A number of media outlets have recently reported that Foxcomm, a company usually referred to as a “Taiwanese giant,” will open a plant in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin. As the Guardian prefaced its article,
But the state has a troubled history in matters of economic development, and the company, a supplier to Apple, Google, Amazon and other tech giants, has a lackluster record when it comes to fulfilling its promises. The news should raise red flags.
In a way, it is a transaction that barely merits publicity; for as long as I can remember, states and municipalities have been trying to entice “job creators” to their areas by offering bigger and better incentives: tax abatements, infrastructure improvements, job training “grants”–all manner of goodies funded out of our tax dollars.
The deal, backers say, will create 13,000 jobs in six years – in return for a reported $3bn in state subsidies. Only 3,000 of those jobs will come immediately. Furthermore, the Washington Post has reported that Foxconn has a track record of breaking such job-creation promises. In 2013, the company announced plans to hire 500 people and invest $30m in Pennsylvania. The plan fizzled out.
Walker and Paul Ryan aren’t the only politicians taking credit for this deal; the White House immediately weighed in, with President Trump reportedly saying, with his characteristic modesty and eloquence: “If I didn’t get elected, [Foxconn] definitely would not be spending $10bn.”
Jennifer Shilling, a Democratic Wisconsin state senator, is one of those who have criticised the deal, noting that the company “has a concerning track record of big announcements with little follow through,” and questioning the legislative appetite for a $1bn-to-$3bn corporate welfare package. Of course, Wisconsin’s legislature is controlled by Republicans who won’t need bipartisan support to pass the enormous subsidies.
The Guardian noted the patchy performance of Foxcomm elsewhere–Foxconn investments in Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Brazil failed to live up to the hype, despite written agreements–and also referred to the less-than-impressive performance of Wisconsin’s previous economic development efforts.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is a participant in the Foxconn deal. During Walker’s brief presidential run, it was dogged by questions over failed loans. Businessman and Republican donor Ron Van Den Heuvel was indicted for fraudulently borrowing $700,000 from a local bank. Months after WEDC was created in 2011 the agency, then led by Walker, lent him more than $1.2m, without performing a background check.
Likewise, the state’s manufacturing and agriculture tax credit has been widely criticized as a simple refund for millionaires, according to the Wisconsin Budget Project (WBP) nearly “wiping out income taxes for manufacturers and agricultural producers”.
What the Guardian and other outlets failed to address was the absolute absurdity of these sorts of “job creation” efforts. The use of tax revenues to lure large, profitable corporations to one’s city or state may or may not be immoral (I vote for immoral), but the practice is hardly consistent with genuine capitalism and free enterprise, which require that entrepreneurial activities take place on a level playing field.
Criticisms of these sorts of economic development agreements tend to focus on whether the state or city has made a “good deal.” (Evidently, Wisconsin has not.) But that is almost beside the point. The local factory or other home-grown enterprise that prospers enough to hire new workers doesn’t receive these perks; meanwhile, new, sometimes competitive enterprises are being lured to their state with their tax dollars.
This is corporatism, not capitalism. Paul Ryan and Scott Walker are said to be fans of Ayn Rand, but I’ve read Atlas Shrugged. Rand was a capitalism fundamentalist, and would have been disgusted by this deal; she would have labeled the beneficiaries “looters.”
And she’d have been right about that.