Investigations and disputes over Donald Trump’s Russian involvement and attempts to obstruct the FBI will continue ad nauseum and may never be resolved. But he and the party he represents have a more pressing problem, one that is not amenable to messaging or mendacity and over which he has little control. More, perhaps, than any other factor, Trump’s surprise election victory was attributable to his ability to sell himself as a job creator. Nothing he has done in office suggests that he intends to live up to his own billing. Jobs paying a living wage to working-class Americans are disappearing faster than anyone anticipated. Yet the deep discussions needed about how to organize and manage a country where many have no little or no work have yet to get underway.
Courtesy of Amazon and Wal-Mart's redoubled online efforts, the brick and mortar retail industry, for example, is experiencing a meltdown. The Atlantic reports that more than 100,000 retail jobs have been lost since last October. This exceeds the number of coal workers employed in the U.S. Put another way, department store employment has declined more than 18 times as much as coal employment since 2001. Anecdotally, even relatively prosperous communities like ours are shocked by the number of mall and retail closings.
There is a possibility that Trump’s confusion – he withdrew from the TPP because he mistakenly believes that trade and immigration are the key factors costing America its manufacturing greatness – will prove to be our undoing. Less moved by reality than by politics, Trump has never mentioned that automation will confront us with an apocalyptic jobs scenario he chooses to ignore. His private prayer is that he can use infrastructure projects to dress up the employment numbers, but his Republican Congress will only cooperate to the tune of a paltry (in an $18 trillion economy) $200 billion. The remaining $800 billion he mentions must come from uncertain directions, presumably private sources.
Then there’s that small matter of capitalism’s shortcomings. Any manufacturer confronted by a competitor who moves his work overseas must deal with an existential issue – would he like to survive? If so, he may be better off with a Bangladeshi workforce. That same quandary explains the near disappearance of retirement pay from most industries’ budgets. Capitalism needs rethinking because it ignores income inequality, vanishing jobs, monopolies, the environment, how to reduce the number of poor people, cities like Cleveland and Detroit and Youngstown, limits to growth, the control of the “free” market by the richest capitalists, recessions and depressions, living wages, and all too often, morality and the values of a civilized society. Socialism may not be the answer, but unfettered capitalism should not even be part of the discussion.
Nearly every day we see articles like The Associated Press article revealing that Verizon will place 2,100 jobs on the block when it buys AOL and Yahoo. This, and the twists and turns of a directionless president, should spur us to grapple with the changes driven by 21st century technology on our own.
The writer lives in Pawleys Island.