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Reply #16: You're on the money. [View All]

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Veritas_et_Aequitas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-29-09 03:10 PM
Response to Reply #8
16. You're on the money.
Your observation that the US' loss of blue collar jobs has been replaced by white collar jobs is correct. As you've probably heard tossed around by various talking heads, the US is classified as a "service economy", meaning we make precious little in the way of physical things and deal extensively in intangibles. The US' major service "exports" are education and financial services (ha!). Likewise we've seen a boost in tech sectors like biotech, pharmaceuticals, and energy. At best the trade-off has led to a shuffling around of unemployed population. Sure Fred the UAW lifer lost his job, but his neighbor Bob the accountant just got a sweet gig. Economists don't tend to make those differentiations since they only look at overall numbers. The real problem is even those jobs in which things are made have become so specialized that it's hard for Fred to go from working on the assembly line to working on a DNA sequencer (or at least, that's the argument).

And, yes, you're right. Countries that "get the most" out of their workers tend to have horrible workers rights records (and human rights records often) for the reasons you imply above. China has an explosive manufacturing sector, but it isn't exactly kosher when it comes to taking care of its most valuable asset - the worker.

I like your ideas. Let's look at them one by one. (I would like to point out that I have no formal training in economics. I'm just a wonk who gets obsessive about seeing how systems are supposed to work).

"zero tariffs for products from countries that match (or exceed) our minimum wages" - Personally, I like it because it put some economic and political pressure on countries to at least match our minimum wage laws and could be a real vehicle for change. It would be interesting to see how it would work on a country such as China; yes, China is very economically powerful, but the United States is its number one consumer, and I doubt any one nation could pick up our slack. That could be a very good thing. And it's not like such a clause would be new. The US often puts little clauses in our free trade agreements that make countries bend to our will one war or another. On the other hand, we could find ourselves at the end of a similar policy when dealing with France or Sweden. Overall, though, I think that would be a good way to balance a desire to protect workers rights and promote free trade.

"total ban on products where the environment is being sacrificed to make a quick buck" - That would never fly. While promoting environmental stewardship and sustainable economic growth are both essential if the human race is going to continue on as a society, I don't think our government (or any other) is ready to accept that. Instead, we should probably ease into something that broad. For example, we could establish a responsible domestic industrial sector by granting subsidies to companies that are environmentally responsible and profitable and fine those that abuse the environment; however, such command and control policies usually don't work. Economists would prefer something along the line of the carbon "tax" - tradeable quotas that become progressively more expensive the more they are purchased from a government agency. In the case of carbon, it should encourage companies to reduce carbon simply because its too expensive to keep being so wasteful. As the company becomes more waste-efficient, they can sell off their license to another (probably younger and less efficient) company to increase revenue. Ideally this would bring carbon emissions to an all time low over time. A similar program could be used to enforce environment regulation. After we set a standard for ourselves we can then request our trading partners to keep pace if they wish to maintain a favorable trade agreement.

"gov't paid education up through college level so we can get away from a 'manufacturing equals jobs' economy?" You Marxist, you! I have mixed feelings about this based on my stint as a high school teacher and from my upbringing. Coming from a working class background I agree with your statement. Every American citizen who wants a college education should be able to do so for free at a public university of their choosing in their state. My grandfather had to drop out of school in the 8th grade to support his family. It was through his intelligence and his "protestant work ethic" that he was able to eventually become the foreman at a local, very profitable machine shop. However, I always wondered what my grandfather would have been capable of if he finished his formal education. Free post-secondary education would help promote a more tech-savvy workforce and a better educated workforce in general, two factors which should increase worker efficiency. However, after a year of teaching let me tell you that there are some kids who really don't belong in college. This isn't because they are lazy or lack the intelligence or work ethic; they'd just be miserable there. So to what you're suggesting I'd also add providing green or clean industrial vocational training. We'll always need electricians, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, and the like. There's no reason we can't let them get in on that benefit to perfect their chosen craft.

It's interesting. I was talking to a conservative friend of mine and he proposed that the US move away from large scale manufacturing based on environmental concerns and proposed a similar education program to yours. It gives me hope that a staunch but very intelligent conservative (although not Republican) such as he can come to the same conclusions we can and suggest a similar solution. Maybe there is some hope we can fix our system.
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