As I begin writing this week’s Corner, we find ourselves 94 days from the presidential election. Concurrent with this are several dire predictions of what the remainder of the year has in store for us with regard to the economy and our society at large.
The rioting and protesting that continue to take place in several of our major cities drive home the message that we have some serious problems to address as a nation. Some might argue that what is taking place is centrally controlled and scripted. Others argue that it is a case of spontaneous combustion. Regardless, if the United States were a patient that had just been admitted to hospital, one of its many maladies diagnosed would be a greatly compromised immune system that makes it susceptible to many an illness.
One such illness we are all very familiar with is the destruction of our productive classes, the men and women who go out each day and add value through the sweat of their brows and their ability to solve problems. At the center of the destruction is the ruinous notion of “global competitiveness.”
Starting in the 1980s, we were fed the line that American workers were undeserving and needed to become more productive/competitive. It was a lot of malarkey, but we responded and became more productive, while at the same time our salaries in real terms (adjusted for inflation) hardly budged. Further, as union enrollment began to fall, we became less secure in our jobs. It would be one thing if the sacrifices we were making to be more productive were fair and shared. But they were not. The rich started getting richer; the poor got poorer, and the middle class found itself getting squeezed.
By the 1990s, the Berlin Wall had fallen, and it was pretty much open season on U.S. workers. With the signing of trade deals like NAFTA and GATT, and through the work of the WTO, our workers in the manufacturing sector became disposable as their jobs were offshored to low-cost countries.
In the 2000s, our service sector with its white-collar jobs became the target of the rentier class seeking alpha and ever greater returns on investment. Efficiency became the byword. The white-collar workers responded with being ever more grateful just to have a job, while expanding the use of household credit, and training their foreign replacements.
The net result is the chickens have come home to roost, and our country is in a bind. So how does the patient get better? Do we double down on more of what got us here? Trust me, that is the solution many of our leaders are proposing. Just this week we saw two senators, Dick Durbin and Mike Lee, argue incessantly for the privileges of employment visa holders here in the U.S. at a time when many millions are unemployed and many more millions underemployed.
Earlier this morning, too, Congresswoman Barbara Lee requested billions of dollars be spent to give legal and other services to asylum seekers coming to the U.S. She referred to them as “the most vulnerable.” Excuse me, congresswoman, what about our vulnerable?
As I begin to assess the leadership landscape of the country today, I am struck by the incompetence and fecklessness of our leadership class. When searching for an answer as to why, all I can think of is that all of them never governed in a time of real crisis.
Our oldest leaders were all born in a time of prosperity, after WWII. The generations before had secured for them a country that was productive. Our current crop of leaders never experienced “total war” and a great depression to which there was no easy way out.
This is why we see them doubling down on the failed policies and myths of globalization. They do not know how to add to the kind of virtue that built this country. Rather, they know only how to squander it. They simply know no better.
So, what is required, you ask? I argue we need to return to what worked in the past to get us out of the big binds.
We must ditch the dogma of globalization and work to bring jobs back to the U.S. Workers, high skilled, low skilled – doesn’t matter how skilled – must come together and work collectively. The fruits of this collective action will be legislation at the federal, state and local levels that place the needs of the productive class over the rentier class. As a result, jobs will come back to our shores. Not only wages, but productivity, will rise.
In closing, I’d like to ask you to share this newsletter with friends, family and colleagues. As always, please be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates. The coming 94 days are going to be action-packed, and opportunities will arise for tech workers to make their voices heard.