Sunday, January 16, 2005

Repeal the Sinclair-Hyman Act

With friends like Hyman, who needs enemies?

Mark Hyman devoted a recent "Point" to the Davis-Bacon Act, a piece of legislation that ensures that companies that receive federal contracts hire workers at competitive rates.

With a toxic mixture of cynicism and disingenuousness, Hyman argues for the repeal of this act based on (get this) the importance of protecting the civil rights of minorities.

Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who openly calls illegal immigrants (who overwhelmingly work jobs, become citizens, and are Hispanic) “riffraff” and has compared those crossing the border from Mexico into the United States with al-Qaeda terrorists. Caesar Chavez he ain’t.

But this is another one of Hyman’s common rhetorical devices: he argues in favor of a position not for the honestly-held reasons he feels it’s valid, but with an Orwellian-Byzantine construction that makes his motives seem diametrically opposed from what they actually are.

In this case, Hyman says the Davis-Bacon Act was used during the Depression by racist legislators to keep African American workers from being hired for government projects. Despite being irrelevant in terms of the Act’s use today, this characterization is simplistic at best and an outright lie at worst. In fact, civil rights groups today strongly support the Davis-Bacon act because it promises fair wages for workers in blue collar jobs.

Let’s put it in terms Mark can understand: pretend the Hyman family is going on a pleasant Sunday drive when they come to a bridge built over a large river. The bridge was built as part of a federally-funded highway project. Now, in the world we live in (the one where the Davis-Bacon Act is still a reality), Mark can drive across the bridge without a care in the world, safe in the knowledge that the company who contracted to build the bridge had to hire workers at something approximating the going rate for skilled, bridge-building labor in that part of the country.

Now let’s imagine the same scene playing out in Hyman-World, a dark and scary place where companies are free to abuse workers, the government, and the public—a place without the Davis-Bacon Act. In this world, the owners of the company who win the bountiful federal project to build the bridge decide they want to maximize their personal profit. To do this, they need to cut labor costs. So, they bus in unskilled workers from one of the poorest areas of one of the poorest states who jump at the chance to be paid a pittance. They don’t know what they’re doing, but they work cheap, and that lets the owners pocket more of the money the taxpayers have forked over for the bridge. The bridge manages to stay upright for a while, but shoddy workmanship by unskilled labor causes it to deteriorate slowly but steadily. And then, on one Sunday afternoon . . . .

You get the picture. The purpose of this act is to ensure that federal funds get spent appropriately and that taxpayers get what they pay for: well-built public projects that they can use in safety. But because this act puts limitations, albeit completely appropriate and reasonable ones, on what corporate honchos can do, far right conservatives like Hyman think it needs to be done away with. In fact, the only businesses that would find the act restrictive would be those actively attempting to recruit low-wage labor in an attempt to put more taxpayer dollars in the pockets of the owners. Fair wages, value to taxpayers, public safety—it all goes out the window in favor of maximizing corporate profits.

But because he can’t be honest about this reasoning (after all, how many people would actually decline personal safety for bigger corporate profits?), Hyman covers his tracks with a faux concern over civil rights. It’s difficult to decide which is the more despicable act, championing the elimination of an act that helps ensure public safety and value for taxpayers, or shamelessly lying to those it protects to win their allegiance to his cause.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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