Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It is time for America to have an Industrial Policy

THERE IS A CONCEIT AMONG THE MANAGEMENT CLASS — particularly members of that class who style themselves as left-of-center — that if we just send millions of former workers from our devastated manufacturing sector to college so they can become website designers or something, that will make up for destroying the industries that formerly provided them a decent living. One of former President Clinton’s more annoying habits has been to harp on this particular hypothesis.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that plan isn’t going to work — at least not in a place of the scale, history and complexity of the United States. Heck, I’ll go ahead and put a fine point on it: It’s a bunch of nonsense.

I mean, look: The Swiss are few enough that they can be the world’s bankers, and the Saudis can be the world’s oil company. But the United States, if it’s going to be a prosperous place, needs to be where the main engine of prosperity is taking raw materials, making something valuable out of them and then selling those valuable things at a profit.

We can’t be a first-tier economy by selling each other life insurance and software; we need to make things — physical, need-machine-tools-to-make-them things like cars, boats, clothing, machine tools and electronics. The Democratic Party’s leadership used to know this, and acted accordingly, with all kinds of support for (real, actual) industry and its (real, actual) workers. These days, however, Democrats seem to represent members of the management class who want to send line workers and former machinists to college so they can become computer programmers. It’s ridiculous.

There are millions of ex-manufacturing workers who used to make a good living by making things here in the U.S. The “Old Economy” offered them a way to use their skills and gifts and afford the basics of life, plus a little fun. But the “New Economy” has no real place for them. Those with less than a college degree have precious few ways to support a family in anything approaching comfort. And even these avenues are vanishing.

Here’s the thing: There are millions of folks who are, to be blunt, not smart enough, or at least temperamentally unsuited — or, increasingly, too poor — to go to college. Are they to be consigned to working at 7/11 and making $9 an hour for the rest of their lives? Don’t we as citizens have an obligation to see that they have something better to aspire to — work that allows them to support their families in a dignified way, and maybe even to put something away for college for the kids and themselves in their golden years?

These questions have not been asked of Americans in any public and consistent way for years — decades, even. The very phrase, “we, as citizens, are obligated to …” is, in the libertarian, Hobbesian world of economic mercilessness we’ve allowed to flourish a nonsensical phrase full of meaningless words. We are no longer “citizens,” active participants in the building of our civilization; we are now “consumers,” defined by our economic worth — mere cogs in the soul-impoverishing machinery of “wealth creation” and economic oligarchy. Our part is to passively keep the whole corrupt machine humming. Nothing is demanded of us but to CONSUME.

If we want a different future, we must address the needs of our workers to find meaningful and rewarding work. For that we need an official industrial policy. The U.S. is the only so-called First World nation without one, and it shows.

Did you ever wonder why Germany seems to be the go-to place for high-quality goods of every sort — cars, clocks, precision instruments, electronics, cameras and other optical equipment, and so on? A big reason is that the German government has decided that it wants an economy that produces those things, and has taken specific actions to achieve that goal.

Germany’s method of creating wealth is not hard to understand, and in principle would be simple to duplicate here in the United States:

1. They make it a national priority to produce a highly educated work force. And “education” doesn’t necessarily mean college — while the German higher education system is excellent, they also place a far greater emphasis on vocational training than the United States does. Most of the people who actually build BMW cars in Germany’s factories do not need a college education to do so, but they do need familiarity with precision, computerized machinery, plus deep and detailed  training in various materials-handling skills, and so on.

2. Germany then takes that highly educated work force and puts to work designing and manufacturing sophisticated, precision products for high wages.

3. It then exports those products at high prices and then re-invests the rewards back into their education system.

Germany is the second biggest exporter in the world despite having slightly less than a third of America’s population and about 7 percent of the largest exporter, China. The Germans realize they cannot beat either China or India based on cost. America can’t either: We could destroy all the remaining unions, get rid of the minimum wage and eliminate all social benefits and taxation and we would still lose jobs to low-wage nations. Germany avoided going down America’s road toward middle class ruin by investing public resources in training their workforce and in research.

Such an approach is possible in the United States, but to get there, we as citizens must realize — more than that, we must decide, and then act on the decision — that, to coin a phrase, the economy is made by and for us, and not us for the economy.

No comments:

Post a Comment