Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Pay attention to who David Brooks cites:
In an op-ed
dismissing Obama's speech on the economy, Brooks writes: (emp add)
Barack Obama delivered a speech in Pittsburgh on Monday on the economic stresses facing American workers. In the speech, he devoted one clause in one sentence to the single biggest factor affecting the workplace: technological change. He then devoted 45 sentences to one of the least important: trade deals.
Economists differ over how much outsourcing will change the American job market in the future, but there is little evidence that trade has been a major cause of job loss or even wage stagnation so far. As Robert Z. Lawrence of the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote in a recent study: “The recent increase in U.S. inequality ... has little to do with global forces that might especially affect unskilled workers — namely, immigration and expanded trade with developing countries.”
The Peterson Institute for Internation Economics's full name is the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics
. And who is Peter G. Peterson
? A billionare who has been relentless in his campaign to abolish Social Security. It's likely that the institute named for him shares a similar lack of concern for labor.
Brooks ends with:
American voters aren’t so stupid as to think their problems are caused by foreigners and malevolent lobbyists.
Which is a variation on the classic, "You're not so stupid that you're going to walk away from an opportunity to make big money with this chain letter?"
As usual, Brooks sums 2 + 2 and comes up with five. The quote from the Peterson Institute is equally innane. Just because he reaches that conclusion don't make it so. My wages as a college educated senior programmer have dropped more than 20% since the nineties because I compete here and offshore with people of lesser skills willing to take less for the trash they create. Then it's up to me to fix their mistakes -- but hey, they're cheaper!
Software engineers are the canary in the coal mine.
Well then, I think we need to get out of the coal mine.
I'm usually wary of David Brooks' commentary, as he does typically come across as unapologetically free-market; however, I think he's exactly right on this one.
The manufacturing jobs that were once the lynchpin of rural economies are a thing of the past in this country, and should not be the key talking point for a forward looking politician - especially a would-be President. If the software engineers are still listening, I would argue that your particular plight actually reinforces this point: politicians don't talk at town meetings about the jobs of a highly skilled workforce - you and your peers - being sent overseas. No, instead, they talk about shuttered mills, closed factories, and dried-up manufacturing towns.
It would be refreshing, Brooks posits, to talk more about the most pertinent elements of the economy, those issues that will determine the future prosperity of this nation, such as discrepancies in education, the explosive growth of new technologies and the subsequent need for a skilled workforce, etc.
This does not preclude a conversation about manufacturing; rather, it provides the context for such a discussion. But rolling out an economic plan that has as its central tenet the protection of domestic manufacturing jobs is unlikely to provide for sustained economic growth, nor is it likely to spark the resurgence of the middle class, regardless of the media's infatuation with this topic.
ds: Highly skilled workers (programmers) and factory workers both need protection. You mention "economic growth", but as far as I can tell, that's simply GDP which mostly accrues to the rich. I care about the middle (those between 20% and 80% of household income) and they haven't seen any growth at all. Excepting certain conditions I've discussed before (it's okay to trade with Europe and Japan) I see absolutely no benefit in trading with ultra-low-wage countries like India and China. Free traders have not made the case that free trade is good when it's done with countries that pay, essentially, slave wages. Unless, of course, you take the Brad DeLong approach, which is that we should freely trade with poor countries in order to help the poor in those places.
What about the educational component to all of this. Brooks sentence about his college diploma is so much more pathetic because of his ignorance as to what a college degree is worth these days, and to get one is more expensive than ever. An educated population can think it's way through wage and trade issues, and then politicians won't have to worry about dumbing down their speeches to keep votes- nor will they be able to.
David Brooks intellect is best used when he's being funny.
Quiddity: I think we agree regarding the perils of free market ideology and - to some extent, at least - regarding the protection of manufacturing jobs. I'm not particularly knowledgeable in the discourse of economics (though it certainly is a burgeoning interest, particularly as relates to trade) and I appreciate the clarification regarding economic growth. I do still wonder the extent to which our country can benefit from the redevelopment of a manufacturing sector, and whether such development is even possible - would the emphatic turn to more sustainable sources of energy spark a resurgence?
Furthermore, I think Brooks' point still stands: a good, sound economic plan does not promise a return to traditional forms of production. Instead, it focuses on the opportunities and challenges posed in new technologies as remedies for ailing workplaces, towns, cities, and regions.