Theyre saying prayers in the churches of Greenville, Michigan these days for the 2,781 employees who will lose their jobs when Electrolux Home Products closes its refrigerator plant there in November, 2005.
The prayers are for the soul of Greenville itself, because it‘s anyone‘s guess as to how this small town 35 miles north of Grand Rapids will survive without its largest employer.
Maybe they should say prayers for all of America, because as Greenville goes, so goes the nation.
Shades of H. Ross Perot and the giant sucking sound as our country is vacuumed of its manufacturing jobs. Shouldn‘t job loss be the top issue in the presidential election? Ideas on universal health care, prescription drug benefits, education and such are dandy, but if jobs keep disappearing, we‘ll have trouble here keeping social services on par with India.
In Greenville, the Electrolux company says it can save $81 million per year by moving its operations to Mexico. The company claims it can‘t compete against other manufacturers which have moved operations to countries where low wages and a lack of unions prevail.
Greenville‘s story offers a primer on the hazards of wishful thinking about the jam America is in, from the union hall to the governor‘s office:
Although union employees at Electrolux offered to take pay cuts, it was too little, too late. Although the town offered 20 years of no property taxes along with free land for a new plant and a new parking lot built at local expense, the deal wasn‘t good enough. Although the State of Michigan kicked in $8.7 million for infrastructure improvements and job training programs over the past 12 years, the total package wasn‘t enough to deter Electrolux from heading south of the border.
And no wonder, because according to sources such as the C.I.A.‘s World Fact Book, the per capita income of Mexico is $5,319 per year, compared to $34,858 in the United States.
How do you compete in a world where only money talks?
In India, the average person makes less than $2 per day -- maybe $500 per year. A worker in Russia may make less than $4 per day, with per capita income of $1,745 per year. As noted on “60 Minutes,“ English-speaking college grads in India are lining up for phone consultant jobs at $3,000-$5,000 per year, troubleshooting for U.S. companies that no longer wish to pay for the health benefits and fair wages of our fellow citizens.
All Americans have ever asked for is a level playing field -- unfortunately we‘re getting one on par with the poorest countries of the world.
Wedding bells are ringing
H.L. Mencken once said that a puritan is a person who lies awake nights worrying that someone, somewhere might be enjoying themselves.
That sort of thinking has to be behind the Bush administration‘s idea of spending $1.5 billion to promote the institution of marriage. Apparently, there are millions of conservatives lying awake nights worrying that some gay persons might be getting registered at Marshall Fields for tableware and towels; so we‘re going to pony up $1,500,000,000 for a public relations blitz to support marriage of the regular sort.
Better yet, we‘ll spend millions trying to encourage poor people to get married. That will help the poor learn the painful lesson of how expensive a divorce can be when their bad choice of a government-approved spouse follows its natural course.
Bravo! Here is money wisely and well-spent. People could be encouraged by the government to marry over and over again (as long as they‘re not gay, of course) under the rationale that if a little is good, then pour on the gravy. How about a marriage bounty of $50 for every time you get hitched? Think of the benefit to the wedding industry as the Britney Spears‘ of the world line up to tie the knot whenever the whim strikes.
We could also bring back biblical ideas about marriage under the Bush plan to keep his constituency happy. Trading a camel, for instance, would provide you with two wives and a fine dowry -- throw in a goat and youd get a slave girl to boot -- just like in the Holy Land in the days of yore.
What‘s needed is a celebrity to head this initiative up, like Arnold Schwarzenegger with the President‘s Council on Fitness. How about actor Billy Bob Thornton as Minister of Marriage? He‘s been to the altar five times, most recently with Angelina Jolie -- he knows a lot about getting hitched and would set a good example for the young. Or, perhaps Elizabeth Taylor, who has seven notches in her garter belt.
It could get people excited about the institution of marriage again, even if -- as Mae West once said -- theyre not ready for an institution.