There has been a fair bit of discussion on Adam Davidson‘s Atlantic article on manufacturing employment, and on David Brook’s related comments. There are a few problems with both: Brooks still reads some things wrongly, and the examples don’t quite fit what Adam wants them to say. *
Nonetheless, let’s say for the moment that they are essentially on point. We will continue to have manufacturing jobs, some of them good ones, but they will continue to decrease in number. Of those that remain, there will be downward pressure on wages. Where will jobs for people – American Dream type jobs – come from?
Megan McArdle’s and Charles Murray’s recent essays bear on this topic as well. (In fact, McArdle touches on a lot of interesting apects of this – teen jobs, where folks will live, what services we can afford, and Murray’s got a new book covering the waterfront on this ) It has become commonplace for sociologists and economists to note that two-parent families have become less necessary over the last few decades. They describe different reasons for this: increased safety net, women in the workplace, less stigma. As it becomes increasingly clear that the success-track has a higher concentration of two parent families, should we start reverting to our old claim that two parents are necessary? What do we do with those folks who didn’t get the memo? If delaying gratification becomes the A-1 necessary virtue for a decent life in America, how do we teach that?
If you are a conservative, what the hell do you do about this?
If you are a liberal, what the hell do you do about this?
Repeat for Christian, libertarian, carpenter, humanist, parent, atheist, school superintendent…welcome to a new age of conflicting roles.
Add these pieces together and project them forward: What if there are only decent full-time jobs for 50% of the people who want to work a generation from now, with the rest having part-time or intermittent employment – or none at all – a generation from now? What if only 50% of the population is qualified to fill the jobs? Remember that there is still a lot of talent in that 50%. They can drive cars, make jokes, play an instrument, read a report, build a shed, care for a child, bake bread, play cards, or grow flowers. They just can’t do so at an exceptional enough level to get paid for it. So far, we have been able to switch over to value-added goods and services over the last 100 years. Specialty foods, decoration, entertainment, enhancement, all manner of spas and self-improvers and craftspersons. How far can that be stretched?
Perhaps it can go on forever. Perhaps a hundred years from now when a permanent cheap energy source fuels the food, clothing, and shelter machines without much attention we can all just entertain each other all day, with the very few at any given moment raking in the dough because their specialty is popular this year, but many having a shot at their day in the sun at some point in their lives. How the human spirit deals with such a social order I don’t know. Science fiction writers sometimes take a stab at imagining that. The Moon Moth, and The Marching Morons provide contrasting visions. Douglas Adams has a go at it as well, but with more humorous results.
Yet why should it go on forever? What if it doesn’t work? Let’s look at some complicating problems.
They can all still vote.
All groups will have special needs kids, or will contract unusual diseases, or get hit by drunk drivers – but the bottom 50% are going to have many more, and they will expect equal treatment. This happens with school districts now. We’ve been arguing about that in NH for two decades.
The meritocracy aspect is going to be uneven, perhaps even highly uneven. Of the 50% who have the good jobs, what if a good chunk of those don’t deserve them, but got them via affirmative action, good old-fashioned nepotism and connection, corruption, or dishonest charm? The capable among the other 50% are going to be significantly resentful.
If the economy does adapt in a value-added direction, Non-Asian Minorities may do just fine. If personal energy, charm, creativity, adaptability, and service all do come to count for more and more relative to g-factor, that’s one less ground for social unrest. There might not be much racial difference in those qualities. But if current trends continue, NAM’s are going to be significantly overrepresented.
*The seeming unfairness of Maddie’s plight is highlighted by her claim, seemingly supported by the data and the opinion of those around her, “I am smaaart.” She graduated with honors, but it is later revealed that she not only doesn’t have calculus, she doesn’t have trigonometry. Those aren’t absolutely necessary for “smart,” but they are usual, and their absence calls for some substitute subject of excellence – a facility with languages, a flair for writing, something. Among the actual smart kids who weren’t especially good at math, they found a way to crawl through Algebra II acceptably even if they were relieved that this was the end of their math careers. Next, she made all sorts of good decisions as a high-schooler, but she did get pregnant early in her senior year by someone who turned out not to be an acceptable husband and father. Now, she feels unable to go to school because of mothering responsibilities, and the article seems to support her idea of the hopelessness of this because she can’t go out in the evening. Well, these days there are online courses, and you can take them one at a time. These types of life decisions are a whole ‘nother kind of smart, but she doesn’t seem to have more than average abilities here, either. She doesn’t seem to be stupid. She seems hardworking, and the description of her is that she is small and cute and charming. Those are excellent qualities, and it would be a shame if we became a country where such folks didn’t have an employable place. But let’s not overdraw unfairness here. There were girls who were a little less pretty, a little less hardworking, a little less socially graceful, who didn’t get pregnant and are now passing her in life, at least for the moment. That’s not a federal problem, a societal problem, to fix. If they all can’t find good jobs, maybe.