Employment numbers and criminal regimes
The jobs numbers look good on the surface, but wage growth is flat. Shouldn't market forces dictate that a shortage of labor supply would drive up the price (i.e. wages)? But it's not happening. | Seth Perlman / AP

I’m a cultural historian, not an economist. But, like most of you, I know that news headlines often mask more than they reveal, and so I have three brief comments about the most recent U.S. employment numbers. The third tells me more than I (and probably you) want to know.

First, we actually have no idea the numbers of people actually unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics counts Americans “seeking employment.” It ignores people laid off at middle age who have given up, the disabled who cannot find work and are essentially dying as social services are cut and dismantled, and the vast numbers that our gigantic prison system (world’s largest!) make unemployable.

Second, it’s astonishing, and would confuse classical liberal economists like Adam Smith and David Ricardo, that low unemployment coincides with so little growth in wages. In fact, wages and inflation are neck and neck. This seems to baffle economists—whether liberal and conservative—both of who maintain a touchingly sentimental attachment to notions of market rationality.

What’s being ignored here concerns the current state of the post-industrial economy in which contract workers in all parts of the system (including academia and the public sector), fast food workers, call center service agents, and everyone who lives in the world of cubicle corporate life, are “employed” in incredibly precarious situations, earning wages that barely allow them to get by and stingy to non-existent benefits.

The recovery from the freefall recession of 2007-08 has increased the wealth gap and given urgency to that decades’ old slogan: “Where’s my bailout?” Sorry, we’ve collectively said, you are so small that it’s okay for you to fail.

Certainly don’t expect any help from this administration of billionaires whose corruptions are of the same genus as those previous ruling classes, with the exception that their background in celebrity culture encourages them to wallow in it in front of us, daring anyone to challenge their behavior.

Finally, there’s another side to the minor (these days) kerfuffle over Trump once again breaking precedent and announcing the positive nature of the report before the Labor Statistics could officially do so. It may seem a small thing for a leader who lies with astonishing regularity, sometimes exalting in his ability to do so, occasionally telling contradictory falsehoods in one brief statement.  In this case, he may have violated a federal law that regards such announcements as low-intensity insider trading. Maybe. Maybe not.

The larger point concerns Trumps’ leadership of a criminal regime. I know it’s simultaneously a powerful and elastic phrase that we could apply with some accuracy to Southern state governments during Jim Crow, Nazi Germany, Putin’s oligarchy, and the House of Saud’s theocracy in Arabia. But the Trump regime functions in this way by any definition. And the president takes pride in this.

He broke precedent because he knows he can. He’s the man who bragged he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and wouldn’t lose voters

I know a tweet on employment numbers represents a small matter in relation to such a statement or matters such as: the Trump campaign’s likely collusion with authoritarian regimes, his threats against American citizens, or his use of the term “animals” to describe gang members in an attempt to legitimate atrocities against any immigrant person in the U.S. It’s perhaps not even on the same level as attacking Samantha Bee for her use of a vulgarity about his daughter when this same man once told Howard Stern he could call Ivanka Trump “a piece of ass.”

It’s chilling because it offers another reminder that he believes he can do anything. It should make his supporters, overwhelmingly white and thus often exempt from the worst this country has done, awaken to the reality that he will do anything to them if it suits him. It’s not that he’s indecent. It’s not that we haven’t had criminal’s serve in the executive office before. It’s just that this one wants to flaunt it, doesn’t bother to hide his complete lack of regard for the rule of law. He will do anything to you. He’s counting on you letting him.

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W. Scott Poole
W. Scott Poole

Scott Poole is Professor and Associate Chair, Department of History at College of Charleston. He is the author of Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror.