Jane Fonda Not The Only One to Need an Economics Workout

Steve Frank’s newsletter California Political News & Views is a treasure trove of alerts and insights garnered from a variety of news sources.  On August 22, the newsletter included an article by Kyle Permann, titled Jane Fonda Needs and Economics Workout, which originally appeared on August 14 in Capital Research Center.

Jane Fonda’s Pronouncements

Fonda speaking in opposition to the Vietnam War

Fonda speaking in opposition to the Vietnam War

The “economics workout” to which the article refers is recommended to actress Jane Fonda, famous for her numerous Hollywood movies, as well as for her immensely successful workout videos that intended to level the playing field of the 1980s when gyms were mostly for men.

The left-leaning public takes Ms. Fonda’s pronouncements seriously, and she has pronounced her support for Washington DC’s Initiative 77, an initiative that makes tipped workers subject to minimum wage laws.  Voters approved Initiative 77 in June, but DCs City Council is now challenging it with repeal.  The principal problem with Initiative 77 is that tipped workers -- mostly restaurant employees -- don’t want it, since, unlike Ms. Fonda, they experience the economics of the situation first hand.  Restaurants will have to increase prices to cover their labor costs, some patrons will no longer afford to eat out and others will tip less given the increase in the workers’ wages and in prices, some restaurants will simply close, and workers will make less money in the end.

How do proposals that are blatantly counter-productive from an economics standpoint consistently become law?  They are framed not as economic issues, but as social issues!  This from Mr. Permann's article,

The voices of Hollywood’s elites are drowning out the truth, an unfortunate cycle that seems to repeat itself time and time again.  Even more painful is Hollywood’s effort to re-frame economic issues as social issues and framing Initiative 77 as a policy to help servers, when in fact, it hurts them.

Passing off Economic Issues as Social Issues

Mr. Permann’s article discusses Hollywood’s outsized political influence on the public, and uses Jane Fonda’s support for Initiative 77 as example.  However, framing economic issues as social issues is the essential ingredient in menus listing such fares as the minimum wage, universal healthcare, free college, all-encompassing rent control, or housing for all.  Such framing is necessary in order to shift attention from those who either pay or forego income, to those who need.  In a progressive-leaning state like California, it is more likely, for example, that the public will empathize with the working poor needing a roof over their heads, than with landlords who might be taking home 7-figure incomes.  

Here at the Nine-County Coalition our focus has been on land use, rather than on other economic issues such as minimum wage or healthcare.  We have discussed how current land use laws can only succeed with forceful legislation because such laws are often economically unfeasible.  In California, forceful legislation has a better chance of success if framed as social issues.

A Proven Strategy Can Sometimes Backfire

A particularly interesting twist on the social issue approach is the demise of California Senate Bill 827.  An article in the Los Angeles Times describes a rally in front of San Francisco’s City Hall, where YIMBYs showed up to support SB 827, and lower-income renters showed up to express their concern over displacement.  YIMBYs made the tactical error of shouting down the lower-income renters, and the rest is history.

When Chinese, Filipina and black tenant activists spoke to fears that expanding housing this way [with SB 827] will displace residents of their communities, supporters of the measure drowned out their voices with chants of "Read the bill."

The scene of predominantly white protesters shouting over people of color fed a criticism that has dogged backers of recent legislative efforts to boost home building. In a twist on the term "NIMBY," these mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings with white-collar jobs are referred to as "YIMBYs," or "Yes, in my backyard." Organizations like these have sprung up across California and the YIMBYs argue their efforts will benefit low-income people of color statewide.

Many don't see it that way, and instead worry that developers would build housing catering only to wealthier, white residents, leading to higher prices that would force out those living in poorer communities now.

This divide was one of the primary reasons for the failure last month of Senate Bill 827…

In other words, the sight of white folks with high-paying jobs shouting down lower-income renters of color was the nail that shut the coffin of SB 827 for good.  Never mind the economic defects contained in the bill’s strategy.