Once again, Labor Day approaches. For the third consecutive year, it is a time of considerable anxiety for America’s workforce. Wages are stagnant while prices for basic commodities are rising. Housing values are depressed. Unemployment remains catastrophically high while under-employment is rampant. The long-awaited new dawn of economic resurgence remains elusive if not forlorn. Yet America’s workers endure. They deserve better.
America’s workers today are victimized by the collision between the spheres of government and the economy. Government has claimed an increasing role in economic affairs since Franklin Roosevelt was President. A plausible argument can be made that government intervention into the workplace benefitted workers during much of the 20th century. Government projects such as the construction of the interstate highway system and the space program created jobs, enhanced the economy, and were positive forces for workers in America. Government policies and programs gave reasonable protection to workers and opened new vistas in the economy. But then government overplayed its hand.
A series of presidents—Democrat and Republican—embarked upon an unbridled expansion of the federal government’s control over the economic realm. Washington, a somewhat sleepy town during the first half of the 20th century, exploded at the seams in the second half. Steel and concrete shot into the skies above the Potomac as a litany of new bureaucracies were formed to exert control over almost every aspect of our lives—education, transportation, recreation, finance, immigration, health care—to name a few. Washington became the place businesses had to go to get permission to do the things they had done well for decades. The federal government became not a catalyst for economic expansion but a detriment. Had this new vision of the federal government as Lord Protector of society and the economy worked, it could perhaps be tolerated. But in almost every vestige of control it has claimed, it has failed. It has failed families, workers, and businesses and will have a hard time ever restoring public confidence in the federal government’s role in our lives.
Workers understand economics as well as, if not better than, business owners do. They certainly understand it better than government does. They exist in the prime interface between government and the economy, and they don’t like what they see. Unemployed farm workers in California’s Central Valley—once the food basket for our nation—are perplexed that the government prevents water critical for their jobs from reaching the valley due to ridiculous environmental rules. Skilled workers at the new Boeing plant in South Carolina are incredulous that a rather obscure federal agency—the National Labor Relations Board—is trying to kill their jobs by attempting to prevent Boeing from opening its state-of-the-art South Carolina facility. Workers and potential workers in the energy industry across America are downright angry at the federal policies that restrict or prevent production of domestic energy sources that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and enhance national security.
As we approach this Labor Day, it is time for government to recognize that our workforce is America. They have been victimized by overreaching government policies and regulations for far too long. They do not feel protected by the federal government but endangered by it. The regulatory assault on jobs, businesses, and the economy must stop for the sake of our workers. They deserve better from a government that no longer resembles the economic catalyst that existed under Eisenhower and Kennedy.