In Both Egypt and Maine, Jobs Underpin Politics

LePage delivers budget address - from maine.gov

I drive a lot, and if there’s one thing that keeps me from going crazy with boredom in the car, it’s listening to public radio. Today, the two big stories are about President Mubarak finally ceding power in Egypt and, here at home, LePage’s budget proposal. It’s hard to grasp the truly historic events in Egypt, especially while looking out at our quiet, snow-covered state from the Turnpike. Nevertheless, there is a common thread in both stories: stubborn economic problems and joblessness, not just here in the US, but around the world.

Governor Paul LePage presented his two year budget yesterday, and managed to raise a lot of eyebrows with something that is normally a routine, if weighty, announcement. In the words of one experienced observer, "to add to our $840 million shortfall by extending additional tax cuts to, at least in part, some of the most well-off people in our state at the same time as taking away benefits from some of the most vulnerable households in the state is just a bad policy choice," said Kit St. John of the Maine Center for Economic Policy. "It doesn't add up. It doesn't make sense."

The biggest head-scratcher from LePage yesterday? How he could deliver a speech that focused on scapegoating immigrants and the poor, and then claim that he was outlining a "jobs bill."

Actually, if there’s anything we’ve learned from LePage’s first weeks in office, it’s that solving Maine’s jobs problem is not on his priority list. Let’s review what he’s done so far. Putting lobbyists in top government positions? No jobs there. Deregulate first, ask questions later? No jobs there. Banning state bonds that might have gone to construction projects here in Maine?  Definitely no jobs there. Payback for his biggest campaign contributors?

Nope, no jobs there either.

In Egypt, media coverage of the revolution has focused on protesters’ thirst for democracy and their drive to unseat President Mubarak, which was finally accomplished today.

While instituting real democracy may be the solution to Egypt’s problems, this perspective ignores the fact that the catalyst for the uprising was "a lack of jobs and economic opportunity, especially for the young."

There you have it, two very different places, facing versions of the same fundamental problem: people suffering from high unemployment, the rising cost of goods, and all the other real, daily impacts of seemingly-abstract economic issues.

In a momentous turn of events, President Mubarak just announced today that he will step down from power after thirty years. The protests spurred by economic hardship have achieved their primary goal. It remains to be seen if the new government that emerges can address the underlying economic problems in Egypt.

Here in our small, peaceful state, LePage won the governor’s seat mostly because a small number of voters, desperate for an economic fix, decided to give a new face a try. So far, it doesn’t look like those voters are getting a good return on their investment.