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In his new book The Coming Job War, Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of the polling firm The Gallup Organization, argues that we are at beginning stages of a worldwide war for jobs:

“A global jobs war is coming, and there's no time to waste. Cities are crumbling for lack of good jobs. Nations are in revolt because their people can't get good jobs. If countries fail at creating jobs, their societies will fall apart. Countries, and more specifically cities, will experience suffering, instability, chaos, and eventually revolution. This is the new world that leaders will confront.”

“An increasing number of people in America are hopeless, suffering, and becoming dangerously unhappy because they don’t have a job. …an increasing number of people in the world are becoming dangerously unhappy because they don’t have an almighty good job—and in most cases, no hope of getting one.”

We all know things aren’t OK and haven’t been OK for a long time. Yes, I’ve seen the “good times are back” stories on TV and in print but most rely on the statistical fluke resulting from increasing number of workers not even bothering to look for work. We get this story every few months. The mainstream media fulfils its role as our economy’s cheerleader hoping that increased consumer confidence will return things to normal.

The old world of employment doesn’t work anymore and there isn’t a new one, at least not yet.

Clifton paints a very bleak picture of the future of American, and global, jobs. Indeed, the economic aftereffects of the Great Recession are still with us and will be for some time to come. Even prior to the 2008 meltdown, the prospects of workers had already been declining for over forty years. Wages had stagnated and then fell for most. Once a job was lost a return to the workforce took longer and longer. Increasingly, workers were stranded outside the workforce permanently.

Is this the future of American jobs? Left to the economic powers-that-be who have been making the rules so far, some version of Clifton’s dreary vision is bound to occur. In fact, it’s already occurring. This diary is about a new, more hopeful, vision for the future of American jobs.

Clifton’s solutions to the jobs crisis are a repeat of the failed strategies of the past: entrepreneurship, investment, and above all, more “free enterprise.” For decades presidential speeches about the economy—by both Democrats and Republicans—have relentlessly hammered home these themes. A mythology about our economy has been created—and perpetuated by the mainstream media—that financial capital investment and technological innovation will win the day. Americans have been conditioned to believe this is the only alternative open to workers and that we might as well resign themselves to going along with the plan.

These ideas have not been enough. This mythology has worked for the few but not the many. Some in the big cities but not many living on the outside. When the poor and minorities were the only ones being hurt, most Americans were willing to look away. But now huge numbers of people are hurting, including the middle class. Now everyone’s worried. Even the top tenth percent income earners should be worried but for a different reason. Whenever wealth is so unevenly distributed the entire society is in danger. Clifton’s certainly right about that.

Where I believe he is mistaken is his prescription for what ails us. In this diary I present a mix of potential solutions to our national predicament about jobs and, indirectly, about our declining quality of life, especially outside the big cities. Some of these ideas are new. Some are not but have never really been tried long enough to see if they work. What they have in common is that each solution does not accept the status quo as the only means of going forward. Each solution also shares a need for national political action to become a reality. Not just action by the elites--they won’t help workers as they sometimes have in the past--but by everyone. We know what we’ve been doing has not been working. Let’s begin to discuss something new.

Our present system of work is centered on large, dynamic companies at the core of our economy. That’s the world Clifton is writing about. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of people work in each of these companies which generally offer higher-than-average wages and good health benefits. They are mostly located near large cities and are integrated into global transportation networks linking similar companies. The U.S. economy is oriented around the needs of this high-energy, high capital investment core. As the largest and most influential corporations, they are political heavyweights with enormous clout in Washington D.C.

Outside this core, the hierarchy ranges down to smaller enterprises employing hundreds to just a few workers. Down the pecking order the wages are lower and benefits vanish. Many are located in smaller cities, towns, and rural areas. Outside the core, firms and their workers struggle. These less dynamic areas, and their residents, have long been neglected in national power politics. This diary is about those smaller companies, their workers, and the communities that support them.

Usually, left-leaning writers either describe what has already gone wrong (high unemployment, for example) or react to how it might get worse (House Republicans could propose doing away with what’s left of our safety net). This diary is different because it proposes new ideas for creating working-class jobs and reinvigorating our communities. Not by re-chanting mantras about massive new capital investment in high-tech industries or college degrees for everybody but by proposing strategies that could actually work in the real world. There’s nothing inevitable about the decline of the working class but we cannot go on as we have in the past. Change is necessary and this diary is about that change.

This is a full-blown essay, not a short dairy. Please be patient. Read some then come back for more. Read it all but the Action Strategies are new thinking about the future of American work. I would really like your comments on this.

TWO ROADS DIVERGED…

The working class sees things much differently than the upper class. Most workers work to make a decent living for themselves and their families. Increasingly, stability is more significant to them than dreams of financial glory. Most just want to make a good living and they see their jobs as a means of achieving that end. They would rather spend time with their families and other personal pursuits. That’s what freedom really means to most Americans. Workers don’t want to play in a high-powered economy that amounts to a playground for the rich and favored. There’s room for entrepreneurs, too, but it’s not all about them. This is a democracy and workers count too.

The way we relate to our work is fundamental to how we lead our lives. The shortcomings of our current system of work—stagnant or declining wages, being financially locked into jobs that are bad for them and their families, long-term unemployment, poverty—stem from a lack of clear alternatives to our current system. Let’s begin to think seriously about them.

The rich see America as a high-powered economy energized at the core by entrepreneurs and capitalists and backed by legions of white-collar professionals including lawyers, physicians, accountants, and engineers. Most workers do not want to work in a rapidly changing complex technologically-driven economic environment. Neither do all of us want to work in a highly competitive workplace. The rich want everyone, even rank-and-file workers, to see things their way even if such a life is practically unobtainable absent a big lottery win. Some people do. Let them. But some people don’t. We should create working arrangements that allow them to make a decent living, too.

Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken can be used to frame the choice about the future of jobs that we as Americans have at this point in our history:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
One road continues in the direction most have been traveling—working in a frenetic, high-performance economy that by its very nature creates winners and losers. An economy that slowly terrorizes many workers with insecurities about their jobs and losing their independence to big corporations. This is a harsh society with little room for error and severe penalties for losing. Some people thrive on this kind of life. Others don’t.

The other road, the one less traveled, moves us at a slower pace but makes allowances for the less work obsessed. Those content to make a decent living—adequate housing, adequate health care, good transportation, good food and clothing, and a good education—should be able to by working hard for five days a week, eight hours a day. Beyond that, workers should be free to spend more than time with their families if they choose, have time for their own personal pursuits, and work with others to improve their communities. Sounds wimpy to some but for many of us these are the best things in life.

Sound unachievable? Not really. Some people do these things every day of their lives. It’s not easy though. They are the exception, not the rule. Who makes the rules is exactly what we’re talking about. We need more jobs in the economy that are outside of the high-powered, corporate-centered Wall Street economy. Jobs that are closer to our communities and are more focused on satisfying local needs, not the needs of huge multinational corporations. Our communities are not a “trickle-down” afterthought of the high-powered economy but are where we live.

We, as Americans, have some stark choices to make about the world we want to live in. If we choose to not make these choices then they will be made for us. For years, we have let others—the economic and political governing elites--make these choices for us. They, and our cooperate-driven entertainment media, have defined the kind of life the “ideal” American should want to live. Now we have a once-in–a-lifetime opportunity to take our lives in our own hands. The Great Recession and the current dissatisfaction with our economic system have given us this opportunity. A democratic president can help too. We must seize this opportunity now or live with the consequences for the rest of our, and our children’s, lives.

THE BREAKDOWN OF AMERICA’S SOCIAL CONTRACT

The failure of today’s economy to generate and sustain decent jobs can be traced to the breakdown in the post-World War II social contract between the owners of industries and American workers that supported simultaneous growth in productivity and wages. The alignment of productivity growth and wages from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s resulted from two main factors: first, owners needed skilled workers in the factories that made this country the world’s producer and, secondly, equitable wage levels were supported by government policies and reinforced through collective bargaining between labor and management. The days that George Meany of the AFL-CIO labor union would have his cigar lit by Senators on the Capitol floor are long gone now. Many factors led to this: the rise of financial capital over industrial capital, technological change and accompanying productivity improvements which squeezed labor, financial and other deregulation, globalization, and a passive government unsupportive of worker needs.

The end of the last century turned out to be an important inflection point in American economic history. CHART 1 shows that individual money income (not stocks, bonds, or other financial instruments) shifted decisively downward late in the Clinton administration. Prior to that time American workers had slowly but steadily been increasing their individual money incomes but after 1998 income began to fall. The opposite trend line slopes in CHART 1 (in red) vividly show the stark reversal between increasing and decreasing income that has turned the tables on workers. Things decisively changed for the worse.

It was during this time of massive reorganization of our financial system that American workers lost their grip on hopes for a better life, at not least without a fight. The process that had begun during the Reagan administration—the change from manufacturing to services, a change from industrial might to financial power and deregulation—finally matured. The George Bush administration—through tax cuts paid for by massive government borrowing—shifted vast sums to the private sector greatly increasing income inequality which had always been a feature of the American economy but now reached a fevered extreme. Soon after, in 2008, the wheels came off Wall Street’s bus from being driven too fast and workers have paid most of the price since. It will be difficult to reverse this alarming trend. The question is how we will deal with an economic dynamic driven by shifting global circumstances and productivity improvements from technological innovation. Wall Street has pushed for lower wages and lower living standards. Workers should not only push back but offer alternative futures.

The national and global economic conditions that prevailed after World War II will not return. We should not expect them to. But that does not necessarily mean that we have to accept a low quality of life. To the contrary, now is one of those turning points in history that feasibly allows us to make our own decisions about the way we live.

CHART 2 shows the distribution of national income among Americans. What is most striking is the disproportionately large number of lower income people. That huge majority-sized lump of people in the lower income range on the left of CHART 2 (the red bars) is most of us! Clearly shown is the fact that majority of Americans don’t make much money: 55% earn less than $30,000 and an amazing 40% earn less than $20,000 a year. Too little in fact to adequately provide for themselves and their families, especially considering the sky-high cost of housing and health care. (Household incomes are somewhat higher of course but not by that much.) I don’t know about you but CHART 2 really pisses me off. Fingerprints at the scene of the crime. In the land of plenty how did so many Americans wind up with so little? With so many making so little even modest increases in income can really make a difference. Given the political insignificance of low-wage earners, the question is how the national conversation about wealth can be turned to the less well-off. An important starting point would be to understand how to help these people play a more productive role in the world of work.

THE PRIVATE SECTOR FAILURE TO PROVIDE AMERICAN WORKERS WITH JOBS

The past four years have been witness to a massive failure of the private sector to supply the jobs America’s workers need. Prior to that, good jobs have been in increasingly short supply since the 1970s. In a private economy where are the jobs to come from if not private businesses? If the government had performed so miserably we would never hear the end of it.

It’s ironic that any move the government makes to soften the impact of the Great Recession such as extended unemployment insurance benefits is met with strident criticism from conservatives and business groups. In fact, the government’s social safety net, meager as it is, has been the only stopgap American workers have been able to depend upon. Still, the fevered criticism of the government continues unabated from the right and, thanks to Fox News and the mainstream “liberal” news media, now permeates and distorts the national conversation we should be having about what to do about jobs.

Big Business doesn’t want to create the huge number of jobs necessary to employ all Americans who want to work. Their bottom line is profitability; not furnishing jobs to American workers. We shouldn’t expect them to. That’s capitalism. With some success, Big Business has led a national media campaign blamin the government for the short-comings of the private sector. Instead, we should be having a discussion about the failure of the private sector to provide enough jobs and what we should be doing about it. Instead we get misleading arguments about the role of government.

National political leadership fails because its assumptions about the way the world works are wrong-headed. Our core thinking about jobs is fatally flawed because of a failure of vision. The President emphasizes that we can recapture past manufacturing glory because he really has no idea where to go in the future other than where we have been in the past. It’s not that our problems are insurmountable. We just don’t work on them because to do so would threaten the existing powers-that-be. Our problems are large but our politics are small.

A NEW SOCIAL CONTRACT

Like it or not we are now in a period of transition between the old and a new social contract. So far this has been a one-sided negotiation with the interests of workers on the short end. Unlike the period after World War II we cannot rely on the participation or support of the economic elites. The Rockefeller Republicans are all dead and the days that industries looked out after their employee’s interests are long gone, if they ever existed. We need to speak up for ourselves because no one else will. There is a reasonable expectation that workers deserve to make a decent living. A new social contract should address the following at a minimum: employment & wages, adequate housing, health care, and universal education.

The guiding precept of a new social contract might be “Our economy should be run to serve the needs of people, not the other way around.” The basis of any social contract should be the assurance that anyone willing to work should be able to support themselves at a decent standard of living. Two adults working together should be able to support a family.

Our challenge is to build institutions capable of devising and implementing alternative working arrangements to our current high-cost system. As a practical matter, this new social contract should not unduly threaten the elites but should receive their support as a way to defuse existential threats to the stability of the country. The question now is how we get this done.

WORKER AND COMMUNITY-FRIENDLY ECONOMIC INVESTMENT STRATEGIES

Some explanation of why we should shift some of our nation’s resources from a Wall Street-driven conception of our economy based on global competition to a more worker-friendly, community-centered approach is in order here. However, if it gets a bit thick here then by all means skip to the next section on the Action Strategies which can help get us there. Come back later and pick up the why though. It’s important that we understand why.

The Economics of Demand-Led Growth  
Demand-led economic growth is the opposite of trickle-down (how has that been working?). The idea behind demand-led growth is simple: people with money in their pockets buy stuff. Put money into local hands where it will be spent and re-spent quickly and you’ll see an economy start coming to life. Perhaps not to the levels experienced with Bush’s massive tax cuts and out-of-control borrowing on two wars but to a more sustainable level that we can live with.

Once local economic activity begins to pick up it can become self-sustaining as money is re-spent over and over again. The idea behind demand-led growth has often been used during a recession to put money back into the hands of people across income spectrum but particularly at the lower end where money is promptly spent and destructive cycle of downward spiraling demand can be stopped.

“Trickle-up” spending starts in local communities with some of it eventually winding up in the hands of the wealthy so they can reinvest where they please. Send money back down to communities where the public can spend it and reinvigorate their economy. Once spent in a local economy, money will continue to re-circulate until, eventually, it will leak out but in the mean time many will benefit. Each successive round of spending in the local economy creates more jobs. The workers in these jobs spend their wages mostly in the local economy creating a virtuous cycle of spending and re-spending. Everybody wins.

Recent Experience With Demand-Led Growth
In 2008, the Great Recession began with the collapse housing and credit markets which started a downward spiral in the American economy that spread like a contagion. As millions of workers lost their jobs the demand for goods and services diminished leading to more layoffs and firings leading to even less demand for goods and services and so on. Our slow recovery, to the degree there has been one, has been painful because it is so difficult to reignite demand once extinguished.

Things were bad but could have been even worse were it not for the much-criticized stimulus to the economy from the Obama administration. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that Obama’s stimulus policies had the following effects in the first quarter of calendar year 2011:

•   They raised real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.1 percent and 3.1 percent,
•   Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.6 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points,
•   Increased the number of people employed by between 1.2 million and 3.3 million, and
•   Increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 1.6 million to 4.6 million compared with what would have occurred otherwise.
Contrary to Republican “wisdom” and what you may have heard standing next to the office watercooler the stimulus worked and worked well. The CBO analysis of the effects of stimulus spending clearly shows that top-down investment spending by the rich on the high-energy economy driven does not work as well as bottoms-up spending by people in our local economies. That’s a simple fact the wealthy do not want to admit.

Why did the Obama stimulus strategies work as well as they did? The Bush tax cuts that added $2.6 trillion dollars to the public debt led directly to the 2008 economic meltdown and the Great Recession. The Obama stimulus, only $0.78 trillion, less than a third as large as the Bush tax cuts, produced the stunning results summarized above. Why didn’t the stimulus totally revive the U.S. economy? One reason was that in a $15.0 trillion dollar economy the $0.78 trillion stimulus worked but was just not big enough to pull us completely out of the ditch Bush has driven us into. It’s scary borrowing that much money against our children’s future earnings. That’s understandable. But we didn’t worry when we let Bush push his much larger borrowed tax cuts just a few years earlier. The point is that stimulus spending worked in the emergency circumstances of the Great Recession and it can work again to revitalize our communities and local job markets.

Lessons Learned From Stimulus Demand-led Growth
The largest category of stimulus spending went to keep state and local government workers on the payrolls. These are people who live, work, and spend in our local economies. The CBO determined that this spending was four times more efficiently spent than the tax cuts for high income individuals embedded in the stimulus, the blood price for Republican cooperation on passing the stimulus. Bottom line: the stimulus worked because it put money in people’s pockets instead of the Bush and Obama tax cuts which have sat unused in the investment accounts of the rich. This is the big lesson to be learned from the success of Obama’s stimulus.

What the stimulus proved was that local spending can provide a tremendous boost to local economies. This is a well-known effect that has cushioned the blows from the twelve recessions the U.S. had since World War II. Government spending has often been used to make up for a lack of private sector spending when consumer and business demand shrinks during a recession. Until recently there was bi-partisan consensus about this so-called “counter-cyclical” spending but now ideological extremist thinking in the Republican Party has fanned fears of spending during bad economic times. Of course, that’s just when it’s needed the most. Our politics have nearly doomed us and unfortunately has led to a dreadfully slow recovery.

The Rich Have Fought Back to Discredit Demand-led Growth
Republicans trash talk stimulus spending because they know it works. What if clear word got out that tax cuts took the air out of our economy and that the right kind of government spending could work wonders? They couldn’t let that happen could they?

Republicans have done all they can to criticize demand-led growth policies such as stimulus spending. It’s not that they don’t want local communities to thrive. It’s more about serving the interests of their real political constituents, the rich investor class. Despite what you hear on TV and in print, it’s not a question of spending. It’s about who spends it: the wealthy or the middle and working classes. With money from the rich, Republicans can buy the media advertising to woo the votes they otherwise could not attract on the basis of their economic policies alone.

To their credit, the mainstream news media initially told an accurate story about the success of the stimulus and the relative failure of the tax cut part of the stimulus. Working Americans should have been in the streets demanding more stimulus to provide jobs and reinvigorate our communities but after the 2008 economic meltdown, the public came to distrust everyone. We got something that worked—local simulative polices—but conservatives were able to shout down the real story and eventually the media went into a full “fair and balanced” reporting mode where disinformation reigned, letting Republicans set the confused terms of national discussion.

Often in U.S. history the private sector has shown that it will not help workers when the chips are down. Why should they? It’s profit-making, not providing a good living for Americans that is their primary goal. It’s no secret--the goal of corporations is to make as much money for their stockholder-owners as possible. That’s the way the capitalism works.

After World War II, American workers comprised the largest domestic market in the world. Manufacturing was king and the nation’s staid banks made low-risk loans to build new factories and to workers so they could buy their homes. Now, fifty years later, manufacturing has been outsourced to low-wage workers in offshore factories and casino finance dominates. America is no longer particularly important to our multinational corporations. We should no longer expect the private sector to have the good of the American people as their prime concern.

Like it or not, we’re on our own. The question now is what we do about it.

ACTION STRATEGIES

Some of the action strategies presented here involve national planning and street-level pressure (by Occupy Wall Street, for example) and others require careful local planning (community initiatives). These action strategies can be mutually reinforcing. Action at the national level can support local action for community-centered economics that provides jobs for workers and rebuilds our communities. Working in concert, these actions can pave the way for a new future for American workers and their families.

Some ideas presented here we already been tried—like local stimulus spending—but were discontinued because they disfavored powerful economic groups. Other ideas have never been introduced into national discussion. All recognize the close connection between jobs, our families, and our communities.

NATIONAL ACTION: More Government Stimulus
Even after several years of nay-saying by Republicans it’s still not too late for more stimulus spending. Not more stimulus-supplied tax cuts which the CBO showed did not work efficiently but money into hands of people who will spend it locally. There’s certainly a need for it. A renewed stimulus would put money in the hands of rank-and-file workers, not the wealthy who would invest it wherever it brought the biggest profit such as in emerging nations a world away. Those countries are important too but first things first.

Late last year the President’s $447 billion Jobs Bill was narrowed to provide $35 billion in grants-in-aid to state and local governments to prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters but even that wasn’t enough for Republicans who stalled the initiative. It’s not that the spending was unnecessary; the House just did not want to give the President a victory. More stimulus spending would encourage current employment in part by shoring up state and local governments at a time they are under continuing stress from the economic disruptions stemming from the Great Recession. More stimulus, especially for new and repaired infrastructure, would contribute to long-term economic development and the future of American jobs.

NATIONAL ACTION: Real Financial Sector Reform
If the damage caused by our run-amuck financial sector had been caused by a foreign country we would have declared war on them. Without going into too much detail here, as a start we should repeal the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999 and reinstate the Glass–Steagall Act which since 1933 had erected a firewall between the previously distinct worlds of commercial and investment banking. Both Republicans and Democrats backed financial deregulation which was the immediate cause of the meltdown on Wall Street. Wrong is wrong even when it’s been made legal by the corruption of our political system.

Real financial Sector reform would stabilize the future of American workers and their communities by making sure the economic elites are never again allowed to step in it as deep as they did in 2008 when they destroyed the American economy taking with it tens of millions of jobs.

NATIONAL ACTION: Repeal and Reverse the Bush Tax Cuts
The 2003 Bush cuts directed trillions of dollars to the top 1% and the top tenth causing demand to dry up as money was looted from the pockets of workers and wound up in useless speculation and the enormous destruction of national wealth.

The Bush cuts should be rescinded and revised as tax cuts for middle class. Repealing and reversing the Bush tax cuts would move billions from the pockets of America’s rich to the middle class and help shift the economic tide in favor of America’s working and middle class, providing more jobs today and in the future.

NATIONAL ACTION: A National Living Wage
Most jobs in our economy—waitresses and waiters, retail counter help, cashiers--require only a high school education, if that. That’s not going to change because those jobs need to get done somehow and they have to be done locally, where we live.  The jobs in highest demand in our economy are not the high-skill, high- wage jobs that we hear so much about on the mainstream media of but occupations considered by some to be menial.

Since the market-determined wage is too low for even a two-wage family to make a decent living, a living wage, in the range of $9 to $12 per hour, is the only answer for millions of workers. Anything else will relegate these worker and their families to lives of borderline existence on the bottom rungs of society. No longer can we abandon large swaths of the black, Hispanic, and other communities so that we can eat cheap hamburgers.

A national living wage would put spending money in the hands of workers as no other policy can. Increased wages would be re-spent many times over in our local communities. Despite warnings from business people for years that any rise in the minimum wage would be disastrous for our economy and lead to mass firings of too-expensive low-wage workers, studies have consistently shown that this does not happen. A national living wage would also avoid the trap of a state-by-state race to avoid paying it.

National minimum wage legislation would force all employers to pay more so increased labor costs would be spread over all goods and services, not just those of certain industries. Contrary to some reports, minimum wage earners are not all young workers living with their parents. Plenty of adult workers would benefit and, indirectly, others workers earning above the minimum wage.

A national living wage would free millions of Americans from an unrelenting struggle with paying the bills and contribute to the long-term future of American jobs by making sure work actually pays.

NATIONAL AND LOCAL ACTION: Buy Local and Buy American
There’s a profound economic impact that comes from keeping the money we spend on goods and services circulating in our local communities. At the most basic level, when you buy local more money stays in the community to be re-spent over-and-over until it eventually “leaks out” into other areas. The more money re-circulates locally the more local jobs are created. Economists call this the “multiplier effect.” The point is not that communities should be totally self-sufficient in all ways but rather to shift the balance back to local stores and their employees. Can a community produce more locally? Of course it can, especially if the raw materials are there and the raw materials are often human beings.

What about the higher cost of local goods compared to Big-Box stores? The difference vanishes once you consider the increase in local employment as well as the relationships that grow when people buy from people they know. The balance between cheap “stuff” and better communities to live must be re-struck. We must become conscious of the power of our purchasing decisions and the quality of life they buy.

The size of the benefit from buying local depends on the type of business. Restaurants and service providers generate a large effect because they are labor-intensive and, therefore, much of the money goes to local payroll with their local jobs. Once you start adding jobs in a local economy then more jobs are created to supply those workers with the goods and services they need. So, another job at the local hardware store goes to create a new job, or at least part of one, at the local grocery store.

As the nation limps through the recession, many towns and cities are hurting. "Buy-local" campaigns can help local economies withstand the downturn. For communities, this is a hopeful message in a recession because it’s not about how much money you've got, but how much you can keep circulating locally without letting it leak out. Also, locally-owned independent businesses re-spend a greater portion of their revenue within the region compared to absentee-owned businesses (or most locally-owned franchises).

The same principles operating behind Buy Local can be scaled up the national level with Buy American campaigns. The national labor unions often feature blue-collar workers in their advertising asking that people Buy American so money and the jobs money creates jobs can be kept within this country rather than “leaking out” to foreign nations. Recently, legislation has been introduced in Congress that would ensure that taxpayer’s dollars are used to buy American-made goods and that American iron and steel be used for manufacturing. Unfortunately, these measures are being stonewalled in the Republican-dominated House by Speaker Boehner and stand little chance of being signed into law unless we take action to let national leadership know that American jobs take precedence over other considerations.

The success of Buy Local initiatives depends critically on community knowledge of the specific purchasing alternatives open to consumers. For example, community volunteers could publicize the names of businesses that pledge to Buy Local and disseminate that information over a locally-run internet website. Locally owned and operated businesses would similarly be made known. Citizens could take their economy into their own hands instead of being at the mercy of nationally-circulated advertising that directs spending to national chains that whisk their profits out-of-state and even out-of-country instantaneously, never to recirculate within the local economy. Keeps spending, and money, local so that more jobs can be created and our communities can prosper. That’s smart money in motion.

LOCAL ACTION: Revitalizing Our Communities
Local governments do many things but they can’t do everything especially when pressure on public spending is so intense. All of us can see many things in our communities that need doing but somehow just don’t get done. Here are a few:

•   Turn foreclosed and abandoned properties into affordable housing
•   Demolition of abandoned buildings to improve public safety and property values
•   Community greenspace, playground, and urban farming projects
•   Repair schools when property taxes are not enough
•   Community parks and gardens
•   Beautification projects
Some things are not so easy to see but still need doing:
•   Cultural and historical projects
•   Weatherization and property improvement projects
•   Disaster assistance for local residents
•   Senior citizen and emergency transportation beyond what private and public sectors can supply
•   Neighborhood service exchanges would be a flexible way to match skills and resources by maintaining a directory of goods and services to let the community know what is offered.
•   Raise cash and in-kind contributions for special community projects
•   Assistance to needy small businesses including accounting, advertising, general management
•   Community promotion projects
How could these projects get done?

One way would be to create Reinvestment Communities; non-profit organizations initiated by citizens making a deliberate and voluntary decision to “take the bull by the horns” to revitalize their communities by doing the work on the local level that has been neglected for many years. Working together, the long-term resurgence of our communities would produce more jobs than single entrepreneurs pursuing short-term profits.

Different than traditional Community Development Organizations (CDOs) run by professionals who raise capital to develop both commercial and residential properties, a Reinvestment Community non-profit run by dedicated volunteers would fill a distinctly different role by focusing on small to medium-sized labor-intensive projects that need doing within the community.

Where would funding for these projects come from? Initially, the Reinvestment Community could be seeded by national and state government funds but once up and running funding would become self-sustaining with no need continuing funds from outside. Funds for specific projects could be raised from within a community on a project-by-project basis. Funds from the outside could be raised with grants from federal and states sources as well as private donors.

The glut of bank-owned properties in urban, suburban and exurban areas resulting from the Great Recession is huge and will take years to work out of our system. In the mean time these properties drag down nearby property values and depress entire communities. Everyone—homeowners, business people, civic and community groups, school systems--has an interest in addressing this terrible legacy of a financial system gone wild. By partnering with traditional CDOs, Reinvestment Community volunteers could keep entire neighborhoods of vacant housing from being torn down and in the process create affordable housing for families staggering under the high cost of housing. Doing so would not only generate grass-roots employment but lay the groundwork for future economic development resulting from a better community and by catalyzing local employment.

Revitalizing our communities would employ current and future American workers by giving them jobs while they help build better places for them and their neighbors to live. Over time, this virtuous cycle would revitalize our communities while providing jobs and attracting new residents and economic growth.

LOCAL ACTION: Building Caring Communities
Throughout the next twenty years unprecedented numbers of Baby Boomers will retire. During the Great Recession many of the Boomers lost their retirement savings which were inadequate to begin with. Most will not have saved enough for retirement, not even close. For many, the equity value of their homes which many had planned to dip into if the time came has evaporated leaving many underwater. For awhile many Boomers will attempt to work beyond retirement age, blocking many young workers from the labor market, but there’s a natural limit to how far that can go. This is a major time bomb waiting to explode.

Prior tol the past few years retirees have had it good: they remained in their homes on savings, investment earnings, and reverse mortgages if necessary. Many had health insurance from their old jobs while they were waiting for Medicare to kick in. But the social contract with America’s elderly is rapidly changing just like for workers. All bets are off now.

What will happen as millions of Boomers can’t work any longer and can no longer afford their monthly mortgage payments much less other living expenses? Social Security was never intended to be the sole support for the elderly. Some will have support from their families but most will not. Churches cannot deal with the scale of the problem especially considering so many congregations are heavy with old people.

For years conservatives have warned that young workers will be excessively burdened by supporting so many old people. That’s putting it mildly. Will we take the libertarian path and simply throw them out on the street? Or, more likely, hide them away so the active workers don’t have to look at them every day. We’ve done that in the past with other groups but that is a doubtful outcome for the people that are our mothers and fathers.

Among the other social schisms America has never dealt with, this struggle will be particularly intense. Tremendous political pressures will force us rethink how this huge segment of our population will live. To put it mildly, “retirees” must  live differently in the future than they have in the past, a wrenching experience for them. Solutions that in the past seemed too radical will suddenly be considered.

We have not even begun to think seriously about how this challenge might be met. Cost pressures resulting from huge numbers of retirees will force a thorough reconsideration of our current system of elderly housing and health care. We’ll need radical change in their living arrangements to contain the cost.

One approach would be to fund massive private sector investment in a new “old age” infrastructure including huge retirement villages to “warehouse” the elderly and huge new medical complexes to care for the frequent care frail old people need. Private construction firms would only be too glad to take from the government till (remember public housing) and the economy in some areas would temporarily benefit from an “old people bubble.” After the Baby Boom generation had passed it would be someone else’s job to figure out to do with the then-useless facilities.

Here’s a lot cheaper thought: find places in our communities to house and care for the elderly. There are many opportunities for cost savings with this approach. For example, retirees could be efficiently matched with each other to share overhead and other expenses. Owners struggling to remain in their homes would be able to share with retirees. The matches could be made by mostly community-level volunteer organizations expressly dedicated to matching to those in need. Computers and their databases would vastly simplify the task. A local “Building Caring Communities” organization could efficiently connect persons in need. They could partner with Community Development Organizations and Reinvestment Communities (see above) to refurbish foreclosed properties instead of demolishing them. This kind of solution would not only provide jobs but also help the country through the decades-long aftershocks of the Great Recession’s overbuilding mania.

There’s another dimension to the problems of the Baby Boomers that the private sector would be blind to. Many old people will live out their last years in a lonely existence, often as widows and without the support of a nuclear family as in the past when American family life was not so fragmented by a mobile workforce and an alienating popular culture.  

If our elderly were supported by a “Building Caring Communities” network it would be possible to restore this missing human element in so many people’s lives. A real return to community. Rather than warehousing the elderly in impersonal nursing homes or “assisted living facilities” at tens of thousands of dollars annually, help them care for each other by arranging them to partner with each other, checking in on each other (phone, text, email, even visits) daily or even more frequently. Not as good as 24-hour a day nursing home care? That’s arguable for all but the extremely frail but it’s certainly a lot cheaper and with the proper training the care it might even be better. Good program design and implementation would be everything here. The housing and health care disaster that awaits us with the challenge of the Baby Boomers can be finessed by shifting our thinking from private profits to local responsibility. So much is possible if we can get beyond the limits of private sector thinking.

Over the twenty-year Baby Boomer demographic bulge, the total amount spent will be well over $10 trillion dollars! How would we pay for all this? That’s easy: the Social Security Trust fund. You think it will be empty as conservatives now warn? Not a chance. What today’s conservatives don’t seem to see is that once the elderly get really pissed off as they will be if their reasonable needs are not met, they will be in full riot mode. Buses full of 70-somethings will storm north and take the Capitol if necessary.

And explode they will despite today’s conservative calls for cuts in Social Security and Medicare spending. Even if conservatives get the programmatic changes they want now, when the panic comes all will be forgotten and the elderly will forcefully demand their due. The ground will shift so radically from under conservative’s feet that they will quickly come to see clearly the situation they tried to ignore for so long. Suddenly, that Social Security lock box that was looted by a money-hungry Congress years ago when we were not looking will be not so empty. The program default that conservatives say is inevitable will suddenly be avoided with a tweak to the payroll tax and a suddenly-reasonable cap on withdrawals from upper income Americans.

Shifting the inevitably huge expenditures for the coming surge in retirees away from “warehousing” private construction and nursing home corporations and toward our communities will breathe new life into them. The efficiency gains from distributed volunteer services as compared to centralized corporate facilities will have a strong positive impact on employment and the “neighbors caring for neighbors” aspect of Building Caring Communities will make life much more bearable for those nearing the end of their lives. That’s real compassion in action.

Listen carefully Mr. & Ms. Business Elite. Without the silver-haired Tea Party and small town conservatives there would not be enough voters to elect a Republican dog catcher. The “don’t let government touch my Social Security/Medicare” voters will turn on you in a second if their economic well-being is seriously threatened. If you’re smart you will learn how to meet the needs of the Baby Boomers in a way that least burdens the U.S. economic system. Work for, not against, creative solutions to this problem before it’s too late.

Building Caring Communities would creatively address one of the great challenges facing the American people in a way that would not only show national, local, and individual kindness but would also stimulate local employment and, in many ways, make for a positive future for American jobs and communities.

LOCAL ACTION: “People Appropriate” Economies
Here are several new ideas but they all share a goal of building sustainable communities by producing more good jobs at the local level. These are grass-roots strategies that can be implemented locally, away from the control of the Wall Street elites that have brought so many of us so low. “People Appropriate” economies would provide another dimension along which cities and counties could specialize and grow. These ideas may not work everywhere but they are feasible in enough places to make a difference. National power is less concerned with our many small local communities. So much the better.

“Birds-of-a-Feather” Communities
America is a diverse country. Each level of our geographic hierarchy—states, regions, counties, towns and cities—has its own distinct identity. That can be hard to see though.

Here’s a challenge. Get a map of the U.S. and pick out a town or county. Go to their website and look closely. Look also at the websites of nearby towns and counties, too. In any one area, the websites of thousands of city and county governments reveal a disappointing sameness. How can our many small towns and rural counties distinguish themselves when they have much the same things to offer: a run-down “Main Street” area with perhaps a make-over to spruce up the small stores? Or a local lake or mountain that looks much like the others in the next county. Many towns, in both the North and the South, are economically (and socially) depressed because a large founding industry left for greener pastures. These residents are “left behind” in the worst sense.

Here’s an idea that would give communities a distinctive identity and an opportunity to attract new residents and jobs. An identity that does not depend on the local geography but on the residents themselves. Some communities have spontaneously attracted a unique population. The many interesting small towns north of San Francisco are one example. However, other areas are not as intrinsically interesting, a least to non-residents. How can this be remedied in a way that each community can have its own identity? The key is to look at the residents, who can change, not the geography which does not change.

The human dimensions of distinctive identity are numerous: life cycle, education, gender, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity among them.

Economically struggling towns and counties can make a deliberate decision to re-make and market themselves in such as way as to attract a distinctive demographic segment of the population. Everybody wins. The existing residents win because they get the positive economic and social effects of an influx of new residents (and their money). By design, the new residents they’re trying to attract are people they have deliberately decided they want to live with. The new residents win by living with other “birds of a feather” and living with people who they know made the decision to attract them. The same thing sometimes happens spontaneously now but not to the same degree and not in as many areas and not involving as many people.

Don’t like the idea that such a homogeneous grouping of people would work against diversity? OK, many others probably feel like you. There’s a town for that. Ones in New Jersey and Oregon and even Idaho. Some people value similarities and some value differences. Simply live with people who value the same things you do. But by all means get away from the notion that we will live wherever our job takes us. Or where we were born. Get away from the mentality that frustrates so many people living in places they really don’t like and, for whatever reason, cannot bring themselves to leave. Life is too short for that.

Previously, people have had to rely on word-of-mouth to find out where they’d most like to live. But with the internet that process can be made much more efficient and reliable. Here’s an economic development strategy than can bring new blood (and money and jobs) into old communities. In the past it has been large cities that offer the anonymity that can permit diversity. But now, “birds-of-a-feather” communities can spring up all over, breathing new life and new economic opportunities.

Local Communities and Building Workforce Ecosystems
Factories have always seen themselves as teams, with team members a part of something larger than themselves working alone. A factory is, in a sense, an eco-system of teams which come together to build something. Whether it’s a car, a refrigerator, or an airplane, people work together to get something done. In these industrial communities which spring up as a collective effort, knowledge is born and wealth is created. Similarly, the workforce of a town or city is a type of eco-system with complementary roles connecting everyone. The goal is to work together to get done everything the town needs doing.

Independent of a particular factory, it is possible to build a community of workers based, in part, on the recognition of different skills people have.  The goal would be to see that a complete set of job skills was present in a community so if a job needed doing it would be possible to fill that need from within the town. Of course, no small town would have its own neurosurgeon but common skills would be readily at hand. If a needed skill was missing then the community could advertise and bring in (not hire but help them move) someone from the outside that needed work in that occupation.

A community that can draw from its own residents to get local work done is a more self-sufficient community that succeeds in “Buying Local” not just goods but labor itself. As already noted, the economic multiplier effects that result as wages re-circulate in the local economy creates more jobs and provides a firmer foundation for future jobs and economic development.

“Alternative” Regional Economies  
The previous sections on Buying Local, Revitalizing Our Communities, Building Caring Communities, Birds-of-a-Feather Communities, and Building Workforce Ecosystems, all share several things in common: a focus on rebuilding our local economies, rebuilding our local labor forces, and rebuilding community itself. Here is where the future of American jobs and the future of our communities come together. Both are inextricably linked and no attempt should be made to consider each separately as we have a tendency to do. All too often we try to stimulate local employment without considering the effects on our communities. Such is the common way of American thinking which ranks economic concerns over social concerns.

Each of these jobs and community strategies finds fertile ground for growth in our regional, not national, economies. Regions and their cities and towns are America in miniature. Depending on how you define a region, they’re nothing huge or out of proportion to human experience but something comprehensible to almost everyone. Rather than outward or “export” focused areas which focus on selling goods and services to sophisticated markets all over the globe, inward-looking regions can thrive from within.

Communities comprised of dynamic industries and people have much different economies than comparatively static communities with their slower pace of economic activity. No problem here, we just have to recognize that the diversity of land and people leads to differences in the quality and quantity of economic activity. Our current one-size-fits-all economic template does not recognize these differences.

Silicon Valley in the south Bay area of San Francisco is a prime example of a dynamic economy. Silicon Valley companies make sophisticated goods and services for export to the entire world. The area hosts world-class competitors exchanging high-priced goods and services with each other and similar companies around the globe.

But every region, or even every nation, cannot be a Silicon Valley. The economies of these areas must necessarily be much different. Not necessarily any harm in that as long as our national economy, and its rules and regulations, are not biased against them. These alternate economies do not make the same variety of “hot” goods and services as the more dynamic areas. Alternate economies are more inward-looking than the dynamic export areas. Our national economic norms do not work as well for these areas or the people that choose to live in them.

Simply put, an “alternative” regional economy would permit workers to make choices that would allow them to opt-out of a high-consumption lifestyle by deliberately taking a different economic road.  Let the two systems, and many shades of difference, co-exist. The point is that “one size does not fit all” or anything close to it. No longer should we have to accept the dictates of a ruling economic class telling us how we must live, especially since they seem to have thrown the American worker and their families to the wolves.

For fifty years, strong economic growth has been the mantra of the affluent and has set the tone for what we have come to value as a people. In the 1960s, American living standards began to grow well beyond what was necessary to sustain the “good life.” Mass advertising pressured Americans to consume more and more to the point that almost our entire lives were spent working to buy things we no longer had time to enjoy. The definition of enjoying life changed from spending good times with friends and family to higher and higher levels of raw consumption. Older people miss the life of the 1950s when “life was simpler” but they don’t know what to do about it. Younger people miss what they never directly experienced. Their life choices are more limited than they like to admit. Alternative regional economies, based on the ideas presented in this section, are a beginning. Many other local economic and human development strategies are possible if we refuse to drift along the economic mainstream imposed on us by the forces of Wall Street and the big corporations.

THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE: GOVERNMENT AS THE EMPLOYER OF LAST RESORT

Here’s one final candidate for national and local action.

The private sector won’t work on the problem of persistently high unemployment because they can’t make a profit on it. This type of unemployment is in the “too hard” pile; a type of “wicked” social problem we task the public sector to solve. OK, if the private sector can’t or won’t provide employment then let the government do it. Let the government function as an employer of last resort.

We have some history here. Enacted in 1973 to train workers and provide them with jobs in the public service, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) was signed into law by Republican(!) President Richard Nixon. Not known for his altruism to the unemployed and poor, why did Nixon allow CETA to be passed into law? Nixon, assisted by Democratic Sen. Pat Moynihan, initially tried for full employment as a reaction to the urban riots of the 1960s but then gave up and sidelined millions onto welfare. Unfortunately, the turn to welfare as a solution to large numbers of unemployed meant an end to any serious attempt to provide a job for anyone willing to work.

Many CETA participants performed useful work: from asbestos removal in old buildings to assisting in schools and libraries and senior citizen centers (see Revitalizing Our Communities and Making Caring Communities above). These were jobs that needed doing then and still need doing now. (I’m not talking about making school kids clean toilets. Sorry Newt.) Unfortunately, the CETA program design limited participation to hard-to-employ so workers who could not hold jobs even in a good economy while the short-term victims of the economic hard times of the late 1970s were often left out, a problem aggravated by limited funds for the program. Also, due to political cronyism some did not do useful work. Conservative critics of CETA had a valid point when they charged the program was inefficiently run and sometimes served as a sop for democratic political interests.  The voters did not want make-work and the unions did not want real work so CETA lost support and was eventually scuttled.

So, in the not-so-distant past, this nation has demonstrated a willingness to bring the unemployed and the poor into the ranks of workers. What changed? What made making the government the employer of last resort—when the private sector could offer no solution—so unthinkable that Americans less than fifty years of age have no memory of such a time?

One of Ronald Reagan’s first acts in office was to replace CETA with the Jobs Training Partnership Act (JTPA). The JTPA was an insincere effort led by the private sector to offer job training as a substitute for actual jobs. A version of the JTPA, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), is still on the books today. The program cream-skims the best job trainees and ignores the rest offering them “Life Skills” training, a thinly disguised patriarchic attempt to at least claim something is being done to help the millions of young people needing a real chance to enter the job market. WIA on-the-job training (OJT) offers employers cut rate workers (wages subsidized by the government) which are often fired without cause after the six-month “training” period. What a deal for employers! But not so for most workers.

Beyond this, though, was a decision to relegate millions of Americans to a “reserve army of the unemployed” which have been used to set an artificially low “anchor” wage which has the effect of pulling down wages for all workers. Since Reagan’s election, the business sector has firmly been in charge of the nation’s jobs agenda and they certainly have called the tune to the point that no prominent Democrat will raise a serious challenge.

But the problem of widespread unemployment has never gone away. Our new problems are really old ones most of us have forgotten about. It’s just that the Great Recession has brought them into more prominent view by the general public.

What form might a strategy of once again putting the government into the role of the employer of last resort? A well-managed program similar to CETA would be a good start. One thing for sure: if public jobs once again re-entered our employment picture it would be absolutely necessary to make sure the program was run fairly and efficiently. Not as a competitor to jobs in the private sector but to do much-needed jobs the private sector can’t make a buck on.

As proposed in the previous section of this diary, there are many tasks in our local communities that need doing that are currently either not being done or not at the level necessary to make a difference in our collective quality of life. We can have more jobs, better and safer communities and schools, tighter and more caring networks of social relationships and a better quality of life. Isn’t that an important part of what government is for? It’s not all about national defense or an interstate system of four-lane super slabs. We badly need a renewed national discussion about government as an employer of last resort. The private sector would undoubtedly give plenty of blowback but they are simply not getting the whole job done.

DISPELLING PRIVATE SECTOR RESISTANCE I

Undoubtedly there would be great resistance to the idea of the government as the employer of last resort. Deeply embedded in the American psyche is the notion of personal responsibility. Each of us should make our own way in the world including earning what we need to survive. In the past this very functional idea has animated American industriousness with the promise that, if we work hard, the rewards we be there for us. This expectation is the basis for the unstated, informal social contract that Americans have had with their government. If fact, this social contract, not the Constitution and its many interpreters, is the bedrock for our government’s very legitimacy. Now, this social contract is in the process of being revoked by America’s economic and political elites.

Few things irritate a conservative more than the idea that someone who wants something for nothing. Shirkers are disrespected, relegated to low social status, and are viewed with outright contempt. Even liberals know that fairness demands we each contribute to our own well-being and the quality of our lives. Those fit enough should make their own living. Anything else is not only unfair to others who might be asked to carry their burden but also dysfunctional for the person who unnecessarily depends on others to make their way.

Work calls us out of our interior shells into the wider world so that we might be challenged and improved by the experience of working with others. We are forced to evolve; ultimately an act of societal kindness to those who, for whatever reason, might withdraw from the world.

Conservative resistance can be overcome by a new social contract that explicitly requires, and provides the means, for each of us to make every possible effort to provide for ourselves and our families.

DISPELLING PRIVATE SECTOR RESISTANCE II

All the post-social movement presidents—Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama—have delivered essentially the same message: that investment and hard work will produce a thriving economy for everyone. Same as it ever was. Not since the CETA jobs program has national leadership seriously addressed the problem of the nation’s unemployed, or our poor for that matter. We saw what happened to Jimmy Carter. He was mercilessly hounded by the corporate media while in office (it wasn’t primarily about the Iran hostage crisis; that was just an excuse). Then Corporate America replaced him with a much more business-friendly politician--that old actor that we elected king.

The alarming income inequality of today can be traced to that time forty years ago when we installed Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office and the financial sector began its ascendency over manufacturing which previously had supported blue-collar livelihoods. Who wins from inequality? Obviously the rich do in a limited sense but even their incomes are hurt because economic output drops. So why does this go on? The rich fear that if they make concessions that result in less inequality there will be more demands for them to relinquish power which may lead to more radical redistribution of wealth. If some redistribution works well why not more? They don’t want this process to even begin because it may lurch out of their control. Is their concern warranted? I don’t know but it is vital that a socially progressive political movement learn to work constructively with existing political and social elites. Not mere co-optation but as full partners in making a better country.

Would a full employment economy be less efficient? Perhaps, but that’s the price of letting everyone play. Would there be less productive output to go around? Maybe, but more will be drawn into the economy which should compensate for efficiency losses. If not, then that’s a small price to pay for national dignity and being a truly good people.

A NEW GREAT SOCIETY

There are few subjects that enrage conservatives more than Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. At first appearances it seems no one would object to aspiring to live in a Great Society but the very concept implies removing personal ambition from the center of American life and an end to class inequality. That’s what really pisses them off. Be all you can be should not be just an ironic Army recruitment slogan but should be a call to arms for making this country truly the greatest--not just militarily the strongest or economically the most powerful--country on earth. Conservatives have encouraged us to focus on more limited goals instead of what we can do at our best so we have fallen well short of what we could be as a country. The fact that tax rates have been central to our national political dialog for over thirty years is reflective of how limited our horizons have become. Small ideas make for a small people who do little to solve problems.

A society that places the common man at the center of American life is what I would call a Great Society. Not the rich business person or Hollywood “star” but ordinary people who find dignity in the way they conduct themselves in the course of their lives. People like that deserve a supportive government and institutional framework ready to work with them to reach their dreams. We have to make a choice about national priorities and that choice is fundamentally one of values.  

It’s difficult for many liberals to admit but the outburst of liberal democracy of the 1960s was in large part catalyzed by the assassination of President John Kennedy. The remarkable gains in civil rights were forced down the throat of an unwilling public by an unlikely national leader, President Lyndon Johnson who, after the assassination of Kennedy, was looking for a way to distinguish himself in history by overcoming his own racist past. LBJ became the focal point of efforts that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Great Society’s short-lived programs (welfare as we know it today was not among them). The Vietnam War quickly derailed the Great Society by draining the national budget and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was lost.

The terrible assassination of a president will not again provide the energy for a way forward. Sometimes we have to make our own mojo. At times, history has a way of unexpectedly thrusting a nation into new situations in which opportunities that were previously unthinkable are suddenly feasible. Arguably, we are in such a time now brought on by a jobs crisis that refuses to go away..

During the social disruptions of the late 1960s, U.S. elites were afraid of losing their grip on power and that is precisely when they were the most open to change. Perhaps, as Jim Clifton argues in The Coming Job War, disruptive times will return. Even if not. social progressives should be ready with practical ideas for a new way forward for workers. A new social contract in which national stability is earned by elite concessions to workers which guarantee reasonable wage norms, stable employment, and a decent standard of living. Tumultuous times can be avoided if the economic and social elites see the light soon enough and proactively make real changes in our economy. I hope they do.

WHAT NOW?

So what are we as a nation doing to work on new solutions to the problem of middle class decline and persistently high unemployment? To best of my knowledge the answer to this question is that no one is seriously working on community-level solutions. There’s no left-thinking organization comparable in scope to the Cato Institute or even the more policy-oriented Heritage Foundation. There are a number of excellent left-oriented oppositional research organizations which effectively critique present policies but none are tightly focused on designing alternatives to what we have now.

Many good people—some politicians, community organizers, educators, churches, volunteers—work on what is essentially making the best of a bad situation but that’s not enough. Mainstream thinking has most often been closely tied to the ideas we have had all along: reaping big profits with technological innovation in the hopes that trickle-down economics will eventually employ everyone (that didn’t work as advertised), devising smarter investment strategies (trillions in tax cuts already wasted) or essentially working better, harder, longer, faster (enough already).

Somehow we must find the resources and people to do new, creative work to solve this problem. Here is where innovative solutions can really pay off for the majority of Americans who cannot directly benefit from high-tech, high-education, high-energy economy jobs.

Our problems are large but our politics are small. That’s needs to change.

Two very important things to remember: first “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” and “There’s nothing as politically potent as people willing to kick up a ruckus.”

Originally posted to Doctor Mxyzptlk on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 04:03 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I liked this piece best. When you factor in enviro (3+ / 0-)

    concerns it becomes even more imperative that we find a new path that means consuming less and having more localized commerce rather then fuel expensive international.

    For fifty years, strong economic growth has been the mantra of the affluent and has set the tone for what we have come to value as a people. In the 1960s, American living standards began to grow well beyond what was necessary to sustain the “good life.” Mass advertising pressured Americans to consume more and more to the point that almost our entire lives were spent working to buy things we no longer had time to enjoy. The definition of enjoying life changed from spending good times with friends and family to higher and higher levels of raw consumption. Older people miss the life of the 1950s when “life was simpler” but they don’t know what to do about it. Younger people miss what they never directly experienced. Their life choices are more limited than they like to admit. Alternative regional economies, based on the ideas presented in this section, are a beginning. Many other local economic and human development strategies are possible if we refuse to drift along the economic mainstream imposed on us by the forces of Wall Street and the big corporations.
    It is absolutley true to me that we would be better and would find more pleasure and satisfaction in lives spent less on being consumers and more in serving our fellow travelers fairly.

    Fear is the Mind Killer

    by boophus on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 04:42:10 PM PST

    •  Simple life, not simple people (7+ / 0-)

      I spent my childhood in small southern towns in the 50s and 60s. Since then I have lived in large cities. I think frequently about the quality of life both ways and I see advantages in both. Somehow we have to figure out how to have it both ways. I believe that's achievable.

      First step is to stop listening to the voices on TV. Beyond that each of us needs to come clean with oursleves about what we value most. I believe most people would find we don't spend most of our time doing what we think is most important. That's bad thinking made worse by our limited economic choices.

    •  Ladies in the nail salon getting their toenails (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sparhawk, chipmo, Aspe4, Marie, Chi

      painted blue is a component of GDP, right? But if you sit at home and paint them yourself, that's not?

      The problem with economics is that it isn't a science at all.

      •  How true. Kahneman got a Nobel prize (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        plumbobb, Aspe4, AnnCetera, Chi

        for what is actually psychology, not economics.  It is a strange "science" indeed.

        The dude abides, now get off my lawn.

        by Boris49 on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 08:50:51 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I wonder what job, overall, most people spend the (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Boris49, Marie, AnnCetera

          most time doing. I would guess that it is either meal preparation or child care or housework. And I would guess that the GDP understates this number by probably at least 50% because the work is done uncompensated. Which is pretty messed up.

          •  True. My wife didn't work much outside the home, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Kestrel228

            but she is still working in the home today...even though I'm pretty lazy and only help out when asked.

            Fortunately, she receives 50% of my social security as the government's recognition for the role of the homemaker.  She was very happy to realize that at least there was some recognition of her contribution to raising a family and putting up with me.

            The dude abides, now get off my lawn.

            by Boris49 on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 09:18:00 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Econ is behavioral science (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Boris49, Chi

          Go to most grad-level econ classes and it will look and sound more like a grad engineering class. The Chicago school of econ is best example and has dominated field for years. More recently though, there's more appreciation for econ as the behavioral "science" it really is.

          "Science" in quotes is really appropriate!

          I gave my 17-year old daughter a copy of Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow" for Christmas. Econ as a field is reluctantly recognizing it's not all a matter of the little abstract diagrams but is deeply rooted in the individual and collective psyche.

      •  You're right.... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aspe4, YucatanMan

        Economics is an amalgam of mathematics, psychology and sociology.

        Jeez, no wonder it's such a morass......

        Well, it sure is a mess, ain’t it, Sheriff….
        Yep, and if it ain’t it’ll do ‘til the mess gets here.

        Liberal = We're all in this together
        Conservative = Every man for himself
        Who you gonna call?

      •  The Skim (0+ / 0-)

        You're right about GDP being difficult to calculate. Maybe what the number is really getting at is whether someone else can make money on a task. If it's you only, no contribution to GDP. If someone else can make a buck--then maybe the guys and gals at the top can get a piece of it--it's GDP.

  •  Mainstream Thinking Is Sticking To Disproven Ideas (4+ / 0-)

    we recently adopted, after the 60's. We know how to fix or at least greatly improve the situation even given that the nature of the economy is changing.

    It starts by taking society back from its owners.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 04:48:24 PM PST

    •  Tyranny of Disproven Ideas (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bnasley, Chi

      We need to use the fact that the economy is changing to good use.

      I agree: when we work for owners, we're living in a world they create for us to do what they think needs doing.

      My diary suggests that we do things closer to home in our own communties. When we're close to the owners--see them every day--their actions will be tempered by the fact they have to look us in the eye. Even better, we can be the owners. Billion dollar bombers would never be built in that world but that sounds better too.

  •  I wish we could move this way (8+ / 0-)

    We, as workers, need to have alternative employment options.  We could be a lot more free to create micro-businesses if we had national healthcare.

    As a matter of fact, I think that's the hidden reason we don't have national healthcare.  The 1% doesn't want workers who can easily leave to try a small start up.  Everyone is tied to jobs for healthcare.

    There are a lot of economic/personal welfare choices that we, as a nation, should consider.  The times they are, indeed, a-changin'

    •  YES with national health care and SSN we can be (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WheninRome, brae70, bnasley

      freer of the corporations and elitists who see us only as feedlot animals. If we can find work amonst others who are willing to go for this then we can shed the profit mongerers

      Fear is the Mind Killer

      by boophus on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 05:10:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Bob wuz right (0+ / 0-)

      At least I hope so. I agree that many alternative employment options would be in healthcare. That's the main idea in this dairy's suggestion of Caring Communities. De-corporatizing some of healthcare would divert money from exorbitant salaries for execs and expensive machines to hands-on caring one-on-one. May more people would have jobs and the "care" in healthcare would mean something.

    •  Marketing to the masses (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Marie, koNko

      The upper 1% can live very well from the consumer society, the race to the bottom of WAlMart prices and WalMart wages then there will be a Global job market.

      Watch and see where "AMERICAN AIRLINES(COPYRIGHT)" offshores/outsources their maintenance to compete against United and Jetblue and others.

  •  Just the sort of discussion we need. (7+ / 0-)

    In our current economy, the labor of the average person has little value, and wages are a liability from the viewpoints of corporations and Wall Street.  I don't think the solutions are all known, but they will never become known if people don't make the effort to search for them.

    Unfortunately, these sort of essays don't get the attention and debate they deserve, either here in DKos or in the national media.

    This statement in the diary sums up why I am so worried about the future:

    Our problems are large but our politics are small.

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

    by Thutmose V on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 05:09:05 PM PST

    •  So frustrating (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WheninRome, bnasley, chipmo, AnnCetera, Chi

      I sincerely believe our problems are solvable. In fact many of the seemingly most intractible ones can be put right. The problem is that some would have less so many could have more. Those that have the most begrudge even losing a little. They have the power to maintain the status quo, at least until people strongly demand change. Then they will give rather than lose all they have.

  •  Tipped & rec'ed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bnasley

    The radical Republican party is the party of oppression, fear, loathing and above all more money and power for the people who robbed us.

    by a2nite on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 07:18:59 PM PST

  •  Some good ideas here but living wage (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG

    is a huge challenge.  Unless you have increasing labor demand the result of pushing compensation up will be fewer jobs.  Direct employment by the government works fine if you persuade the taxpayers that the output is something they want.  Making contingent incentive payments to employers also works.  But just moving the wage floor up will reduce employment.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 07:45:31 PM PST

    •  Living wage (5+ / 0-)

      Supply and demand analysis from economics says that the higher the price for something, less will be consumed. Cheaper substitutes will be found, if available. But here's where the simple S&D begins to break down.

      If burger flippers get more pay burger joint owners can't simply replace them with robots. Automated dispensing of burgers was the idea behind food automats in the '50s and nobody liked them. Customers want their burger from humans, not machines. Also, robots are too expensive to buy and repair. So burger flippers are not about to be replaced or to would have already been done. Burger flippers could demand a raise but the guy at the 7-11 would work for about the same wage. Solution => everybody get a minimum living wage.

      The real threat to less demand for burgers if flipper's salaries go up would be the grocery store down the street. People could eat at home (not likely you say but it could happen). Solution => grocery workers get a minimum wage also keyed to working wage to make a living.

      Net effect of all this would be to raise worker's wages. Where this has been tried few, if any, jobs were lost. Some studies actually show an increase in employment. They don't explain exactly how but here's a possibility. "Richer" burger flippers have more to spend and that spending (by laws of S&D) creates more jobs through multipliers effect (see this diary).

      As I say in diary, our way of living does not (and morally cannot) depend on making people work for less than a decent living.

      •  I hope you are right but I never discount (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        martinjedlicka, Sparhawk

        the ability of business to improve labor productivity in response to price signals. That this has negative effects for employees at the margin is a central failing of our system.

        Where are we, now that we need us most?

        by Frank Knarf on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 09:33:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Generally I agree Frank (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bnasley, AnnCetera

          It's just that some jobs are more easily automated than others. My grandfather had it right many years ago when he told me to become a barber like him. After all, he said, people will always have to have their hair cut and they'll need somebody to do it. Someday he'll probably be proven wrong but that day will not be soon.

        •  That's the rub, isn't it? (4+ / 0-)

          The "owners" near unilateral control over all the measurements, including value of inputs and prices. What price does a firm place on a community's clean water? Sanitation and waste control in the most economically challenged neighborhoods? Very little, if any. Most of the time it is conveniently externalized.

          I don't fault the Financial Elites for trying to leverage everything to their advantage. I fault the rest of us for not constantly keeping in perspective that that their balance sheets are just a portion of our existence on the planet, one factor/guide in many in making decisions to manage our environment, lives and communities.

          When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

          by Egalitare on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 03:48:09 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Most of us agree that a basic function (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            martinjedlicka, bnasley

            of government is to allocate the cost of those externalities, lest we decay into some banana republic like state.  It's maddening that people who identify as conservatives can't grasp this.  Do they really want their grandchildren to sortie from their walled compounds into a dangerous, dirty, decrepit public world, accompanied by body guards, just to visit the mall?

            Where are we, now that we need us most?

            by Frank Knarf on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 07:13:09 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Conservatives (0+ / 0-)

              Conservative thinking has been misappropriated by money interests which gives them some "intellectual" cover for their bottom line which is to make more and more.

              Conservatives mostly want good communties but they blind themselves to the selfish interests of the rich. "Liberal"s and "conservatives" have more in common that either side thinks. The rich exploit both groups.

               Walled compounds = gated "communities."

          •  Externalized (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Egalitare

            Costs (potentially out of owner's profits) are often conveniently pushed onto poor people via health effects. Healthy water is rationed by price. Oh, that's right. We don't do rationing in this country.

            When you get down to it this mess is really our fault, not the owners. They give way whenever seriously challenged, at least in this country. Their game is only a part of our game here on earth; something we frequently lose sight  of.

            As I say in this diary, it's not all about them.

  •  Nicely presented! (7+ / 0-)

    A full meal! I'd like this diary to be in pamphlet form, I'd take some with me every day & drop them off at work, the grocery, the doctor's office, the metro, send them to school with my college student!

    Every time I read the words Citizens United I snort like my dog. - Me And another thing: a**holes are not a protected class under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Just sayin'. - Jon Loomis 1/31/12

    by SanFernandoValleyMom on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 11:32:26 PM PST

  •  Motivation and happiness (7+ / 0-)

    don't come from consumption of cheap material goods.  The Wal-martization of America has resulted in an ever-increasing cycle of people thinking that owning stuff will make them happy.  And the 1% think the same, except their stuff costs a lot more.  I just finished reading "Drive" by Daniel Pink, which is an excellent summary in layman's terms of the research on motivation.  What really motivates people and gives them satisfaction can be summarized in 3 words - autonomy, mastery and purpose.  

    The vast majority of employment opportunities today do not offer those 3 factors in any meaningful way.  Especially in the retail sector, employees have virtually no autonomy, little purpose, and as for mastery - I know from experience that mastering the ability to stock a shelf does not offer the same satisfaction as becoming an expert in running a sophisticated manufacturing line.  Low-paying retail jobs provide barely enough to live on (if that) and don't offer anything in terms of personal motivation.

    One example that Pink uses is that of Wikipedia versus Encarta.  Who would have predicted that an encyclopedia build by unpaid volunteers would crush the one built by highly-paid employees of one of the world's most successful corporations?

    I'm not pretending that money is not a motivator.  But I believe that if we could create a society where basic needs are safely assured, and people had the opportunity to pursue work that had meaning for them, we'd all be better off.

    "I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it." Terry Pratchett

    by kiwiheart on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 03:17:33 AM PST

    •  Money... (0+ / 0-)

      ...is but a means to an end for most people. They just want to make a decent living. For the rich who have much already money becomes an end in itself.

      "Autonomy, mastery, and purpose." Sounds like trying to get a firm hold on our human existence which is precarious to begin with. The major purpose of civilized society--and government--is to make these things widely available to people.

  •  Your action list is full of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Knarf, chipmo

    good, straightforward ideas that would be simple to implement, if we had the political will. Many of them, in fact, were implemented, under slightly different names, during WWII, as a part of the effort to support the troops (my Depression-era-born Mother has described them to me countless times growing up).

    Thanks for a cogent, thought-provoking essay to start my day,

    Radarlady

  •  Have you studied the Transition Initiative? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bnasley

    It marries what you are doing here with the impending decentralization of energy and peak oil realities.

    •  think locally (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bnasley

      There are a number of good emerging alternative economies - time exchange is one of them.  I suspect that all of the alternative will be localized ... think transition towns.

      "The real wealth of a nation consists of the contributions of its people and nature." -- Rianne Eisler

      by noofsh on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 04:07:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Transition Initiative (0+ / 0-)

      Yes, I think there is really something to the ideas in my diary here when married to the ideas of energy "frugality." Our huge energy consumption ties us to the corporate world and beyond that to the economic systems of other countries in ways that are bad for our jobs and communities. There's good exposure to the rest of the world and bad. We must learn differences and act on them.

  •  I don't have time to read it all but I like it :) (0+ / 0-)

    I do have a couple of questions/comments:

    Does your income distribution chart include children?  Or only the employed.

    You should also include per-capita income from all sources.  Your chart showing declining income re-inforces the belief that america is going broke and cannot afford bold ideas.  That is the republican meme.  A per-capita chart of all income shows we've never been wealthier.

    •  Income Distribution (0+ / 0-)

      The Census/BLS data series if for income earners which does not include children. (Unless Newt gets his way with doing away with the child labor laws.) Good point but next analytical level up is household which muddies up the essential message here which is wage workers don't make much.

      I stuck to money income here because essential point would not be biased upward because of the extravagant earnings of the rich, especially the super rich. I'm more concerned less with high incoem outliers than how the average wage earner is doing.

  •  St. Croix (4+ / 0-)

    is an 84 square mile of dirt located in the Caribbean Sea. A month ago one of the biggest oil refineries in the world announced that they were closing down the end of April. With a population of 50,000 and the loss of 2,000 high paying jobs the impact to the economy will be devastating. Analysts have said that for every job lost it may cost 10 more in the community.

    Prior to this the government instituted an 8% across the board decrease in government salaries to address the deficit. This impacted teachers, hospital workers, etc. Last week the government fired 25 education workers and yesterday the hospital fired over 80 LPN's and nurses aides. To say the island is reeling is an understatement.

    So your piece is well timed for us here and offers suggestions for a way to move forward. I've bookmarked it and will try to use aspects of it when out in the community. It really is too long to send on but who knows maybe we can act as a type of incubator to work on some of the ideas you presented.

    Being ever the optimist this is just one more disaster we will all have to weather.

    If peace is to prevail we all have to become foes of violence.

    by spacejam on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 05:59:32 AM PST

    •  Do you know my friend Stan? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      spacejam, Chi

      I have a friend from my teen years, Stan, who's lived in St. Croix for 20 years. He has told me a bit about the closing of the refinery. Apparently it was an outrageous polluter?

      Stan is the band director at one of the St. Croix high schools. If you see him, tell him I said hi.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 07:40:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Re (0+ / 0-)

      The island's experience is very instructive. The only thing anyone cares about is what a given area exports. You can have public works jobs, local schools, hospitals, police, etc, and all of that activity is funded by exports of whatever it is you make or grow.

      No exports means no local economy.

      (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
      Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

      by Sparhawk on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 09:36:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The other islands (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Chi

        make their money on tourism. We have always been an industrial island...oil and rum...and before that agriculture...we were the breadbasket of the Caribbean.

        Now we could be the residential island because we haven't over built like the others and still have a lot of pristine land available. I think we would be a great place for the Boomers  to retire if we could beef up our hospital.

        If peace is to prevail we all have to become foes of violence.

        by spacejam on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 10:55:15 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Exports (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        koNko

        One big drawback to an export-driven economy is the extreme sensitivity to shocks in the export sector such as when a big plant closes down suddenly or when external consumer demand for your export suddenly declines.

        You play with fire you can get burned. As I argue in my diary, a local-serving economy can endure external shocks better because not tied to exports. Typically, local-serving economy is less dynamic but that suits many people just fine.

        My diary argues that communities should be aware of the export vs. local tradeoffs and make a deliberate democratic decision to pursue one, the other, or both.

        Not tying your economy to the whims of external markets or individual owners is true economic liberty.

        •  That is quite true (0+ / 0-)

          But the problem is much or what makes affluent societies run is dependent on trade, whether it is materials, products or knowledge.

          In fact, we would not be having this discussion without it.

          This is not to say societies should not do more to localize or that it is not a remedy (I quite agree it is) but that it is not a panacea or total solution as some seem to think.

          In fact, in some respects technology can facilitate localization and this will be a significant factor in re-engineering local and global economies, but it won't replace trade, some of which is essential, particularly when it comes to resource extraction and  large scale activities that serve global markets.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 06:03:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Impact to St. Croix (0+ / 0-)

      What you describe is terrible. When a community is not economically diversified and the big plant shuts down the effects are devastating.

      On a smaller scale I saw the same thing happen in the American South isn the 1960s when the shoe factory (or equivalent) shut down in the small towns I come from. Most of these small towns have not recovered to this day.

      Good luck on St. Croix because as I'm sure you know this will take much time to work out.

  •  Stiglitz on American jobs. (7+ / 0-)

    Nobel Economics winner Joseph Stiglitz's recent piece on American jobs is indispensable reading.

    The gist: manufacturing has gotten so efficient here, and so cheap in other countries, that a lot of people who would've worked in US manufacturing in the past are now "surplus."

    Stiglitz says this is like the Great Depression--agriculture got way more efficient in the early 20th century, creating a lot of "surplus" workers who until then would've worked on farms.

    Stiglitz's prescription:

    The good news (in a sense) is that the United States has under-invested in infrastructure, technology, and education for decades, so the return on additional investment is high, while the cost of capital is at an unprecedented low. If we borrow today to finance high-return investments, our debt-to-G.D.P. ratio—the usual measure of debt sustainability—will be markedly improved. If we simultaneously increased taxes—for instance, on the top 1 percent of all households, measured by income—our debt sustainability would be improved even more.

    The private sector by itself won’t, and can’t, undertake structural transformation of the magnitude needed—even if the Fed were to keep interest rates at zero for years to come. The only way it will happen is through a government stimulus designed not to preserve the old economy but to focus instead on creating a new one. We have to transition out of manufacturing and into services that people want—into productive activities that increase living standards, not those that increase risk and inequality. To that end, there are many high-return investments we can make. Education is a crucial one—a highly educated population is a fundamental driver of economic growth. Support is needed for basic research. Government investment in earlier decades—for instance, to develop the Internet and biotechnology—helped fuel economic growth. Without investment in basic research, what will fuel the next spurt of innovation? Meanwhile, the states could certainly use federal help in closing budget shortfalls. Long-term economic growth at our current rates of resource consumption is impossible, so funding research, skilled technicians, and initiatives for cleaner and more efficient energy production will not only help us out of the recession but also build a robust economy for decades. Finally, our decaying infrastructure, from roads and railroads to levees and power plants, is a prime target for profitable investment.

    The second conclusion is this: If we expect to maintain any semblance of “normality,” we must fix the financial system.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/...

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 07:48:59 AM PST

    •  Infrastructure (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi, koNko, HeyMikey

      Stiglitz is right about many things. The US has improved manufacturing efficiency so much that we'll never need many more workers doing those tasks. (Not to pimp my other diaries, you might take a look at "Promises Made, Promises Broken" and "The Dirty Truth About American Jobs.")

      I was brought up in the American South in the aftermath of the decline in agricultural employment and the bad news is that shift is still working itself out to this day. Same is happening for manufacturing which partially took agriculture's place in the Southern economy but now is steeply declining too. What can take their place? Nothing yet or as far as I can see.

      We should be doing massive infrastructure redevelopment in the US right now but we are not due to influence of corporate sector. Big business is concerned that big infrastructure investment would crowd out private investment and push up the cost of labor because "reserve army of the unemployed" would be serious depleted (people would go back to work, how awful).

      Long-term? Sure infrastructure spending makes sense even to Big Business. But accountability of current senior management is to Wall Street which focuses on short-term profits. Without big-time leadership from the White House and broad support from the American people will be difficuly row to hoe prsently. Things can and do change however.

      •  Indeed. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HeyMikey

        A majority of value in infrastructure is local, even when much of the content is imported. Thus government have tended to rely on infrastructure, sometimes non-productively, to stimulate economies.

        However, there is no doubt the US is badly in need of renewing and modernizing it's infrastructure, so ow is a time to do it, and I would even posit that if it fails to do so it will become increasingly non-competative against countries that are doing so.

        Dial in $150 per barrel oil and the US transportation infrastructure crashes.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 06:09:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Infrastructure (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          HeyMikey, koNko

          Hiring for infrastructure construction may not be from down the street but often by firms located less than a few hundred miles away. At least it's domestic spending. Even when foreign firms are infrastructure contractors they subcontract as close to job as they can. Local construction by local firms is certainly best from local multiplier point of view as I argue in this diary.

          As you say most of the value in use is local and that's all good.

          •  We have to measure value 2 ways (0+ / 0-)

            Investment, and return from investment.

            Good infrastructure spending tends to return a high multiple of initial investment including recurring tax revenue.

            And failure to invest often costs in terms of material loss, inefficiency and lost opportunity.

            And even when the business entities of an infrastructure project are not local to the site, there is always local spending that is immediately beneficial, and the share of that is typically negotiable.

            This applies anywhere in the world.

            What about my Daughter's future?

            by koNko on Fri Mar 02, 2012 at 12:50:16 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Infrastructure Benefits (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              koNko

              Agreed koNko. Seems to me ROI is the key. Alternate investments should be examined and best cost-benefit pursued but subject to that the question should be "does the project pay off?"

              You say "And failure to invest often costs in terms of material loss, inefficiency and lost opportunity."

              Yes, but I think the key is who pays the costs and who reaps the benefit. At one level we all do.

              Look beneath that and there's a pattern of winners and losers. Wall Street short-termism means they think they will be a loser. Over the long-run that's false even the big banks would agree but they see important thing as this quarter's earnings.

              Wall Street will underinvest in infrastructure so that's where the public comes in. An effective government will see to the long-term benefit of the people as a whole. Our "bought" system is too easily rigged though.

              •  Obviously (0+ / 0-)

                Much of the short-term benefits go to construction companies, but this is where state-owned construction can play a valuable roles. Returns to society are more long-term but lasting.

                I think a key point has to be the introduction of modern mass-transit (where appropriate) and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) or Redevelopment as the case may more commonly be to put the US on par with other nations in terms of transportation efficiency.

                In fact, if we consider the energy consumption profile of the US it is heavily biased toward transportation so there is a lot to be gained.

                What about my Daughter's future?

                by koNko on Sat Mar 03, 2012 at 12:16:42 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Constructive Comment (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  koNko

                  I like the idea of state-owned construction companies. What better way to re-employ many workers in time of high unemployment? Job skills are broad spectrum--laborer, masonry, ... while doing something that greases
                  the wheels for the entire economy.

                  A state-owned enterprise would be in a better position to make sure construction labor force helped American workers. I hate to say that but I have heard private companies often employ foreign workers which is OK as long as American workers are helped first.

                  •  A good US example is CalTrans (0+ / 0-)

                    I wonder how many conservatives refuse to drive on the highways they have built because they were made by government workers ... LOL.

                    What about my Daughter's future?

                    by koNko on Sat Mar 03, 2012 at 06:25:33 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Don't you know... (0+ / 0-)

                      ...that conservatives think highways just spring up right out of the dirt. Or private companies build them for free because of better management and more highly motivated workers.

                      The government should keep its hands off my social security and my highways too.

                      Shows the power of blindered thinking can solve any problem; at least in conservative's minds.

  •  I think you hit it well. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi

    And, I think your statement about no one is trying to find a new solution is the reason for the attacks of different state governments on labor and women. Labor has to be broken in order for the owners to retain control of their money. And, the attack on women is to keep people from realizing what the real issues are.

    Make emotion the driving force of the people, and you keep their thinking to a minimum.

    If you ask for something, they will probably say no. But, they might say yes....

    by KatGirl on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 08:54:19 AM PST

    •  Old but terrible story (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi

      Owners want control and except after WW2 they have pretty much gotten their way. Owners, through the "news" media, constantly redirect public attention away from real economic issues to" red meat" social issues.  

      Witness the sudden resurgence of social issues in Repub presidential politics. How did birth control of all things suddenly rise to the fore as an issue diverting us from the worker-level economic issues? The news media were not reacting to a genuine shift in the concerns of the American people but instead cooked this issue out of the blue in service to thei corporate masters. Just mantaining the status quo which is their major function in our economic and political system (aside from stimulating consumer demand).

  •  I'm rec'ing this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jommy

    Not because I agree with all of it (I don't), but because it's an interesting treatment of the subject matter and well written.

    (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
    Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

    by Sparhawk on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 09:26:51 AM PST

  •  Nicely done. BTW I worked for a CETA (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bnasley, Chi, koNko

    funded program in rural Vermont in the seventies.  The cooking skills I acquired in one summer led to a lifetime of employment, not to mention the ability to feed myself and many others.  

    An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. -Benjamin Franklin

    by martinjedlicka on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 09:27:08 AM PST

  •  This is a brilliant diary. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Boris49, bnasley, susanWAstate, spacejam, Chi

    Wish I could tip it 1,000 times, for your free-ranging, innovative, and (credibly) global explanations. There is much here to savor.

    Particularly, I appreciated one remark you made early in the diary about the over-selling of vocational "entrepreneurship" as the industrial infrastructure in this country was dying. (Regrettably, I couldn't quote it, since I couldn't find it.)

    But I graduated from college in the 80s. I've slummed around my fair share since, and I am only too keenly aware of this. In any of those how-to-get-a-job books or lectures or what have we, they talk about how you are supposed to be "entrepreneurial," i.e., sufficiently "passionate" to start your own thing. This is the wave of the future. Wanting to join something that's already running, well, that's to be avoided, if you know what's good for you :) It dates you.

    But, but...some of us take into our 40s to recognize that we aren't entrepreneurs--no matter what they were all about hyping back in the 80s and 90s, to distract us from the shambles the job market was in. We are best at joining what's already  running, and slowly enhancing it. That's how we contribute.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 09:37:20 AM PST

    •  Entreprenuers (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      karmsy, Chi

      Pushing the American myth of "we can all be entrpreneurs" diverts attention away from the reality that corporate America works for fewer and fewer and people theses days.

      And if I hear the word "passionate" so misapplied again I think I'll go bonkers. The word replaces the reality.

      Thanks for your kind comments.

  •  Will read -- marking for future reference. (0+ / 0-)

    His silence says everything we need to know.

    by livjack on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 10:31:09 AM PST

  •  Wow - this is an epic proposal (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    spacejam, Chi

    Really too much to digest all at once though : ).  From a quick review, I think it places too much emphasis on employment.  Where you say:

    There is a reasonable expectation that workers deserve to make a decent living. A new social contract should address the following at a minimum: employment & wages, adequate housing, health care, and universal education.
    I would say 'there is a reasonable expectation of human decency for All'.  Not everyone is able to work and a person should not have to work their entire lifetime.  And in that same vein, I would add 'a dignified retirement' to the elements of the social contract.

    We and our planet can no longer afford runaway capitalism,  conspicuous consumption and planned obsolescence.  We need to invest in people not things.

    I'm bookmarking your diary to study when I have more time.

    There are only two kinds of Republicans: Millionaires and Suckers.

    by susanWAstate on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 10:37:23 AM PST

  •  Starving a government (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marie, Chi

    .. in times when government is the only thing left with which to fight corporate control and a dystopian future is the new feudalists fondest dream.

    Grover Norquist's "pledge" is just one symptom of a global disease.

    If liberals really "hated America" - We'd vote Republican

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 11:02:06 AM PST

  •  I think OWS got the ball rolling (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi

    Things like poverty, inequality, etc. were more or less ignored by the media and rarely talked about outside of liberal circles until last year.  Since the OWS movement got off the ground it's been talked about by the media and people of all walks of life.  We have a long way to go to implement many of the (very good) ideas this diarist mentions, but we're at least talking about them as a nation.  That's the first step.  

    Thankfully we have thus far stopped serious efforts by the right to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, health care reform and other safety net programs.  But we have to constantly be on guard.  Eventually I think generational change will in the voting base will bring about progressive change and end the culture wars similar to what the diarist talks about.  We just have to weather the storm for now.  It'll be a long hard ride, but we'll get there.  Keep the faith.

    •  Agree on OWS (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ChadmanFL, Chi

      You're right about the positive effect OWS has had on our national discussion on poverty and inequality. Having such a persistently high unemployment rate has brought home to many the decades-long decline of the middle class and the fact that jobs have been at the center of it.

      I've worked on this stuff since the 80s and it has already been a long hard ride. In the unlikely event we elect a Repub president we'll likely go to sleep on this again. I have hope if Obama wins but he (and us) are definitely going against the tide. No choice though.

  •  this is what 911 was really about (0+ / 0-)

    The "war on terrorism" is just self-serving bullshit, designed to give the world's biggest military something to do.

    The real reason those nutjobs gave themselves the title of "super secret subversive", was because no-one was ever going to give them any other job title, and they knew it.

    Get ready for more of that, and then more bullshit from "the establishment" as they hide from the truth.

  •  Is it time for a 32 hour workweek? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi

    Many decades ago during the OPEC oil embargo
    the company I worked for (who built electronics for ocean going oil tankers) was hit badly.  

    Management came to the workers (we were a small company of perhaps 50) and asked us if we preferred a layoff of 50% of the staff, or if we preferred to cut back our hours and wages by 50%.  

    We had time to discuss it amongst ourselves and we decided to go for the cut back rather than the layoff.

    Over the next few years a few people left the company for greener pastures.  But most hung in there until things turned around.

    I always admired the management of that company for taking the thoughts and feelings of its workers into consideration and following their wishes.

    That company has been bought and sold a few times since then, but still exists today.

    Maybe it is time for a 32 hour work week.

    I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

    by DamselleFly on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 04:22:20 PM PST

    •  32 hour week (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DamselleFly

      Sounds like your management at the electronics company gave a damn about their employees enough to think it through. Also the workers believed management when they claimed a 50% cutback of some sort was necessary. In today's distrustful environment I think workers would have to be more wary but it should depend on the individual circumstance.

      A 32 hour week sounds like a good approach to full employment. Wage cuts would be necessary here too. Problem is wages from 40-50 hours are not enough for a decent living for a family in most place, especially with high cost of healthcare and energy.

      Problem can be viewed as high cost of living or not living in an economy with sufficient choices to allow a more modest living. We need to dial back our consumer spirits and learn to live more modestly. As my diary says, this might give us more time for our friends, families, and communities. Sounds like a good deal to me.

      •  Agree (0+ / 0-)

        It does require a change in our spending and living habits.  And having the extra time could further exacerbate the desire to spend money to be entertained, if we don't make the change away from consumerism.  A shift in perspective would be required.

        Families cutting expenses by 20% (or perhaps even more, if there is a higher cost to benefits) would be painful.  

        But somewhere along the way we adopted a 40 hour work week, and that shift was good for us.  Given the advances in technology and the increases in productivity, a 32 hour work week should be attainable, if the wages were fair and not top heavy.

        I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

        by DamselleFly on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 06:16:06 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Job war? We lost that war a longtime ago. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koNko

    More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.— that’s just the baseline…

    That Giant Sucking Sound has been going on since the 70's... It just gets louder as we reach bottom of the bowl…
    http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/

    Nudniks need not apply.

    by killermiller on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 04:41:03 PM PST

  •  There are two fundamental problems (0+ / 0-)

    Not addressed:

    First, the international system, at various levels, has always depended on exploitation of the poor and powerless for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful. One need not look further than the extraction of "cheap" oil, the basis of much wealth in "advanced" developed nations who are "fair" to their own citizens at the expense of others, to see how this works.

    Today, as developing nations rise, the foundation of this system is crumbling as the world actually becomes more "fair" with the economic ascent of poor nations somewhat at the expense of rich ones that got that way through systematic exploitation. If we were to distribute the world's wealth uniformly, where would the average fall? Even with increasing income disparity in wealthy nations, I suspect that average would represent a step down for wealthy developed countries that have accumulated vast wealth since the industrial revolution.

    So I have to ask, was all this affluence an entitlement that makes this great rebalancing "unfair"?

    Second, the model of investment, particularly in manufacturing, has changed, where wealthy and powerful MNCs that control markets no longer make the scale of investments in industrial capacity they once did, choosing, instead, to maximize their profits by contracting others to do the dirty work and make the low-return investments,  assuming responsibility for the risks and liabilities involved. It is far more profitable to be an Apple than a Foxconn.

    With all due respect to hard-working Americans, much of the prosperity they enjoyed over the past Century was the result of exploiting other Americans that preceded them but also non-Americans throughout this period who's national wealth, in materials or labor, was exploited for the advantage of Americans, whether that was cheap oil, cheap bananas, or cheap clothing, etc. The same applies to others.

    So, may I also ask, is this war for jobs a war for economic justice, or just your average, everyday war for economic advantage?

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Thu Mar 01, 2012 at 05:49:26 PM PST

    •  International Exploitation (0+ / 0-)

      This week the Economist magazine has an interesting story on migraion patterns in China; from central areas to production centers near the coast of course. International growth models (Harrad-Domar, etc.) have always depended on a migration component. Workers forced off farms to work in factories. When Chinese manufacturing slowed a few years ago problem was what to do with the workers who had migrated. Undertold story by western news media was bad story about the idled workers. Profits through exploitation as usual in capitalist system. Take it out of the hide of workers, an old story here and there.

      The big global story over the last decade has been the rising income of poor but of course that's from very low base.

      Yes, a big step down for the mature industrialized nations. Will rising productivity lower price floor for goods and services so that standard of living is maintained? I've seen no evidence of that lately and don't expect to.

      Post-WW2 Americans thought they were doing great because of hard work and great innovation. Much of that was hubris and now we're beginning to see how we really stack up against the world. Instead of congratulating ourselves we should have been preparing for this day--education, infrastructure development, etc. Instead we let facile politicians like Ronald Reagan (and the rest to a lesser degree) tell us how great we were.

  •  We will need to disconnect income from jobs (0+ / 0-)

    Eventually, if the current trend toward automation continues. What is needed is a baseline that no one can fall below, whether they have a jobs or not, with the possibility of being creative and innovative leading to a higher reward of some kind.

    As with housing not being connected with a job (at one time housing was where you worked, and you lost your living quarters when you lost your job), and working toward health care not being connected with a job (much better than losing your health care when you lose your job), a living income should not be connected with a job.

    When that happens, if there are opportunities for people with interests that move them to pursue them, we will see an explosion of innovation and creativity from people who now are locked into jobs to survive and wasting their time doing things they hate. Even those with less cognitive ability can be creative and innovative, given a chance. It's our strength as a species, along with our drive to cooperate and work together.

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