Monday, May 27, 2013

Industrial Decline as a Red Herring

David Simon had another rant quoted in the Guardian.  It was mostly true -- the war on drugs as a war on black people -- but it reminded me of something that rings false in Simon and many others on the contemporary left- their bemoaning of America's industrial decline.

This is not just a left-wing phenomenon.  It is found across the political spectrum -- people generally agree that American manufacturing has declined (which is true, in employment terms) and that this is the cause of the problems of the American working class.

I would dispute the last part of this conventional wisdom.  To start with, there is no necessary connection between highly paid, lower-skilled jobs and the manufacturing sector.  Indeed, the manufacturing jobs that remain in this country mostly either require advanced technical degrees, or pay somewhere in the vicinity of $10 an hour.  Working in a factory does not magically transform the working class into the middle class, and shuttering factories does not magically transform them into the working poor.

No, the reason why factory jobs used to be so good was because of the strength of American labor, and because we were a society that had decided that working people should be able to live the American dream, even if they're not anesthesiologists.  The problem is not the sort of labor that Americans are doing, but our nation's devaluation of labor in general*.  The services industry is, unlike manufacturing, extremely resistant to offshoring (we need people to work in our stores, in America) -- the problem is that we have decided that it's fine that our legions of restaurant and retail employees make $8 an hour.  Wringing out hands about the decline of factories does nothing to help the million or so Americans working at Wal Marts across the nation.  The factories are not coming back (at least not in their previous, labor-intensive, form) but there is plenty we could do to help the American working class, by getting serious about the workers of the service industry.

*Perhaps our romanticization of blue-collar works only helps to devalue pink-collar work, as we act as though pink-collar jobs are intrinsically not valuable, unlike those begone heroes at the Ford plant.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman - Initial Thoughts

For the past several weeks, I've been re-reading Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate.  The shortest review I could give is that you should read it, it's brilliant and beautiful and brings alive a world that most  people in the West can only imagine.  It is a masterpiece.

But if you want to hear something more, you can find my thoughts below.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

'Revolution' as magical thinking

The revolutionary extremism of the Right has been on display lately.  First there was the news that 44% of Republicans believe that an armed revolution may soon be necessary to protect freedom.  Then the NRA's national conference and its new president showed the organization's commitment to de-legimitizing elected officials and chattering about the importance of the second amendment for maintaining  that last, violent option to defend liberty.

I know some conservatives (namely my brother) who talk like this.  They say it casually, flippantly.  They mention no plans and no lines in the sand.  Thus I  think the good news in all of this is that few people are really serious about wanting to take their guns and seize some federal buildings -- they are not actually turning the NRA into a massive revolutionary militia, they're not drawing up lists of targets or planning on disputing elections by force.  They talk about it like it'll be a simple matter of saying 'I revolt' and that it will not require them to start lining up and shooting Nancy Pelosi's staffers, or sending the executive boards of the Sierra Club and NAACP to some camp*.  They're just talking, and talking like idiots.