Foxconn deal detractor

A lone protester holds up a sign as the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Jobs and Economy meets earlier this month about the incentive deal for Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group.

A bill moving through Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature wouldn’t only provide $3 billion in taxpayer incentives for a company planning to build an LCD screen plant in Kenosha or Racine county, it could also seek to dictate some company operations.

Government getting all up in the business of, well, business is probably par for the course for Foxconn, which does the greatest share of its production in the government-managed economy of communist China. It’s weird for the party of “free markets,” though, which often bemoans government meddling in health insurance and other private industries.

If Wisconsin’s leaders insist on a Chinese approach to economic development, the least they could do is ensure good wages for the proletariat.

Here are some of the proposals for the Foxconn deal that bring government-private sector symbiosis to a whole new level:

  • State positions created to work specifically on Foxconn issues.
  • Taxpayer-funded expansion of Interstate 94 near Foxconn.
  • Creation of a new state tax credit program for Foxconn.
  • Programs at public colleges and universities to train Foxconn workers.
  • Giving Wisconsin-based contractors and suppliers first dibs on Foxconn business.
  • A state-imposed deadline for Foxconn to hire its workers.
  • Encouraging Foxconn to hire Wisconsin residents.

Of course, lots of businesses get government incentives; politicians use tax breaks and other corporate welfare to boost their “economic development” credentials ahead of election season. But if there’s been a government-private sector relationship as enmeshed as the one proposed for Wisconsin and Foxconn, I’d like to hear of it.

Supporters of the Foxconn deal say the plant could be a big first step toward turning Wisconsin into a high-tech economy. It might be fairer to give much of that credit to the government.

Such an extraordinary deal is not likely to create jobs with better-than-ordinary security or wages. Foxconn is big on replacing workers with robots, after all, and while deal-backers have said the average wage would be about $54,000 a year, Foxconn hasn’t revealed two more telling bits of wage data: the median (or the wage at which half of workers make more and half make less) or the mode (the most prevalent wage).

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said most entry-level wages would be around $13 or $15 an hour. Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. CEO Mark Hogan has said the starting salary for most workers would be $20 an hour.

Average household size in Kenosha and Racine is between two and three people, according to Census data, and MIT puts the living wage for such households with one full-time earner at between $17.46 and $31.94.

It’s not bad for Republicans to try to make a deal they believe will be good for their constituents. It’s also not surprising, given that their party leader is a man with a (not necessarily accurate) reputation for deal-making.

But like Donald Trump, Wisconsin’s Republicans don’t appear too concerned with principles — not even Republican principles like free markets and small government.

If the Foxconn deal passes, just call us the People’s Republic of Wisconsin.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.