Would you pay a potential employer $230,000 to create a manufacturing job for you? And as an additional enticement, would you permit the firm to ignore rules that protect the environment in your community?
What if your potential employer is a Chinese company with no history of manufacturing in the United States? And what if it once strung up giant nets along the sides of its buildings to catch suicidal employees who jumped out of its windows to escape terrible working conditions?
These are not merely theoretical questions. Wisconsin recently approved a $3 billion incentive package for the Chinese firm Foxconn to build a television production facility in America’s Dairyland. The firm hopes to hire as many as 13,000 employees, which would yield a government subsidy of approximately $230,000 per job.
And what about Foxconn’s labor record? Eighteen of its employees attempted suicide in 2010, fourteen of whom died as a result. Twenty more employees were “talked down” before jumping. An investigatory panel found that low pay and poor working conditions instigated the attempts, and the firm employed giant catchment nets as part of a multi-faceted plan to deter future suicides.
Foxconn has also been criticized by environmental activists for contributing to “high levels of nickel and copper in the sediment near discharge vents from the Foxconn manufacturing facility near Shanghai …” To be fair, those discharges represented outputs of factory operations, whereas the environmental waivers that Wisconsin granted to Foxconn affect the approval process for factory construction.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a fiscally conservative Republican whose budget slashing tactics triggered massive public protests in 2011, defended the deal to Fox Business News by asserting that:
“These LCD displays will be made in America for the very first time right here in the state of Wisconsin and we think it’s transformational, which is why we are calling this region ‘Wiscon Valley,’ because we think it will not only help Foxconn but all the other businesses related to it. It will help put Wisconsin on the map all around the world.”
Perhaps it will. Nevertheless, there are seven million unemployed persons in the United States. If the government were to pay private firms $230,000 to create jobs for each of them, American taxpayers would need to pay more than $1.6 trillion to employ them all.
Although such largesse is unlikely to occur in the future, many government incentive packages will continue to be granted to corporate applicants. Hopefully, though, some of those applicants will be American firms with stronger labor and environmental track records than Foxconn’s.
After all, if President Trump is correct about China “stealing” American manufacturing jobs, why would United States taxpayers wish to pay $230,000 per employee to Chinese firms for returning what they had supposedly stolen? Especially if those very firms have no record for adhering to American labor and environmental standards?
Regrettably, these questions were not answered before Wisconsin approved Foxconn’s $3 billion request. We can only hope that they will be addressed before the next subsidy request is approved by government officials.