Monday, August 27, 2012
Pandering is what many politicians do for a living. When you don’t understand or know how to solve a problem, when you don’t really care enough to do anything substantive about it or have the balls do be honest with your constituents, you pander.
In the case of Sparrows Point, Maryland, just outside Baltimore, where a long-standing steel mill has closed, the pandering is something more. The site, where steel production first began in 1889, was once home to the largest steel mill in the world, the product of its 30,000 Bethlehem Steel workers having literally become part of American history. Today, several owners later, the facility is in liquidation. In all likelihood, its remaining 2,200 workers who have recently been laid off, will be the last to ever work there.
Is this a tragedy? Certainly, it’s devastating for the individual workers and their families, but no. It’s history. The mill has closed because it’s no longer competitive. (See the article by Mark Reutter in the Baltimore Brew, “Six reasons why the Sparrows Point steel mill collapsed.”) It’s what happens in the natural order of a free-market economy when something – a technology, a facility – reaches the end of its time. What we need to do now is re-train, relocate if necessary and otherwise help the mill’s workers find new employment and protect their families as best we can until they do. It’s not just the nice thing to do. Maintaining their levels of consumer demand is essential to the health of the local economy.
The Baltimore metropolitan area is no small factory down. As the home to 2.7 million people, the closing of Sparrows Point is a hit its economy could take in good times. In the current economy, it just makes an already difficult situation that much worse. In any case, the local, state and federal governments need to do what they can to help these newly unemployed workers re-integrate themselves into the economy. It’s a time to trust and appreciate the flow of economic development, not get in its way.
Unfortunately, President Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress have a “government knows best” philosophy that blatantly distrusts and disrespects the economy. (For the record, I’m a registered Independent. I have no Republican point of view here and consider myself an equal opportunity critic of elected officials, regardless of their party affiliation.) Their philosophy is also both ignorant and arrogant, a terrible combination. “Ignorant” because it grossly misunderstands the relative power of the economy versus the government. “Arrogant” because it assumes a wisdom and a right to dictate, to override the otherwise organic behavior of a free market system, the same system that pays those elected officials’ salaries.
Here is an excerpt from a recent statement by Congressman Ruppersberger, the Democrat incumbent from Maryland’s Second Congressional District that includes the Sparrows Point facility and is home to many, if not all if its laid off workers. Click on it to make it larger.
As you can see, he leads by declaring the continuing value of the facility, an argument he makes without regard to reality. He then says that our government stands behind the laid off workers, a pledge offering nothing more than existing federal programs for the unemployed, followed by an irrelevant reference to the auto industry bailout. And then he finishes with some trite rhetoric about forging “new partnerships between government and the private sector” that I’m sure is comforting to the 2,200 families in Maryland who are now without income, and the local businesses where they used to shop.
At the risk of being vulgar, “What a crock.” I don’t know what’s worse, that Congressman Ruppersberger might really think statements like these constitute meaningful government, or that he’s just saying whatever he thinks will get him re-elected. Either way, his opponent, Maryland State Senator Nancy Jacobs, deserves a chance to do better.