Simple, Easy, Obvious . . . and WRONG

President-elect Trump has ridden the back of a wave of anger and fear and discontent. And no one can doubt that there are people in this country with real reasons to feel all of those things.

We cannot, we must not, ignore those feelings and those causes. But we should look deep into the root causes, rather than settling for the easy solution.

President-elect Trump has made rafts of promises, explicit and implicit, that he cannot possibly keep. For example, most of the
“good jobs” have been taken away not be trade but by technology and by time.

It is a simple fact that the economy has changed. Basic manufacturing jobs were once relatively high-paying jobs, and could be filled by those people who had a minimal education and training, but who were willing to work hard and who had physical skills.

But then again, there was a time when butchers were rich, and millers were in the top tier of the middle class. That changed long ago. Farmers with a hundred acres were once well off. That changed long ago.

Those “good jobs” in manufacturing will never be “good” in the same way again. And to the extent that their successor jobs exist, there will be far fewer of the ones that pay well, and they’ll demand far more of those who fill them. That’s what a change in time and technology has done for and to us.

The remaining jobs will be low wage jobs. They’ll offer wages that will get you about what the old jobs did — but the standards of wealth and sufficiency have changed. Now, a single car, and a small house etc aren’t a good living — in the US. Now, those are good jobs for a low-wage country, but not for here.

Now, the US worker needs to be able to do things differently, or to do different things, if he or she is to earn a “good wage.”

So, President Trump may be able to kill trade deals. He may even be able to force companies to continue to manufacture in the US. But those “good jobs” and the lives that went with them are gone for good.

What will he do when he has to confront that failure?

I’m terrified, because I believe that he, and those who depend upon his promises, won’t look for answers and for solutions in the world as it is, and in the technologic and economic changes that have occurred.

I think that they’re going to look for someone to blame. And we’ll have yet another populist turned tyrant as he hunts down that mythical group of Others who are doing us harm. It’s so much easier and more satisfying to blame Them for our problems.

You can hunt down and kill Them. And you’ll feel like you’re fixing what’s wrong with your life. It’s so much easier than looking at the type of work you’ve done in the past, and saying that it’s gone, and you’ll have to find a different way. It’s so much easier than picking up your family and moving. It’s so much easier than designing a government program to help impoverished families retrain and relocate, without producing pipe dreams or a failed command economy.

But the easy answer isn’t usually the right one when you’re addressing complex problems in the real world.

You know the old saying: To every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, obvious, easy . . . and WRONG.

We’re clearly headed in that direction. I wish we weren’t. Ideas?

2 Responses to “Simple, Easy, Obvious . . . and WRONG”

  1. I’d perhaps give you half-right here; perhaps a B- :-). People are fully aware of the difference between avoidable and unavoidable change. they don’t havbe to have a degree in the subject to grasp the situation. When I was in a sem-skilled job, with unskilled alongside as well, the thing that struck me was the ability to see right through guff in an instant.

    Intellectuals tend to say “wait and see”, these people say “this is what you will see”. Nine times out of ten they were right. There is no good reason for all those jobs to go overseas. In fact the effect on working and middle class people in the post Reagan/Thatcher period is the best possible argument for a return to tariff based trading I have met.

    Think that the main effect of globalisation has been to send polluting industries to badly regulated places, thus speeding global warming and planetary death. It has further concentrated money – and therefore power – into an ever smaller clique of hands.

    You think reaction to that a simple answer? so do I. But has anyone thought out a better answer that can be put into effect?

  2. I hear what you’re saying about respecting the intelligence and intuition of the people affected. And I do respect those things in everyone.

    I think that, in a situation where the facts are clear, and where the precedents are available, anyone would be well advised to listen.

    I DON’T think that we’re looking at such a situation. I think that you have to be looking at things with a very wide perspective to see what’s happening. If you look at the actions of one company or the effects on one union, you’ll go astray.

    I would say that there actually is a very good reason for those jobs to go overseas. That reason is that they’re no longer “good enough” to stay here. They belong in places where the relative value of that work will be considered good enough. And the market value of that work is no longer as good as it once was.

    Either the jobs involved in creating those goods will be made more complex and demanding and continue to pay well — for those who adjust to the demands — or they’re going to be the same sort of jobs, but they’re no longer going to be worth the same sort of pay scale.

    The POV of the people who are protesting is, I think, that they should be able to make the same relative wages for the same sorts of work with the same types of training as they did 20 or 30 years ago.

    The pace of change has accelerated. Earlier such shifts happened over generations. We’re getting one or two every generation now.

    What I think we should be doing is helping people make that adjustment, and find other ways to earn the same level of wealth or better. But trying to unring the bell will only work for a short time.

    Forcing the jobs back here won’t change the underlying reality. The goods produced per hour need to go up, or the wages down, as the productivity of the economy shifts.

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