A friend posed a question at a dinner: if you were president, what would you do to make a difference.
My first reaction was, “Can we make a difference? Can anything really get done in politics these days?”
If it were possible to do so, then my contribution would be to do something to make job markets more competitive.
Every year there are politicians who run on a platform that includes fighting unemployment and creating jobs.
Then either the jobs never happen, or they are a temporary fix.
Just this week, the Surry County Board of Commissioners discussed possibly taking legal action against a business owner who failed to create the new jobs promised when accepting taxpayer monies.
We talk about creating jobs, but all we’ve seen is a steady loss of jobs over the past 15 years. Right here in this state — heck, right here in Surry County — tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in several fields such as apparel, hosiery and furniture.
Those jobs haven’t come back because we aren’t competing on a level playing field. This is what I would change if I could.
I saw a news program recently talking about a company that holds a government contract moving jobs overseas. The talk was whether or not the U.S. government should cancel the contract because of this.
I say yes. In fact, I think that is the least we could do.
In Dec. 2001 I attended a business conference in Florida where a speaker was encouraging his fellow furniture makers to invest in new roads and water lines in Vietnam because China had gotten too expensive.
He said that he used to pay 50 cents an hour for labor, but that in Shanghai inflation had pushed that rate up closer to 85 cents an hour, and that was just unacceptable. He said he had talked to government representatives in Vietnam who had promised him workers for a quarter an hour.
Over the next five years, I watched as this particular CEO began to break down his domestic companies into pieces, then close off factories as his Vietnam production got up and running. I was writing for a furniture publication and nearly every week there were people losing their jobs.
Here’s my idea. And yes, I am aware that parts of it aren’t realistic, but a man can dream.
If a company wants to move production from the U.S. to another country, fine, go right ahead. But be sure that the new factory meets all U.S. requirements.
The employees must make minimum wage. And I don’t mean based on the local economy; I mean $7.25 per hour, converted to their local currency.
You want to make goods overseas, but sell them in the U.S.? Then your workers should be treated like U.S. employees. No more 85 cents an hour.
Sao Paulo, Brazil, is one of the most heavily polluted cities on the planet because foreign investors go there to set up factories where there is no Environmental Protection Agency to watch over them.
You want to set up a factory overseas? Then the U.S. government will send someone from the EPA and OSHA to inspect you once a quarter. The same fees and penalties for violations will apply as in the U.S. No more children’s toys or baby bassinets with lead paint. No more pet foods with ground-up plastic.
Since we are in America and these factories aren’t, we don’t have the ability to enforce these rules. Unless the companies volunteer.
One idea: a company makes a DVD player and ships it to the U.S. with a $25 value. Some store will sell it for $50.
We put in a 100-percent duty or tariff on this DVD player, making the cost of the item $50. This would infuriate big box stores, and they would demand a rate reduction.
If the manufacturer wants the duties removed, all the company president has to do is volunteer to meet U.S. standards.
What happens to the money raised from the duties? From 2000 to 2007, there was something called the Byrd Amendment, sponsored by Sen. Robert Byrd (West Virginia). Monies raised from duties on Chinese imports were distributed out to companies that were hurt by the imports.
Vaughan-Bassett Furniture in Galax, Virginia, was one of the companies that benefited. That money allowed the Bassett family to reinvest in the business.
Unfortunately, the European Union came down firmly against this amendment and put political and financial pressure on the U.S. to cave, which it did.
But if I were in a position of power, I’d bring it back. And maybe, just maybe with a level playing field, some of those jobs would come back, too.