Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
January 31, 2014
Mr. President: A recurrent theme in this administration is often spellbinding rhetoric
followed by ... well, very little in the way of follow-through programs. Lately, there has
been the inequality issue. Taken up once more in the State of the Union (SOTU)
address, the remedy proposed was an increase in the minimum wage. Yes, it needs
to be raised but to focus on it alone simply evades the complexities to be navigated to
confront the challenges of inequality.
One major cause is the export of well-paid manufacturing jobs and with them
proprietary technology and skills. Higher and higher level jobs (and concomitant
expertise) are being exported. Ross Perot's 'whoosh of jobs' in the wake of NAFTA
will become a hurricane (or more accurately a typhoon) as the Trans Pacific
Partnership (TPP) is realized. Yet, the administration sees no contradiction in
promoting TPP vigorously and attacking income inequality rhetorically. NAFTA failed
to render a level playing field for the American worker by excluding environmental
safeguards, working conditions, worker safety and benefits (even on a
purchasing-power-parity equivalence). The secretive negotiations for TPP are
expected to do the same.
As a result, almost everything we use in our daily lives is made abroad: refrigerators,
ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, TVs, computers, phones, fixtures, fittings, clothes,
shoes, automobiles among which even iconic names often have innards imported, pet
foods, toys, etc., etc. Gone with them are the jobs of the men and women who built
them. Even high-end airplane manufacture is not exempt. Consider the new 777:
While Boeing is responsible for a major portion of the structure, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki
and Fuji are significant contributors furnishing fuselage panels and the wing center
section. Other bits and pieces have been contracted elsewhere in the world including
Australia, Brazil, Korea and Italy. The concept differs from Airbus which retains
almost all its jobs and technology in Europe. Also in contrast, Boeing recently
threatened to pack up and shift the manufacture of the 777x forcing machinists into
Germany which exports few jobs follows a model encouraging job retention. Very
simply a company's supervisory board has equal management and labor
representation (10 members from each side). It must approve major decisions, and it
appoints the management board. No surprise that jobs stay home.
A line in the SOTU address mentions job training. Here too the long-standing
German apprenticeship model, which develops highly skilled workers and offers
alternative skills to a university education, deserves a closer look. But the least
anyone undertaking such programs can expect is a job. Yet, just about every jobs
report in the last half-dozen years shows most jobs generated are in the low-paid,
low-skill service sectors like the hospitality industry and ambulatory care.
What we need desperately are policies and programs to bring back manufacturing
jobs, and to restore our crumbling infrastructure. The latter not only alleviates
unemployment but together with education and job training enhances the
attractiveness of relocating manufacturing jobs to this country.
Now that would be a step towards reducing income inequality.