Earlier today, the Obama administration announced that it is abandoning its plan to tighten air-quality rules to reduce emissions of smog-causing chemicals. The announcement comes after weeks of zealous lobbying by large corporations, which said the new rule would cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The move—or in this case, lack of a move—is one more example of Obama giving in to the right-wing’s nonsense instead of fighting it with facts and backbone. Just as with the extension of the temporary tax cuts for the wealthy and the linking of raising the debt limit to spending cuts, the Obama Administration seems to be afraid to stand up to Republicans.
In the earlier examples, Obama delineated centrist positions and proposals, and then backed down and agreed to a rightwing deal in the spirit of “compromise.”
Today’s decision not to improve air quality is somewhat different because Obama is not just backing down, he’s also accepting the falsehoods of the other side.
The big lie, one that few among the chattering classes ever care to expose, is that environmental regulations cost jobs. Even a cursory look at the clean environment = lost jobs argument demonstrates its illogical core.
Let’s start with the true part of what the right-wingers are saying: environmental regulation does cost money. But where is the money going? Towards new technology and equipment to limit the emissions from electrical power generation and other industrial processes.
And that means jobs: jobs to design, build, ship, sell, install, use and maintain the clean air technologies and other jobs to file reports with the government. (I should also admit that over time a much lesser number of jobs will also be lost, as fewer people become ill and the impacts of global warming are mitigated, thus reducing the need for those who make money from such tragedies. But I don’t see why anyone would not want us to lose those related jobs.)
So the billions of dollars to comply with these regulations really is not money lost to the economy, but money transferred from corporate profit to new jobs. To be sure, some corporations may raise prices, which means that the general public will share in the cost of creating these new jobs. But corporations raising prices always runs into the price sensitivity of consumers: if you raise prices too much, fewer people will buy your product. And I don’t believe corporate America is going to stop producing goods and services because the profit margin decreases. I should also point out that tax policy and government programs could help mitigate for the poor the increase in prices that could come from stronger air emission regulations.
Thus, if the Obama Administration had gone through with its original plan to strengthen emission standards the economic impact would have been to:
- Create jobs
- Effect a net transfer of wealth from corporate profit (executives and rich folk) to the unemployed.
But no one in the Obama Administration pointed out that the billions would not be lost but essentially transferred from groups with money to the unemployed. No one pointed out that the new environmental regulations would not destroy jobs but create them. And no one pointed out that the end result of this transfer of wealth would be cleaner air, which would help slow down global warming and result in a healthier population.
In short, instead of challenging the false premises of the rightwing, Obama threw in his cards and threw up his hands.
The Obama Administration released some weasely words about wanting to keep reducing paperwork. (Another red herring, because paperwork creates jobs, as companies need people to measure stuff and fill out the forms. To complete the circle on paperwork, the burden on small businesses is not great, since virtually all government paperwork and regulation beyond taxes and business structure is for companies with 15 or more employees, which is quite a nice sized business.)
I have three theories about why Obama has turned out to be Republican except in name:
- Like Jack Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, he hasn’t had enough experience in politics to be an effective wielder of power.
- Obama always was a right-winger and we misinterpreted him or he lied to us to get elected, much like the head of the Dover, Pennsylvania school board lied in a deposition about who funded the purchase of creationist literature to avoid the judge making a pre-trial ruling against the use of the claptrap in the school (see page 145, Charles Pierce’s Idiot America).
- He is feeding from the same trough as the Republicans, that is, depending on right-wing business interests for campaign funding and future considerations.
I don’t know which one it is or if it’s something else, but the result is the same. Unlike Bill Clinton, who stood down the Republicans on the federal government shutdown or Lyndon Johnson, the ultimate velvet sledgehammer when it came to making people do the right thing (and in the tragic case of the Viet Nam War, the wrong thing, too), Obama has proven to be spinelessly ineffective.