Curmudgeon Corner -

My Thoughts for April 19, 2015

Everyone knows curmudgeons like me hate change.  I do. I do. I do. The problem is change is like time—it can’t   be stopped.  The reality is one must learn to deal with it.  Deal with It?  But it is so painful.  Do I have to?  Here’s the short answer. Yep!

There is a change taking place in our communities that is subtle, progressive, and immutable.  It is called the Digital Age.  I loathe it and love it in the same breath. Wow, sounds like some marriages.)  The truth is that it’s changing our communities, our country, and our world all at the same time.  It is the most humongous change since the Industrial Revolution. 

The thing about change is you need to be careful what you wish for, because seldom are the outcomes exactly as you envisioned.  In fact, a lot of times things become much more complicated than one first anticipated. 

The Industrial Revolution, begun in England, started in the late eighteenth century and ended around the middle of the nineteenth century. Historical purists believe it never ended. In our country, it caused a seismic shift of our population, moving many Americans from an agrarian society to being city dwellers.  Our citizens went from working the land to using those same hands to operate newly-invented machinery.  It opened a giant door to untold opportunities for our citizens to improve their lives.  I know there were many issues associated with this upheaval but the fact remains it employed millions and millions of our citizenry.   

The Digital Revolution, while creating huge opportunities for our working people in whole new industries, it, at the same time, was displacing millions and millions of other Americans.  Robots have eliminated a vast amount of jobs in the auto industry.  Robots are popping up in many industries.  Soon, when you go to a fast-food restaurant, a robot will greet you, take your order, prepare it, and then serve it to you.  (Guess it will save on tipping.)  Think of the number of entry-level jobs that will be lost.

Also, the World Wide Web has made it possible for our domestic industries to access the low-wage labor markets of the world.  No longer are our blue-collar workers able to wield pressure on the industrial barons for higher wages as they once could.  The sad truth is labor unions have gone from representing 45 percent of the work force to a mere seven percent.  American workers in unskilled-labor jobs are now severely under represented.  The fact is that the World Wide Web has made it incumbent on our leaders to elevate their trade views from what’s best for American labor to what’s best for our country relative to world trade and world markets.

Thus, what we see happening are the advent of two significant forces crippling the growth of the labor force of America: the boom of the Digital Age and the mushrooming of world trade.

The Digital Age is causing a shift in terms of robotics and has created a class of laborers unable to find blue-collar jobs.  People in the auto industry were put out of work by the tens of thousands as robotic arms replaced the arms of human beings.  The claims by the big automakers were robots never miss a day of work.  (Come on, I’ve worked with technology.  It breaks down more than techno-geeks like to admit.  Everything has a bad day, even robots.)

If minimum wages go to fifteen dollars per hour, that will accelerate robots entering the fast-food industry.  McDonalds, Appleby’s, and other major chains are reported to be test marketing robot-type machines that will serve you.  How many people will that put out of work?

Some of our presidents have caused a decrease in our labor force.  While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce touts NAFTA as increasing our trade with Canada and Mexico, the AFL-CIO labor union claims over 700,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs went to Mexico.  We can thank Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton for these shifts in our labor force.  What was done for our displaced people?  I’m not sure I know.  Many, undoubtedly, wound-up in the fast food industry.

Today, our labor force is about to be impacted by the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Once again it will mean many—too many—of our jobs will be sent overseas. West Coast ports and a bunch of U.S. industries will get a boost while more American workers will get the boot.  Thank you President Obama. 

What’s really going on here?  Again, nasty reality raises its ugly head—it’s the “Haves” against the “Have-nots.”  While the Digital Age and modern trade agreements are good for world trade, they are not helping the U.S. labor force.  Thus, the rich will get richer, and our poor will get poorer.  Well, what can you expect when you’ve got a bunch of plutocrats running our country?  Where are the Roosevelts when we need them the most?  

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