Wow. Where to begin tearing apart the worst, most disingenuous op-ed I’ve read in a long time: Thomas Geoghegan’s anti-Boeing, but really anti-South, diatribe in today’s Wall Street Journal? Let’s try the beginning, since he gets the misrepresentations started in sentence No. 2:
It seems the president of Boeing was unwise enough to blurt out that his company would move a production line to South Carolina as payback for past strikes by machinists in Seattle.
The word “move” is key, because pro-labor people like Geoghegan have depicted Boeing’s decision to open a production line for its 787 Dreamliner jet in North Charleston, S.C., as a loss to workers in Seattle. In fact, this is a new production line; the existing production line will remain in place.
I’m sure the workers in Seattle — or, more precisely, the union leaders whom their union dues pay — would have liked for the new jobs to be in Seattle (in addition to the 2,000 jobs Boeing has added there despite its alleged hostility to unions there, but I digress). Geoghegan, however, is trying to suggest workers in Seattle are losing something they never had. That’s never true.
Alas, it gets worse. See if you can spot the twin rhetorical sleights of hand in this sentence:
Why is Boeing…moving work on the Dreamliner from a high-skill work force ($28 an hour on average) to a much lower-wage work force ($14 an hour starting wage)?
Good for those of you who noticed that Geoghegan not only conflated “high-skill work force” with “lower-wage work force” — as if wages reflect only one’s skills, and not other factors such as cost of living and labor-market competition — but also compared an average wage to a starting wage.
How important is the second trick, comparing average wages to starting wages? Pretty important, as becomes clear when we compare apples to apples. Geoghegan didn’t cite the source for the statistics in his comparison. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
A difference of $1.74 an hour sounds a lot less menacing than a difference of $14 an hour, huh?
That’s particularly true when we consider that earning $40,144 ($19.30 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) in Charleston-North Charleston, S.C., is equivalent, from a cost-of-living standpoint, to $45,426 in Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. — or more than the $43,763 to which $21.04 an hour extrapolates over the course of a year.
In other words, manufacturing workers in North Charleston arguably are better paid than those in Seattle. They must be better-skilled!
Geoghegan more or less gives away the game in the very next paragraph, where he bemoans our trade deficit with other countries:
That’s not because of our labor costs — in that respect, we can undersell most of our high-wage, unionized rivals like Germany. It’s because we have too many poorly educated and low-skilled workers that are simply unable to compete.
Following Geoghegan’s own logic from the previous excerpt, in which he argued that lower wages reflect lower skills, shouldn’t consumers be afraid to purchase any American good instead of any German good, given that the Germans pay more? Their workers must be more highly skilled! Don’t buy American!
Of course, that would be a ridiculous thing to say; wages don’t only reflect skill levels. But it’s the logical conclusion of Geoghegan’s argument about Seattle vs. South Carolina.
Moving along, Geoghegan’s next attack goes like this:
We depend on Boeing to out-compete Airbus, its European rival. But when major firms move South, it is usually a harbinger of quality decline.
Now, never mind that Geoghegan offers just one (scarcely supported) example to back up his claim that “when major firms move South, it is usually a harbinger of quality decline.” Certainly, the international automotive industry — and its customers — haven’t gotten that memo. But it’s an especially silly example for Geoghegan to give because most of Airbus’ own North American manufacturing operations are — you guessed it — in the South.
Most of the other absurdities in Geoghegan’s op-ed play off these key misrepresentations. If this is the best argument union allies can make in the Boeing case, it’s no wonder private-sector labor unions are such dying dinosaurs.
– By Kyle Wingfield