The Billionaire Hypocrisy of Helping the Poor

There's one thing that both progressives and conservatives can agree on, and they can quote both FDR and Ronald Reagan on it.

And that is that, "The best welfare program is a job."

FDR extended the idea to say that when there are no jobs, the government should act as an employer of last resort.

But Ronald Reagan supported the fantasy that rich people will simply create jobs out of sheer benevolence if we just cut their taxes and tear down pesky financial and trade regulations.

And Ronald Reagan was right in some twisted way, by lifting trade barriers and financial regulations, the richest among us created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

There's just one problem.

The jobs that got created are overseas, in China, in Vietnam, in Malaysia and in Mexico.

And all of those jobs came at the expense of someone else's job, right here at home.

Back in 1998 Nike Chairman Phil Knight explained all the wonderful benefits of "international trade" in a speech at New Mexico State University.

He said "During the 1990s, all our experiences have caused us to really believe in the benefits of international trade. The uplifting of impoverished people, the better values for consumers in industrialized nations, and most of all, the increased understandings between peoples of different cultures."

Which sounds great, if you can look at so-called "free trade" through the rose-tinted glasses of an executive at a multinational corporation.

But, it's another story if you're looking at it through the eyes of the average worker in one of the American factories that shut down so that the parent multinational could reap the benefits of so-called free trade.

Drive across any part of the Rust Belt and you'll see all the shuttered factories that used to be the backbone of American industry.

Or drive through the Deep South and drive through towns that used to house factories that made clothes, bikes, furniture, and high quality TV sets.

In fact, you can drive to any corner of America and find dilapidated factories that hold the ghosts of millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs.

Those towns are at the focus of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Paul Theroux called "The Hypocrisy of 'Helping' the Poor", in which he wrote:

"I found towns in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas that looked like towns in Zimbabwe, just as overlooked and beleaguered. It's globalization, people say. Everyone knows that, everyone moans about it. Big companies have always sought cheap labor… looking for the hungriest, the most desperate, the least organized, the most exploitable. It has been an American story. What had begun as domestic relocations went global, with such success that many C.E.O.s became self-conscious about their profits and their stupendous salary."

He's right, according to Forbes, some of the biggest philanthropists in the country are the Waltons, the Gates, the Dells, and a number of hedge fund managers.

All of them profited from sending manufacturing overseas, and many of them today say that they're only sending jobs overseas that Americans don't want to do.

In their minds, by sending the "unwanted" jobs abroad, multinationals can "lift people out of their impoverished lives in the developing world".

And then, the logic goes, Americans will find better jobs and also benefit from cheaper goods manufactured overseas.

But the fact of the matter is, Americans do want, and need, those manufacturing jobs.

Americans would be happy to make shoes, TVs, and computers, just like we did for most of the last century.

The difference is that Americans want, demand, and have fought for things like living wages, worker protections, and environmental protections.

And that's the real issue here, the multinationals and the billionaire executives who run them, don't really care about worker well-being.

They care first and foremost about their bottom line, how cheaply goods can be made, and how much they can profit.

That's why even though Nike makes their shoes for somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 a pair in China, they sell them to the American market for hundreds of dollars.

And as they make billions in profits, people like Phil Knight and Tim Cook might hypocritically throw a few hundred thousand here and a couple million there towards charity here in America.

But just like welfare, Americans wouldn't need that charity if we just had good paying jobs at home.

If the richest in America really want to help uplift the most impoverished regions around our own country, they could certainly do it.

The business magnates who have made billions from our insane trade deals, like NAFTA, CAFTA, and potentially now SHAFTA, can stop outsourcing jobs.

They can start re-opening factories and build new manufacturing facilities right here in America.

As Paul Theroux points out in his piece "...[S]ome chief executives won't end up multibillionaires as a result, but neither will they have to provide charity to lift Americans out of poverty.".

Charity is just the private sector patching holes in the social safety net.

And the best social safety net, the best welfare program, is a good-paying job.

It's time to stop the so-called "free trade" insanity and bring our jobs home now!


John Pranke's picture
John Pranke 7 years 24 weeks ago

I've wondered about the philanthropy of the billionaires. Do the so called not for profit T-Party groups count as a charity?

Georga Grivois's picture
Georga Grivois 7 years 24 weeks ago

How is the TPP different than NAFTA ,CHAFTA ?

DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 7 years 24 weeks ago

Ouch. Dare we talk about the hypocrisy of Democrats and liberals on the very rare occasion that they mention our poverty crisis (and then, only in self-serving terms)? It is the (Clinton) Democrats, not the Republicans, who brought the war on the poor to fruition, and moved on to begin "reforming" Social Security, targeting the disabled. Liberals said, "Cool," and have been waving the banner of middle class elitism ever since.

The US created a hell of a poverty crisis. In real life (and to my knowledge, we're stuck with reality), not everyone can work, and there aren't jobs for all. The US shipped out a huge chunk of our working class jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare in the 1990s. In defiance of all logic, our bourgeoisie imagine there are no consequences. Conditions in the US are so bad that the overall life expectancy of our poor (unlike those in the modern nations) has actually been on a downhill slide. Liberals respond with... right.

RFord's picture
RFord 7 years 24 weeks ago

CEOs try to sell us BS but I'm not buying. What? We should be grateful that they exploit workers, many of them children, in other countries for us? They say they're outsourceing jobs we don't want to do. Sure not for $2 a day!

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 7 years 24 weeks ago

Ohhh, but if the government creates jobs...that's Socialism!!! A guy with a county job commented on my Bernie bumper sticker the other day. He asked.... don't you realize Sanders is a Socialist??? So I told the guy with the Socialist job, who is against Socialism, to read Bernie's platform and get back to me on anything he disagrees with.

Unregulated Capitalism is the problem....Democratic Socialism is the solution. Next time I see a Trump for President bumper sticker, if I get a chance, you can bet I'll ask , don't you know that Trump is an out of control Capitalist?

CopyOwner 7 years 24 weeks ago

Leaving aside the substance, which is still secret, available only to a few special interest lobbyists and various government actors, there are several differences we know of now.

1. This agreement includes more nations, and they are strategically selected to create a juggernaut for all other countries. Pretty much any nation that wants an international trade agreement with any other nation will eventually bump up against the TPP members, who have already agreed, in restraint of free trade, to not agree to (or insist on agreement to, as the case may be) certain terms and conditions in all of their agreements with non-party nations. So even though it is a small number of countries, it carries serious global clout.

2. The agreement represents the worst of any deal. We know this because these countries were unable to get global bodies, such as the WTO or (for purposes of so-called intellectual property) WIPO, to agree to these terms. The merits of the U.S. corporate position and its power of persuasion was no match for nations that had no skin in the game of cowtowing to the wealthy. So what they did instead was do their own deal, and then they can say to the world, "you may not agree, but if you want to deal with us, we are bound, by this deal, to insist on certain non-negotiable terms." If this were private industry, it would be what we call a felony violation of the Sherman Act in the U.S. But instead, these corporations simply bought access to our government, which is immune from Sherman Act antitrust liability.

3. Finally, this one is different in the humor arena. It has been the most secretive of all, for fear that if we, the people, knew the terms being negotiated, we would make a big ruckus. On the other hand, this most un-transparent and corrupt of all agreements contains a "Transparency and Anti-Corruption Chapter":

delster's picture
delster 7 years 24 weeks ago

As a former small business owner and employer I have my own perspective on corporate operations. I believe from my experience working with multinational coprorations that they are wasteful, inefficient, and unsustainable. They are behemiths just like dinasours

and their way to survive is usarius and exploitive and that is why they outsource. It's survival. I've always believed that small business is what keeps the employment and opportunity going, how ever small business is hard to come by today. Outside of certain trades small businesses have been aquired by corporations who found a way to lasoe

a service or trade industry by gobbling up all the competitors and running all the independents out of business. It is a trend that cannot be denied. It's also price fixing,

monopolizing, and unethical and unfair competition. Small munufacureres sell out to corporate holding companies who inturn are supported by investors etc. Because of their inefficient (leaky bucket ) strategy they are forced to outsource to balance the books in order to satify investors. The wall street strategy is not the most stable incubator for business or investors and sooner or later it crashes because its designed to fail. It is designed for short term (boom and bust) gain and not slow stable sustainable growth. I believe a more Amish mentality in business with a little neighbor to neighbor socialism will serve us much better, but it won't satisfy the greed of most US citizens. It's in our culture to be wasteful, lazy, self serving gamblers.

Penny Rewis 7 years 24 weeks ago

Reagan's "treacle down" economics (slow as molasses in Antarctica) didn't promise the jobs would be in the good ol' USA. The free trade agreements work the opposite of as advertised with NAFTA which purported to level living standards in North America by raising the living standard of Mexico, PanAmerica, etc. Like treacle down economics, NAFTA also worked a--backwards, pushing living standards down, down, down.

Most people want the opportunity to improve their situation. That's not wasteful, lazy, or self-serving. And most want their fellows to also have that opportunity.

Delivering pizzas for Domino's will not lead to a franchise ownership and most of the jobs created since 2008 are just as dead end as delivering pizza.

I'm on the downside of 65 and I wonder EVERYDAY where did we, as a country, a super power, go wrong. Somewhere, since 1944, we took the "right" fork in the road until we've almost come full circle to pre-FDR!

Penny Rewis 7 years 24 weeks ago

In my county (in south Georgia) I haven't seen any Bernie stickers other than my own which are so small as to be unseen or ignored. I opted for window paint and did GREAT HUGE "BERNIE IN 2016" on my auto, storm door glass, etc.

I've printed copies of the platform and offered them to have them refused! How do you crack a closed mind?!

dr818dr's picture
dr818dr 7 years 23 weeks ago


I can't argue with anything that you said. I can however argue with what you didn't say and what I've never seen you mention. Why is it wrong for businesses to send jobs out of the country for the cheap labor but it's okay to import workers who provide cheap labor? I've never seen you write anything about illegal aliens and the terrible impact they have on our unemployment, our wage supression and the massive amounts of government benifits that we give to those who can't find a job or can't get the hours they need.

If we somehow brought those jobs back and reopened the factories and we offered the 11-20 million illegal aliens amnesty who do you think will get hired for those jobs? Even if some of the jobs require higher skill levels the high level of unemployment will supress those wages.

Even Bernie, who has rightfully said we need to control all immigration is ready to legalize every person that's here illegally so he can lock up the Hispanic vote.

C'mon Thom, address this issue.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 7 years 23 weeks ago

Dr818dr, Thom has talked plenty about the Republicans turning a blind eye to illegal employers (those that hire illegal immigrants) because it increases the labor supply, thereby lowering labor prices (wages).

Thom's Blog Is On the Move

Hello All

Thom's blog in this space and moving to a new home.

Please follow us across to - this will be the only place going forward to read Thom's blog posts and articles.

From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"In an age rife with media-inspired confusion and political cowardice, we yearn for a decent, caring, deeply human soul whose grasp of the problems confronting us provides a light by which we can make our way through the quagmire of lies, distortions, pandering, and hollow self-puffery that strips the American Dream of its promise. How lucky we are, then, to have access to the wit, wisdom, and willingness of Thom Hartmann, who shares with us here that very light, grown out of his own life experience."
Mike Farrell, actor, political activist, and author of Just Call Me Mike and Of Mule and Man
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Thom Hartmann channels the best of the American Founders with voice and pen. His deep attachment to a democratic civil society is just the medicine America needs."
Tom Hayden, author of The Long Sixties and director, Peace and Justice Resource Center.
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Thom Hartmann is a creative thinker and committed small-d democrat. He has dealt with a wide range of topics throughout his life, and this book provides an excellent cross section. The Thom Hartmann Reader will make people both angry and motivated to act."
Dean Baker, economist and author of Plunder and Blunder, False Profits, and Taking Economics Seriously