In life, you plan your course in your teens and 20s and then you have to live with your choices in your 30s 40s and beyond. If you are fortunate, you will have some opportunity to make course corrections at later points, but in many ways, your future is the result of bets you make in your 20s based on undeveloped perspectives and incomplete information about the world.
It’s not all about how there are 200 million people who were used to getting reasonably paid jobs that didn’t require enormous amounts of skill, but could raise a family on that money. When they were growing up, before the internet, before massive outsourcing, etc., this was a reasonable expectation, based on what the world looked like to them at the time.
Now it’s true that they can’t just sit there and say “waaah, but I want the same deal that dad got, but better,and without any work,” but, let’s be realistic… what is it that they can do? It takes several years and a lot of money to train a bioengineer, and it’s going to be hard to get tens or hundreds of thousands of auto workers to turn into computer programmers and bioengineers.
On the other hand, it is disingenuous to say, well, you were stupid and whatever fate you receive is your fault and don’t come looking for help from anyone. Even though your dad was able to raise a middle class family on a high school education, you should have been able to foresee the the internet and outsourcing and decided you were going to be a high-tech energy developer instead of going into what had worked for your family for decades.
And look, it doesn’t even help to be smart. I was arguing with economists over the last decade about how I couldn’t see how the changes in global structure were going to provide employment for large fractions of the US labor force. Their answer: “well, the economy will find other productive uses for these people, and we’ll all be better off. Besides (this was about 7 years ago) look at how great the employment and economy are now. It’s all good!”
But I’m not at all convinced that this redeployment that the theory describes is really going to happen. And if it does, it will take the better part of a decade to do it, and it will destroy many family balance sheets in the process, and many will simply never recover. Some people will get retrained for new industries, but what industries are those going to be, exactly? A lot of people are simply not going to be able to adapt. More likely, we will adapt by having a substantial portion of the labor force die off or take substantially lower-quality jobs, possibly lower quality because they are mismatched to their skill sets. I understand the economic logic behind it and feel that to some extent it is not really preventable, but it seems wrong just to throw people under the train just because they happened to be born or educated at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I think the OWS movement gains a lot of its traction out of the idea that the winners in the curent system tell the losers that they themselves are to blame for their losses. It’s not the growing inequality, the degree of fraud, the TBTF dynamic and rules that get written to produce socialism for the rich, and survival of the nastiest for the poor. There are certainly aspects where some people have contributed to their own downfall, but there is a smugness to much of the 1% that smacks of the attitude of the French aristocracy in 1789 (which, as someone pointed out, I am old enough to remember). And it could end a similar way too (though I don’t think that’s the most likely outcome).
One thing that I think may help is to devalue the currency, through QE or inflation, or whatnot. Doing this starts to make the US worker more attractive internationally, and may help to trigger employment and redeployment. I think there need to be major fiscal incentives to do retraining, and perhaps some kind of program where businesses can define what they need higher quality workers for and so the retraining budgets are actually deployed by the private sector, even if they are to a great extent financed through grants, loans, or tax credits. This would allow the economy to determine the type of retraining that is required but the government to help expedite the process by lowering the up-front costs. Targeting small businesses that employ US citizens and residents would be key.
These kinds of programs always attract some leeches that discover ways to milk whatever rule-set is determined, but it is probably more important to get the bulk of something like this done and try to find a way to audit for the leeches and cheats.