Monday, August 30, 2010

Tipping point

I had really thought it common knowledge that manufacturing was the engine that drove the creation of the middle classes in America but I have to wonder because hardly any of the experts discuss it. Some say ‘education’ is the key. That’s really not true in one sense and sort of true in another. First of all what good is a college education if there are no jobs for people with degrees? Secondly, people don’t necessarily need a degree when they could be trained on the job, there’s no education like actual experience. But the whole education as opposed to experience debate is beside the point which is without manufacturing the economy, whatever an economy is, will stay the way it is or get worse until some genius figures out a way to bring manufacturing back to these oiled shores. And frankly I just don’t see that happening.

Another ignored problem that is related to the education/experience thing is America is slowly losing its capability to even be the manufacturing giant it was. The most valuable engineers in any manufacturing plant are the experienced engineers, engineers with degrees who also have years of experience. Without those the company would be at the mercy of greenhorn engineers right out of school. There is nothing more useless than an engineer without experience (no offense meant to young engineers). If you recall the history of the Japanese auto here in America you might remember that the first Japanese cars to arrive were much more like the little British cars like the Hillman Minx and such than they were like American cars. The Japanese invested heavily in learning about quality control for years and today they build some of the most reliable cars on the market and that only comes with experience. And engineers are only part of manufacturing.

Then you have a shelf life anyway. If you are out of work too long your shelf life expires. When I was a mechanical designer new design programs appeared on the market with more and more rapidity and companies dumped them as fast as new ones appeared. This meant going back to school at night or in between jobs just to keep up. The last one I took was for a program called Pro Engineer, a solid modeling program and a powerful engineering tool, which cost six thousand dollars to attend. Right after that the job market dried up completely but you get my drift regarding shelf life. Even if jobs magically appeared I doubt I could even qualify for one any longer since I haven’t worked in manufacturing for years. I still know how to design stuff but I wouldn’t be up on whatever program companies are using (somewhere) to do their designing on hence I have become a dinosaur, useless in the eyes of companies. Naturally I find it stupid because there isn’t a program in the world that can turn a layperson into a designer. There are a whole slew of other issues like the need to specialize but this is getting boring. The point is the longer America does nothing to cause a resurgence in manufacturing we may reach the point of no return where we would have to begin from scratch while other nations would have a huge edge on us or to spell it out we may never again regain our manufacturing capability which would be the end of the middle classes or as things already are.

This is why I think most people are idiots. They rant and rave about building a Mosque in New York and elsewhere, they are distracted by what are largely idiotic distractions engineered to do just that. But when it comes to the important issues most cannot even recognize them, even if they fell in their lap. They talk about Obama’s “historic” moment as president and agonize over being patriots and god knows what other ridiculous nonsense, mostly their genitals I suspect. Oh god, global warming! Glen Beck is an asshole! Oh god, what shall we do, Beck is an asshole! Oh no, the Tea Party will destroy us all! Oh bullshit, what is destroying us all is our government wasting our resources on wars whose basis is domestic politics pure and simple because nothing else explains it and not spending it on job stimulus and coming up with legislation that makes it more attractive for manufacturing companies to reside here and employ Americans.

It all has to do with greed pure and simple. It has nothing to do with the ruling elite deciding the working class had it too easy, the elite could care less what the working class does or thinks. The ruling elite saw that they could use cheap labor in China, Mexico, Taiwan, India, and elsewhere so they forced legislation that allowed them to do just that. It wasn’t personal, it wasn’t Victorian mores it was profit. You can set aside all the pissing and moaning over illegal aliens, terrorists, leakers, peepers, and cheaters because there are only two burning issues of the day and those are the imperial wars and jobs. Everything else, even though important, should be set aside to first resolve these two issues which of course is why it won’t happen. Instead we get Glen Beck and Terror Babies, Terror Babies – I could scream.


At August 30, 2010 9:30 AM, Blogger Jim Wetzel said...

Rob, I agree that the problem "sort of" is education and "sort of" isn't. I think many Americans aren't very educable these days, in part because of a widespread cultural hatred, or at least contempt, for what I'll call "learnedness." Did you see the film "Idiocracy?" I think Mr. Judge was onto something there: in his film, the mediocre guy from the past quickly found that to use words of more than two syllables was to be accused of "talkin' like a fag."

Just thinking out loud here for a moment ... I've wondered, from time to time, if our problem could be technical: the widespread consumption of television. I kind of think there's something inherent, on the brain-mechanics level, in the medium itself that's profoundly subversive of linear, cause-to-effect thinking. I hope that's not true, because if it is, the human species seems doomed.

At August 30, 2010 10:53 AM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

Interesting. My friend back in the Boston area is an engineer. Worked from the day he got out of college back in 1972 until a year and a half ago when security guards came up to his desk with a cardboard box.

We started working on a screenplay (about a rock band that plays punk in 1980), but fortunately for him, unfortunately for the screenplay, he finally did find another job.

There are some good videos over at A Tiny Revolution, an interview of Doug Henwood, which I think touches well on our current economics.

As for the second half of your blog, keeping people stupid and angry is absolutely part of the program. Human nature gives us segments who will tend to feel empathy and others who see "the other" as a threat, and the ruling class exploits the latter. So if there's something on the other side of the globe you want you whip up fear and hate in scairedycat segment. You suck in some of the empathy crowd by talking about democracy and women's rights, etc.

You send other people's jobs overseas by promising lower prices at Walmart.

At August 30, 2010 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob -- the value of "education" has been over-sold, because Meritocracy was and continues to be premised on Pretty Parchment (i.e. a Harvard degree) and we've also got a screwed up system now where a college degree is considered mandatory for jobs that do not require anything learned in college.

The post-industrial "services economy" boom of the post-WW 2 period was premised partly on giving many people "a college degree" even though many of those degrees are produced by what any rigorous intellectual would call a Degree Mill or Diploma Factory. In such a setting, the college degree serves as a job filter/qualifier, not as a raiser of common intellectual standards.

Whether this drift is part of an intentional plan to dumb-down (...while granting degrees to...) the populace is not as important a question as whether it has indeed resulted in such a dumbing-down. IMO it has. Plenty of people get a 4.0 GPA BA or BS but have little functional knowledge.

One of my present jobs is serving as a counselor to troubled adolescents. I have supervisors straight out of college with a BA or BS in psychology, who know all kinds of lingo and categorization, but who have little ability to apply that detailed knowledge. They struggle with the implementation, despite the nice parchment suggesting they are experts already.

Education at the collegiate and graduate levels has become a fetish, rather than a cultural broadening/deepening vehicle. So I don't think the solution is in more education. I think the solution is to connect job skills to meaningful experience, not to simply make a BA or BS a pre-requisite for (i.e.) burger-flipping or small parts assembly on a line.

At August 30, 2010 2:20 PM, Blogger Mimi said...

I retired after 27 years on a college campus. I was manager of employment and I can assure you, fully three-quarters of the positions requiring at the very least a B.S. have no relevance to the degree at all. About 60 or 70 years ago, one went to college for a liberal arts degree--literature and all that, you know--and learned whatever else on the job. The idea of a course of study in business administration or whatever would have been puzzling at the time. Now, of course, a bachelor's is a laugh; many careers require a masters or higher. I sometimes think the purpose of higher education is to keep people out of the job market.

At August 30, 2010 3:19 PM, Blogger JM said...

Plus the war money could also be spent on preventing global warming, no? Wind Turbines and solar power can actually work, damn it!

At August 30, 2010 5:14 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Jim Wetzel,

I would certainly agree things like television are a huge part of the problem. First, the quality of broadcast news may be even worse than the print form, if that is possible. A lot of people immerse themselves in sports as an escape and television certainly plays a large role in that as well. It seems to me I read somewhere that watching television exhibits less brain activity than when you are asleep! But perhaps my biggest complaint with television is (besides being bloody awful) that it seems to be a major player in shaping our culture and I resent that greatly.

Bob in Pacifica,

Ah, the old security guard with a box routine. Some I’ve experienced are the coming back from lunch to find a box on your desk routine, then there is the call everyone into the same room and read down a list of names of those to be “let go” routine. They are all charming in their own way. Yes, that Doug Henwood interview was very good, in fact it’s what started the train of thought to write this post. You are definitely correct regarding keeping people stupid being part of the deal. Personally I think people, if given half of a chance, are typically quite smart. It’s just that we have been indoctrinated so much we act like idiots.

Charles F. Oxtrot,

I agree with you whole heartedly, college degrees are entirely overrated and your example of supervisors is exactly what I mean, experience is what really counts. In fact for a lot of jobs a degree is a waste of time and money but like you say, these days they want a degree to work at MacDonald’s whose cash register keyboards have pictures of items on their keys rather than the usual numbers. Of course part of that is that it is now an employer’s market and so they feel justified in their ridiculous standards for hamburger flippers etc.

Prior to WWII college was strictly for the ruling elite, it was the place where you met your peers and made life-long contacts with others in those lofty regions. So the original intent of college it seems to me is that it was a good old boys club for the ruling elite, a prep experience to their assured privileged positions in society. At the close of WWII the ruling elite were worried about a revolution considering all the troops arriving home from the war overseas in Europe and elsewhere who would find no jobs and no money when they returned. That’s why they came up with so-called GI Bill. It was then that colleges were opened up to the great unwashed masses (against the wishes of the colleges) who the colleges considered incapable of learning.


I was manager of employment and I can assure you, fully three-quarters of the positions requiring at the very least a B.S. have no relevance to the degree at all.

Yes, exactly right because often all a prospective employer wants to know is that you have an actual degree in something and it often is not all that important what the degree is for. My brother has a degree in history but all his jobs have been in the manufacturing sector. And you tell me what history has to do with purchasing, which is what he did or does or did-does, and I’ll shake your hand. I mean really. And it certainly does keep perfectly capable people from job opportunities. Part of the problem is the personnel department has a few set key things that they look for to fill any given position since they may no little or nothing about what that position entails. An extreme example of this is many companies now use a computer to read and screen resumes. They operate on the principle of ‘buzz words.’ That is any position has its own buzz words or lingo and the computer scans for those buzz words. If a resume has enough buzz words it gets read by an actual human eventually. What can I say, it’s a real crappy world.


That’s exactly correct we could be using money to clean up the environment which any sane person ought to be for and many other useful things. Of course to believe that the government has our interests at heart is always silly.

At August 30, 2010 5:52 PM, Blogger JM said...

Okay, good to know because to be frank, I thought your line about: "Oh No Global warming!" meant you were mocking the idea of it being a concern. Sorry for misjudging

At August 30, 2010 8:28 PM, Anonymous awesome guy said...

see Sam Smith: "What's behind the assault on public education?"

At August 30, 2010 8:42 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Actually JM I don't find global warming to be a concern. However I'm all for clean air and water etc. if that makes you happier.

At August 30, 2010 8:47 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Awesome Guy,

Interesting link but I think if you are looking for a reason plain old greed works just fine.


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