Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Shall we avoid discrepancy & saddening silhouette.

I remind myself on occasion of my dormant bachelor's degree in economics, one that led me to work for the now-defunct and internationally disgraced Arthur Andersen & Co. for two years before I traded that dismal firm for A Life of Adventure. As I continue, perhaps I need to offer a brief disclaimer -- being: I am not a practicing economist, currently -- or perhaps you will count that circumstance in my favor. The country requires a few serious jolts, starting with this: (1) Green Manufacturing. Let's imagine, for a minute, that the ailing economy stabilizes and improves. The unemployment rate, presumably, would drop, but what would that mean? Mitt Romney likes to promise workers in Michigan that their jobs will return, but will they? Does it feel like the American automotive industry is poised to lead a major economic resurgence, full of well-paying, secure, assembly-line positions? In fact, it feels like America is becoming a nation of warehouses and strip-malls, where wholesale and retail drive our economic fortunes -- hence, the emphasis on consumer spending. Imagine, now, a second recession, one in which some of our retail and some of our wholesale don't survive, never mind our manufacturing, which many economists characterize as being in steep decline. What then? Instead of General Motors trying to be General Motors all over again, General Motors needs to become General Motors & Solar. Not only do we need to build electric cars -- to avoid punishing our environment and reduce our dependence on oil -- but we need to consider how we will produce the electricity that will juice the cars. We need to construct solar panels, and wind turbines, and fuel cells, and biomass facilities, among other going concerns -- and the infrastructure required to store and transmit the electricity we generate. The sun is probably going to shine for much of the next several million years, and last I checked, it was free; unless, of course, Comcast gets a-hold of it, in which case, you'll probably receive the sun on pay-per-view, with dreadful customer service. But I digress. A green energy conversion in this country would lead to a slew of new jobs, both in manufacturing, management, and maintenance. We would probably still mine, burn, and sell coal, and still generate some power through nuke-u-lar, but the green conversion, in principle, and in principal, would create skilled, well-paying jobs, and would tap energy sources, otherwise, for free. (2) A Level Playing Field on Labor Practices. It now appears -- doesn't it? -- that going to college makes little sense for quite a few Americans in their late teens and early twenties. For starters, college is expensive, and must be financed through equally expensive loans, but once a young adult has graduated, and enters the labor market, what kind of job is he or she likely to find? The answer is, in many cases, a job that did not require a college degree, and will not reward the student for taking out such costly loans. But according to many economists, even those jobs have fled the country in great numbers, since they can be sourced (or out-sourced) in countries where labor costs are -- horrifically -- detrimentally -- artificially low. If, for simplicity's sake, a Gadget Job in Country B pays $0.50 per hour, and in effect reinforces a poverty-level subsistence faced by the workers who produce the Gadget, then we should apply a tariff to the Gadget, as it enters port in the U.S., that would effectively render the Gadget at such a price as to make it competitive, were it produced in Country A, as in the U.S. of A. We, at least, offer something known as a minimum wage, and while that ain't much in every case, it's a reasonable law, and we should demand that our trading partners abide by similar practices. If they don't, then we should calculate all the costs that are not being fed into the price of the Gadget, and bill that country for said amounts. Maybe our "Captains of Industry" will therefore recognize an opportunity to produce the Gadget in our fair land, creating the varieties of jobs that might offer an alternative to those young adults who feel that they must, at any cost, attend college; our economy should present those alternatives. (3) National Service. Upon graduation from high school, the vast majority of American youth should serve a two year hitch in national service -- some in the military -- but most in what I'll call "Infrastructure." I don't know what, exactly, all of them would do, except that we need to build, rebuild, and restore quite a bit of our highways, bridges, tunnels, lakes, rivers, wildlife areas, et cetera, but also we may need entry level workers in factories and other settings. (Some cheap workers for our Green Energy Conversion, see #1, above.) "Of all the preposterous things you're saying, Gutstein," someone will think, "this is the most preposterous and expensive!" True, this may be costly, and in terms of financing it, I'm only prepared to say that our big-pocket corporations (and corresponding individuals) have to manage it, and finance it, in its entirety. The results, however, should benefit the very corporations that would be tasked with handling the system. I can't imagine that better highways and cheaper energy sources would be detrimental to the bottom lines of these corporations, and in any event, our federal, state, and local government agencies are broke, strained, and incapable, and if left up to them, it just won't happen. I would also like to imagine that young Americans could begin to have a valuable, shared experience in the rebuilding of their own republic, but let me not glow too roseate in my optimistic oratory. Okay? And that's all. Sure, there are other serious issues that trouble us Americans, but these three activities, in my estimation, would set the country toward an enthusiastic course, not seen, perhaps, since the exhilaration of V-E and V-J days in the 1940s. Leadership would have to come first. Someone who could unite the legislators of both major political parties, and also convince everyday Americans that we would all be entering a period of austerity and sacrifice. "Now's the time!" shouts Martin Scorcese before his character blams away at Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro) in Mean Streets, and that's about right, except for, you know, all the gunfire and violence.