Old-School Economics

Take a look at this provocative commentary in today's New York Times, and ask: Does this apply to Pittsburgh?
Why do presidential candidates touting their concern for the economy pose with factory workers rather than with ballet troupes? After all, the U.S. now has more choreographers (16,340) than metal-casters (14,880), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More people make their livings shuffling and dealing cards in casinos (82,960) than running lathes (65,840), and there are almost three times as many security guards (1,004,130) as machinists (385,690). Whereas 30 percent of Americans worked in manufacturing in 1950, fewer than 15 percent do now. The economy as politicians present it is a folkloric thing.

If Republicans have had more luck talking about the economy for the last generation or so, it is because they were the less folkloric of the two parties. Broadly speaking, they cut taxes and regulation and trusted that entrepreneurs would hasten the arrival of the economy to come. There were Democrats who did the same, but they shared a party with others who were nostalgic for a disappearing world, reflexively backing unions and fighting management. Republican optimism beat Democratic nostalgia.

This campaign season, Republicans no longer look so confident. Mike Huckabee suggested to a group of Detroit executives that “instead of talking to people in the corporate boardroom, you talk to people on the line.” He aspires to remind Americans “of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off.” The latter guy, in Huckabee’s view, resembles Mitt Romney, who may have triumphed in Michigan, but only after promising to restore 250,000 factory jobs lost to layoffs. Republican rhetoric about trusting the transition to a new economy is not allaying fears as it once did.

The reason is simple. It is that the transition is over. The new economy we have been promised is in place. While the economy of 1998 was a world away from the Internet-less, land-line-dependent, non-Nafta, I.B.M.-Selectric-powered, partly Communist world of 1988, today’s economy is fully recognizable as the one we inhabited in 1998.

Today’s economic anxiety is not the same anxiety that simmered between 1980 and 2000. Back then, recessions and slowdowns were understood as the pangs of a new economy struggling to be born. But the recession we now seem to be entering is to the information age what the recession of, say, 1957-1958 was to the industrial age — a “normal” recession in the midst of an economy with stable bases, an economy that (to use a current cliché) “is what it is.” The “jobs of the future” that were promised 20 years ago are here. Choreographers, blackjack dealers and security guards have replaced factory workers as the economy’s backbone, if not yet its symbol. . . .

Cutting taxes and slashing regulations were appropriate strategies for managing a transitional economy. But we no longer live in such an economy. This does not mean that Republicans need to embrace a single-payer health system or subsidized day care. But neither can they go on automatically favoring the hypothetical needs of tomorrow’s entrepreneurs over the real needs of today’s dental hygienists and landscape gardeners. The future is now, as the late Redskins’ coach George Allen used to say. The promise that prosperity is just one more tax cut or one more rescinded regulation away is a rapidly depreciating rhetorical asset.


1 Response to "Old-School Economics"

Frank said... 1/28/2008 10:00 AM

Instead of tax cuts for businesses, I'd love to see a renewed focus on workforce development, specifically in the area of technical training. Emerging technology in biotech and renewables will be some of the biggest economic drivers of the coming decades, and the skills needed for those will be high-tech and high-skill. Right now, our technical schools are seen as second or third tier at best, and that needs to change.

And the symbol of the workforce in Pittsburgh should be a healthcare worker rather than a steelworker!

The Blurgh

Search Pittsblog

About Pittsblog

Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

Comments are moderated.
Subscribe to Pittsblog comments


Blog Archive

Header Background

Header background images licensed from (left image) lemonad and (right image) plaskota under Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.0 Generic licenses.


Copyright 2003-2010 Michael J. Madison - WP Theme by Brian Gardner - Blogger Blog Templates, ThemeLib.com