Political Animal


December 09, 2011 9:55 AM How Gingrich evolved on child labor

By Steve Benen

Newt Gingrich caused a bit of a stir recently, denouncing child-labor laws as “truly stupid,” and calling for inner-city school districts to fire their janitors and instead pay kids to maintain their own schools.

As it turns out, this reminded Paul Glastris, the Monthly’s editor in chief, of a 1993 fight over youth-jobs programs, pitting Gingrich against the Clinton White House. At the time, Gingrich was outraged, not by the prospect of kids working, but by the notion of young people working in the public sector — places like schools — instead of the private sector.

Here’s a Gingrich quote from the time, responding to Clinton’s plan to promote an inner-city youth jobs program:

“Now, if I had $19 billion, the President called and said, “I really want to stimulate the economy this spring. I really want kids to get real jobs doing real things,” you could easily create, for example, a tax credit for this summer that allowed small businesses to go out and hire 700,000 kids direct in a real private sector job doing real things, learning a real trade.

“What are you going to get? You’re going to get the New York bureaucracy and the New York Public Employees Union reaching out to create a make-work game for three or four or five thousand kids. I’d much rather have those kids going to a local grocery store or a local restaurant or a local dry cleaner or any kind of real job in the private sector doing real work and learning how to get ahead in the private sector. Because the work habits of small business are incredibly more demanding than the work habits of a public bureaucracy summer program. So, I’d just start with that premise. If what you want to do is employ 700,000 kids, you would get much more bang for your buck by having a tax credit targeted this summer to the city.”

As Paul noted, Gingrich’s objection related entirely to the competing sectors. Gingrich didn’t like the fact that “Clinton’s program would hire kids to work in the public rather than the private sector, the difference being that the latter represents ‘real work’ that is ‘incredibly more demanding than the work habits of a public bureaucracy.’”

And what does Gingrich want to do now? Put kids to work in a public bureaucracy, replacing “unionized” janitors.

As Paul asked, “Why, then, was Gingrich against government jobs programs for poor teens in 1993 but favors them in 2011? Could it be that he opposes them only when they’re offered up by Democrats, and supports them only when they involve firing unionized workers?”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • just bill on December 09, 2011 10:14 AM:

    'As Paul asked, “Why, then, was Gingrich against government jobs programs for poor teens in 1993 but favors them in 2011? Could it be that he opposes them only when they’re offered up by Democrats, and supports them only when they involve firing unionized workers?”'

    yes. satsq

  • AndThenThere'sThat on December 09, 2011 10:15 AM:

    Just think of the savings to taxpayers if we fired unionized teachers and paid the highest achieving student in class to tutor his peers.

  • chopin on December 09, 2011 10:15 AM:

    Why can't some reporter ask Gingrich if he is so damn against public sector employment, why the hell won't he just go away and get a "real" job!!!!!

  • c u n d gulag on December 09, 2011 10:20 AM:

    I think when he saw the movie, Newt took the wrong message from "Schindler's List."

    "They're skilled munitions workers. They're essential. Essential girls. Their fingers polish the insides of shell metal casings. How else am I to polish the inside of a 45 millimeter shell casing? You tell me. You tell me!"

    And that's why Newt wanted them working in private industry - because the German government was Fascist, just like Clinton's and Obama's.

  • Peter C on December 09, 2011 10:22 AM:

    Gingrich is a one-trick pony; his sole skill is derision. He can describe a policy with scorn and disgust in his voice and make it sound stupid to those who know even less about it than he does.

    He can do this easily since he cares not a whit if his criticism is valid. He's discovered that most people can't or won't go to the trouble to evaluate whether his analysis is informed or legitimate. When you delve into his understanding of issues, you discover that his knowledge is cursory; he's only skimmed what he critiques. His expertise is rather in knowing his rabid audience and the 'hot buttons' that will set them off. He knows that once he's pushed those buttons, his followers are powered soley their ignorant indignation; they've left their analytical functions behind and are powered by the fire in their bellies.

  • Ryan Cooper (@RyanLouisCooper) on December 09, 2011 10:36 AM:

    It took me a long time to dig up that quote, glad to see you've put it to good use :-)

  • Ed Drone on December 09, 2011 11:47 AM:

    Most people missed Newt's other big idea for these kids -- take them out of their homes and put them on a farm to learn good work habits.

    Reeducation camps? Really? Is Newt the American Pol Pot?


  • sparrow on December 09, 2011 1:04 PM:

    I'm sure that at any moment in time, consistency with his past pronouncements and positions is never as important to Newt as the thrill he gets from hearing the sound of his own voice as he casts his authorative pearls of wisdom from the perch of the Grand Poobah out to mere mortals operating at a much lower mental plane than he does. That he actually gets $60,000 a pop for his tossed pearls can only bolster that feeling within him.

  • Robert Abbott on December 09, 2011 1:06 PM:

    Of course having the government pay small business to hire child labor is a direct subsidy by government to business. He hates government unless he can get something from it. And business would hire these children as independent contractors so they wouldn't have to pay them any benefits and would be able to foist off the employers' share of FICA taxes on their salaries onto the kids. Not a bad deal from an overbearing government to beleaguered business.