Puerto Ricans Need to Stop Living Like Kings and Learn to Work in Sweatshops

An article in BloombergView, condescendingly entitled Helping Puerto Rico Prosper, pretends to offer a solution to the island’s economic maladies. Of course it has gone viral. The article presents a laundry list of what is ailing Puerto Rico while slowly but surely making a nuanced case for right wing economics. Here is the laundry list.

• Since 2006, Puerto Rico’s economy has contracted every year but one.

• Its unemployment rate of 13.7 percent is double that of the U.S. mainland.

• Its poverty rate is twice that of Mississippi.

• Puerto Rico’s population and tax base have aged and shrunk.

• Since 2000, public debt has risen from 60 percent of gross domestic product to more than 100 percent.

• Much of that has been racked up by the island’s inefficient public-sector corporations.

After presenting these well-known facts, the article argues for deregulation- of the worse kind. It calls for Congress and President Obama “to deliver the island from the crushing burden of laws and regulations ill-suited to its circumstances.” What are these laws? “The federal minimum wage, for instance” which the article claims “puts Puerto Rico at a competitive disadvantage to its Caribbean neighbors.”

Happy Puerto Rican workers as imagined by boomberg

Very happy competitive Puerto Rican workers under Bloomberg’s Plan (they also get a free workout).

BloombergView calls for the elimination of the Federal Minimum Wage and too many Puerto Ricans are buying that line. I’m not surprised; I hear that same line whenever I visit the island. Many argue that not only does the FMW stifle the economy but that it makes commodities more expensive for the middle class because the working poor have more money to spend. I’m not kidding you, if I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that argument I could help pay Puerto Rico’s public debt.

Happy Puerto Rican workers

Competitive workers laboring for pennies and living a happy productive life. Thank you Bloomberg.

The problem is that they assume that people can actually live on minimum wages without government assistance. We know that doing so is virtually impossible. Now, imagine if most working class Puerto Ricans didn’t even get FMW. They would depend on government assistance to afford housing, food, and education. BloombergView’s argument is as bad as it gets. Since cheapening labor costs in the island is supposed to bring “foreign investment” what Bloomberg is recommending is nothing but for Puerto Ricans to work under sweatshop conditions, while federal transfers subsidize those very same sweatshops. We have tried that approach but with FMW- and it didn’t work. Bloomberg’s solution would make Puerto Rican workers and the Commonwealth even poorer.

Puerto Rico Imagined by Bloomberg

“Proud Puerto Rican family grateful that they can keep their competitive edge. Note in the background the Green and (and cost effective) housing  proposed by BloombergView.”

Puerto Rico’s competitive edge is its highly skilled labor. Should Puerto Rican engineers, biologists and chemists accept starving wages to bring in more foreign investment? Or maybe we should dismantle the industrial infrastructure in Puerto Rico and go back to that romantic agrarian society in which there is no poverty and no one ever goes hungry (which has never existed by the way). Then, maybe, will Puerto Rican workers accept to work for starving wages under sweatshop conditions as Bloomberg’s article seems to recommend.

pR infraetructure to be packed and sent overseas under Boomberg's economic plan

Some of the infrastructure to be removed from the island so Puerto Ricans can regain their competitive edge (BloombergView Plan)

[Picture of Hato Rey’s Milla de Oro taken by CARLO GIOVANNETTI on April 13, 2009]

I can see Bloomberg’s editorial staff imagining Puerto Rico as an agrarian society with happy barefoot peasants squatting in shacks and driving their oxcarts to the local market while sipping Tequila and chewing Coca leaves. But luckily, that is not Puerto Rico’s situation- and we can’t go back in time or to Bloomberg’s imaginary island.

I’m surprised that the article didn’t recommend sending everyone back to sugarcane fields to live eternally indebted to the plantation owner; or to coffee haciendas to live under the much romanticized señorial (patriarchal) society in which everyone knew their place.

Puerto Ricans living large

Uppity Puerto Ricans having a type of fun not adequate to their Caribbean context and making their own lives miserable. BloombergView

Bloomberg neoliberal analysis comes from the top. Their argument boils down to we cannot impose a U.S. standard in a Caribbean third world country, but we can certainly impose a US economic philosophy. How is that? Maybe we should get rid of other federal regulations and programs like OSHA, social security, right to unionize, Medicare, Medicaid, emissions control, etc… And while we are at it let’s take U.S. citizenship back because who wants to see American citizens working in sweatshops? That way we will have the perfect place for predatory capitalism to flourish with nothing to impede foreign corporations from enslaving Puerto Ricans while keeping a clean conscience.


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