Having It Both WaysJanuary 10, 2017 by Thomas Tatum
They want to be taken care of while calling for The Market to bring order or balance into their affairs. Shareholders all too often expect short-term investment to provide long-term gains. Low-skill work is deemed unsatisfactory (which it is!) but ever fewer people, companies and communities are willing to invest in the education necessary to ensure that workers and, more importantly, our youth need not stumble into this trap. It is true that most or all of these contradicting desires and objectives are achievable at one time or another, or in given specific constellations, but it’s deceptive to believe that anyone can provide this level of comfort consistently and to everyone. Unfortunately, though, it’s precisely this what people long to believe and there’s no shortage of politicians–and those who claim not to be politicians–who are willing to promise as much.
Few of us today waste any thought on where the blacksmiths went. Or the overseas switchboard operators or even the small town bank tellers. In this age of ATMs and digital direct dialing, we get along just fine without these people working at jobs which were often crucial to the way we lived. In the not-too-distant future, factories, too, will become increasingly autonomous and cars, trucks, trains and planes will one day reliably steer themselves to where we command them to go.
Americans embrace progress, which is a positive thing as it is the only viable avenue for innovation and growth. The advent of the automobile, commercial aviation or the increasingly internet-based economy are just three examples of changes which have swept the globe, usurping the ways we previously worked and lived. Nearly all of us have benefited as a result. But this same progress exacts a price: the requirement to adapt. Throughout the world–not only in Ohio–industrial nations have been forced to adjust as heavy industries like mining, steel production or shipbuilding have become untenable, often due to the high financial, social or environmental cost of artificially sustaining them while both producers and consumers have moved their activities into markets beyond our direct control.
This last point is important. Just as Mr. Trump has declared that it was his duty as CEO toward his company to use a $1bn loss to his benefit in the form of tax write-offs, it was also his duty to ensure that thousands of tons of steel used in constructing his real estate projects were purchased at the most preferential terms possible–the odds that it was produced in Bethlehem or Youngstown are thus slim. Amazon has forced booksellers to re-think their business with no small number of them closing altogether. Most suburban American consumers, including those in the Rust Belt, today shop at malls or superstores like WalMart or, increasingly, online. Outside of the larger cities, shopping downtown has become a thing of the distant past. Face-to-face interaction with a knowledgeable and helpful salesperson earning a decent living at their job is becoming a rarity. Self-checkouts at the supermarket, self-check-in at the airport or in budget hotels, a stop at the ATM or paying at the pump with a credit card have become our daily reality while the people who once provided these services have been forced to scramble. Anyone wanting to Make America Great Again needs to stop bemoaning “stolen” jobs and instead ensure that people are given the tools and education they need to master change. And these same people need to be willing to adapt. China and Mexico are wrongly and unjustly used as scapegoats; they do not steal American jobs. Instead, American consumers, including those in the Rust Belt, have for years chosen to buy their products because they are cheaper or better in quality. Or both.