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The Corporate Land of Oz

In L. Frank Baum’s novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the “wizard’ turns out to be a phony — just an old guy sitting behind a curtain, using his booming voice to spew nonsense in a vain effort to fool people.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer and public speaker.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer and public speaker.

But now, a century after Baum’s fictional Oz, a real-life incarnation of the phony wizard has been discovered — hiding behind not one, but two curtains. He’s recently been circulating his nonsense in full-page newspaper ads that hyperbolically denounce economists who favor raising the minimum wage as “radical researchers.”

The ad directs readers to a website named MinimumWage.com, implying that it supports the positions of independent, unbiased, and non-radical economists. But, no — it’s not a group at all, just a curtain.

What’s behind it? Something that goes by the name of The Employment Policies Institute, which sounds rock solid, but it too is just a curtain.

Go to 1090 Vermont Avenue NW in Washington, the address of this “institute,” and you won’t find any economists or any other employees. The institute has none. Instead you will find the old wizard sitting there – manipulating statistics, twisting logic and spewing out economic nonsense.

The wiz turns out to be nothing but a 71-year-old PR and advertising hatchet man named Richard Berman. He’s just another lobbyist. Various corporations pay him to set up official-sounding front groups that advance their political agenda. The Employment Policy Institute, for example, is a front for the big restaurant chains. They want to keep profiting by paying poverty wages to their workers, so they’ve hired Berman to trash any and all who support raising America’s wage floor.

The “Institute” provides a varnish of academic legitimacy for unvarnished corporate greed. As the watchdog group, PRWatch, says of Berman’s flim flam, “They are little more than phony experts on retainer.”

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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  • Arthur Doyle

    Poppycock! I have met Mr. Berman and I believe him to be an advocate for consumers rights, responsible government spending, fair and unobtrusive legislation, common sense policy, and personal responsibility. A counterbalance to the food and drink Nazis, teetotallers, PC police, and wackadoo political activists with agendas that do not represent me, my beliefs, or my interests. Thank you Rick Berman.

    • Chief59

      We rarely see those who agree with us and our own views as anything negative, just as we fail to see any positive in opposing views. Just because the guy agrees with your beliefs does not make him anything more than a lobbyist on corporate payrolls.

      • passin_threw

        Thanks for the incite captain obvious

        • Chief59

          Thanks for yet another comment that adds nothing to further the discussion, but only demeans one with an opposing view. Thanks also for further proving my above comment.

          • passin_threw

            And what did your comment offer than the obvious that adds nothing to further discussion? Hello pot I’m kettle.
            Jim Hightower adds so much validity and not a single bit of political slant to any opinion he has. Wouldn’t u say captain?

          • Chief59

            My comment was pointing out that the guy is a lobbyist, regardless of his political views. Yours was only to start an argument with someone you disagree with. Jim Hightower does slant his opinion to one side. No one is debating that. Thanks again for arguing just for the sake of arguing.

    • Yahooserious

      You support lobbyists? Your crazy Mr. Doyle. Lobbyists and the citizens united ruling are detrimental to our democracy. Obviously you believe in subsidizing large corporations too. Why should my tax dollars pay a family food stamps because their employer won’t pay them enough to live off of? No matter how you look at it; the government is subsidizing those business’s because they won’t pay their people a livable wage. You tax dollars aren’t all going to the destitute or impoverished… They are going to mostly people who have jobs but just don’t make enough to live, but hey, who cares business owners..the government will take care of the rest of you week wage right?

      • Chief59

        You bring up a good point. It’s crazy that the people against raising the minimum wage and welfare don’t see the correlation between the two.

        • Arthur Doyle

          I feel the same way about people who don’t see the correlation between raising the minimum wage and higher unemployment, reduced hours, and inflation. Crazy.

          • Chief59

            Inflation is a small possibility. However, the people who benefit most from a minimum wage hike are the ones who will spend almost all of that new disposable income immediately. They will spend it primarily on groceries and things that are necessities. When more of a good is purchased, the business that sells that good make more money. When they make more money, they do not have to worry about raising prices to keep up with wage increases.
            The only way hours are reduced would be to avoid paying employees overtime. That has been done for years, and a minimum wage hike affects very few people who already work full time. The majority of minimum wage workers are part time.
            The higher unemployment argument is bs, partially due to the above two reasons above.

            I’m not sold 100% on raising the minimum wage yet, but it something that definitely needs to be thoroughly looked into.

          • Arthur Doyle

            I would not classify a report by the Congressional Budget Office as bs, but don’t let facts stand in the way of your argument. I disagree with your above posted statement categorically. It left me with a sense that you have little to no entrepreneurial experience. I thank you for the civil exchange and bid you a good day.

          • Chief59

            http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/minimum-wage-hike-could-kill-500000-jobs-but-help-alleviate-poverty-cbo-reports/2014/02/18/d171c130-98de-11e3-80ac-63a8ba7f7942_story.html

            “The CBO acknowledged that its calculation is an estimate and said actual job losses could range from “very slight” to as many as 1 million positions”

            It is an estimation. Of course, the left is going to use the “very slight” estimate, while the right is going to hammer on the 1 million number. It’s a guess. The report also says a minimum wage increase to $10.10 would lift 900,000 people OUT of poverty.

            The honest truth is, we don’t know exactly how a minimum wage increase would affect the economy and job market. Even the CBO has a very wide range of projections. That is why I called it bs. Each side can use it to push their argument for, or against, a wage hike.

          • Hardy

            While I agree that we don’t know exactly what will happen we should have a pretty firm idea based on past elevations using proper extrapolations. There will be a chain reaction…so one employee gets a $3 raise, then what about the worker at the same company that was making $9.80…that employee will receive a raise,and so on. A multi tier impact will occur. As it has already been stated, those costs will be added somewhere. As for the min wage employee adding much to the local consumerism, well I doubt it. If they are struggling to make payments on the basic essentials, that new found wealth of approx $480/month is virtually nominal. The wage truly isn’t as much the issue…the issue is that Americans want more and we are lead to believe we can have it! Whether you make 16k or 20k, you won’t make progress if you spend the addl 4k on frozen pizzas or cheap furniture. You will scrape by all the same! There is no solution. Pay more as a consumer or pay people as little as possible, I don’t see a winner in either situation. Poverty is as absolute as wealth, the Bell Curve will hold true and polar shifts are unstable.

          • Chief59

            I agree, which is why I said I am on the fence still. However, I do lean towards the hope that the influx of money goes towards goods and offsets any price increases manufacturers impose.

          • Hardy

            I would hope that as well. My pessimism comes in the shape of socio-economics and we all know but just don’t like to talk about it due to morality and freedom. The mass reproduction of those at or below the poverty line truly makes minimum wage a moot point. 4 kids, rent, etc…on a single income of $15/hour is a worse situation them a single, childless individual making $7.25/hr. Grown adults over the age of 30 that make minimum wage have most likely mismanaged job opportunities. Minimum wage is regarded as starting pay for juveniles or those lacking proper education or adequate skills. So, my question is simple…with no parameters in place to address or outline how those below the poverty level manage their lives, does minimum wage increases really do anything for those I feel they are targeting? It will help the undereducated/under skilled youth, no doubt and that should in turn benefit us all and in that sense it makes sense. However, I don’t feel that they are the ones truly struggling.

          • Arthur Doyle

            Well stated sir. Your post was concise and succinct.

          • Joe

            Chief, I disagree with your logic. I understand what your trying to say, the volume of sales increase and therefore offsets the increase in the cost of the good, but that’s not the way it works. Labor is an input cost and factored into the price of every good. When the cost of labor goes up, so do prices.

            So who gets hurt? The guy at the bottom may, i repeat may get ahead a bit, but the increase in the cost of products pretty much nullifies the purchasing power that he gained by an increase in wages. The middle class who are trying to tread water and stay above poverty get hurt the most. They won’t see an increase in wages and they get slammed with higher prices, therefore reducing his purchasing power. The increase in wages actually hurt the overall purchasing power of all the consumers combined and the volume of sales decrease, not increase.

            No matter how much you try to stick it to the man you will never win, he will just pass the cost onto the consumer and make his fat paycheck. The free market has to be allowed to work. We can help make the market work by only supporting businesses who take care of their employees. Boycott those who don’t. More government regulations will not work!

          • alexander

            “you will never win”

            “The free market has to be allowed to work.”

            LOL

          • Chief59

            I agree with some of your points, which is why I said I am on the fence about a minimum wage increase. However, there are currently about 1.6 million full time minimum wage employees. My big sticking point is that I don’t see how increasing the wages of that amount of employees translates to big price jacks of goods. I did not find information on part time employees making minimum wage. That could sway my opinion.

            You are fully right on one thing. Businesses will pass on the cost to the consumers every time. However, this tends to not be a huge bump. Look at when Papa Johns was complaining about having to provide health insurance to employees, due to ACA requirements. It was determined that the price of a pizza would potentially increase by $0.25. Let’s say all of Papa Johns workers make an extra $3 and hour. Now a $10 pizza costs $11, for example. That would be a 10% jump in the cost of the good. However, with an employee going from $7.25 to a proposed $10.10 per hour, that would be a potential 40% increase in wages. Now, that was all hypothetical. If my math is incorrect, feel free to correct it. That is only an example that I have seen out there.

            Do we really know if raising wages will help? No. However, look at Target. They are regarded as a better alternative to WalMart, while paying their employees better wages, with better benefits, while still having very competitive prices. I think it could work, but like I said, I’m still on the fence.

      • Arthur Doyle

        Lobbyists are an unfortunate fact of life. I think our country would be better served abolishing the organized corruption that is lobbyists in it’s entirety. Until the political machinations of paid lobbying are dismantled, I am glad that there is a person like Rick Berman who is lobbying for my interests. I have listened to him speak and shaken his hand. Our government and particularly this administration have helped create the circumstances that have exercabated the conditions for the destitution and poverty that you seem to lay solely at the feet of businesses and corporations. I shall once again repeat myself… over half of all businesses in the U.S. are small businesses not fortune 500 companies. Good day.

        • Chief59

          Please elaborate how this administration has exacerbated the destitution and poverty. If you say Obamacare, I will immediately know that I don’t have to respond to you.

          • Arthur Doyle

            The Obama administration has proposed more than 219 new rules affecting industries, each of which has a projected cost of at least $100 million to comply. While the Washington legal business is growing, the same cannot be said for many industries and businesses affected, confused, and unsure by the massive new proposals. Small businesses may be especially overwhelmed, and may have the increased expense of hiring attorneys and industry experts to understand and comply with the massive amount of new regulations. This fear and uncertainty is not condusive to a healthy free market economy.

          • Chief59

            Sure, and every administration before did the same thing. Most regulations are aimed at larger corporations, not small businesses. This does not lead to an increase in poverty. You’re jumping around a bit.

          • Arthur Doyle

            Your dismissive reply underscores the disconnect between my experience and your lack thereof. I mean this not as a slight to you or your intellect, but merely as means to convey my frustration. How does a lion explain what it means to be a lion to a zebra, and vice versa?

          • Chief59

            I am not intending to be dismissive. I appreciate all of your posts here, as your posts are always civil and you normally back up what you say. I may not always see where you’re coming from, and vice versa.

        • alexander

          “this administration have helped create the circumstances that have exercabated the conditions for the destitution and poverty’

          So, like, Obama invented poverty?

          Seriously, though. I would argue that if the conditions are inherent and innate (and I would argue they are), the exacerbation’s inevitability, regardless of particular circumstances, makes finger pointing at sexy targets seem rather foolish and all too besides the point.

          If a minimum wage increase puts somebody out of business, isn’t that like, the way all this works?

          Won’t somebody come along to fill the need in the market and do a better job of it?

          Is is not so that one of the biggest impediments to entrepreneurship are strangleholds on markets by existing mediocre and corrupt businesses?

          • Arthur Doyle

            Should a businesses be unable to remain solvent and goes out of business as a result, due to poor business practices, an inability to provide goods and services in line with the prices of their competition, or there is no demand for their supply then that is indicative of a healthy free market in action. However, a company put out of business by the inability to comply with increased government regulations and or legislation is intrusive and interferes with a healthy free market.

            I would never assert something so obtusely simplistic as “Obama invented poverty” however I will concede to you your attempt at levity. I share in the belief that the president wants more American jobs, but he has hired and appointed hordes of passionate and aggressive political appointees primarily committed to various causes. The causes sadly have little to do with jobs or business and more often focus on the environment, union rights, and social justice. More to the point, Obama’s politically appointed officials generally lack any significant business experience.

  • Bob Jones

    I disagree. Rick Berman is a Tea Party talking head. Nothing more