Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Portraits of the Ailing Economy -- (and politicians who are ignoring them)

When David Brooks and Tom Friedman both reference the same article on the economy -- Adam Davidson's piece in the Atlantic, "Making it In America"  -- it is worth taking notice. 

Their message:  Technology is making our factories more productive and our workers less necessary.  Many of the workers with a great work ethic who want succeed just do not have the skills to get to the next level - where jobs would be more plentiful - and do not have the support they need to get training.  

Combine this portrait with another fantastic piece on why we don't manufacture I-phones in the United States and you begin to get a deeper understanding of the ditch we are in and the policy challenges to get an American economy that, in President Obama's word's, is "built to last." 

Why don't we make I-phones?  Because we don't have a ready supply of 8,700 industrial engineers that are needed, because we don't have mini-factory cities where workers will wake up in the middle of the night to start installing scratch proof class in the I-phone after Steve Jobs realized that his prototype was getting marred by the keys in his pocket, because we have not organized our society as a giant supply chain ready and able to execute in-time production like much of Asia.

This is a Gridlock issue because none of our politicians are willing to tell these inconvenient truths to the voters.  Cutting taxes and regulations will not bring jobs to our shores, nor will the Buffet rule.  Bashing immigrants will certainly make matters worse.  We can't solve our problems until we have a political system capable of reasoned debate on issues that matter.    


  1. I understand that there are many Americans who lack the expertise needed to be successful in the American job market. However, as long as our community remains the number on producer in the world (as measured by GDP) I don't see why this is a reason for alarmist rhetoric. Our factories can produce more "stuff" with fewer people... Again, I don't see how this, in itself, is reason for concern. It seems to be an opportunity for extraordinary growth (as long as we can educate enough Americans with the expertise to run these factories). We have a tremendous opportunity ahead that we should exploit through education, and preoccupying ourselves with fear that Asians are producing our IPOD covers seems unproductive. I think that ultimately the goal should be more total production, and that after that goal is secured we can worry about the fine point of distribution (after all, the more "stuff" we have the easier it is to pay for big government social welfare programs).

    1. Good points. A lot of our GDP is for services, not "stuff" - and there are less spin off dollars that come from producing services than manufacturing - which leads to fewer jobs. In the not too distant future, both China and India will pass us in GDP, so we will not be the number one producer. Yes, education is key - but isn't it depressing that companies will not build plants here because our educational system is not producing a sufficient number of engineers? My main point, however, is the disconnect between the political dialogue and these portraits of what ails the economy.