From The Vaults

Let’s Reject Phoney Ideas About Prosperity And Start Discussing The Future Of The Working Class

The political scene is full of phoney arguments about how to build prosperity. A realistic discussion of the future of the economy is needed and a good beginning point would be an agreement on some basic facts. Agreeing on the data provided in this little chart produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics would be a good start.

In 2010, 25.9% of U.S. jobs had a very low educational requirement — less than high school — and by 2020 the proportion of jobs with such a low educational requirement will be even more — 29.5%.  By 2020, 39.7% of jobs will require only a high school education.

The conclusion is that by 2020, 69.2% of American jobs will need an educational level of high school or lower. If 100% of our citizenry have a college degree, it won’t change the fact that in 2020, 69.2% of jobs will only need a high school education, or less. These are the jobs of the working class. And most of these jobs will have such a low wage that these will be the jobs of the class of working poor.

Reality based political discussion should be founded on this basic fact: Most Americans, by far, are members of the working class, and the number of people in the working class is growing. The number of people in the middle class is shrinking. The number in the ruling class is small and fairly stable.

Defining “class” is important. “Class” is determined by the amount of power one has in the system. People in the working class, as individuals, have little power. People in the upper class, comparatively, have a lot of personal power.

Working class people throughout history have found that by standing together they could gain power and make advances for their class. This dynamic of history is now derided by the Fox News propagandists as something undesirable — “class warfare” — but it is a dynamic that more than anything has lifted humanity upwards to a better future.

If we are to have a meaningful political discussion about how to build a future where there is wide spread prosperity, it needs to be reality based. Many political discussions about how to advance future prosperity are based on phoney premises: training people for a “knowledge economy,”  training people in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) or, even worse, changing laws to give corporations more power.  Phoney arguments are ploys to avoid what is of core importance. Such discussion in a political context is like a magician’s distraction — “Look at this shiny object.” The point of the trick is to change the focus of the audience from what is important to what is of little importance. The point of phoney arguments is to divert the attention of the working class from what is important so ever more money and power can be put in the hands of the ruling class.

The hope for a good future for the biggest part of the American population is a political process where the working class stands together with the middle class to bring more justice to the system.  A person adept in STEM may still be a member of the working poor — unless he or she has the power to negotiate a living wage.

How is it possible that a democratic nation as rich as ours should tolerate poor health care, poor nutrition, poor opportunities for a big majority of its citizens? The future of the working class depends on the degree it can find power through unity. Justice cannot be won without a struggle. We need to stop the phoney debates and start talking about what is real.


5 comments to Let’s Reject Phoney Ideas About Prosperity And Start Discussing The Future Of The Working Class

  • Stan Hirtle

    Interesting issue concerning America’s employment crisis, but does it need closer examination? Speculation about the number of jobs needing only high school runs counter to usual numbers about things like this, which say that jobs for the less educated are the ones disappearing the most. It is not clear how the recession, where all those jobs in financial services like mortgages were first created and then destroyed, influences the statistical trends and whether those trends will project into the future, as you suggest. However the existence of jobs is intertwined with the wealth supporting them.

    During the Clinton boom years the increase in jobs was supposedly in low paying “service jobs” such as hotels, restaurants and nursing homes. The first two took hits as their business customers lost jobs or cut budgets. Nursing homes are dependent on the health care payment system, but the low end jobs there are unlikely to get raises without unions. The deindustrialization of America has reduced drastically the high paying unionized manufacturing jobs that spurred the prosperity of the 50s and 60s, as jobs have sought poverty workers overseas or imported poverty workers to do service jobs here.

    Conventional wisdom is that the skilled jobs in such areas as manufacturing will require lots of education, if not so much in liberal arts as in various tech fields. (Atlantic had a recent article on this. One point was that in the old days at GM, entry level workers could eventually learn higher skills. In today’s high tech manufacturing, the skilled worker may need to be fluent in calculus, and the ordinary worker who is not will never be able to get much of a raise). These high tech jobs are hard to fill today in part because it is hard to train people and keep them trained and skills up to date through economic down periods when those people get laid off.

    It appears prosperity in society can only be built on a large number of well paid people whose purchases “support” other less well paid people. You always wonder how are we going to employ all those people at well paid levels, and how many of them will there be. In particular how many people will the “knowledge economy” employ. The evidence now is it doesn’t employ that many with Google and Apple being the poster children. (Arguably Google employs lots of people in China under less than great conditions, and this generates social tension there). Even if knowledge economy activity is centered in “creativity centers” that may not include the Dayton area, how much of it will there be? You can’t eat, drive or live in knowledge. You have to make stuff that people can afford to buy and will buy. So assuming we make the effort and got all of our ghetto school youngsters to above present average educational levels, and threw in some of the extra civics stuff that Mike Bock thinks is crucial, so that 70 or 80% of the people have the educational levels Bock wants, how many jobs will there be for those people?

    Many think that the shift from the Henry Ford economy, where you pay your worker enough to buy your car, to the Walmart economy, where you pay them so little they can only shop at Walmart, is a recipe for a disastrous reduction in US living standards and with it the quality of our society in general. You mix in the issue of class, which you properly see as involving power as much as income and consumption. In a country where some 180 rich contributors essentially finance the election system, the class war may be between the richest 1% and the richest 1% of the richest 1%. A problem we have is that employment decisions are not in the hands of the public through democratic process, but in the hands of global capitalists. It is argue that they have been getting richer at everyone else’s expense, that we masked this for a while by having people borrow to finance a consumer economy, leading eventually to people living off home equity which became more and more imaginary as home prices “bubbled”. The bubble has burst and debt is unpaid, perhaps unpayable. Now what? What is our income and wealth distribution going to look like? Perhaps more importantly, what do we as a society need, how do we meet the need and how do we pay those who meet the needs in a way that prosperity is widespread? The organization of businesses, large and small, and their interaction with each other is also a factor. Also what role is played by government, which is influenced if not controlled by the public?

  • Mike Bock

    Stan, thanks for your comments. You hit the nail on the head when you write, “A problem we have is that employment decisions are not in the hands of the public through democratic process, but in the hands of global capitalists.” My point is that we cannot simply throw our hands up in despair, but we should do something about it. This reality was not inevitable, but was the result of deliberate choices made by our ruling elite. In the U.S., had a government for the people been in charge the last 40 years, we would be living in a very different world today.

    The reality of class struggle must be brought to the forefront of our political discussions. As a nation, we’ve forgotten a lot of history and, evidently, this history is never taught in our public schools. Class struggle is a natural and necessary part of every democracy. Class struggle is the politics of reality and it should be encouraged by all thoughtful Americans as part of our political process. It is the democratic process that translates the struggle to positive solutions that advance the general good. The alternative to a political class struggle is a literal “Class war.” When democracy breaks down, and fails to work, people take to the streets and it seems, unfortunately, that is where we likely are headed in this nation. The incitement of wide-spread street violence would not result in a victory for democracy, but, instead in a military and far ranging crackdown, a right wing coup. The needed laws to exert repressive authority are already in place. We are in such a crazy time, it makes me entertain conspiracy theories. One has to wonder if the deliberate decimation of the middle class and the suffering inflicted on the working class is a key element of some grand long range evil strategy hatched up by our right wing overlords.

    The ruling class in this country is winning the struggle by skillful propaganda that denies the reality of the struggle and, instead, creates phoney issues that divert attention of citizens to what is of relative unimportance. Making people aware of the struggle, making people aware that they are not in a classless society but that class struggle is all around them — and that they are in the class that is losing because they sleep — would be a good first step.

  • Stan Hirtle

    “Arguably Google employs lots of people in China under less than great conditions, and this generates social tension there).” I meant Apple not Google. Sorry.

  • Stan Hirtle

    This article agrees with Bock, and emphasizes that policy decisions are more important than education as to America’s productivity and how it gets distributed. It notes that some low schooling jobs still pay well (mostly local jobs that can’t be sent overseas and haven’t been done by vulnerable immigrants) so that jobs in the middle may be the ones that lose out. “But while adequate skills are an essential component of productivity growth, workforce skills cannot determine how the wealth created by national productivity is distributed. That decision is made by policies over which schools have no influence—tax, regulatory, trade, monetary, technology, and labor-market policies that modify the market forces affecting how much workers will be paid. Continually upgrading skills and education is essential for sustaining growth as well as for closing historic race and ethnic gaps. It does not, however, guarantee economic success without policies that also reconnect pay with productivity growth. American middle-class living standards are threatened, not because workers lack competitive skills but because the richest among us have seized the fruits of productivity growth, denying fair shares to the working- and middle-class Americans, educated in American schools, who have created the additional national wealth.”

  • Mike Bock

    Stan, thanks for providing the link. I included in a new post here.

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