Generally speaking I’m as compassionate as the next guy about life’s struggles for many folks but I also have a streak where I feel people really need to take responsibility for their own lives (if they are capable of doing so) without looking to the government or blaming political entities or endeavors… or Congress.. or the President… or the economy, for their own shortcomings. Back during Katrina when FEMA was lagging in responding to the emergency, I was watching a segment on CNN where a reporter was interviewing a middle aged white woman, a victim who had lost her home along the gulf coast. When it was
reported that FEMA was engaged in bringing those mobile trailers for temporary housing into the area, residents were in pretty dire straits for a period of time. Days had passed and there were nothing but delays getting into the area. The woman being interviewed was telling her story and although her home and belongings were very well damaged she was not as desperate as most. But what I recall most was that she was asking the question, “I just want to know when MY trailer is going to get here.” That rhetorical question incensed me at the time because she was expecting the government to take care of her when it was very obvious her own situation was not as bad as most… and maybe she could have done something more about it herself.
This kind of situation repeated itself recently with the various networks coverage of the folks in those rust belt states who were critical in getting Trump elected. One such report was from CNN contributor Van Jones in his first segment of “The Messy Truth”, where he was chatting with a family from Gettysburg, PA who had family members out of work because a local factory had closed due to re-locating outside the country. To hear them talk they were blaming everything and everyone for their unemployment plight.
In the last couple days CNN posted a story about a large GM plant downsizing in Lordstown, Ohio, presumably because GM was taking their Chevy CRUZE automobile assembly out of the country.
From a heyday during the 80’s and 90’s of some 15,000 employees the factory is down to 4,500 and laying off another 1,200. Needless to say the local economy in this area has been very devastated and there are thousands out of work. A soon-to-be ex-GM employee was saying that he’s worked six years there installing brake lines for $25 an hour and doesn’t know how he’s going to survive when there’s nothing around paying that much. This fellow is appealing to Trump to help bring his job back from some third world country.
This begs the questions… why is it someone else’s problem that you can’t get $25 an hour, and more to the point, why do you feel entitled that the wage should continue for you somewhere else in the community? Do you have any idea WHY you were paid that wage?
Globalization.. And That Isn’t Perfect –
As we all know the direction of the country in recent years regarding international economics has been embracing the idea of globalization. Various trade agreements once thought to position the country in a world growth cycle is being looked upon as a threat to middle class economic survivability at the risk of losing our position as a world power, respected for its economic might. In fact, in the last 8 years the country has indeed prospered under globalization.. but try and tell that to a displaced middle class factory worker whose job went off shore; and that’s why republican Trump got support from traditionally democratic middle class workers. He promised them the world; he said he was their savior in getting their jobs back.. and making America great again… when America has been great all along. That middle class segment is suffering and they gave their vote to the guy who gives them the most hope. Sounds eerily like Europe in the 30’s, but while the story is familiar I am making NO suggestion that Trump has some ill-will personal agenda at the expense of other Americans or democracy itself. I am saying that when folks are suffering they are easily moved toward a person who promises to give them what they need, and ignoring common sense in that person’s ability to deliver what they promise.
We’ve Been There Before –
First off, all this is cyclical economics; pure economic evolution. My significant other is from the Lordstown/Warren, Ohio area. In the early part of the 2Oth century it was a pure farming community. Then GM came to town. Want to know why? Labor in rural areas was cheaper. You think the factory workers in Detroit were happy when GM relocated because of cheaper labor? You think the farmers of Lordstown were happy when their farming workforce left the farms to get those high-paying factory jobs that required no experience and workers got free training to install those brake lines? It’s economic evolution.
In the early days of the industrial revolution factory work… assembly line work, was considered cheap work, mundane and boring work. Even the mines.. and the oil industries were employers of cheap labor. Until the unions came in factory work was cheap, unskilled labor. No question the unions made the workplace safer but in demanding all the perks we now take for granted the price of manufacturing increased. Yes, a solid middle class was created and it helped to make our country the economic powerhouse it is today. But that came at a cost to the farming communities of the day, and it came at a cost to all the displaced workers in the urban areas (remember urban blight?) when companies left the cities.
What Is All This Really About Anyway? –
So, you’ll have to pardon me if I don’t jump on this idea that it’s a bad thing that manufacturing jobs are going off shore. No job in this country is “forever”; no one has some entitlement that his/her job should be passed on in the family for generations. Automation alone has removed many jobs. But automation itself has created far more new jobs. Just the other day CNN reported that there are more employed workers in the alternative fuels industries than in all the fossil fuel industries combined. No.. the real problem here is that few displaced people are getting the re-training required to be employed in those new breakout industries… and, dare I say this(?).. a lot of ex-factory workers really don’t want any re-training because what they have been doing in those factories are ingrained in their minds and lives, sometimes passed on from a previous generation of factory workers. They’ve become complacent.
Here’s a “messy truth”. Even by today’s standards, those rust belt factory jobs are by and large still mundane, boring, unskilled jobs.. albeit, to get people to do those jobs companies have to pay more. It’s the old story of supply and demand. People who do factory jobs are not generally doing them from a sense of desire (which of us has said back when we were kids that when we grow up we want to install brake lines?). My whole point here is that all of life is made up of the personal choices we make. Some of us were born to lead, some of us were born to follow. Some of us were born to create and some of us were born to destroy. Some of us do white collar and some do blue collar. Some of us actually got to be those things we said we wanted to do when we grew up.. and most of us ended up doing other things. These rust belt folks are not entitled to their jobs in perpetuity any more than any of us. You loose your job, you adapt and find other work. You don’t sit around and moan in your beer about how it was in the old days making $60k a year, not because of any skill or trade but for doing a repetitive job few others wanted to do, and a union covered your ass from getting fired.
I am in NO way belittling any particular job over another. I am college degreed, owned three businesses in my past; I am a management professional by profession, and a humanist in personal philosophy. I am entitled only to the equality under the law of trying to achieve. The rest is up to me. My current job, because I am old and quasi-being put out to pasture, is protecting people and property. To me that’s damn well worth at least $25 an hour. But because qualifications are low, the industry is competitive, and customers requiring such services are not serious about security, it ain’t gonna happen. If I want $25 an hour I have a choice to work in some factory, join a union, and learn how to install brake lines… at least until they re-locate off shore (and that’s only if someone in HR doesn’t spot my high school graduation date on my job application).
We Have Freedom To Choose –
I personally resent the fact that Trump got elected based on a disgruntled segment of the middle class who want the good old days. But… it’s apparent that globalization will displace portions of the working population. Maybe we would be better served if we used that 10 billion (or more with the expected cost overruns) earmarked for the new wall, on re-education programs for training displaced workers with new careers. Better yet, re-employ the displaced rust belt folks on building the new wall. Obviously none of that will happen. But it seems to me people should accept responsibility for their own lives; adapt to changing economic conditions, find new jobs, go back to school, if you live in an economically depressed area then move to an area with greater opportunity. Yes, many people choose not to do that so they look for other things to blame for their sorry lot in life… or believe in the ridiculous pontifications of a false prophet like Trump.
What Exactly Can The Messiah Deliver? –
All this leads us to what we might expect from Trump regarding what he can or cannot change in all reality. If the rust belt folks are thinking their jobs are coming back to their neighborhoods in the next 6 months.. well, you’d be better off playing the lottery. There’s no question we, as a country, could do a better job with China given all the money manipulation, trade practices, and manufacturing knock-off merchandising they do. Sanctions and trade tariffs are certainly a tool toward trying to coerce the Chinese government in playing well with others in globalization. But to presume lost jobs will return back to the States from China, Mexico, etc. on any sort of a grand scale is a false belief. IF any jobs return they will most assuredly return with increased levels of advanced robotic automation, little influence from unions, and the numbers of mega-thousands going back to their $60k per year factory jobs, is highly unlikely. There is no going back to the good old manufacturing days of the 80’s and 90’s.
The epilog hasn’t been written yet about the new president but it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon or a brain scientist to venture a respectable guess. All his election promises will largely go unfulfilled… he will blame everyone else for that result (just like his rust belt comrades)… and most importantly, he will have disappointed those Americans who believed in him. I can only hope all this “make America great again” doesn’t mask some round of international isolationism. Being involved in global trade keeps America involved and in the forefront to continue world leadership. But, in the end, life will still go on… and “we will still be ok”, as we have been assured (which only makes me wonder why republicans keep saying that).