The Coal Misdirection

Dean BakerDean Baker wrote a great article yesterday, Why Do the Media Give So Much More Attention to Jobs We Lose Due to Environmental Restrictions Than Jobs We Lose Because of the Trade Deficit? And he actually answers half the question. I answer the rest.

The issue is that in the entire United States, there are less than 80,000 people who work in the coal industry. Is that a lot? Well, there are roughly 138 million jobs in the country. So that’s less than 0.06% of our work force. It would seem that this is not an industry that we should be all that concerned about. What’s more, as I discussed on Tuesday, because of changes in the way the coal industry is managed, coal jobs have been disappearing for decades. Baker noted that during the eight years from 1985 to 1993 (You know: the Reagan and Bush years!) the coal industry cut 80,000 jobs. And that was when there were fewer people in the work force and so the jobs lost was a bigger deal. As Baker noted, “I don’t recall anywhere near the same focus on this far more serious hit to coal country.”

Meanwhile, our country has seen a sharp rise in its trade deficit. This deficit is due to our strong dollar. It is cheaper for us to buy imported products and more expensive for other countries to buy our exported products. The increase in the deficit represents roughly 700,000 jobs, by Baker’s estimate. That’s in one year. Yet what is everyone talking about: the fact that some coal jobs will be lost because of new power plant regulations—regulations that will take effect over the course of 16 years. So even if all the coal jobs were lost (and they won’t be—not even close), that would be a loss of 5,000 jobs per year. This is an amount that likely could be accommodated by attrition alone. Regardless, this is less than one percent of the jobs lost due to our trade deficit.

So why does this get so little attention? Simple: the strong dollar is great for the rich. If you already have money, it is best that the money be worth as much as possible. But if you aren’t rich and don’t have a job, a strong dollar is bad. But it is worse than that. Baker pointed out that certain businesses you’ve heard of depend upon a strong dollar so they can continue to sell cheap imported goods to the working poor:

Walmart has spent decades building up low-cost supply chains throughout the world. It is not anxious to see the price of the goods it is importing increase by 15 to 20 percent due to a lower valued dollar. Similarly General Electric and other major manufacturers have set up operations in Mexico, China, and other low-wage countries. They don’t want to lose the advantage they get from cheap labor by seeing the dollar fall in value relative to the currencies of these countries.

Of course, this alone doesn’t explain why journalists aren’t interested in the subject. To understand that, you have to look to Chris Hedges in Death of the Liberal Class. The upper middle class who are our journalists and economists are supposed to be the ones who make the democracy work. They are supposed stop the excesses at the top. They are supposed to keep inequality in check, for example. Chris HedgesAs a class, that’s what they’re paid for. But over the last four decades, they’ve fallen down on the job and allowed our country to become effectively a plutocracy. That’s why our mainstream journalists focus on tiny issues, getting the people worried about an issue (eg coal) that is really all about how much money owners will make in profit. And that’s why the mainstream journalists ignore huge issues, letting the people stay ignorant of an issue (eg the trade deficit) that is hurting the people themselves.

I am not saying, however, that the journalists know they are doing this. It is just that over the years, the culture of journalism has lost its way. Fundamentally, it is about laziness. The “liberal class” thinks it deserves its decent lifestyle. It has forgotten that those lifestyles were provided for doing real work. And that work was not to be the apologists of the rule elites.


Just to be clear, Dean Baker is doing great work as an economist and Chris Hedges is doing great work as a journalist. But the vast majority of the economists and journalists are nothing but lazy apologists for the power elite.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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