What do Greg Gianforte and Bernie Sanders have in common? I wish this was the set up for a witty joke, but the truth is much more troubling – they’re united in their ability to see nearly every substantive issue through the same basic lens. They both have taken ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ to new heights. For Sanders, this manifests as a laser-like focus on inequality, particularly ‘millionaires and billionaires’ whom he blames for the current state of the economy. For Gianforte, it’s literally one word – “Jobs”.
Indeed, he lists 5 “Issues that matter”, and, lo and behold, 3 of them include the word ‘jobs’. It’s how he’s deflected from answering questions about social issues. And if it’s really jobs, exactly, that Montana lacks, that’s a good strategy – essentially the same one Sanders has used to mount a surprisingly effective challenge in the Democratic primary. And if the worst he promises is stagnation on privacy, LGBT issues, and the like, his prescription for increasing the sheer number of jobs by removing restrictions and regulations might seem attractive to moderates and fiscal conservatives. But is Montana’s problem a lack of jobs?
The short answer is, no. It’s true that Montana has lower wages than most states, but it’s not as a result of high unemployment, as Econ 101 might suggest: our unemployment rate is right around the bottom third nationally. And our poverty rate – when adjusted for geography and government intervention to measure actual poverty – compares even better to the rest of the nation.
Still, we’d love to be higher in wages, too; our current position , though improving (and growing faster than 90% of other States), is not an enviable one. Unfortunately, simply increasing the number of jobs doesn’t seem like a strong way to get there.
After all, the entire country is experiencing a strange combination of low unemployment but largely stagnant wages. There are varied explanations for this conundrum, but the majority come down to one commonality: laborers are simply taking home a smaller percentage of the value they produce. It’s hard to imagine how any of Gianforte’s prescriptions – lower taxes, a weaker bargaining position for workers, etc., are likely to have any positive effect on this trend. Indeed, most of what he proposes would, if anything, enhance the ability of corporations and owners to accrue wealth, sharing less and less with their employees.
So Gianforte is right – he is avoiding ‘divisive ideological issues’, and instead focusing on economic issues that should unite most Montanans in looking to improve the economic well being of the State. Unfortunately, while people like Bernie Sanders are doing so in the interests of the 99%, he’s staking his claim on the side opposed to those interests.