Missed Targets


Roe: Missed Targets

Trevor Roe tries, in a commentary published in the Roanoke, VA Times, to impose his interpretation on a number of economic issues. In my opinion, he raises more questions than he answers.
He begins by saying raising the minimum wage would increase costs too much on restaurants. European restaurants had a system more than forty years ago that included service in food prices, making tips unnecessary. Americans couldn’t do the same? And other areas of the economy, like WalMart, America’s largest employer, are more stable.
Mr. Roe doesn’t like labor unions, though he concedes they were valuable half a century ago. He accuses them of precipitating movements of factories to non-union areas and other countries since then. Perhaps, as he says, anti-company extremists caused the decline of union membership. Maybe that, and the relocation of factories, is a chicken and egg question. Was it the unions that made businesses unprofitable, or did they move their operations because they disliked unions? Businesses have disliked unions for well over a hundred years, and have expressed their dislike violently more than once. Relocating factories to other countries makes me wonder why. Reports from China, for instance, suggest they value the freedom to mistreat employees and not worry that their actions harm the environment.
I can’t disagree with Mr. Roe that universities charge too much tuition, and that community colleges give much better value for those needing a degree to get a decent job. Things I have read elsewhere suggest that those providing college loans have oversold their services to people who don’t know how to judge the value of that sort of education, which I think is not for everyone. Some might do better learning plumbing or various kinds of repair necessary for our technological society, which they might be able to learn in apprenticeship programs, for instance. I was fortunate to get my degree with less than $15,000 of debt from government loans. I also worked while I studied, as Mr. Roe says he did.
We know that Republicans were at one time concerned about healthcare. The Affordable Care Act was based on the system implemented by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, but Republicans couldn’t stand that a Democrat should make it a nation-wide system. Should tort reform be included in the act, or would that be a way to evade responsibility?
I have little problem with the refusal to fund “one or two particular types” of birth control. The real challenge to it comes from the threat to defund Planned Parenthood and similar organizations for allegedly selling “baby parts” gleaned from abortions. That has been called a lie. There’s reason to be upset if it is not, but conservatives seem to want to outlaw family planning by other methods than abortion as well, and make it more difficult for women to get the healthcare they specifically need.
Mr. Roe says that Democrats (only Democrats?) have gutted the Social Security Trust Fund, taxed Social Security benefits, and want to submit higher income Americans to a “means test”. I don’t know if all of that is true or not, but why SHOULDN’T all Americans contribute to Social Security? My taxes support education, though I have no children of my own. They also support the military, though I don’t appreciate how much of that money is spent. Is there some group of Americans who has the right to determine how their taxes get spent when I don’t?
I lack the expertise to know if Mr. Roe is correct in saying that raising the tax rate on capital gains would penalize seniors with 401Ks and IRAs. Republicans, he says, have promised to address inequities in hedge funds. Shall we wait to see if they actually do it?
When it comes to income inequality, Mr. Roe’s view seems a bit outdated. He says most countries envy the standard of living enjoyed by the poor here. Is it our increasing homelessness (including children) they envy? Or the expenses imposed by accident or major illness? Those are devastating to people only getting by to begin with. No reasonable person expects equal outcomes, but the equal opportunities part of the equation has changed, along with the removal of factories and other forms of work to other parts of the country and other countries. Those selling student loans get much of their leverage from the fact that there are fewer ways to make a decent living without a college degree. Factories were one of the ways providing that opportunity, after unions helped provide decent wages.
Mr. Roe’s piece is remarkable for its sympathy for employers and lack of sympathy for employees, which makes his view biased. When he talks about the competitive global economy as one of the reasons for decline in union membership (read off-shoring of factories), he raises the question of what group of consumers the global economy is competing for. Henry Ford’s partner thought it made sense to pay workers well, so they could buy the products they built. Is that such a terrible idea, or does ideology forbid? Certainly other corporations at that time didn’t like the idea then, and don’t like it now. Is paying employees as little as possible a necessary part of capitalism, or could that work differently? Reportedly, it does in Germany, which has perhaps the strongest economy in Europe. And how does vastly overpaying CEOs (apparently even when incompetent) make corporations more competitive when paying ordinary workers does not? That doesn’t seem to be a question Mr. Roe is interested in answering.
Mr. Roe in this piece is answering a previous column, and declares that its author missed all of the targets he shot at. I don’t think he hit all of them himself.


3 thoughts on “Missed Targets

  1. Alexander Scala

    Allen – I commend your patience in discussing Trevor Roe’s
    commentary. Roe’s screed is apparently another expression of the “Kansas” syndrome — that is, the puzzling tendency of many comparatively poor Americans to vote against their own pecuniary interests, as most voters in economically distressed Kansas do. This behavior runs counter to the assumption, essential to market economics, that people will
    make decisions on the basis of enlightened self-interest.

    My own view is that you can sum up the reason for the apparent anomaly in the phrase, “Man does not live by bread alone.” Much of the time, he also lives by hatred, anger, envy and fear, the Four Horseman of the populist Apocalypse. The gratifications associated with these states of mind are better than money for those who succumb to them. For example, it’s gratifying, and without risk, to attack the poor; it’s no less gratifying to regard the rich with servile awe. In the latter case, another text is relevant: “Yea, though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”

    These tendencies are especially pronounced in the South and the lower Midwest, but they occur everywhere in the US — and everywhere in Canada as well. Canada has many points in common with the American South. This is so largely because Engish Canada was settled in the first instance by people who had rejected the American Revolution and whose descendants, like many Southerners, retain a stronger sense of social hierarchy than you’ll find elsewhere in North America. There’s also the fact that much of eastern Canada is in effect an extension of Appalachia. In any case, go a few miles east of where I’m sitting at this moment and you’ll find a region of rural poverty quite as given to the tendencies that Trevor Roe expresses as any place in the US.

    In any case, it’s pleasant to see someone keep his aplomb in the face of the provocations provided by the likes of Mr. Roe.
    Gail has been hearing on her Facebook page from a number of people she and I went to high school with. Most of them vastly admire Trump. The exception is a fellow who was a friend of mine back in grade school. Your pieces remind me of his patient attempts to oppose reason to the frothings of our fellow former classmates. He’s made no converts, though: they’re all having too good a time being perpetually enraged.


    • Dear Julian,

      I’m glad you liked this one. I’ve been inspired by several right-wing people on Facebook, one of whom decided to friend me a couple of months ago, probably with the idea of trying to persuade me that his views are correct. Of course I’m inspired to make my own views clear.
      The other night when I wasn’t sleeping I had a dialogue (or trialogue) with him and another guy until one of them pulled the plug. Guess I didn’t treat their dogma with enough respect.
      I tried to think what I might have said that offended, and remembered two things, but am not sure if either was the trigger. One of them said the free market would regulate itself, so I asked if monopolies was an example. He said that monopolies had to do with the government. I said that Lyndon Johnson’s father at the beginning of the 20th century was a politician who was known for never taking a bribe, which means that bribery had been business as usual for quite some time, probably from near the beginning of the industrial revolution, so that people were able to form monopolies probably as soon as the idea occurred to them.
      I also mentioned racism, and the guy seemed to me to be saying there wasn’t any such thing, and that belief in it indicated one was a leftist. I replied that denial of it indicated one was a rightist. We’ll see if that one speaks to me again.
      The other, the one who friended me, remarked a day later, that Obamacare was the greatest job-destroyer in history. I said, not up to the Great Depression yet. He disagreed, so I told him how my mother had told me that her father had lost either 1/3 or 2/3 or his income, but that they were better off than a lot of their neighbors, who didn’t have anything. No reply to that one.

      Best wishes,


      • Alexander Scala

        Allen –

        Your message came just before we were snatched off into the maelstrom of the holidays.  In other words, we left the following morning to spend Christmas at the other end of the province with Clelia and her family. We returned to Kingston, shortly before the year expired, in the wake of a savage winter storm on a bus that became the venue for a melee among half-a-dozen of the passangers.  Now we’re contemplating a landscape that’s glaringly white as far as the eye can see.  January in Canada!  A phrase to inspire horror and dread.

        I don’t have Facebook, but Gail does, and she’s been receiving posts for the past few months from a number of people we went to high school with whose politics are similar to those of the Facebook Friends you describe.  Since it’s not my Facebook page, I don’t reply, and Gail only rarely puts an oar in.  For the most part, we simply look on in rigid horror.  Still, we have no reason to be surprised by the news that many of our former classmates like Trump, hate minorities, admire the rich, love the police, etc.  Pearl River, New York, is not twenty miles from Manhattan, but it may as well be on the dark side of the moon. (In general, though, the cosmopolitan influence of cities, to the extent that it exists, doesn’t extend any distance beyond the city limits.  As far as that goes, Trump is from Queens.)

        What’s striking about what your Facebook correspondents and our old high- school associates have to say is the romantic hyperbole with which they say it.  Obamacare isn’t simply a fairly lousy program borrowed from the Republicans — it’s the worst job-destroyer in history!   *Any* limit on gun ownership is a dagger aimed at the heart of the Constitution.  *Any* complaint by African-Americans about police violence is a call for black revolution and the overthrow of the government.  On the other hand, the government is a vast conspiracy against the liberties of the people — unless, of course, the president is a Republican or the people in question are not white.  The whole subject of right-wing rhetoric deserves closer scrutiny than it has received so far.  I recall a conversation I had many years ago with a white Rhodesian who was visiting Toronto with a view to settling there; this was when the Ian Smith government was beginning to lose ground against the black insurgency.  I’d been fairly rude to him, and his feelings were hurt. As he was leaving (we were in my friend Don’s record store), he paused in the doorway and made a long, emotional speech to this effect: they might put a gun in his hand when he got off the plane in Rhodesia.  They might send him out to the bush to fight.  He might very well be killed. But he knew his duty to his God and to his race — he wouldn’t turn his back on a righteous cause.  By the time he was through (and it’s difficult to convey the uprightness of his posture or the faint tremor in his voice as he unloaded this stuff), he’d completely forgotten about his plans to liquidate his assets in Salisbury and vamoose to Canada. (No doubt he remembered them later.)  Confederates must have deployed similar rhetoric during the Civil War.  In fact, it’s probably a good rule of thumb to say that the fancier the patter, the worse the cause.

        I liked your recent piece on political correctness, especially your observation that the right can dish it out but can’t take it.

        Best, Julian

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