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What Our Country Runs On

What Our Country Runs On
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BY DON PORTOLESE

Manufacturing and energy production are two important pillars of our economy. These are what have powered us to prosperity, what this country runs on. However, our engines have begun to sputter. The labor landscape is shifting, and we are losing jobs in these sectors as a result. Republicans blame the loss of manufacturing jobs on trade deals, the loss of energy jobs on overregulation by the EPA. They believe that in order to create jobs we must return to isolationism and our industrial roots. Democrats, on the other hand, are trying to open the U.S. to the world and develop new and environmentally friendly technologies in order to create jobs. These are two clearly different approaches to solving our job problems. The latter will lead us into an uncertain future. The former will certainly lead us into a place far worse.

Let’s talk about trade deals and globalization first. These are inevitable and our leaders need to understand and accept this. Have manufacturing jobs disappeared in the U.S because of trade deals and globalization? Certainly. However, is ignoring globalization going to help? Certainly not. If we want to have any leverage whatsoever in global markets, we need to remain an active part of any trade deals. However, rather than let large corporations dictate the terms of these trade deals, so they can offshore jobs or set up plants in other countries, politicians need to negotiate these deals to benefit workers. Republicans have been notorious proponents of letting business set the terms of trade deals. They recently voted down a measure that would have made it much more difficult for companies to offshore jobs. While they scream and cry about trade deals, it is their kid-glove approach to business that has paved the way for the mass exodus of jobs.

However, trade deals are only a small part of the overall equation. Innovation has played a far greater role in the disappearance of jobs. I remember the first time I traveled to Morocco. It was the advent of the rolling suitcase. As we got off the ferry, a gaggle of men waited around the port with carts to assist passengers with their luggage in exchange for a tip. These men sat dumbfounded as passengers walked off the boat pulling their luggage effortlessly behind them. The simple addition of a set of wheels to a suitcase and thousands of porters were out of a job. What will happen to our transportation sector when the driverless car reaches the market?

Yes, imagine this on a macro scale. Computers are a perfect example. These gadgets have made our lives easier in so many ways. However, their effect on employment has been devastating. According to MIT professors, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, computers are the major cause of sluggish job growth over the last ten to fifteen years. Whether it be robots or other advances in computer technology, this gismo has pushed humans out of the job market in almost every sector. And this trend will only continue.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee found that the clerical fields have been hit the hardest. Who hires someone to do filing today when a computer can do your filing for you? In fact, just about every pencil pushing or number-crunching office job has been significantly reduced by this device. And this in turn affects other industries. Internet and software programs have caused severe job losses in the paper industry. Letters, newspapers and other print media are going the way of the dinosaur, and with them all of the jobs implicated in their production, distribution, etc.

Skill gaps are also costing us manufacturing jobs. Rather than invest in our educational system to train workers to meet the demands of our changing economy, conservatives continually vote to cut spending on education. This cynical approach is diminishing our technological dominance in the world. If we can’t train our workers for the jobs of tomorrow fast enough, we will lose out on the manufacturing jobs of the future and inevitably fall behind. China is far more disciplined and open to new technologies. They currently lead the solar cell and panel industries. Meanwhile we have our heads buried in the sand searching for more fossil fuels.

Republicans falsely claim that democrats are waging a war on the coal industry and other traditional sources of energy. However, this is a natural hiccough in our economy. Demand is down not because of democrats, but because natural gas has become our number one source of energy. Fracking and more efficient ways of producing coal in the West have hit our traditional Coal Country hard. Similar shifts are having a devastating effect on the oil sector. Rather than look for alternatives, Republicans like Mike Pence and Donald Trump continue to make hollow promises about reviving these industries. We need to train these people in new technologies, and that can only come from programs like President Obama’s Power Plan which has allocated $68 million to retrain workers and cultivate new economic engines in the hardest hit regions of this country. If republicans really want to help these areas, they should be clamoring for more development assistance rather than promising jobs that will never return.

We need to stop relying on fossil fuels which have compromised us both economically and politically. Our dealings with despots in the Middle East would cease if we could simply kick our oil habit. We know the danger of man-made climate change and the role oil plays in this. Trump calls climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. If republicans continue to deny science, vast areas of this country will become uninhabitable, which will lead to millions of job losses. Eliminating the EPA, as some republicans dangerously propose, will not bring back long-term employment. It will bring about the eventual degradation of our economy and our environment. We can’t ignore the need to explore alternative energy sources if we want to remain viable environmentally, economically and industrially. This won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, but we must begin this transition now or lose our hegemony and the health of our planet.

Finally, as economist Paul Krugman of the New York Times has repeatedly said, we need to take advantage of low interest rates and invest in our crumbling infrastructure. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump advocate this as well. However, Trump’s party has been screaming austerity far too long to be credible on this issue. Investment in our infrastructure will not only improve our society, but create millions of new jobs. Conservatives can whine all they want about keeping the deficit down, but they need to realize that investment in our future is the only thing that will bring us out of our economic slump. It will also generate new tax revenues and develop businesses that did not previously exist. How can the party of business continually vote against these investments in our own country? We may have to borrow money; however, interest rates are at their lowest and the return will certainly pay down our deficit much faster than inaction.

We need a leader and a party who understand the economic and environmental challenges ahead. We can no longer base our economy on outdated or obsolete manufacturing, employment and educational models. We must look beyond our reliance on antiquated energy sources and production toward new energies and new jobs. Trumpublicans decry that trade deals and the EPA are killing jobs. However, it is their lack of vision and lack of faith in the future that is really killing employment.

 

 

 

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Don Portolese
Don Portolese is a freelance writer, filmmaker, translator and Chief Editor for this website. If you wish to respond to his articles, feel free to do so in the space provided below this article.