The US economy is not creating enough new jobs. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. The other side of the picture – the dirty secret about unemployment – is that we’re not creating enough people capable of performing all the jobs.
Liberals like to bemoan so-called “McJobs,” as though everyone is entitled to good pay and medical benefits and family leave time and so forth. They wish they could simply require businesses to thusly upgrade their jobs. Too bad they can’t simply require employees to upgrade their skills.
In a country where about 60% of people don’t have college degrees, and, shockingly, something like 25% don’t even finish high school, perhaps it’s not surprising that almost 10% are unemployed, and it’s absurd to do a Barbara Ehrenreich about how crappy some jobs are. Hello – if you don’t finish high school you ain’t gonna get one of them “good jobs at good wages” that liberals keep mewing about.
True, we used to have a lot of manufacturing jobs where someone with limited education could still do nicely. But times change, and people have to change with them. A century ago, most Americans worked on farms. Don’t romanticize that as Paradise Lost – it was a miserable existence, which is why millions fled the farm as soon as they got the chance.
What gave them that chance was soaring agricultural productivity, so we no longer needed almost everyone working on farms just to produce enough food. Today it’s less than 2% needed on farms. That vast change freed the other 98% to produce other things. And that was what made America rich.
Now we’re repeating the trick with manufacturing. Just as increased agricultural output freed people from farms, today increasing productivity means fewer people trapped in factories. With all the talk of “lost” manufacturing jobs, you might be surprised to learn that America’s share of worldwide manufacturing has not declined. We’re just making the same stuff with ever less labor.
And that’s a good thing. Just as increased agricultural productivity made us richer, likewise does improved factory productivity free up manpower (and womanpower) to do other things and make us richer yet. Provided that our workforce gets the necessary education.
Nothing is handed to us. Ultimately, there are no “entitlements.” In the past, we lifted ourselves by working hard. Technological advancement enables us to do it by working smart. The world of the future will belong not to those who work hard, but to those who work smart.
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I’m pleased to note a really good review of my book, The Case for Rational Optimism. Click here.