Stop saying “job creator”
Capitalists demand our fealty. Let’s stop giving it to them so easily.
One of the blandest pieces of anti-worker propaganda in mainstream business journalism is the concept of “job creation” and its hero, the “job creator.”
Otherwise hard-nosed reporters parrot this phrasing every time a large company sets up shop in their community. Notably, they do not call the CEOs of these companies “job destroyers” when they leave town or lay people off.
The way we use the term “job creation” is always one-sided. We say that the company or its executives “created” a job, erasing everyone else who made the job possible: the dozens of educators who taught the worker from pre-Kindergarten through postsecondary education, the road crew members who paved the streets to the job site, the nannies and care workers who enable a parent to go to work — not to mention the worker filling the position, without whom the “job” is only a listing.
No, the mantle of the “job creator” is reserved for members of the capitalist class, from mom-and-pop store owners up to the wealthiest monopolists on earth. The only time people outside the private sector get to wear the cape is when they prostrate themselves at the feet of corporations, offering lavish corporate tax breaks and publicly funded bribes as a tool of “job creation.”
I doubt any editors of the Associated Press Stylebook read this newsletter, but in case you do: I propose a moratorium on use of the “job creation” trope in all business reporting. Let’s say the company is hiring and leave it at that.
To cite one recent example, here’s how the Raleigh News & Observer announced Apple’s decision to open a new office in Wake County, N.C., in an April 26 article. The headline is “NC finally lands Apple campus, bringing $1 billion and 3,000 jobs to the state,” and here’s how it begins:
After more than three years of courting and an initial snub, North Carolina is finally landing an Apple campus.
Apple plans to invest $1 billion in North Carolina over 10 years, including $552 million to establish a campus in Research Triangle Park where it will create at least 3,000 jobs, according to the state Department of Commerce. The company says it will spend another $448 million expanding its data center in Catawba County but not create new jobs there.
It’s a mostly fair article. The reporters lay out the $845.8 million grant that North Carolina’s Economic Investment Committee promised to Apple, analyze the potential for strain on local infrastructure and inflation in the housing market, and include some principled pushback from a conservative thinktank that doesn’t want the government picking “business winners and losers.”
I can quibble with a few holes in this story, which I hope the reporters will be able to fill in when they write follow-up pieces. I’d like to know if Apple promised to hire a certain percentage of workers locally, as those requirements are often left out or flatly ignored in similar tax-incentive deals. I also think it’s important to note that, even before the $845.8 million sweetheart deal announced this week, North Carolina’s state government and municipalities laid out another $367.8 million in tax subsidies specifically for Apple between 2010 and 2020, according to the Good Jobs First Subsidy Tracker.
Like I said, I’m confident those details will come to light in upcoming stories from the newspaper. But I cringed every time I read a reference to “job creation,” which appears nine times in this article.
Many of those instances came from quotes delivered by a bipartisan panel of state political leaders who practically seal-clapped for Apple Inc. in a press conference outside the governor’s mansion. Here’s a lengthy quote from Republican State Senate Leader Phil Berger:
“There’s a reason this transformative project isn’t happening somewhere else,” Berger said. “We’ve spent 10 years enacting a responsible budget, lowering taxes and making regulations reasonable. The winning formula for job creation.
“That formula combined with education reform and funding is attractive to job creators, big and small,” Berger continued. “Today that job creator happens to be the biggest company in the world.”
It’s not mentioned in the article, but I’m guessing “10 years” refers to the time since Republicans gained control of both chambers of the North Carolina state legislature in 2011.
In that time, the state legislature has slashed corporate, income, and estate taxes; run roughshod over the rights of trans North Carolinians; explicitly sought to disenfranchise Black voters; cut the Earned Income Tax Credit used by low-income residents; grandstanded in defense of racist monuments; redirected public funds to private religious schools; and dismantled environmental regulations even as Duke Energy dumped coal ash into drinking water and hog farms sickened their neighbors with pig shit runoff.
This is what’s known as a business-friendly environment.
In 2018, when Apple first announced its intention to open a second campus somewhere in the U.S., states and municipalities immediately started debasing themselves to earn the company’s favor. North Carolina, for its part, lowered the threshold for investment and new jobs under one of the state’s biggest incentive programs. The N&O reports:
With those changes, a company that creates 3,000 jobs and invests $1 billion can receive a grant equivalent to 90% of its employees’ state income tax payments for up to 30 years, according to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
And wouldn’t you know it, Apple just cleared that bar.
I have often wondered what genius came up with the concept of “job creation” to peddle pro-corporate ideology to the working class. It has all the efficiency and superficial common sense of classic reactionary tropes in the American imagination, like “states’ rights” and “small government.”
I’ve never tracked down the original source of the phrase “job creator,” but one researcher, Reece Peck, has written that Fox News helped popularize it during the Great Recession of the late 2000s as a way to redirect populist anger. Peck subjected himself to hours upon hours of The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity, and Glenn Beck for his 2014 article in Media, Culture & Society, “‘You say rich, I say job creator’: how Fox News framed the Great Recession through the moral discourse of producerism.”
Even as evidence mounted that the unchecked greed of financial institutions had precipitated the economic crisis, Fox hosts succeeded at framing the matter as a result of individual moral failures by poor people who borrowed too much money. And by paraphrasing the old populist division of “producers” versus “parasites” as “makers” versus “takers,” they managed to fold the business elite into the productive, morally upstanding Good Guys of history.
In other words, business owners “made” a “product” everybody wanted: a job.
Peck places Fox News’ Great Recession talking points within the long populist tradition of “producerism,” which spans from the Jeffersonian-Jacksonian producerism of the 19th century (which elevated artisans and farmers and promoted laissez-faire economic policy) through the Progressive-New Deal producerism of the 20th century (which emphasized industrial workers and supported a more active role for government).
Throughout Fox News’s coverage of the Recession, hosts across its leading programs equally referred to the rich as “job creators,” and this term is very important because it is what is used on Fox to define businessmen as part of the laboring class. In an episode of Hannity (2010a) in which Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner asks host Sean Hannity, “do we really need to give millionaires and billionaires a tax cut?” Hannity responds, “you use this word millionaires and billionaires, it sounds pejorative to me … you say rich, let me use another term for rich, job creator, taxpayer.” Recognizing how Weiner’s income-based descriptions of the rich highlight their extreme class difference from Fox viewers, Hannity attempts to reinstate their moral standing with the working class by stressing their identity as “job creators” and economically productive people.
Later, Peck writes: “Fox News commentators emphatically argue that the wealthy are workers too. More, they are often framed as the hardest workers.”
Too often when a corporation gets a valentine from its admirers in local government, we only hear from conservative libertarians voicing their opposition. The conservative John Locke Foundation took an open stance against Apple in North Carolina this week, and years ago I remember Mark Sanford taking such lonely stands against deals like the Bass Pro Shops boondoggle in South Carolina.
There is a principled leftist position to stake out, too. Every dollar shelled out to a megacorporation is another dollar taken from public goods and services, and economists routinely find that the damage outweighs the benefit. Nationwide, corporate tax abatements cost public school districts $2.37 billion in foregone revenue in fiscal year 2019 alone, according to a study by Good Jobs First. And the promises of good-paying, steady jobs for locals are often illusory, as I wrote in the newsletter in September.
The system that lionizes the “job creator” and demands our fealty can feel inevitable and inescapable. To paraphrase Ursula Le Guin, so did the divine right of kings. We can build a better world, but first we have to imagine it.
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