Years ago, I remember hearing a news story that for people with undiagnosed health problems, putting a name to a patient’s illness often resulted in improvement in their condition—as reported by the patient. That is, just hearing a doctor determine a diagnosis made people feel better and to some extent provided relief from their symptoms. Some combination of the validation that there really was something defined and definable wrong with them, that it was an ailment that others had (sense of not being alone?), and that there was a pathway to understanding their condition (even if there was no real cure or treatment) improve patient condition.
Lately (like the last few years), I keep hearing people ask, “What is going on?” “What caused this?” “Who is behind this?” I think the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement are both reactions to “This.” This, the phantom in the room that no one can get their hands around. This odd sense of something changing in a skewed way, not exactly backwards or forwards, but more a strange shift to the side, almost like something out of the Adjustment Bureau.
I think “This” is the Kuznet’s Curve. What is the Kuznet’s Curve? It is the graphical representation of a socio-economic theory that states that economic inequality (as measured by per capita income) is at its peak when an economy is developing and is at a minimum in agrarian and “fully developed” societies.
There is a lot of “huh?” in the Kuznet’s Curve. The first that comes to mind is the notion somehow that agrarian economies have minimal economic inequality. Ever heard of the Middle Ages? The second is that a “fully developed” economy has minimal economic inequality.
Stepping away from economic theory and the ivory tower for a moment, and as I understand it, the popularization of the Kuznet’s Curve has been to get rid of “transitional” and “pre-transitional” economic activity. Like manufacturing. And farming. Then you achieve social equity.
OK. I’ll accept for the sake of argument that the answer to the question, “What are people supposed to do for a living?” is, “Have a white collar job.” So, here’s my question: If we don’t make anything in the US, then where does the stuff come from? China? And where do we keep getting money from to buy stuff from China if we don’t make anything to sell ourselves?
I suppose the answer to the last is, “Innovation.” I don’t buy it. I believe in the Knowledge and Talent Economy, but America is not the only culture that can generate Intellectual Property. If that’s it, there’s no edge left.
Another missing piece in this Brave New World is who does all the stuff that has to get done? Like fix a broken door or change oil in cars or a flat tire on a bike? Some GATTACA-like slave class? Well, let me tell you until I learned how to change a bike tire a few years ago, anyone who could do that for me was no Chore Thrall, they were a God on Earth. Same for anyone who fixes my computer or anything else that’s broken and I need to work.
While I think the goal of economic equality and social equity is laudable, off-shoring manufacturing seems to result in a lot of people out of work, lots of shipping costs that weren’t there before (and that its dollars, time, environmental, etc), and, if anything, greater environmental impact, just in a different place. (If a tree falls in a Central American forest to clear land for a textile factory that is replacing the shuttered plant in Central North Carolina, and the environmentalist doesn’t go hiking there, does it still impact Climate Change?)
I think to any of the Hordes of Millions who regularly read my blog, it is no secret at this point I believe in American manufacturing. I believe that skills are as important as intellectualism to an economy, and to a person. I realize a lot of people disagree with me. Running a photo copier, cracking an egg, cleaning a sink are menial labor and somehow demeaning. I like making cookies, I can clean the sink myself afterwards and it’s a big money saver. I really don’t want my cookies or my eggs or my sink cleaner coming from China, it just isn’t necessary or sensible. (And it doesn’t mean there is no pollution, it just means the pollution is in China.)
Well, this has been a bit of a ramble and more pedantic than usually. I leave you with the following words from a Great American.
“Work is more than making money. It’s about self-esteem, and everyone needs that. All of us have different talents. If we put them together as a team, we are all the better off.”