Joe the Plumber: The Real Untouchable

Curt Eysink is an unpopular man.

Less than three months after assuming his post as executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, he told a panel charged with overhauling the state’s higher education system: “We’re producing a workforce that we cannot employ in Louisiana.”

The problem? Too many four-year college grads and not enough low-skill and vocational trade workers.

Where is the job growth?

The service industry.

“[O]ccupational forecasts that show the state will produce 10,312 more four-year graduates than there are jobs to fill between 2008 and 2016, while at the same time there are 3,892 more jobs available requiring associates’ or technical degrees than there are people to fill them, ” reports Jan Moller of the Times Picayune.

Fairly or not, such news equates in Americans’ minds with sub par wages. And low-wage prospects make Americans see red.

“If I saw the strongest growth area was ushers, lobby attendants and ticket-takers, I’d leave Louisiana too,” said Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Outside of Louisiana this story has not gained much traction. But it is far from a Louisiana fluke.

“According to the Forgotten MiddleSkill Jobs reports by The Workforce Alliance, middle-skill occupations, which require more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree, make up roughly half of all employment in the nation, compared with only 1/3 of high-skill occupations that require at least a four-year education,” writes Ann Pace in “The Forgotten Middle Worker“, published in September.

Louisiana was not among the states studied but it very well could have been: The Workforce Alliance analysis of middle-skill job demands include Washington, Oregon, California, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Rhode Island — all of which have proven consistent with the national outlook, survey reports show.

Welcome to the future, America.

The mainstream media is either entirely oblivious to real job trends, or chooses to keep Americans in the dark because a future filled with ticket-takers, cashiers, healthcare aides, auto mechanics and electricians isn’t the kind of news we want to hear. To the contrary, syndicated New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in October, argued that “our schools are failing” to promote American competitiveness, in part, because we allegedly have a shortage of science, engineering, mathematics and other such high-tech grads. The “new untouchables“, by Friedman’s definition, are those who maintain an innovative and stable career in an increasingly cutthroat economy.

Message: Make schools more competitive. This will cure America’s globalized bellyache.

Improving student literacy, of course, is never a waste of time. What Friedman and others fail to take under consideration, however, is that few Americans work in the field they studied in college. That includes so-called STEM grads (science, technology, engineering and math majors).

But wait, it gets better!

Susan Hockfield, MIT’s president, takes the argument to a whole new level of absurdity in an October opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal in which she pleas for immigration reform to allow more foreign-born STEM grads to stay in the U.S. for permanent work as “jobs creators” and “Nobel winners”.

Who hires those foreign grads on H-1B visas? Microsoft, Google and other heavy hitters. This is the last thing most Americans call job creation. Hockfield’s suggestion reeks, instead, of domestic job displacement. Why? Because fewer U.S. citizens are likely to pursue challenging Ph.D.-level curriculum when their post-graduation economic stability is undercut by inexpensive foreign talent (insourcing/outsourcing). American-born students aren’t stupid, they’re pragmatic: What incentive is there to incur massive student loan debts if at best “employment insecurity” is the reward for the effort? And finally, to add insult to injury, independent studies from The Urban Institute, RAND Corp.Duke and Rutgers University, among others, say the so-called demand for high-tech and high-skill foreign workers doesn’t even exist — and that was true before the Great Recession cut loose thousands of qualified workers, dumping them back into the open market:

Is Anybody Safe?

Here’s how Eysink gets it right and the corporate and academic sources often quoted on this subject slant it wrong: Highly skilled foreign students aren’t coming to American universities to pursue jobs as lobby attendants or cashiers on the one hand, or the better paying “skilled trades”, such as auto mechanics, electricians and machinists, on the other. They are pursuing cream-of-the-crop professional skills whereas non-manufacturing jobs that require hands-on skills are relatively unscathed. After all, if your pipes burst you aren’t calling a plumber in China; your hairdresser will not be replaced anytime soon with a computerized robot; and your auto body repairperson is unlikely to be supplanted by a foreign grad student.

Nobody is arguing that these are ideal aspirations for Americans — only that middle-skill jobs are relatively safe from the insource/outsource phenomena. But when lettuce pickers and high-tech whiz kids are both here on work visas — if legally at all — watch out.

That should scare us.

When Eysink says that vocational and low-skill jobs are where much of the growth projections are, he’s only saying what everyone working on behalf of community and state employment agencies already knows.

What is telling is that Eysink’s neck has been slashed for sticking it out too far.

Eysink’s blunt outlook flies in the face of the education-as-a-panacea argument that has been the politically correct solution to all that ails the U.S. economy for at least 30 years now. Might tax incentives drive U.S. corporations to seek greener pastures offshore? Naw. Might looser environmental and human rights standards make foreign labor attractive? Naw. Might this be a predictable outgrowth of border-free trade? Naw. Let’s just dismiss all those larger-than-life realities and jump on the little guy at a state agency for saying what we already knew but are too afraid to admit.

The School of Hard Knocks

Following the conventional go-back-to-school advice, unemployed Americans are enrolling in schools of all stripe. Those educational pursuits often involve taking out student loans. If obtaining anything short of high-demand professional or trade skills isn’t going to cut it in this Brave New Economy — and the national jobless rates hover above 10 percent as many economists project — it suggests that many freshly minted grads and their return-to-school adult counterparts will not secure stable employment by which to repay educational debts.

The next consumer debt “bubble” to burst the American economy before the effects of the Great Recession are entirely behind us may well be a student lending bubble. Louisiana state Governor Bobby Jindal isn’t the only one reading the writing on the wall. Other states are following suit, attempting to prevent a tsunami of student loan defaults at a time when more prospective students are clamoring for a university education and the academic loans to fund them.

What makes misguided career advisement particularly unforgivable, in the end, is that we Americans are only doing what we’ve been told to do by media, educators and the President himself: Earn new or improved academic credentials in hopes of securing a better future even if it means a prohibitive amount of debt.

Higher education is never a waste in the aim of creating an informed, well-rounded citizen. Economic betterment is also a useful reason to invest in education — assuming one’s skills aren’t so easily ravaged by globalization. As for the rest of the American public?

A rude awakening. And another swipe at an already ailing economy to boot.

Ah, but thankfully there is a silver lining: All hope is not lost for children who fail to become the academic superstars this Brave New Economy demands. Friedman and his pontificating friends may not appreciate it now, but America’s new untouchable may be Joe the Plumber.

Judging from the state of America’s aged and crumbling infrastructure, we’re going to need more Joes than we know.

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Resources

State Labor Department Says LA Has Too Many 4-Year College Grads/AP

The Workforce Alliance

Skills2Compete

America’s High-Tech Sweatshops | BusinessWeek

The H-1B Visa Lull Is Only Temporary | BusinessWeek

Is This Why I Went to College? | BusinessWeek

Congress’ H-1B Program Displaces Daughter of Programmers Guild President Out of Job Market

There is No High-Tech Shortage | The Social Contract

The Science Education Myth | BusinessWeek

The Myth of the Math and Science Shortage | Mises Institute

Another Scientist Shortage? | Science Careers

Nine Myths About Public Schools | Gerald Bracey of the Huffington Post

A Look Back: The Near-Myth of Our Failing Schools | The Atlantic

What Raindrops Tell us About the Emergent World Order

President H.W. Bush, borrowing a phrase from an earlier era, popularized the term “New World Order” (NWO) in the early 1990s. But while the New World Order has legitimate roots, it has come to be associated with little more than paranoid conspiracy.

Given what we’ve witnessed in recent times, however, is it wise to continue to dismiss the notion out-of-hand?

The following metaphor, Friedmanesque but nevertheless useful in view of the controversial nature of this topic, paints a picture of what political and economic progress may look like as the 21st Century progresses — and why a NWO may not be as far-fetched as so many of us are inclined to believe.

Imagine a smattering of raindrops hitting the pavement. Each raindrop represents the relative isolation and sovereignty of each nation. As those raindrops increase in number — meaning more countries climb aboard the international trade bandwagon — they connect like dots.

With enough rain — overlapping treaties and trade agreements — pools of water form (commonwealths operating under a shared constitution and/or currency). This is a natural evolution of the free trade process.

The European Union is but one such trade and currency pool, and it is not at all out of the question that more are to come. In Asia, in fact, The Wall Street Journal reported October 12, 2009 that an “Asean Plus Six” proposal seeks to integrate the 10 member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian nations as well as Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Much like a succession of raindrops merging to form large swaths of water, boundaries between nations may become less distinct in the years to come. Such a progression inevitably begs the question: Is national sovereignty passé? And in even longer-range terms, will ethnic, language and cultural distinctions begin to dissolve too?

While far-sighted, these questions are just that: Legitimate questions.

When people say that the prospect for a North American Union is little more than a conspiracy, they are, in effect, saying that they know the future beyond a reasonable doubt. What this denies in the here-and-now is an appreciation for the reality that a World Federalist Movement (WFM) has been afoot for decades. The mainstream media may not give these long-ranging issues press time, but world federalist organizations do, in fact, exist in the United States, Canada and elsewhere in the developed world — and they run websites replete with historical timelines that anyone can verify for themselves.

Our Mission is to promote global governance to address inequality, violent conflict, mass atrocities, climate change and corruption

World Federalist Movement and Institute for Global Policy: https://www.wfm-igp.org/

This much we know of modern times: Peacetime economies are evolving toward tighter integration for the sake of shared prosperity. Debates over whether this is incidental or intentional detract from the point: The logical extension of removing conflicting trade laws and legal barriers may well be a set of conditions wherein borders are intact on maps, but members function more like states in a global confederation (interregionalism).

Some say we may even see this convergence culminate within our lifetimes.

In a speech then-president-elect Barack Obama gave in Berlin, he had this to say:

No doubt there will be differences in opinon. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together.

A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden.

In this new century Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more, not less.

Partnership and cooperation between nations is not a choice. It is the only way. The one way to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.

President Obama’s message? This isn’t personal. This isn’t partisan. This “burden” is the future. And no, we do not have a choice.

President Obama, to be clear, is but one of several American presidents in recent years to share a globalized vision — hence his statement that a “change in Washington” will not deviate world leaders from a transnational progressive path:

SERIOUS QUESTIONS FOR SERIOUS TIMES

  • Does a shift toward increasingly large and impersonal centralized governance bode well for freedom to exclude oneself or one’s nation from a one-size-fits-all policy? Or will freedom to opt out be the one guarantee regional integration proponents — world federalists — can’t promise?
  • Is it in keeping with human history and human psychology to share a collective vision without breaking rank? How does world federalism propose to respond to “agitators” and civil unrest within its Utopian framework?
  • Does consolidation of legal and political powers represent a net gain or is it offset by the potential for corruption and abuse at the hands of a powerful few whose legislative reach has gone global?
  • At an economic level, can or will world federalism deliver on its promise of peace and prosperity for all world citizens? Or does it violate the all-eggs-in-one-basket principle: posing, instead, a dangerous level of economic and international codependency that will hold individuals and markets alike captive to the weakest link within the whole?

How do you feel about the path we are apparently headed down?

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