Shortly after taking office Governor John Kasich delivered a message to those who opposed his anti-union and anti worker agenda for “improving” the business climate in Ohio. “Get on the bus” the governor warned, “or we will run you over with it.” Fortunately for millions of working men and women , the Governor’s bus ran out of gas on election day, as Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected Issue 2 and repealed the Governor’s bill to severely curtail collective bargaining rights of public employees.
The defeat of Issue 2 is an important victory for public sector workers. It has always been obvious that the budget problems currently confronting state and local governments result from declining tax revenues due to national, if not global, economic problems. These problems were not created by police, fire fighters, teachers and others employed to provide essential public services, and the vast majority of Ohio voters saw the unfairness in the efforts of Issue 2 supporters to blame public employees and their unions for the worst economic slow-down since the Great Depression.
I would argue, however, that all Ohioans will ultimately share in the fruits of labor’s victory at the polls. Senate Bill 5, had it survived last week’s referendum, would not have created jobs. It would, however, have dealt a serious blow to organized labor, and contributed to the negative economic consequences that follow from measures which weaken the middle class and contribute to the rising tide of income inequality . In recent weeks, a great deal of attention has been paid to a report of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office showing that in the past thirty years, the income of the top 1% of Americans has increased by nearly three hundred percent. Over that same period, the earnings of the average American worker have not seen any meaningful increase.
Nicholas Kristof recently reported in a New York Times article that according to a study by our own C.I.A., the Unites States has a greater degree of income inequality than many industrialized countries. This, he suggests, is a problem, because there is significant economic data to show that in developed countries, those with marked income disparity experience a slower rate of economic growth.
Robert Reich, who served as Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, wrote recently that we will not solve our economic problems until we recognize that income inequality, to the degree it now exists, stands in the way of economic development. According to Reich, “With so much income and wealth concentrated at the top, the vast middle class no longer has the purchasing power to buy what the economy can produce. The result is prolonged stagnation and high unemployment as far as the eye can see.”
For the past thirty years, it has been claimed that lowering taxes on “job creators” is the key to economic growth and general prosperity. Many of the same business and political “leaders” who have advocated this approach have also done all in their power to weaken labor and drive down wages. The result has not been prosperity, but a meteoric increase in the wealth of the wealthiest, accompanied by wage stagnation and declining purchasing power for the majority of Americans. Last week, Ohioans wisely told Governor Kasich that if he really wants a growing economy with more and better jobs, he’d better start driving that bus in a different direction.