Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where Things Are Made

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka writes a good op-ed talking about why it matters where things are made.

When I first saw this piece, I feared it would be a piece of quasi-nativist feeling that we not infrequently have seen from labor, arguing that things should be made in America because we are Americans and because our jobs matter more than people in Mexico or China.

But Trumka wisely avoids that pitfall and discusses why it really does matter where things are made--because it's really hard to create a functioning economy when you don't have manufacturing jobs. I totally agree with this. We are in this recession/depression. How to get out of it? Where are the jobs? We have literally torn down the infrastructure we used to have for this kind of work. We have devalued it in our culture and instead created jobs in the service industry and based around endless consumption. If that's no longer a way to build an economy (and frankly, it never was), where do people work?

Trumka notes that the American economy more closely resembles that of Monaco every day. It's an apt comparison in a nation that has tried to live a luxurious lifestyle based upon conspicious consumption, but the crash from this is hard and likely to keep getting harder. Trumka also notes that for all the discussion of a new green economy:

For example, the rest of the world leads in mass transit technology and the U.S. is home to only two of the 10 largest solar photovoltaic producers, one of the top 10 advanced battery manufacturers and two of the top 10 wind turbine producers. If we want to be world leaders in clean technology and have transportation systems to match then we must think strategically and at scale.

Precisely. Isn't actually putting people to work in this green economy the important part of the latter word in the phrase? Don't we have to create a robust economy for the green economy to be effective? We have exported manufacturing and all the positives and negatives that go along with it. We don't want to see the pollution our goods cause and we don't want to pay people living wages. But without that, the benefits of the green economy are going to go to other nations and the American working class will continue to suffer.