Marianas Variety

Last updateThu, 21 Sep 2017 12am

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    Wednesday, September 20, 2017-8:00:58P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

Variations: It’s your choice

WITHOUT enough workers, the local economy will shrink, again, and the CNMI won’t collect the revenue to pay for its many and mounting obligations.

When that happens, what happened just a few years ago will happen again: possible pension cuts, work-hour reductions, paycuts, terminations, delayed paydays, hiring freezes, reductions and/or suspension of certain public services, fee increases, business closures, more local families leaving the islands.

For CNMI officials, the workforce issue is about preventing all that.

Scrapping the federal CW program will not make CNMI government obligations “go away.” And there are still not enough U.S. qualified workers to fill certain jobs in the private sector. This is not unique to the CNMI. U.S. employers are saying the same thing. Japan and other bigger and developed countries also face labor shortages for certain jobs.

The NMI must and can reduce its dependence on foreign labor. But considering the islands’ demographic and geographic realities, it cannot be done overnight. Only a strong economy can provide more funding and more opportunities for training locals while creating more jobs for them and other U.S. qualified workers. And that economy needs workers.

Some say the NMI must offer higher wages to attract U.S. qualified workers. But this ignores the fact that mainland U.S. employers who offer higher wages and are doing business in a nation with over 300 million people are also struggling to find the workers they need.

And despite what politicians and governments have been telling the people these past 4,000 years, you cannot order wages/prices to rise or fall at your command, however good-hearted you are. Wages reflect economic realities. Wages in economically developed nations are high because they are economically developed nations. Wages in poor nations are low because they are poor nations.

But if the economy improves, wages rise. (Compare the wage rates [adjusted for inflation] in Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore in the early 1950s to what they are now.) Do we really believe that wages in developed countries were high already even when they were not as rich as they are now?

Wages are the price of labor. If you increase the price of labor without an increase in the earnings of the employer, what then? He will either reduce work-hours, terminate some employees or increase the prices you pay for his services and/or products.

Even politicians who favor a government-mandated wage hike are aware of the added costs they’re imposing on employers. Hence, they raise the hourly rate only and implement the wage hike gradually, over a certain period of time.

Government-mandated wage hikes may be good for politicians, but they are bad for the economy. They seldom help and usually harm the people who are supposed to benefit from such measures.

You want better pay for private sector workers? Grow the economy. You want more training opportunities for the local people? Grow the economy. You want more jobs for the local people? Grow the economy. You want adequate funding for pensions, public health, medical referrals, land compensation, public safety, the courts, public schools, NMC, scholarships, better roads, homesteads, utilities, preservation of local culture, environmental protection, etc.? Grow the economy.

Not “growth for growth’s sake.” But growth to pay the CNMI government’s obligations. Growth for more and better job opportunities for more local and U.S. citizens in this U.S. commonwealth.

However, if you believe, like George Speight in Fiji, that “the economy doesn’t matter” — that retirees, government employees, medical referral patients, students, land owners, government vendors and bond holders should basically “man up” and take it on the chin, and the TT days were not that bad, and it’s more important to have no foreign workers and no foreign investors in the NMI — then that’s a different story, but one that can be turned into a specific policy proposal, subject, of course, to the approval of NMI voters.

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