July 26, 2012

JOEL KOTKIN ON WHY DOMESTIC ENERGY MATTERS:

Growth of these sectors — along with construction and manufacturing — could prove critical to our beleaguered working class. There’s not much respect among the university-dominated pundit class for people who work with their hands or have specific tangible skills. Instead they need to lower their expectations and seek, as Slate recently suggested, to find work “in the service sector supporting America’s innovative class.”

In this neo-Victorian society, the “new normal” means a society dominated by “innovative” or “creative” masters and their chosen, lucky servants. Leave your job and family in the Midwest or Nevada to become a toenail painter in Silicon Valley, San Francisco or Boston. Besides losing any sense of one’s independence, it’s hard to see how a barber or gardener can live decently, particularly with a family, in such expensive places.

This bleak reality may not inevitable, though. In many places construction employment is on the rise from its nadir in 2010. This recovery has been a nationwide phenomena but is, not surprisingly, most evident in growth states like Montana, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee and Utah.

At the same time over the last two years the nation has added more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs, led by the industrial states hit hardest by the recession. Though these gains are small compared to the losses earlier in the decade, the growth is encouraging; automakers and other industries already are complaining about severe shortages of skilled labor. Maybe, after all, life as a dog-walker and hostel denizen in Palo Alto is not the best one can hope for if you can make enough to afford a nice suburban house outside Columbus or Detroit.

The pundit class may be ready to write off the American dream but many Midwest states are working to restore it.

Prosperity in flyover country? The prospect is unbearable, at least to some. Which leads Mickey Kaus to observe:

If true, this might provide an “objective’–in the Marxian sense–explanation for how Republicans convinced the white working class that Democrats were a bunch of elitists, the riddle Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas” tried to solve. Frank blames a form of false produced by skillful Republican manipulation of cultural issues (like abortion and gay marriage). But is it ‘false consciousness’ if liberals actually, in practice, favor an economy that, however prosperous, is filled with jobs where the booklearned get to boss around the unbooklearned? If what you care about is social equality, not money equality, it doesn’t seem false at all.

Plus: “Good Kotkin dig at this cluelessly economistic Slate article by Ray Fisman, who doesn’t seem to realize how creepy the future he offers to America’s unskilled workers is.”

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