Cliff Claven Gets It Wrong On The American Workforceby Brad Warbiany
A common lament these days is that America “doesn’t build anything anymore”. John Ratzenberger takes that thought and expands upon it at Big Hollywood, suggesting that not only do we not build anything, we have nobody to do the building. Unfortunately for John, he’s made enough logical errors, irrelevant points, and misdiagnoses of the problem that he’s due for a fisking.
When America gave up its position as the producer-in-chief and became the consumer-in-chief, “essential skilled workers” became dirty words in our lexicon.
Gave up our position? Manufacturing output isn’t declining. As Don Boudreaux points out, it’s 80% higher than 1979 and 351% higher than 1955. Manufacturing employment might be declining, but value produced is rising. This, of course, reflects the fact that true wealth gains come not from output growth, but from productivity growth. America is much more productive relative to its labor needs than it has ever been.
The cultural shift is fast producing an “industrial tsunami” that threatens our economy and way of life. Ironically enough, we’re facing a crisis shortage of skilled workers at a time of dramatically high unemployment.
This may be true. A shortage of skilled workers is undoubtedly a bad thing. However, the free market is notoriously effective at solving shortages. Shortages are reflected by high compensation, and high compensation draws greater supply. If we have a persistent shortage, however, one would have to look at structural impediments to supply.
We must re-connect this disconnect or face the consequences.
Here is where he starts to both assign blame (which is correct) and attempt to generate a solution (which is incorrect) by using the ever-present “we”. It becomes apparent shortly that he is not willing to let the free market solve this problem, he prefers top-down command and control. What he fails to recognize is that top-down command and control got us into this mess in the first place, and thus cannot be trusted long-term to get us out of it.
America works when Americans are working.
Okay, so here’s a mindless platitude. What happened, need to build word count?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 25 percent of the working population will reach retirement age by 2012, resulting in a potential shortage of nearly 10 million skilled workers. This heightens the price our nation is paying for dismantling so many in-school vocational training programs during the past few decades.
Aha! Dismantling in-school vocational programs. Sounds like we already tried putting the government in charge of supplying the training needed for our workforce, and they followed the current president’s adage that “college is for EVERYONE” rather than understand that different people better fit different work tracks and goals.
The cultural shift he might be speaking about earlier is the shift between those who do physical work with their hands out in the world, and those who do intellectual work with their brains in air-conditioned offices. Those in the latter group often (mistakenly) assume that there’s no brain necessary for those in the former group, while those in the former group often (mistakenly) think those in the latter are mere parasites and produce no “real” wealth. The problem is that we’ve put the air-conditioned-office type in charge of our government, and thus they’ve been trying to keep students from the horrors of tradesmen work for a few decades now.
Is there any wonder that, after decades of denigrating the skilled trades, and dismantling one of the routes into those trades (public school vocational training), it’s getting hard to fill the positions today?
The current shortage already sharply reduces the growth of U.S. gross domestic product, contributing to our overall economic problem. America’s infrastructure is falling apart before our eyes. Municipal water and sewer systems are failing, and more bridges are unsafe to cross. Yet the nationwide shortfall of more than 500,000 welders is causing already-funded repair projects to be canceled or delayed.
Why is infrastructure falling apart before our eyes? Because government has spent decades using transportation funding bills on pork and new infrastructure. Every politician loves to create a new “Robert Byrd Memorial Bridge”, but none of them want to spend the money to perform upkeep on the “Spiro Agnew Drainage Canal”. We’ve neglected infrastructure for too long, and now that we’ve decided to fund some necessary projects, we’re limited by the lag time of new labor supply.
However, there’s a short-term solution! Labor is mobile, and if we REALLY need welders, I’m sure there are at least a few hundred thousand scattered amongst the world’s population of 6 billion that are both qualified and willing to come here and take those jobs. While I think it would be nice to give those jobs to Americans, it’s just not going to happen in the short term. But who stands in the way of allowing skilled immigrants to come here and do work that desperately needs to be done? If you answered government, John, you’re learning!
Essential skilled workers are heroes. Without them, America grinds to a halt. But there are national security implications to this skilled worker gap, too. The ongoing demand for U.S.-manufactured military parts and hardware — from boots to mother boards — require domestic manufacturing operations. Even now, critical manufacturing has been moved off-shore as a stop-gap measure.
We simply can’t “outsource” our national defense!
Oh, lord, did he really just go there? Red flag, folks, when someone’s position is so weak that they must run straight to the “you need to do what I say for NATIONAL SECURITY!”, you know he’s in trouble.
Critical manjufacturing (at least of motherboards) hasn’t been moved offshore as a “stop-gap” measure. It’s been moved offshore as part of the military’s wide push to COTS procurement methods. Everything for the military used to be one-off custom products. They were expensive, because from design to manufacturing, there were no economies of scale to take advantage of. Typically, in the military, the volumes just aren’t there. Vendors of sub-assembly components often aren’t salivating at the thought of getting an order to design and supply custom motherboards for, say, 200 aircraft over 5 years. It’s just not worth it unless the price is astronomical. Thus, for some products, there are already multiple independent vendors producing the needed product in much higher volume for commercial applications, and they can be used in military applications at much lower cost. Standard practice is to have multiple independent sources for every component for which it is physically possible, to lessen the risk of supply chain shocks if — for example — a factory gets bombed.
Perhaps Ratzenberger wants to make the argument that America should go back to one-off custom products for military use, at much higher cost to everyone involved (especially the taxpayer). If he’s making that argument on the grounds that it will put more people to work, he’s right. (So will paying them to dig and fill holes). But if he’s trying to make that argument on economic grounds that it will increase America’s wealth, he’s economically illiterate.
Along with Emmy Award-winning producer Craig Haffner and the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, I am currently in pre-production with a new documentary, “Industrial Tsunami,” whose purpose is to wake up Americans to the shortage of skilled workers that threatens the existence of companies and entire industries.
I won’t disagree that we may be short on skilled workers. Alerting America to this fact is not a bad idea. I suspect, though, that his prescriptions for a fix will be quite different than mine.
We must develop short- and long-range solutions to this crisis, starting with expanding vocational training opportunities and restoring dignity and pride in America’s skilled workers.
Short-term: Liberalize immigration. We’ve got jobs today, and foreigners today have skills. What’s the problem?
Long-term: Privatize education (whether liberally voucher-based or full privatization). All done. Problem solved!
Okay, need more explanation? First, start with the fact that public education has made a high school diploma nothing more than a certification of breathing and a pulse. We’ve forced a college education to be the “starting point” of life by making it, at the very least, a certification of mild sentience, which is what a high school diploma used to be. Thus, employers have started demanding college degrees for jobs which don’t come close to requiring that someone finished a 4-year major in “Communications”. Break the “college is for EVERYONE” mindset by actually making high school valuable again, which will likely only occur through competition and privatization.
Second, once education is privatized, you cease to let government bureaucrats, who need a Master’s Degree to wipe their butts, to decide what’s important for success in the world. You’ll actually start to see private schools return to offering vocational training, because if there’s truly a market demand for skilled tradesman, they’d be stupid not to offer those programs. Yes, I am making the claim that the reason for the lack of these programs today is stupidity, but given that we put the government in charge of the decision, that should surprise no one.
Once you break the government impediment to seeing the skilled trades as honorable work (furthered by their destruction of a high school diploma’s worth and their active effort to steer EVERY child to a 4-year college degree), the “dignity and pride” of the skilled trades will follow.
We will explore the negative media images of skilled workers, as well as current initiatives at the national and local levels to address this crisis.
Is “getting the hell out of the way” an initiative at any level? No? Didn’t think so.
Equally important, we will promote the concept that essential skilled work is noble, is useful and creates the independent mindset and self-confidence in the individual that has resonated throughout our nation’s history — and can rebuild America with a solid foundation once again.
In this, I can only hope you’re successful. Since you’re opposed by pretty much everyone from the President (a walking college degree who’s never generated value either with his hands or his intellect) to academia (including the vast masses of teachers who went to college to earn an “education” degree rather than become experts in a subject matter and then add some teaching skills) to most of our media (themselves rationalizing wasting 4 years on J-school when they’re being outflanked by pajama-clad bloggers), I’m a bit worried that your methods aren’t going to work out as well as you hope.