For years people like me have been engaged in a running argument with those who insist that the reason we have high unemployment is that American workers don’t have the skills required for a 21st-century economy. It’s normally implied, although not always stated, that they’re talking about technological skills, knowledge of science and math, and in general the cutting edge.
My side’s response has always been: Show us the money. If certain skills are in short supply, show us the workers with these skills who are being offered premium wages; show us the employers laying out real dollars to train the workers they need.
Sure enough, The New York Times recently published a fascinating article about a resurgent industry hampered by a lack of skilled workers, offering sharply higher wages and investing in training. The skill in question? Operating sewing machines. The article, by the way, ties in with some of my recent writing about the possibility that globalization is running out of steam.
What’s driving the demand for garment workers is a modest but significant “reshoring” of apparel production. In general, if manufacturing in the United States revives, we’ll see that what we really need are a lot of lost manual skills. Back in 2007 there was a shortage of machinists, pipe fitters, and the like. This may be coming back. This probably isn’t the future many people expected. But it’s better than no jobs at all.
The question of the moment is whether the sane Republicans in the United States will, out of fear for their own political skins, defer to the insane Republicans and allow a government shutdown, or the much scarier possibility of debt default. Amid this drama, however, it’s worth remembering that even the sane ones are pretty much off the deep end already, all too willing to buy into crazy conspiracy theories.
Remember how Jack Welch, the former C.E.O. of General Electric, accused President Obama of cooking the jobs numbers last year? And earlier this month, Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, briefly declared that Twitter had special rules allowing President Obama to use more than 140 characters. In fact, it turns out that Mr. Fleischer doesn’t know how to count — but think of the mind-set that would even make him suspect such a thing.
Blame the Deficit Scolds If we have a debt-ceiling crisis in a couple of weeks, with dire economic effects, don’t just blame John Boehner’s Bunglers; you should also blame the deficit scolds — the Committee for a Responsible Peterson Budget and so on, and all the Very Serious People who have lent them support. For as Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine recently reminded us, these organizations all cheered the Republicans on in 2011, as they made the first-ever use of the debt ceiling to blackmail a sitting president.
If they are now horrified by the prospect of a financial crisis … well, guys, you’re the ones who insisted that extortion was O.K. as long as you thought it served your goals.