De-Industrialization and the Displaced Worker

Image by Flickr/Mirko Tobias Schäfer - CC BY 2.0

Image by Flickr/Mirko Tobias Schäfer – CC BY 2.0

Much has been made of working class pain in this election, but the problems go well beyond that.  I don’t like the 1% vs. 99% frame, but it captures something important about our society, namely a sort of bifurcation that has occurred between top and bottom. Roughly the top 20% are doing quite well, and increasingly live in communities surrounded by others like themselves. The bottom 80% does not seem to be faring so well on a variety of social and economic statistics.

The policies offered by the mainstream of both parties has more or less boiled down to “more of the same stuff we’ve always pitched.” Clearly, the public is looking for something different.

That’s the subject of my column now out in the May issue of Governing magazine called “De-Industrialization and the Displaced Worker.”  Here’s an excerpt:

In George O. Smith’s science fiction short story “Pandora’s Millions,” society collapses when the invention of a “matter replicator,” like the ones from Star Trek, instantly renders most of the economy, and money itself, obsolete. Being a short story, this is resolved quickly with the invention of a substance that can’t be duplicated, followed by rebuilding the economy and society around services. Real life doesn’t always recover so quickly from disruptions, as we are finding out.

Unsurprisingly, this has generated discontent. Back through to the 1980s and ’90s, this was mostly limited to displaced industrial workers. Today that has grown to a much broader spectrum, from young master’s degree holders with piles of student loan debt who are stuck working at Starbucks to corporate middle managers losing their jobs to outsourcing or foreigners working here under H1-B visas.

This has percolated through to the political system, with the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both questioning many of the premises of the current economic system. America is more receptive to these arguments than many ever would have believed possible. That’s because the current system has lost legitimacy in the minds of many. Not only did it fail to deliver the promised benefits to them, but then government turned around and bailed out the big banks in the financial crash.

Click through to read the whole thing.

from Aaron M. Renn


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