning and picking lettuce for a penny a pound will come back to Americans.

So grateful are we for any jobs that we welcome the likes of Wal-Mart into our communities, where they run roughshod destroying jobs and dragging the standard of living down, down, down, to depths so obscene that you wonder if they can effect go any lower.

Talking heads talk about defined-benefit pensions being a flash-in-the-pan pipedream; conservative talk show hosts compare the Maryland law insisting large employers dedicate money to healthcare for employees to rape; young couples and new families drown under property taxes and downtown goliaths pay almost nothing, so worried are we that they may leave.

I say, let them leave. Let them all go: call their bluff. The reality is, forcing corporations like the big box retailers and large construction and development firms to be good employers is better for business as well as working people. In the long run and the short run; the only people it is bad for is the bosses at the very top.

Don't believe me? Ask New Jersey, where the unemployment rate is lower, the median income more than 10 percent higher, and regulation is plentiful.

Although I guess the trade-off is that they have to live in New Jersey.

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miss ellen / April 26, 2006 2:31 PM

great piece, richard. really makes you think about this current situation.

oh, and go sox!

a / April 26, 2006 4:19 PM

richard, have you ever been to new jersey?

or are you just mocking it because everyone else does and you think that makes it okay?

new jersey is a fine state, with good laws, and beautiful gardens, oceans, and casinos.

Richard F Carnahan / April 26, 2006 5:41 PM

Hey, a: and just how many oceans does New Jersey have?

R. Mulder / April 27, 2006 9:14 AM

This sounds like something somebody wearing suede pumas would write.

me / April 27, 2006 10:21 AM

I got my suede Pumas at Wal-Mart.

a / April 27, 2006 10:52 AM

one more than chicago.

Richard F Carnahan / April 27, 2006 11:11 AM

Oh, because you seemed to indicate it had multiple oceans.

kids in suede pumas--so self defensive. take it easy, its okay.

a / April 27, 2006 11:23 AM

hey, if defending my home state makes me a kid in suede pumas for some reason, then fine. you defend your city all the time, and then you mock me for using the plural of ocean accidently... what does that make you, richard?

where are you from anyway?

Richard F Carnahan / April 27, 2006 11:36 AM


relax. only the first part of that comment was for you. Don't get all New Jersey-y on me.

m / April 27, 2006 12:54 PM

I have suede pumas and (gasp) a 3-speed bike. I haven't attended an anti-war rally, but if I did I'd wear a suit and tie and bring a UN Flag to confuse the "Legalize Pot" folks.

Jason / April 27, 2006 1:03 PM

Incredibly well-written Richard. I really enjoyed it.

Also, I think New Jersey is an awful place, suede gym shoes are odd, and mistaken pluralization may be an even bigger issue than big-box retailers in America.

John Powers / May 2, 2006 9:43 PM

I can guarantee you that taxes and regulation lead companies to incorporate and locate in States other than Illinois.

However, corruption, obscene property taxes, and piss-poor government are much more of a problem.

The pleasant thing about doing business within Illinois is to find out how competitive the crooks are. There are some real bargains out there in buying off inpectors, zoning clerks, aldermen etc for $20 or so. Seems like a good deal.



About the Author(s)

Richard F. Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years. Contact him at .

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