The Huffington Post just published what I can only describe as a “multi-media document” regarding the economic plight of Millennials. It combines graphics, animation, and a series of 8-bit-styled “adventures” to enhance (or detract from) a fairly conventional explanation regarding “structural disadvantage”. I can only imagine how much effort it took to assemble — the list of credits at the end would be enough for an indie film — and even at the poverty wages paid by HuffPo to its contributors it must have been quite expensive as well. Yet it’s mostly an example of what the proprietor at Chateau Heartiste calls a “pretty lie”.
I read the whole piece with attention, wondering if they would ever get around to the economic elephant in the room. You won’t be surprised to find out that they never do. If you scroll through all the animations, you’ll find some terrifying statistics. The author’s father bought a house in Seattle for slightly less than twice his annual income at the age of 29; the author would need more than a decade’s worth of income at the age of 35 for the same house. A four-year public-college degree costs about eight times as it did in 1980, compared to minimum wage. In the country’s 10 largest metros, residents earning more than $150,000 per year now outnumber those earning less than $30,000 per year. More Millennials live with their parents than with roommates.
There are plenty of reasons given for this mess, although most of them magically boil down to racism and none of them even dare to touch on the truth of the modern economic disaster in America, the actual reason for everything from urban housing shortages to the nationwide healthcare crisis. In a single phrase, it is this: Americans no longer make what they buy, and they no longer buy what they make. It’s that simple — and despite the dismissive tone taken by the Tweet at the top of this article, “Scary China” is at the heart of this disaster.
If you read the business press, you will hear over and over again that automation is responsible for lost jobs, not outsourcing:
It sounds convincing, and it’s being bleated from every rooftop. Yet a quick stroll through any prole-oriented store in the United States will refute it. Nearly everything you see will be made in another country, whether that country is China, Mexico, Nicaragua, Vietnam, or somewhere else. There’s nothing that says “Made By A Robot In The USA”. Just to drive the point home, here’s a Chinese clothing assembly line.
How many of those “job-killing robots” do you see? The answer is obviously zero. Instead, you’re looking at a line of jobs that could be held by Americans in the United States. I could fill this article with similar photographs from around the world. It’s plain on the face of it that these are jobs that were deliberately moved from the United States in order to increase profits.
“But Jack,” you’ll say, “these are miserable jobs that no American would be willing to do.” To which I can only respond that the majority of industrialized jobs throughout history have been unpleasant, repetitive, and sometimes dangerous. I’ve worked a variety of menial jobs in my life, from fry cook to construction site cleanup. I didn’t enjoy any of them. I don’t enjoy my current day job; in fact, satisfaction-wise I would say that my gig at the fry station was probably slightly better. That’s just the way life is. No amount of attempts to greasepaint the monotony of modern life with TEAM and ROCKSTAR and AWESOME and all that garbage will make much of a difference.
When the low-end manufacturing jobs left this country, we cut the legs out from under the lower class and lower middle class. They became welfare recipients instead of low-wage workers. That makes a big difference to the way people think and behave. Working at the textile mill may have been miserable but it kept people out of trouble and it gave them a sense that they had earned their daily bread.
The service industry jobs that were supposed to replace manufacturing jobs were harder to comprehend, more stressful to perform, and far more discriminatory regarding everything from race to height. They were also ephemeral by nature. There’s no comparison between putting thirty years in at the textile mill and bouncing from one McJob to another. The first one is hard but it’s reliable. The second one is just as miserable to perform but it has the further disadvantage of being inherently temporary.
Just how temporary is now plainly apparent as Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other online retailers eviscerate the retail environment in this country. We can now see the evolution of the lower-middle-class job very clearly. It started as a union factory gig in a manufacturing plant. Then it became a casual McJob at Starbucks or The Disney Store. Now it’s a minimum-wage tempfest where people are urinating in hand-held bottles so they don’t fall behind on their mandatory delivery numbers or sort counts.
Making jokes about “Scary China”, particularly with regards to automotive assembly, is essentially a Marie Antoinette approach to the real danger facing the working poor in this country. Automotive assembly and supplier work is one of the few decent hourly gigs left. When it’s gone, we will have another ten million people on government assistance and another forty million people facing reduced prospects because their jobs, or their towns, were dependent on the income generated by those assembly workers. HAHAHA SCARY CHINA MADE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO FEED YOUR HICK TRASH CHILDREN LOLLERCOASTERS AT SCARY CHINA HAHAHA HEY ERNESTO LET’S GET SOME MORE MARGARITAS OVER HERE! It makes you understand why the Morlocks ate the Eloi.
It is easy to see that the reintroduction of large-scale manufacturing in the United States would go a long way towards addressing the Millennial concerns brought up in the HuffPo article. To begin with, the availability of new jobs outside New York and San Francisco would ease the housing crisis in those areas. Instead of fighting tooth and nail to get a $50,000 job in the city so you can pay $1,200 a month for half of a studio apartment, you would have the option of earning $35,000 in the country and paying $800 a month to own a small home.
The possibility of careers and steady work outside the cities would also reduce the number of people who are financing college degrees via insane amounts of debt. Fewer students would inevitably mean lower tuition at all but the Ivy League institutions. With long-term jobs available, even low-paying ones, people could budget and save for emergencies, medical problems, and their eventual retirement. Having more people working would reduce the welfare load on the country, thus reducing the number of T-bills we have to sell to China in order to finance that welfare load. And it’s been proven to everyone’s satisfaction that employed people are less likely to commit crimes than the unemployed, particularly if they are men.
I’m not saying that the robots won’t eventually take all the jobs. But the robots aren’t here in force yet. And in the meantime we’ve sent thirty years’ worth of economic stability to China so we could pay Apple’s shareholders more profit. That is the true meaning of “structural disadvantage”, not a bunch of fairy tales about how secret racism kept housing densities low in areas that were all-white to begin with. Regarding this issue, as with many others, it’s amazing how living in reality makes it possible to see the real problems and to work on real solutions.
Here at Riverside Green, we are committed to the idea of American manufacturing. Which isn’t to say that we always buy American — see “ZX-14R, Kawasaki” and “Collection of Linen Coats, Kiton” — and it isn’t to say that we always understand what it means to buy American — is my Ohio Accord more American than my Mexican Silverado? But it does mean that we will continue to search out, publicize, and purchase American-made goods as often as possible. Even if it means paying more. The alternative is, unfortunately, laid out in that HuffPo article. I’m not talking about the actual content of the article, mind you. I’m talking about a world where talented people work day and night to produce something that is utterly transient, unprofitable, and meaningless. Even if it’s pretty. They say that kissin’ don’t last, but cookin’ does. To that, I would add: Clicking don’t last, but making does.