Mainstream media figures, following in the footsteps of conservative media, are trying to manufacture a scandal out of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent argument against trickle-down economics by stripping her comments of context to falsely cast them as a controversial gaffe or a flip-flop on previous statements about trade.
Conservative media outlets rushed to vilify Clinton's stance after she pushed for a minimum wage increase and warned against the myth that businesses create jobs through trickle-down economics at an October 24 campaign event for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley (D). Breitbart.com complained, “Clinton told the crowd ... not to listen to anybody who says that 'businesses create jobs,'” conservative radio host Howie Carr said the comments showed Clinton's “true moonbat colors,” while FoxNews.com promoted the Washington Free Beacon's accusation that she said “businesses and corporations are not the job creators of America.”
Mainstream media soon jumped on the bandwagon.
CNN host John King presented Clinton's comments as a fumble “a little reminiscent there of Mitt Romney saying corporations are people, too,” and USA Today called the comments “An odd moment from Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail Friday - and one she may regret.” In an article egregiously headlined, “Hillary Clinton No Longer Believes That Companies Create Jobs,” Bloomberg's Jonathan Allen stripped away any context from Clinton's words in order to accuse her of having “flip-flopped on whether companies create jobs,” because she has previously discussed the need to keep American companies competitive abroad.
Taken in context, Clinton's comments are almost entirely unremarkable -- and certainly don't conflict with the philosophy that trade can contribute to job growth, as Allen suggests. The full transcript of her remarks shows she was making the established observation that minimum wage increases can boost a sluggish economy by generating demand, and that tax breaks for the rich don't necessarily move companies to create jobs:
CLINTON: Don't let anybody tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. They always say that. I've been through this. My husband gave working families a raise in the 1990s. I voted to raise the minimum wage and guess what? Millions of jobs were created or paid better and more families were more secure. That's what we want to see here, and that's what we want to see across the country.
And don't let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know, that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried. That has failed. That has failed rather spectacularly.
One of the things my husband says, when people say, what did you bring to Washington? He says, well I brought arithmetic. And part of it was he demonstrated why trickle down should be consigned to the trash bin of history. More tax cuts for the top and for companies that ship jobs over seas while taxpayers and voters are stuck paying the freight just doesn't add up. Now that kind of thinking might win you an award for outsourcing excellence, but Massachusetts can do better than that. Martha understands it. She knows you have to create jobs from everyone working together and taking the advantages of this great state and putting them to work.
Economic experts agree that job growth is tied to the economic security of the middle class.
U.S. economic growth has historically relied on consumer spending, and middle class consumers are “the true job creators,” Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out. Right now, the U.S. economy is "demand-starved," as Economic Policy Institute's (EPI) Joshua Smith puts it. Steiglitz says that, of all the problems facing the U.S. economy, “The most immediate is that our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth.”
In a testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, economist Heather Boushey noted that “It is demand for goods and services, backed up by an ability to pay for them, which drives economic growth” and “The hollowing out of our middle class limits our nation's capacity to grow unless firms can find new customers.”
UC Berkeley economist Robert Reich agrees that the problem in the U.S. economy is demand. “Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell,” he writes, and places the blame on low paychecks and growing inequality: “The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping... Consumers can't and won't buy more.” He says the key to job growth is “reigniting demand” by “putting more money in consumers' pockets.” From The Huffington Post:
Can we get real for a moment? Businesses don't need more financial incentives. They're already sitting on a vast cash horde estimated to be upwards of $1.6 trillion. Besides, large and middle-sized companies are having no difficulty getting loans at bargain-basement rates, courtesy of the Fed.
In consequence, businesses are already spending as much as they can justify economically. Almost two-thirds of the measly growth in the economy so far this year has come from businesses rebuilding their inventories. But without more consumer spending, there's they won't spend more. A robust economy can't be built on inventory replacements.
The problem isn't on the supply side. It's on the demand side. Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell.
The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping, adjusted for inflation.
Clinton's emphasis on the minimum wage is supported by economic experts as well. Reich says that raising the minimum wage is an effective way to generate the consumer demand that would spur job growth. It “would put money in the pockets of millions of low-wage workers who will spend it -- thereby giving working families and the overall economy a boost, and creating jobs.” He also rejected critics' claims that giving low income-earners a raise hurts job growth: “When I was Labor Secretary in 1996 and we raised the minimum wage, business predicted millions of job losses; in fact, we had more job gains over the next four years than in any comparable period in American history.”
EPI called the minimum wage a "critically important issue" that “would provide a modest stimulus to the entire economy, as increased wages would lead to increased consumer spending, which would contribute to GDP growth and modest employment gains” (emphasis added):
The immediate benefits of a minimum-wage increase are in the boosted earnings of the lowest-paid workers, but its positive effects would far exceed this extra income. Recent research reveals that, despite skeptics' claims, raising the minimum wage does not cause job loss. In fact, throughout the nation, a minimum-wage increase under current labor market conditions would create jobs. Like unemployment insurance benefits or tax breaks for low- and middle-income workers, raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of working families when they need it most, thereby augmenting their spending power. Economists generally recognize that low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to spend any extra earnings immediately on previously unaffordable basic needs or services.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by July 1, 2015, would give an additional $51.5 billion over the phase-in period to directly and indirectly affected workers, who would, in turn, spend those extra earnings. Indirectly affected workers--those earning close to, but still above, the proposed new minimum wage--would likely receive a boost in earnings due to the “spillover” effect (Shierholz 2009), giving them more to spend on necessities.
This projected rise in consumer spending is critical to any recovery, especially when weak consumer demand is one of the most significant factors holding back new hiring (Izzo 2011). Though the stimulus from a minimum-wage increase is smaller than the boost created by, for example, unemployment insurance benefits, it has the crucial advantage of not imposing costs on the public sector.
The economic benefits of a minimum wage increase are widely accepted. Over 600 economists signed a recent letter supporting an increase, arguing, “Research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth, and providing some help on the jobs front.”