“Jobs and mental health” uttered Ralph Moore quietly from the crowded rear of the noisy basement auditorium. It was one of the last suggestions offered by those gathered for Johns Hopkins President Rod Daniels in his quest to reach out to the community around the university.
Ralph Moore, teacher, is a rabbi to many, particularly those from Loyola School and St Francis Academy. His is a tireless effort to create equity by educating the young. So when he talks, I listen and wonder, is this what keeps Ralph up at night?
When I rolled into the Stanley Black and Decker corporate compound on Joppa Road, there were no guards at the gates. I was at the end of a two-day quest to find a replacement wrench for my Dewalt table saw. Having visited an endless number of purveyors and even old tool and dye guys, I figured, why not go see the cats who made the damned wrench.
So here is me, in the place where so many of my tools come from, trying doors of buildings to gain entry. When I came upon a group of men returning from lunch, I abruptly stopped them, telling my tale of the faulty wrench. One gent said his friend was the designer. He took my email and number, promising to be in touch, which he later was. I thanked them all, telling them my I felt like the “mudlark,” a vagabond child of the 19th century who scoured the shore of the Thames River at low tide, looking for anything to sell.
To hear elected officials from Maryland deride the president as imperial and his health care legislation as a socialist conspiracy, I have to grin and ask if they have conjoined dueling ideologies in their minds?
Especially Rep. Andy Harris from the 1st district, whose insurance premiums are affordable thanks to the American taxpayer, yet demanded no lapse in coverage when he changed from state to federal legislator in 2010.
The Republican congressman may not know that Maryland has, since 1977, set price standards in hospital medicine. He may not know that in the 35 years since Maryland hospital costs have gone from being 25 percent above the national average to 2 percent below that average. Such accommodation has made all hospitals in Maryland competitive and modern. As well, Maryland has become the wealthiest state in the union, even as Baltimore, with one eighth the states population, has lost jobs and gotten ever poorer.
Our economic system is a living, breathing beast. Wealth generated here has afforded us great opportunity to improve our lot as a people. Still, we have been sliding backward for decades because we have not paid strict attention to what kept the bulk of us well employed and well educated.
We are still the biggest buyers of goods we once made, like the products from Stanley Black and Decker. All the while, one of the main drivers of jobs going overseas has been the cost of employee compensation. It simply became unprofitable to pay people here when we could pay someone overseas less.
A great part of that compensation was insurance for employees, which has run at two to four times the rate of inflation for over thirty years. Only the largest groups, such as unions or governments could negotiate premiums over the long term and combat such an inflationary rate with volume. That is why only unions and government employees have insurance policies most Americans used to have. The federal mandate, in creating a public pool of the insured, seeks to create a similar power by volume. It’s that simple.
All this began with the advent of the HMO in 1973. As insurance became all but mandatory for families and employers, insurers knew they couldn’t lose with whatever they charged. As a result, there became little adherence to anything other than the bottom line.
Here was an industry, once based on sober, prudent thinking and investment. An industry that could indemnify those it served and still give shareholders a profit through greater investment. An industry that had changed. Where insurers once made money in premiums from one house in three on any block and set fire standards to prevent calamity, now it insures all twenty houses on that block, then obfuscates with the insured when payment comes due as we will see once the fires go out in Utah and Colorado.
Insurers, against their own mission to be a preventative safeguard, have become the imprudent ones in their own practice and investment. That’s where we get an AIG and it’s ilk, firms that can crush an economy through destructive, selfish investment.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has been long at work creating an individual and small business insurance exchange for the time federal law takes effect in 2014. As a result, Maryland, with its price controls in place for so long, may become the new standard for states to follow. Massachusetts biggest problem since Romneycare began has been the lack of price controls for services that can range from the Medicare baseline to upward of 200 percent over that baseline.
Conquering insurance as compensation is only half the battle in growing jobs in this nation. Part two is making the investment viable here rather than overseas.
China seems to be helping us these days with tariffs, wage hikes and intellectual property theft from U.S. companies. With the rising cost of fuel, entrepreneurs in California, where the GOP says regulation is the greatest hindrance, are shortening their supply chain and opening shops and factories here at home.
Made in America, which means safeguards and good products, is beginning again. The question for Baltimore is, which firm will re-invest here in the city? I suggest it be Stanley Black and Decker.
On Baltimore’s doorstep, just north of town, we have a world leader in hand and power tools. Sadly, so much of what they once made here is now made in China and the Czech Republic and sold back to us. May I suggest to Stanley Black and Decker three ideas to change the economic plan:
Plant your flag
* Partner with a group like Come Home Baltimore, a for-profit building company run by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who have the guts to set up shop and renovate in the worst neighborhoods in east Baltimore because they are the worst.
Supply your brand
* Provide Come Home Baltimore with tools and training for their employees and let City Hall know these guys and these neighborhoods are worth the investment.
A boutique factory
* Open a small factory to make power tools as you did in the past. Money that can be made here in manufacturing should be made here. Made in Baltimore means made in America. People will pay for this, especially when they have jobs.
Help Ralph Moore sleep at night. Jobs mean mental health. That’s what he meant. Making people of use to themselves is what we used to do in this nation. During my lifetime, we have lost so much of that. Any capitalist will tell you controlling the means of production is the key to winning the day and the next day. It’s time we brought the means back home, invest in the nation we all call home and have a new Union sunrise.
(Feature photo: Ralph Moore with President Obama.)
Robert Emmet Mara has been in Baltimore since 2006. A native New Yorker, Robert came to Baltimore to do three things: work with kids, renovate houses and write a second book of fiction. Since his arrival, he has managed to do all three and more.
He has sought better oversight for his still blighted Harwood neighborhood from the city and has been asked to speak to various community association leaders on the subject of city agency relations.