You can't say I didn't warn you. I may have predicted a different cause (job elimination due to automation instead of a worldwide pandemic), but in June 2017 I wrote in one of my initial columns—"Labor, Ownership, and the Future of Work—about the apocalyptic societal consequences of sustained mass unemployment. Well, with much of the entire world in a state of economic devastation, we may be about to find out.
The numbers are staggering and unsustainable. There were 38 million new unemployment claims from March through May. Just 4.5 million jobs were "added" in June. And those were not new jobs. They were jobs recently occupied by workers laid off beginning with the pandemic in March.
Then July brought another decrease of 1.4 million jobs. So basically there are still about 35 million fewer people working than in March. The unemployment rate at the end of 2019 was 3.7 percent. It is now 10.2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor numbers for July. That's not the 25 percent of the Great Depression. But it is higher than the 2008-11 Great Recession rate of 10.1%. And that wasn't pretty.
Not having work is always a tragedy for the families involved, and for the economy and society. Not having the prospect of new jobs, however, is where the Apocalypse lurks. And that is looking more possible every day.
This is also not just an American phenomenon. McKinsey and Company recently completed a report for The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is comprised of most of the European countries, plus the U.S. and Canada. It found that as many as 59 million jobs in Europe are at risk of cuts in hours or pay, temporary furloughs, or permanent layoffs. That amounts to is 13 percent of the European population. And 35 million is 10.5 percent of the US population. But that is the percent of the entire population; not of working-age adults! That number would be much higher. So we would be now getting into the realm of Great Depression numbers. That is not socially sustainable.
All of this is the result of Western democracies' constant reluctance to seriously regulate capitalist excesses, and the ever-increasing dependence of these democratic societies on consumerism instead of production and economic management. Even the response to the collapse of the U.S. and European Union economies in March failed to bring the corporate culprits to heel. The EU had a more-efficient way of getting monetary support to workers by funneling it through the employers, while the US had to clumsily distribute support through 50 different state unemployment bureaucracies. But neither Europe nor the U.S. demanded any commitment from the corporations being bailed out that they would not eliminate any jobs post bail-out. And, no jobs, no consumer spending. There goes the economy! So much for lessons learned from the 2008 Great Recession.
But 2020 isn't 2008, and Trump ain't Obama. Our country and many other Western democracies are now governed by capitalist-weening wanna-be autocrats who know nothing and do not care to. And while some social upheaval from economic distress is likely just a matter of time, right now in our country we have two other serious social/political crises that we are dealing with. This summer's racial-justice demonstrations are continuing, and Trump is likewise continuing to threaten to intervene state by state. And the dismantling of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) continues to be a threat to the fair and efficient running of our upcoming national elections.
So what's a Democratic political leader to do? Here is an unorthodox suggestion: It's the 10th Amendment, stupid!
Gives Powers to States
Brush the dust off your pocket version of the U.S. Constitution, and read the 10th Amendment. Commonly known as the States' Rights Amendment, it gives powers to the States that are not reserved for the Federal Government by the Constitution. Yes, it was put to terrible use before the Civil War to justify secession and slavery; afterward as the foundation for racist Reconstruction policies; and throughout the 20th century to constantly seek the oppression of any and all minorities seeking equal rights and justice. But it is not and should not be solely the province of the purveyors of rights suppression. Its brief and simple composition can and should be put to use by progressives to curb the power of a national government gone awry (as is the case now); or to supplement the policies and projects of a national government of justice and equity (which we seek going forward hopefully from this election).
So, let's take these three current situations and see how pushing the 10th Amendment's States' Rights prerogatives would have had, or can have, some positive effect.
- Let's begin with the Portland fiasco of last month. Federal "law enforcement" agents from various departments having nothing to do with enforcing state law involving assembly, march and protest on state and municipal land and roadways spent a good part of July on said municipal and state roadways, streets, parks, etc., ostensibly to protect Federal Court property. But these Federal agents did not confine themselves to "protecting" Federal property from behind any well-structured fence or barricade which, if breached, would have given these agents perfectly legal license to arrest and detain the "breachers". Oh no. These Federal agents spent nearly all their time outside the confines of Federal property, on the property of the sovereign state of Oregon and its municipality of Portland, beating, tear-gassing and arresting protesters in clear violation of the 10th Amendment of the Constitution which, in my reading, makes no mention of Federal enforcement of State law. But, as is usually the case with governmental entities run by Democrats, the reaction was to complain, rather than contest. Oregon's Democratic Governor could have deployed state and municipal law-enforcement personnel as a buffer between the citizens of the state who were exercising their right to protest, and the armed Federal interlopers sent to suppress them. That was not done. Oregon's Democratic Attorney General did try to get the Feds out of her state by filing suit in Federal Court. But sadly she was obviously more comfortable with the useless complaint-box formula used by Democrats when they are "done wrong" by the strategically superior Republicans, and so her case was thrown out of court because she had "no standing." I assume she had no standing because she was not a protester whose rights were violated! She was, however, the Attorney General of one of the sovereign states according to the 10th Amendment. So maybe, just maybe, contesting the Feds' "enforcing" of no Federal law violations taking place on the streets of her state and its municipality may have gotten her "standing" and success. Trump will keep trying to intervene with force in state affairs. He is threatening to do so in Wisconsin right now. Only a vigorous application of the 10th Amendment has any chance of curbing him.
- Then there is the Postal Service fiasco. This one is simple. There is no such thing as a Federal election. Elections happen in states, and are run by the states. Dem congressional hearings on the Postal Service are almost useless. Form a coalition of states and sue the Post Office for interfering in the states' sovereign power to conduct elections. But don't wait for a court ruling. Stop whining and get your elections in order now! Yes, I know. Early voting and no-reason absentee ballots are great and should be done. But there is one other thing that would be real easy for the average voter. Put a lock-box drop-off in every existing polling place; not willy-nilly on streets and other places that are not generally used as polls, as some states are doing now. Almost everyone knows where their poll is. Open them up beginning in early September and through Election Day, and allow voters who request absentee ballots to drop them off in a lock-box at their regular poll, if they don't trust sending them in. That mostly cuts the Postal Service out of half the absentee process—getting the vote in. And it gives the voters more comfort that their votes were delivered. All states governed by Democrats should be doing this in coordination right now.
- Finally, let's return to the top of this column, where I cited the dire economic situation we find ourselves in. Here too, the 10th Amendment can be put to good use. If Biden is elected, this may not be necessary. If Trump wins, this is existential. Interstate commerce is the province of the Federal Government. But, states can and do regulate intra-state commerce under the 10th Amendment. States charter corporations and banks, regulate business conducted within their borders, levy taxes on businesses, and so on. States can form compacts with other states. States governed by Democrats should begin thinking now about how to use their 10th Amendment powers, and the market power of their populations to create regional economies that will regenerate commerce and create or preserve jobs in cooperation with each other. Gone should be the days when business forced states into bidding wars to decide which individual state would benefit from their largesse. A few regional state consortiums could solve that problem, and start the process of creating a new economy for America based on New Deal Democratic Party principles of worker rights, fair wages, an equitable tax structure and respect for the regional environment.
So, that compact little 10th Amendment can pack a lot of progressive punch if you want it to. Come on, Dems. Let's take it back and use it that way.
Editor’s note: Mr. Montalbano is a retired labor lobbyist and former political action director for District Council 37.
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