By on April 20, 2017

By Siyuwj Geely_assembly_line

Long-time TTAC readers may recall that your humble author has worked a variety of unglamorous jobs in the retail end of the auto business — salesman, title department for one major finance company, skip tracer and junior approval officer for another — but I’ve also worked two stints in vehicle production itself. I never worked on the line directly, but I worked with various plants and production facilities on a fairly regular basis. Once I managed to figure out a pretty major problem and save the automaker in question about 45 minutes’ worth of downtime for their whole North American operation. That’s a savings measured in millions of dollars. I was so pleased with myself, I ran out, hopped in my old Porsche 911, and went to Donatos for a celebratory pizza with double cheese.

They wrote me up for taking a long lunch.

I bet that never happened to Bob Lutz.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of building cars — and everything else — in the United States. (You can find out more about American-made products and services at my hobby blog.) When we build real, tangible products here in the USA, we change hundreds of thousands of lives for the better. We preserve families and give young people a chance at a life beyond the social-welfare system. We also make it possible for minorities and disadvantaged people to enter the middle class and live the American dream.

Unfortunately, as a reader recently reminded me, these benefits don’t come without an associated cost, and that cost can be measured in blood.

Ben writes:

G’day from Australia, where in September we lose our last auto manufacturer when GM closes shop. I’ve put my money where my mouth is and bought one of the last LS3 Commodore Wagons, and I love it.

My question is: how do you keep manufacturing jobs in developed economies without the workers paying this horrendous price? Any insights from your time at Honda would be much appreciated.

The article to which Ben links is a Bloomberg piece on a variety of horrifying injuries and fatalities that have occurred in manufacturing plants all across “The New South.” Much of the article is devoted to an incident in which a malfunctioning robot “came alive” and killed a young woman. There is also some discussion about a dirty little secret of the “transplant factories,” both in the South and in the Midwest: many of the people working in the plant are not employees of the automaker itself, but rather low-wage subcontractors from “body shop” staffing firms. These intermediate employers serve an important role: they allow companies like Honda and Toyota to try people out for a few years before giving them full employment with the mother company. Unfortunately, far too often the “temps” are treated like disposable garbage instead of potentially valuable future employees.

I’ve been inside many auto manufacturing plants, and I’ve seen a lot of scary stuff. You have to keep your wits about you at all times. There’s no room for stupid people, or easily distracted people, in buildings where molten steel pours from fifty feet above your head and 10-ton stamping presses move with the unpredictable agility of field mice. It’s work that ages you before your time; the first-shifters with whom I shared a parking lot at my manufacturing gig were often a decade or even two decades younger than I was but they had the lined faces and gnarled hands of 60-year-olds.

There is a real human cost to manufacturing, no matter where it is. But I’ll say this: I’ve lived in small towns where they had an auto plant, and I’ve lived in small towns where they did not, and I’ll take the former every day of the week. This is not to minimize the terrible injuries that happen in manufacturing work, mind you. But in places where Average Joes and Janes have no hope of living-wage employment, things quickly spiral into a nightmare of crystal meth and unchecked violence.

In fact, one of the people covered in the Bloomberg article had left his life as a drug dealer to work at the plant where he lost his arm. Can we truly say that he would have been any better off had he remained a criminal? Don’t believe Steely Dan; drug dealing is not always a glamour profession and not all of its practitioners grow up to live in the suburbs and drive steel-grey Accords like honest members of society.

I’d suggest the answer to the problem of inadequate workplace safety is more American manufacturing, not less. The Bloomberg writer points out, rather astutely, that the New South plants are expected to compete with Bangladesh and Mexico. Maybe if we had a sensible tariff plan in place to account for the human cost of overseas production, we could slow the line down a bit here in America. Your economics professor might not like it, but he’s never had to put 400 dashboards together every hour for 12 hours straight — and he’s never had to tell his children that the company closed the plant and sent Dad’s job somewhere far, far away.

[Image: By Siyuwj (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

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252 Comments on “Ask Jack: The Robot and the Damage Done...”


  • avatar
    cblais

    So how do you tariff away the ever increasing automation? Each time manufacturing “returns” its with more robots, less people and an evolving skill set that is focused more around the sort of technical stuff done by the author and less and less of the low skill/low training work.

    Heck, china is already starting to run into issues because the companies who moved there for manufacturing are rapidly shifting away from human driven production to increasing automation.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      There’s a ton of work in servicing and programming those robots (and it pays really well). There are quite a few associate degree/vocational level schools that teach students how to do just that, I’d love to see more federal funds slated for traditional 4 year colleges shared with such programs.

      You’re right in that a typical factory for a given square footage or vehicle output needs a fraction of the employees it used to, but it’s still a ton of jobs. I think part of the problem too (particularly prevalent with domestic manufacturers) is that the suppliers are increasingly moving to Mexico or China. So even though Fort Wayne has a GM truck assembly plant, all of the supporting factories for axles, headlights, electronics along the I69 corridor (Anderson, Muncie) have been outsourced and left shells of towns, rife with like Jack said poverty and drug abuse (meth, opiods, increasingly heroin/fentanyl).

      Conversely I was overjoyed to see that the replacement hub for my wife’s Lexington-made Camry was made by Aisin in Seymour Indiana, they’re actually expanding their operation and actively hiring. The headlights for her car was made by TG in Lebanon KY, a captive Toyota supplier. We just happened to grab a bite in a main street diner in Lebanon and caught a glimpse of the pretty huge facility on the edge of town driving through, felt really good to see that (part of that good feeling may have been the fried pork tenderloin with gravy and mashed potatoes that I just ate). Honda in Greensburg IN likewise has a bunch of suppliers that moved in (KYB, Keihin).

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      You don’t tariff it away. You eliminate the illegal immigration problem and put actual citizens back to work in the jobs that can’t be automated (whether they like it or not). We are nearing the point where the government will not be able to afford to pay people to sit at home and not work, and when that day hits, everyone will be a lot more concerned about how many non-citizens are here working illegally.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        “whether they like it or not”

        It’s a fundamental question of what is the inherent motivation of people, and whether we as a country feel comfortable putting the motivation in play. Do you cut back EBT/welfare dramatically and basically use the fear of starvation/homelessness as a motivator to fill the many current unfilled (or filled by migrant labor) spots in low paid retail/ag/manual labor? Or are we too “advanced” for that? Would doing such a thing potentially dramatically increase costs for consumers longer term? Probably.

        In much poorer and less developed countries with no money in the coffers for such safety nets, people grow food in their back yards, work various odd jobs, etc to get by. It’s easy to accuse someone here in the US of being heartless for advocating for such an approach, basically the diametric opposite of the “universal income” scheme that seems to be popping up more and more frequently.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        dwford,
        WTF?

        The US like Australia has relatively low unemployment.

        Illegal immigrants DO NOT take the higher paying jobs.

        So, who will do the sh!t jobs? Remember we are nearly at full employment.

        What fear mungering nonsense. If you have problems getting a better job don’t blame the immigrants, put an effort in. Have a go. Take risk.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al From 'Murica

          Or, we could act like a functional first world nation and, if a majority of voters feel as such, change the immigration laws to allow for more liberal movement into the nation.

          What we have now is silly and honestly allows for the exploitation of people. Illegals come here, go to work and are allowed to be paid substandard wages and not afforded the protections of the law that workers should get. Furthermore their status is subject to the whims of who is in power.

          We say “doing the jobs American’s won’t do”, but in fact it should be “doing the jobs American’s won’t do for $2.16 an hour with no benefits.

          We talk of compassion with regard to migrant workers. I call bull. Compassion would be dealing with the illegals here, be that deportation or legalization (up to the voters) and ensuring those that do come do so legally and are afforded all of the protections under law and the US constitution.

          The current state does not do that. It creates a pool of virtual slave labor that is easily exploitable. There is no reason to demonize them. I’d want to come here too were I from where they are coming from. But the way we are doing it is far from compassionate unless you consider compassion allowing people to be exploited so you can pay .49 cents for a head of lettuce.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            “We say “doing the jobs American’s won’t do”, but in fact it should be “doing the jobs American’s won’t do for $2.16 an hour with no benefits.”

            Grape pickers in CA get paid way more than that, more than $10/hr actually (I’ve heard $14/hr currently). It’s just brutally hot laborious work that even if you offered many Americans $20/hr they still would refuse (welfare and sitting around are a much easier/better way to go). Same for landscaping crews, the pay is fairly competitive with low end retail pay (maybe more) but the difficulty of the labor discourages native born Americans compared to somewhere like McDs.

            The people from the third world are simply that much more motivated to provide from their families since they don’t have that safety net to fall back on. Simple human nature IMO.

          • 0 avatar
            dwford

            So what you are saying is that you are ok with the exploitation of illegal migrant labor. That you are ok with THOSE people working back breaking jobs for long hours with low pay and no worker protections. You’re ok with that. That’s essentially what you are saying: that Americans won’t do those jobs so we have to exploit desperate immigrants. Nice country we live in.

            Eliminate the illegal immigration, force the farmers to hire actual tax paying Americans to do the jobs, and drastically limit welfare to able bodied adults. Yes the price of lettuce will go up. So what.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “I’ve heard $14/hr currently”

            Oh, so you’ve “heard.” who did you “hear” this from? do you have any first-hand knowledge, or did you do the typical thing and immediately believe anything you found online which lines up with what you already thought?

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            “So what you are saying is that you are ok with the exploitation of illegal migrant labor.”
            I didn’t say that.

            “That you are ok with THOSE people working back breaking jobs for long hours with low pay and no worker protections. You’re ok with that. ”
            Didn’t say I was okay with that.

            “That’s essentially what you are saying:”
            Nope, that’s you trying to extrapolate from my observations. I’m simply noting that all players in the current system as it is set up are acting as fairly rational human beings weighing risk/reward for their particular situations.

            “Oh, so you’ve “heard.” who did you “hear” this from? do you have any first-hand knowledge, or did you do the typical thing and immediately believe anything you found online which lines up with what you already thought?”

            How about instead of working on your next aneurysm you make a few less assumptions about me?

            http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2011/jun/14/gary-black/some-farm-workers-do-earn-high-wages-not-all-do/

            http://www.latimes.com/local/great-reads/la-me-strawberry-pick-20130503-dto-htmlstory.html

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7TGWaHaUeU

            So they tend to not be that high on average, closer to $9/hr it seems, I was misinformed. But the point I’m making is that even at much higher wages ($14/hr+), our own citizens are currently simply unwilling to partake in such travails, collecting welfare and/or working low end service sector (McDs) is just a comfier, more rational choice, I don’t blame them. Simply an observation.

            Lastly, for whatever it’s worth to the people having a conniption, I worked for 3 summers in a corn field making from $8.50-9.00 an hour starting in highschool and into college. It really, really sucked, but I savor the experience and the memories. Once that corn gets tall and is evapo-transpiring, any sort of breeze gets absolutely stifled. It’s 100% humidity in those rows (we were in there collecting phenotypic data and setting up pollinations). Traveled around to plots in Illinois and North Carolina to do the same there too. 90+ degree heat with no breeze and 100% humidity, corn pollen that lands on your sweat starts to literally try to pollinate your skin pores, causing rashes. Made me appreciate subsequent jobs indoors MUCH more.

          • 0 avatar
            Superdessucke

            A little proud of TTAC today. I thought I was the only one who thought the pro-illegal contingent is made up of a bunch of total elitist hypocrites pretending to have compassion. “If you kick them out you’ll pay more for [insert your favorite product or service currently being provided to you by de facto slaves here] you know!” Well, then just consume less you fat f***!

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            the only people having “aneurysms” or “conniptions” are the people you invented in your own mind.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Having you pop up with an angry retort any time I write a comment suggest otherwise Jimbo.

          • 0 avatar

            Our local newspaper ran an article a few months back on what a person on “welfare” “earns” around the country. There are many places in the US where I could sit on my butt and make more than I make now at my 2 jobs at $11.50/hour. To me that’s the crux of the “jobs Americans won’t/don’t do.” Relatively few humans would choose toil over laxity for the same money.

          • 0 avatar

            The high figures for wellfare are a bit misleading. Other then unemployment basically no wellfare program pays cash to non disabled working age adults, other then those that are single parents with kids or pregnant. Almost all the programs have work requirements at some point or are non cash as in reduced housing bills or food stamps (EBT).

            Personally I would argue we should just take all those inefficient programs and just had $10k in cash to everyone every year and call it a day, but many have philosophical issues with that.

          • 0 avatar
            Salzigtal

            I haven’t heard the other side of the enforcement coin in a while. Why should I strap on a badge and chase after x million “bad hombres”? I’d rather put on a suit & tie and perp-walk several Agribusiness CEOs who hire the illegals.

        • 0 avatar
          56BelAire

          “Illegal immigrants DO NOT take the higher paying jobs”.

          Oh, really. Tell that to the tens of thousands of young American guys who USED TO BE in the construction industry making anywhere from $20-$40/hr depending on job and locale. From concrete foundation work, to masonry, to framing, to finish carpentry, to tile guys, to sheetrockers/spacklers, to roofers.

          • 0 avatar
            Salzigtal

            All the construction union benches in Silicon Valley are emptier than when I was briefly with IBEW. The sky is full of cranes. I alternate between a plant cafeteria & the catering trucks at job-sites. The only difference I’ve seen in crews at lunch is the gender balance is much better than the 5%-95% I worked with. My favorite brothers & sisters are the blacker & browner Americans whose ancestors moved here in the 1700’s who pick on the Americans of Irish descent as “Paddy-come-latelys” and much worse. All in good fun. We hear things can be worse in the right-to-work states. The internet is full of instructions on how to organize strikes & picket.

    • 0 avatar
      scent tree

      The fact that the term ‘automation’ could cover everything from thermostat timers to line robots to deep learning makes it a bad fit for talking about specific impact to industry, imo. Optimizing a parametric system is skinning a very different cat than a car which drives itself. It’s not even necessarily net-jobs-negative. They automated discrete calculation, and it created the entire computing industry. It’s not a linear scale where more automation = less jobs when generalized across a blob that big.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      The automation argument from the left – hard to believe that liberals are actually the one supporting outsourcing now, or not – has a first name. It’s O.S.C.A.R. It also has a second name that’s M.A.Y.E.R.

      If robots are rendering manufacturing obsolete, then why have all the first world countries sent much of their manufacturing jobs to China? They must be really good at robots, lol! No. The reason is because robots are a lot more limited then they are being made out to be and we still need plenty of human labor. Maybe not as much as we did in, say, 1966, but still quite a lot.

      All the better for the wealthy if that labor works cheap and without safety standards. The conditions that manufacturing workers toil under in China probably make a U.S. auto plant look like a Fisher Price playroom.

      Then they tell everybody at home that those jobs would have been lost anyway because of automation. It is bunk.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        I’ve been in many automated production facilities when I’m working on ICS/SCADA stuff. The thing is that yes, there are robots doing stuff but there are also an awful lot of people still working there. It isn’t like the 50’s with people everywhere and Sparks flying all over, but it ain’t like that factory scene in Minority Report either.

        In light of that, I’d say it becomes even more important to plus up manufacturing to Ballance out the fact that plants will employ fewer people.

        Also we need to be ready as a nation for a decline in unskilled positions. Our education system isn’t doing us any favors there.

      • 0 avatar
        Salzigtal

        None of the lefties I know in the PRB and surrounding area support outsourcing. They’re all too busy promoting the viewing of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wal-Mart:_The_High_Cost_of_Low_Price

  • avatar
    bunkie

    No one (and I mean no one) is really addressing the elephant in the room:

    It no longer matters where a product is manufactured when it is being manufactured by robots.

    That leads us to an ugly question:

    What are we going to do about the ever-decreasing earning power of former factory workers?

    The usual answers fall into one of two categories:

    Bloviating about “saving jobs” or “bringing manufacturing back to [insert your country name here]”

    and

    Saying “We need to re-train workers for those great high-paying jobs”

    Both answers are deeply flawed. First, robots don’t need to be paid which makes them very attractive to the investor class. Second, there is a much lower than one-to-one ratio between factory jobs and those “high-skill good-paying” jobs that remain. This also ignores the fact that not every worker has the experience or capability to be so trained.

    It might be worth reading up Kurt Vonnegut’s seminal book Player Piano to get a sense of what is coming: a very rapid increase in the ranks of former middle-class workers who have nothing to lose.

    View one way, the Trump revolution is a leading indicator. Many people placed their faith in him and, despite the fact that I despise him, I sincerely hope that he succeeds because, if he doesn’t, we are in for some very unsettling times ahead.

    • 0 avatar
      cblais

      To add on to this, automation is coming for plenty of white collar jobs as well. Already you see plenty of jobs in the software development world (especially in contracting) which are essentially busywork to increase the number of billable bodies. Is that the future? Increasing jobs that could easily be replaced or are superfluous simply to give people somewhere to show up to in the morning?

      Combine this with a workforce that is shifting older as people either decide not to retire or are unable to and as you note our society has some looming issues we need to start trying to address now.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        I’m an older IT contract worker whose contract ends next week. I survive because I have a particular skill set that continues to have value, I’m very adaptable and I have a hell of a lot of experience in my field.

        For the most part, I’m happy contracting. I don’t have to suffer the abomination known as the performance review and when a contract ends, I move on to something else. In between, I take some time off and pursue personal interests. The negatives are the instability, the periodic health insurance changes (and the higher cost) and the near impossibility to contribute to a 401(k) (most contract firms require that you have six to twelve months before you can contribute which, unfortunately is the length of the average contract), so I lose the tax benefits (and the 401(k) match) that full-timers get.

        Our labor laws haven’t adapted to the contract-work model. Disconnecting health care and retirement savings from employment and having national plans for both that cover you 100% of the time would go a long way. As I see it, employers are shooting themselves in the foot when they oppose single-payer health care. Not having to administer plans would cut their costs, and allow them to further adopt the contract model. The company I work for is moving jobs from NYC to Montreal because it is considered to be lower cost. I wonder if this is, partly, a result of the fact that Canada provide more social services that are not directly paid for the employer.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          One reason why auto manufacturing was so strong in Canada in the era 1966 till the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler was the fact that in Canada the cost of healthcare is distributed amongst all employers. So rather than GM/Ford/Chrysler having to pay exorbitant fees to private insurers to provide healthcare for their workers. The current rate paid by ‘large’ employers in Ontario is 1.955 of payroll.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          +1000, Bunkie.

          I just looked up my last paycheck.

          My bi weekly bill for health insurance? $114.

          My employer’s portion? $235.

          It’s a no-brainer.

          The only people who go to the wall against single-payer are a) ideologues, and b) folks who’ve never had to pay a hospital bill.

          • 0 avatar
            Advance_92

            Do many employers still contribute/match 401ks these days? Along with insurance that’s the allure of full time employment versus contracting.

            My old consulting company also had a stock purchase plan back in the early 2000s that was hard to beat. 15% of my post-tax paycheck went to purchasing their stock at 85% of the closing price every payday. I can see why they ended up firing everyone a few years later to focus on outsourcing and strategy.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “The only people who go to the wall against single-payer are a) ideologues, and b) folks who’ve never had to pay a hospital bill.”

            plenty of people (e.g. that absolute idiot Jason Chaffetz in the House) think that their health insurance premium is solely what they see deducted from their paychecks. They don’t realize how much of it is actually being paid by their employers. I only pay 26% of my total healthcare premiums, so I know better than to say stupid s*** like “people could afford health care if they weren’t buying iPhones.”

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            I would counter, as one who has been active duty military for 20 years and is now moving to the VA system that single payer has some issues too. I waited six months for an MRI on my back and shoulder and it is likely I only got it because I was non deployable until they fixed me. Surprise surprise when we got deployment orders it was done within 2 weeks and I was being treated.

        • 0 avatar
          MLS

          SEP IRA?

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Of course, but he wouldn’t get the employer match on one of those, as I understand them.

          • 0 avatar
            bunkie

            There are income limits for the SEP IRA. On the one hand, I shouldn’t complain that I exceed that limit. On the other hand, full-time employees in my same income bracket get to shelter a chunk of their income from current taxation at top rates, so I, effectively, am in a higher tax bracket then they are.

          • 0 avatar
            MLS

            There’s no employer match, of course, but the annual contribution limit for a SEP IRA is generally higher than for a 401(k). A sole proprietor can contribute 18.6% of net profit, up to $54,000, to a SEP IRA. The max employee contribution to a 401(k) is $18,000 (plus another $6,000 “catch up” if age 50 or older). I don’t think many W2 employees are receiving large enough employer matches to make up the $30,000-$36,000 difference.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          “Our labor laws haven’t adapted to the contract-work model. Disconnecting health care and retirement savings from employment and having national plans for both that cover you 100% of the time would go a long way. ”

          This. 100%.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Exactly, Kyree.

            And then there’s this: how many people work jobs they hate, versus something they’d be really, really good at, just because they’d have to buy their own insurance?

            Speaking for myself, I’d love to try a different, more entrepreneurial career path, either working for myself, or as an independent contractor. But there’s no way I can leave myself or my kids without health insurance – financially speaking (and health-wise), that’s like running with scissors.

            Wouldn’t the economy as a whole be better off if everyone was doing what they were truly good at, versus something that provides benefits? I’d say we’d all be a lot more productive, and by extension, probably a lot wealthier.

          • 0 avatar
            raph

            Indeed!

          • 0 avatar
            baconator

            Yup.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          bunkie,
          They came up with a simple fix for your 401k and health insurance in Australia.

          1. Back in the 70s anyone who retired was means tested. Simply put, if you exceeded a certain amount of wealth at retiement your old age social security was scaled back. The money used to set up a public health system.

          The means testing was not draconian. Initially many complained, but as this system matured people saw the merit in it.

          2. We have a system of superannuation. 10% of your income must be invested into privately managed super funds. There is talk of upping it to 15%.

          Now Australia is in a better position to absorb more costs of our aging population, with an excellent health system.

          It cost money up front, but it has proven itself to be valuable to the nation.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “It no longer matters where a product is manufactured when it is being manufactured by robots.”

      it does matter, because those products still have to be shipped. and shipping stuff around the world has its own deleterious effects. E.g. Asian Carp, Emerald Ash Borer, and so on.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        That’s a good point. One back-door way to promote local manufacturing would be to ban the use of cheap bunker fuel.

        I was stunned that, here in the Northeast, the granite used for countertops is shipped from China when we are closing quarries in Vermont.

        Of course, many of the cobblestones used in New England towns came from England, being used as ballast in the sailing ships, so this is an old practice. ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      brawnychicken333

      People have been afraid of technological change as long as there have been people. There is absolutely no reason to think that the coming changes won’t be any different than the ones in the past and those have all universally improved the lives of humans.

      1. According to Wikipedia in 1870 nearly 50% of the American population worked in agriculture. Today, less than 2% due. I thought the total was more like 90% in the 1800’s-but people at the time certainly lamented the loss of farm jobs as agriculture became more automated and efficient. Yet here we are today with more jobs in other fields and more food than ever.

      2. there probably will be some economic pain and change-but it will work out. In a generation there will be untold numbers of new jobs in fields that we haven’t even thought of yet. 30 years ago most people would never have imagined the millions upon millions of jobs in various IT and software we have today. That WILL happen again. It has happened throughout human history and this time is very unlikely to be different.

      • 0 avatar

        Historically I agree we seem to find something else to do. But for some reason IO have a sneaking suspicion there may be an eventual limit to that.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          Mopar,
          No. I disagree.

          What is not shown in the agri industry numbers are all the engineering, research, “city” jobs dorectly and indirectly related to agriculture.

          For example, how many towns and farms are reliant on agriculture? They need road, rail, air, logistics, power, communication, etc.

          The auto industry employs far more people outside of vehicle manufacturing then employed within.

          That’s why Australia has not felt any negative effects from us stopping vehicle manufacture.

          • 0 avatar

            It still has to reduce the net amount of people involved as the cost of food has gone down. It just not be as many as we estimate. The same foe people talking about installing and working on robots. It’s true they will be required but it’s still a net loss in labor otherwise companies wouldn’t invest in it.

      • 0 avatar
        Ar-Pharazon

        No, I think that this old saw is no longer valid.

        In the past, we mostly used technology to replace or supplement manual labor, either done by animals or humans. For the longest time, this was really done to increase capabilities like speed, strength, or endurance . . . machines could easily do some tasks faster, longer, or with more power than humans. In these cases, yes . . . any displaced humans could easily find other, non-automatable tasks that involved fine motor skills (physical) or any cognitive tasks as replacements.

        Over the past few decades we’ve really encroached on the fine motor skill tasks with more sophisticated robots. This has all but displaced humans from physical tasks and made us a “service economy”. Those who lost a job requiring skilled labor could still move into some type of human interaction job, or again most cognitive tasks (if they themselves had the cognitive abilities).

        Now, with the recent and ongoing advancements in artificial intelligence, we are starting to encroach on the last thing that humans can do better than machines . . . think. That is on the way out. It will not be long before many (and perhaps all) human-only tasks can be automated by AI. Lawyers, doctors, engineers, even artists . . . we are approaching the day when machines will be able to do all of their jobs, better, faster, more accurately.

        What will be left when the machines can do everything we do, and better? What new jobs in new industries that are somehow immune to our coming AI overlords do you envision? What is left that 7+ billion humans can do that will add value to the economy?

        Nothing. We are making ourselves obsolete.

        So far we have not progressed very far down the “sci fi utopia” pathway where masses of humans freed from the drudgery of work spend their time enriching themselves though personal growth, or enriching the species through the creation of art. No, we rather give *all* the benefits to a ridiculously tiny fraction of the population and let the rest scratch out a subsistence living.

        But we only do that now because we hedge our bets against future wars. At this point, we may still need cannon fodder to fight. But that is also going away with autonomous drones. Pretty soon we won’t even need the poor to kill for us in conflicts between the rich.

        What then? Let them starve. Hope our technology is strong enough to put down the masses when they revolt against the new world order that just does not need for them to exist.

        Hope like hell that “we” are not part of the mass of “them” that are made redundant and left to starve.

        I really cannot see at this point in history how a person can be for unimpeded technological growth and advancement and *not* actively recognize and admit that this implies the redundancy and perhaps extermination of 95%+ of the human population on this planet. I sure don’t see Elon Musk or that a$$hat CEO of Uber expending too much thought on what we do with the billions of non-value-adding human detritus that they are helping to create with their “what about me?” technical progress.

        • 0 avatar

          As much as I hate Elon he has penned a few articles where he seems to feel that there will indeed be a shortage of jobs do to automation. He thinks it will happen he just doesn’t seem to care much.

      • 0 avatar
        Salzigtal

        The “more food” has undisclosed costs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Corn_(film)

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I live in Huntsville, AL. We have a Toyota Plant here, an this accident was on the local news. I don’t want to make this political, but many on the left here (yes, we do have those in Alabama) were using this exact article in a way to tell our President: “See, this is what happens when you bring manufacturing jobs here” or “This is what happens with deregulation”. For me, it becomes elitist nonsense as no real solutions are provided. We need manufacturing jobs here. We need to train the employees so they don’t get hurt. We need to hold these companies accountable, EVEN for temporary employees thag get hurt. Even the supervisor was confused and clueless when the accident happened. Then there are those in the north saying us down here are too dumb to do this sort of job(reddit).

    There have been a number of articles locally over the year about how the Toyota Plant here (engines) hire about 1/3 of their force as temporary workers. They are paid less, get no benefits, get less training and have no job security. There was a similar article about this at the VW plant just recently in Chattanooga. Toyota claims that they have to have such a large temporary or contract work force as the demand ebbs and flows.

    • 0 avatar
      MrGrieves

      Also an Alabamian. Like Jack points out – we are MUCH better off having these jobs here with all their inherent hazards than without. I’ve worked in several machining operations and despite taking all the precautions possible there will always be injuries.

      But yeah – the solution is more manufacturing, not less.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Also in Huntsville. Despite the very hi-tech nature of this part of the world, not everybody can work for a defense contractor or on the Arsenal. There are plenty of good, decent folks here that should be able to provide an adequate living for their families while producing goods right here.

      And “temp to hire” is not a new concept. I used to work for several manufacturing companies years ago that employed the very same strategy. Still, I’d rather see us do this than to ship meaningful and productive work offshore.

      • 0 avatar
        Whittaker

        Another Huntsville resident here.
        I’m agreeing with everything my fellow Alabamians said because they are pretty damn smart…and they are probably carrying ;)

      • 0 avatar
        Daniel J

        I don’t disagree. I worked in commercial/private for a long time doing software. Not everyone can be an engineer or work for the Government. And Huntsville needs that diversity, as does the rest of Alabama for jobs.

    • 0 avatar
      brawnychicken333

      The elitism of us northerners towards those in the deep south is effing ridiculous. People are people. I can’t stand that.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        I always counter this with the fact that while Huntsville was producing the Saturn V up North Lordstown Ohio was cranking out the Chevy Vega.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      “Then there are those in the north saying us down here are too dumb to do this sort of job(reddit)”

      I’m originally from Denver, but what the actual f**k? I mean, you can pretty much discount the opinion anyone who uses that kind of ad hominem argument.

      • 0 avatar
        Daniel J

        Kyree,

        Perception becomes reality, whether ad-hominem or not. This very article was posted on Reddit, and there were many “redditors” who were pretty much slamming the south because “the south are a bunch of dumb rednecks” and the spiel pretty much was that these jobs would be better in Michigan(and a few from other states) and these things wouldn’t happen. It was an attack on cheaper labor, and in most cases down here, non-union.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          I believe you; I just think that’s absurd.

          • 0 avatar
            raph

            It certainly is absurd, when I wander off to the smoking remains of Gawker media you can see the elitism there when it comes to the north and south (as well as urban vs rural)

            Some of it tongue and cheek, most of it not. Some of it deserved, most of it not.

    • 0 avatar
      Salzigtal

      Please ignore reddit, we do. But we’re red-wine-necks. 1/2 French 1/2 Tennesseean. 100% USA born.

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    Bill Gates recently floated the idea of taxing robots in factories to help local economies. In theory, humans pay taxes to local and state entities. When workers lose jobs, taxes don’t get paid. This may help slow the advancement of all robot factories. https://qz.com/911968/bill-gates-the-robot-that-takes-your-job-should-pay-taxes/

  • avatar
    Speed3

    Automation will continue and the percent of the population that works in manufacturing will decrease. The percent of the labor force that worked in agriculture as declined from something like 70% in the 1800s to 3% today. Thats a good thing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the share of the labor force in manufacturing to decrease to similar single digit percentage. This will make goods cheaper for everybody.

    However, there is not a good solution to help the unemployed blue collar workers. Since we all know that the government isn’t going to solve this problem, its on those people affected by it to help themselves. My advice would be to get out of the economically depressed parts of the country and move somewhere better with a low cost of living. Colorado, Utah, or Texas.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      I continue to maintain that our population has exceeded sustainability, unless a lot of people are willing to live like the Amish or Old West and give up the conveniences.

      Without welfare and other subsidies, can you imagine where we would be right now, on this day? But the population continues to grow, even as the need for uneducated and unskilled laborers decreases. No good end comes of this.

      But good god, tell Americans they should stop breeding like rabbits and have sensible family sizes, and you’ll get spoken to like you told them to microwave their cat or something.

      • 0 avatar
        Kendahl

        Americans are not “breeding like rabbits”. The birth rate is lower than the death rate. The increase in population is coming from immigration. The same is true of the rest of the developed world.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          let him have his alternative facts.

        • 0 avatar
          brawnychicken333

          “I continue to maintain that our population has exceeded sustainability, unless a lot of people are willing to live like the Amish or Old West and give up the conveniences.”

          Based on what? Are there food shortages? Living space shortages? Shortages of anything, actually? Life is better for humans than it’s ever been. There is zero evidence to support your assertion.

        • 0 avatar
          brawnychicken333

          I wish my wife would let me breed like a rabbit. Minus the extra kids and all.

        • 0 avatar
          56BelAire

          Correct Ken, the American birth rate is 59.6 births per 1,000 women. Desperately low. The highest birth rates are among the poor and disadvantaged.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        It’s interesting to see the boom in the Amish population in NE/E Ohio. They make a killing on their hand made furniture, herbal medicine, meat and cheese, etc sold to the outside community, as well as cart/implement manufacturing sold to their own community. They have big families, help each other out with loans to buy land, etc. Fascinating to see how even with a very “undeveloped” style of economy with not much of an emphasis on consumerism as we may think of it, a community can prosper and expand. I think it’s pretty great, but my grandfather in law is PO’d that the Amish bought up all the land he used to hunt on growing up.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          Part of their advantage is a self-contained socialism inherent to their lives. I used to run the office for a large firm in the Richmond area that sells high quality drop-in storage sheds, and my wife currently works for the same company.

          This firm initially started out by manufacturing their own sheds on site. That was rapidly replaced by having the sheds built by one of five firms in the Lancaster/York area, and trailering them south for sale. The quality was much better and the cost way lower that what the firm could do on its own. The latter most likely due to the firms being totally staffed by family members, so no doubt labor costs, HR record keeping, etc. is nowhere near what it would be in a ‘normal’ business.

          And don’t let that “undeveloped” moniker fool you. These groups are masters at edging around the restrictions they voluntary place on their societies. The best example in this business is that all building orders are faxed to the manufacturer. Said fax machine is located (and operated by someone) off the property and not a member of the community.

          The stuff is good. Just had the third one delivered to my site. That’s five between two houses over the past seventeen years.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            The Amish’s advantage is clear: they’re a low cost operation.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            My folks bought an Amish made shed/mini-cabin for their 7 acre hobby farm, fantastic craftsmanship for the price.

            And you’re right, they’ve adapted quite well to working around those restrictions.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Well, you know, when you live like a monk, it’s a low-overhead deal, y’know, so profit margins are higher.

            Then again, who wants to live with no A/C, no toilets, etc?

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            “The Amish’s advantage is clear: they’re a low cost operation.”

            The Amish advantage is based on their desire to live a modest communally self-sustaining life without the desire to amass more wealth than they need.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Low Cost? You wouldn’t know it if you buy Amish furniture.

      • 0 avatar
        Advance_92

        “I continue to maintain that our population has exceeded sustainability, unless a lot of people are willing to live like the Amish or Old West and give up the conveniences.”

        I don’t think it has to get that bad, but it would mean losing the jetski, side by side, ATV, bass boat, camper and giant 4×4 pickup used once in a blue moon to haul those ‘toys’ around.

      • 0 avatar
        brawnychicken333

        “I continue to maintain that our population has exceeded sustainability, unless a lot of people are willing to live like the Amish or Old West and give up the conveniences.”

        Based on what? Are there food shortages? Living space shortages? Shortages of anything, actually? Life is better for humans than it’s ever been. There is zero evidence to support your assertion.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          Not all humans. Extreme poverty isn’t unusual in this world. A quick search tells me that 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 per day. 1.3 billion live on less than $1.25 per day.

          The question is whether it’s possible to improve their lives without seeing a major decline in our own standard of living. The world does not appear to have the resources for everyone to live like we do.

          • 0 avatar
            brawnychicken333

            @rpn453-Sounds like a huge number. And it is. It is also dramatically less than ever before in human history. Here is an article from the Economist about it:

            http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578665-nearly-1-billion-people-have-been-taken-out-extreme-poverty-20-years-world-should-aim

            The World Bank also backs it up. We should continue as we are, in fact, we should do more of it. Economic growth has made the world a better place for almost every human on the planet. Other than North Korea and places involved in active civil wars, every country in the world has seen living standards improve.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Speed3,
      I’ve read many articles regarding the next phase in the industrial revolution. Job losses will occur from 25% to 60%.

      Its not just manufacturing jobs. Everything from law, accounting, journalism, tech, engineering, etc will undergo some rationalisation.

      Education, health and tourism are expected to increase.

      This has occurred in the past. When mass production took hold service jobs were created to fill the void. I do expect the same again.

      There will be many new jobs created that we don’t envisage. Look at careers and jobs now compared to 120 years ago. Most were never thought of.

      The problem is people don’t want change, they will be forced into it. I say embrace the change. Resisting will only cause more hardship.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      “Since we all know that the government isn’t going to solve this problem,”

      Look, I can’t vote Jamie Dimon out of office when he (hypothetically) decides to offshore 30% of the workforce. I can, however, vote my government representatives out of office. That we choose to abandon government as a tool is a choice, not a statement of the lack of effectiveness thereof. If government has so little power to change things, why is the investor class spending so much money on making sure it is run by people they like?

      It has been done before. Through the power of government, we ended child labor laws, improved safety in the workplace and made sure that Grandpa didn’t have to beg for food (for the most part). Government *can* be used to solve this problem, just as it can change tax laws to give wealthy people lower tax rates. It’s just a matter of will and desire.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        And I’ll just go political, Bunkie – it *********disgusts********** me when conservatives try to roll these protections back.

        And there’s no shortage of them who want to do just that. Here’s one example:

        https://thinkprogress.org/missouri-lawmaker-pushes-bill-rolling-back-child-labor-laws-d5c1c0b80bb8

        And voters didn’t toss this idiot out on her behind?
        UNBELIEVABLE.

        (Then again, this is Missouri, which went half for the Confederacy and half for the Union during the Civil War…and I do believe the Rebs won there, 160 years later.)

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          To be fair Thinkprogress is pushing quite an angle picturing a small kid in a factory implying that’s what people in MO are concerned about. It’s much more to do with farm hands working on either their parents’ farm, or the farm of a neighbor/friend. Regulating that is what the pushback is against. It’s almost a rite of passage to work on a farm when you’re a kid in a rural area, and a decent way to make a buck where there aren’t many other employment opportunities around. Same thing happened with an attempted regulation by the Obama administration on regulating farm stands with a clumsy blanket regulation.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @gtem:
            Then craft the legislation to apply *only* to kids working on the family farm (or the family business, etc.), and I see her point.

            But that’s not how the bill was written. In fact, the word “farm” isn’t even in it.

            http://www.senate.mo.gov/11info/BTS_Web/Summary.aspx?SessionType=R&SummaryID=4013861&BillID=4124271

            At best, this was just a poorly written bill. But it never got re-written. Therefore, it was just bad, stupid, dingbat “anti-regulation / big bad gummint can’t tell me what to do” thinking at its’ worst. And this idiot kept her job because she’s in a “safe” Republican district. I’d say that makes a good case for term limits, but that’s a discussion for another time.

          • 0 avatar
            Salzigtal

            It sounds like MO needs to get with the times and introduce The Family Farm Labor Enhancement Act of 2017. I think CA limited us kiddie workers to 2 hours on weekdays & 4 on Saturday. More, working for direct relatives.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          it takes a special kind of intellectual contortions to believe “the regulations worked, so we don’t need them anymore.”

      • 0 avatar
        cls12vg30

        On the other hand, a corporate CEO does not have legal authority to jail or kill you. Government “representatives” do.

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        Bunkie, “I can however, vote my government representatives out of office.”

        That’s just what Americans have done since 2008. 1,042 Democrats have been voted out of office on a state or federal level. I think the Democrat party has really lost it’s way over the last few decades. JFK would be considered a right winger today.

  • avatar
    thalter

    I agree. Take a look at industries that have already been decimated by automation. How many people did Blockbuster once employ, and how many does it take Netflix to deliver the same service – far less, I would wager.

    Yes, those jobs at Netflix are more skilled and higher paying, but there are far fewer of them, and not everyone is qualified to work at one.

    Truck driving and fast food are other industries that are set for large scale job displacements, and like coal mining, those jobs aren’t coming back.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      or the people who will point to one notable example like “What about this guy? he started out as a cashier at Meijer, now he’s CEO! Anybody can do that!”

      Yeah, no. Meijer has at least a couple thousand cashiers. they don’t need a couple thousand CEOs.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Good point, thalter, but I’d argue that automation didn’t do Blockbuster in – innovation and technology did. People liked Netflix’s convenience. And after a while, with streaming video, there wasn’t a real reason to have the discs mailed to you (or to go buy them at Target, for that matter).

      And you’re right about industries like fast food being set up for job losses. Look at what Panera’s doing – you can order your food for pickup on your phone, and even on kiosks in the restaurant, completely cutting out the cashier. And you know what? I love it. I’m a single dad who works two jobs, and it’s a Godsend for me to be able to just order dinner on my phone, and pick it up on my way home. It is unbelievably convenient – just like Netflix’s “mail me a disc” service was.

      In a sense, we have no one to “blame” but ourselves for this sort of thing. I mean, did people stage some kind of “save the Blockbuster clerk” way back when? No. They just stopped going there. The better mousetrap is pretty much a given. As you say, the only question is how to deal with the consequences of it.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        Blockbuster also couldn’t compete with $1 Redbox rentals. $1 per day from the machine, or $3.99 per day from the store? Their conundrum was that they couldn’t match the price and pay for a storefront lease, wages, and electricity. All a Redbox needs is a minimal amount of electricity and a wifi connection.

        No different were the advent of self-checkouts at the grocery stores. I remember the first time I saw one at a local Food Lion when they were a new thing. I always went to the staffed line. If one of the cashiers asked me why, I would even tell them it was so they could keep their job. Nowadays the self checkout is ubiquitous though, and I just use whatever lane is faster.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          A prime parallel example as to why I still indulge in the archaic habit of writing checks and mailing to pay bills. Yes, I know its faster and easier to just go on line and click a few keys. And each of my creditors is pushing like crazy for me to transfer my bill paying habits over.

          They also can’t wait until they can eliminate all sorts of jobs because nobody has to handle the paper anymore.

          I prefer to keep those people employed.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            Syke – I stuck with the cheque writing route for years until it got to the point where it was next to impossible to hand a cheque to a real live human being.
            I grew tired of the process and succumbed to direct debit. How many people actually pay cash for anything anymore?
            It is to the point now that the only time I set foot in a bank is to set up some sort of account, an investment plan or get a loan.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        Funny you mention fast food. Chick Fil A actually intentionally does not automate because they look at providing jobs as part of their duty to the community.

        I thought it was propaganda but go look at how many folks are working there versus other places. I was also shocked to learn they have like a 5 percent turnover rate…Shocking for the business they are in.

        Of course it costs more to eat there and they don’t really align with the so called pro labor left because, you know, Truett Cathy is a vocal Christian so boycott!

        • 0 avatar

          To be fair most people boycotted chik-fil-a because the company was donating millions a year to anti gay non profits, that and the founders son I believe said that gay marriage would bring the wrath of god down upon or nation.

          In 2012 they backed away from it and now sit in a middle ground trying not to offend their anti gay supporters as well as not trying to upset the left, which is a large market as they expand northward.

    • 0 avatar
      RobbieAZ

      Except that Netflix doesn’t deliver anywhere near the service Blockbuster did. That’s another problem with so-called advances. We often get worse service when the ‘new and improved’ technology takes over.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        You’re right, and people chose convenience over service, as people will usually do.

        Netflix was a better mousetrap. That’s why it succeeded. Free market in action.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        Netflix allows me access to a huge catalog of movies and shows, around-the-clock, from my living room, for under $10 a month.

        From my perspective, they provide significantly more service than Blockbuster.

        Apparently the buying public agrees with me, since Blockbuster is out of business and Netflix is almost ubiquitous.

        What service do you think Blockbuster provided that is lacking from Netflix? As far as I can tell they mostly offered service of going out in the rain, only to find that the movie I wanted has already been rented.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Blockbuster had faster access to new releases and offered video game rentals. It also offered seasonal films year round. I haven’t done an analysis but I’m guessing that the top 50 highest-grossing films of all time were available at nearly every BB location but aren’t available for Netflix streaming right now.

          The current popularity of Netflix seems to be related to its convenience and its TV and original series offerings rather than its film vareity.

          Now there are streaming services that cater more heavily to new releases or offer video games but to get the same selection as a BB you’d probably need 4 different sources.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            And then there was Redbox.

          • 0 avatar
            bunkie

            One difference is that video-rental stores were operating in a gray area with respect to copyright. By renting the physical media, they got around licensing requirements that Netflix must negotiate with copyright holders.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          I find that a lot of times, Netflix has a lot of stuff except what I want to watch. Lackluster Video at least had pretty much everything. Stuff disappears from Netflix all the time, so much that there’s more than one website to track it.

      • 0 avatar
        Salzigtal

        Hear, hear, the Netflix & IMDb “you might also like” suggestion algorithms appear to involve a dart-board & a drunken monkey. It can be entertaining wondering “what do these films have in common?” The best video clerks could always counter “seen that” with “try this”.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    If you’re (rightly) concerned about people being injured in manufacturing plants then you should support fewer rather than more people working in them.

    There are some risks to automation, but I’d wager that as the amount of factory automation has increased over the last 3 decades the injury rate has decreased. Does anybody contend that a automation-enhanced modern Toyota plant would be safer if all those jobs were done by people?

    Productivity per manufacturing worker is now so high that we can make vast amounts of high-quality stuff while employing comparatively few people. Those jobs are most certainly *not* coming back.

    Other industries are going to be similarly changed over the next decade or so.

    Productivity per worker is going way up, but the cost of an individual worker is staying static or even decreasing. This results in a lot of value being produced at an ever-lower cost.

    Q: Where is all that money going?

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      bikegoesbaa,
      You will find most injuries like the one in the article are caused by cultural expectations. That incident was unnecessary.

      It comes down to risk management and how hazards are managed.

      Systems must be in place with adequate training. This was obviously not in place or the workplace culture had an expectation for this to occur.

      Problems like this are common and we are fortunate that more incidents don’t occur. How many near misses occur and are not reported?

      Incidents like this should not be expected or tolerated.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      “Q: Where is all that money going?”

      To them as owns the means of production, of course.

    • 0 avatar
      brawnychicken333

      “Q: Where is all that money going?”

      1. Back to consumers through lower pricing and/or improved products/service, etc.

      2. Back to those who provided the capital.

      3. Being reinvested to further improve the efficiency/products/services.

      No nefarious plot here. Thank you, come again.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the issue is more the percentage flowing back to the capital providers. Liquid capital is fast becoming far more valuable then labor capital. At which point our economy will have some severe structural issues. It appears we are already in a modern day Engels’ pause, where productivity and capital rise but the living standard of the labor capital does not. All of which breeds an unhappy civilization which is not good for nobody.

      • 0 avatar
        Ar-Pharazon

        Brawny, you are quite a starry eyed idealist. I would guess that you work in the tech field and consider yourself something of a “new age god amongst men”. You are not suffering as technology displaces more and more people (yet) . . . so you think it’s just darn fine. Bring it on, you say!

        Wait until whatever it is that you do for a living is automated out of existence. Which will happen. Then the only people left will be those that already own the means of production. EVERYBODY else will be redundant.

        Do you deny that income inequality has been growing by leaps and bounds for the last several decades? MOST people in the world (and probably most in this country) are NOT really benefiting as they should from the progress we are making.

        What good is “lower prices for consumers” when, in order to get these lower prices, you eliminate a larger and larger percentage of the population from the base of consumers? Who benefits?

        The lucky few that are allowed to reap some of the benefits. The owners of production. The rich.

        Unless we do something to change our course, there will be the rich, and the starving masses. Because why should the rich pay to feed the masses? They don’t add value. They don’t even die for the rich in wars any more. Screw them.

        How is this NOT the future we are heading towards? Please explain. Really . . . what jobs can you envision that will be immune to replacement by technology? Please name a few that will help to feed the 7 billion people on the planet. Or the 350 million in the US.

        What?

        Nothing.

        We are engineering our own extinction. Perhaps not of the entire species . . . after all, the rich will survive. But the mass of humanity. They are becoming redundant, and we have zero plans on how to address this. Looks like the plans on those stones in Georgia will come to pass.

    • 0 avatar
      Salzigtal

      Do these factories have lock-out boxes? Nobody went inside our red lines without placing their padlock on the box. Nothing moved until the last guy came out and retrieved his lock. They still dropped stuff on each other, but gravity has less torque.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Whew…heavy topic this morning. Jack, I appreciate your dedication to seeing America continue to produce and manufacture. I’ve often said that a country that cannot produce for itself, soon becomes slave to those that can.
    Any road to recovery for production is one paved with many, many lanes. It isn’t as simple as just bringing back factories that left our shores. True, automation has (and will) continue to have an impact on the number of people required to produce, but our educational/training system relies too heavily on getting that college degree and occupying the corner office (as Mike Rowe would say, everybody wants to sit in the corner office, but nobody wants to build it). We’ve devalued the worth of positions that don’t come with degrees. Learning a trade and becoming skilled at it is dead and gone, and yet many of those jobs are left unfilled. Auto manufacturing may never be as labor-intensive as it once was, but our educational system is lacking in providing the skill set for folks to service, operate and program those pieces of equipment.

    I’m not 100% sure that tariffs are the answer, but I would dearly love to see America level the playing field with other countries (looking at China) where they hide behind protectionist policies in the name of being a second-tier economy. If we cannot openly invest and produce in a country without forming lopsided JVs, or if our products are heavily taxed, then we should be able to do the same (no more, no less) to imports coming into our country. Of course, folks will yell and scream because another (big) part of the issue is that Americans buy largely on price, so any increase in goods at the locally Wally-World would likely cause an uproar, even if those lower-priced goods means your friends, neighbors or family are out of work.

    The three pillars involved in any attempt at rebalancing the trade deficit (and in turn, building any meaningful increase in U.S. production) all have a part to play: government in how they regulate, companies in how they decide how much profit is enough, and the buying public who “vote” with every dollar they spend.

    I’m largely pro-American purchase (to the point of annoying family and friends), but I had a near-religious experience coming out of a deployment in Afghanistan and simply couldn’t see sending my dollars outside of our country. I want a country that those who are serving can be proud of, one that is strong (and not just militarily) and not beholden to other countries that are neither friend or ally. Is it campy and more than a little old-fashioned? Probably. But I’m okay with that. I look at tags and purchase as much as possible items made here. It isn’t always easy, and sometimes costs me a little more than a good produced elsewhere, but it is my vote, after all.

    Yes, I realize that many goods produced that I currently use are not made in America (and may never be again). But that doesn’t mean the bleeding has to continue and that a decent portion of production of certain goods can’t be brought back to our shores. Not everybody will be (or should be) a rocket scientist and there should be room at the table for those people who can build, produce and assemble.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      threer very well stated. I’m on the same wavelength as you in terms of inspecting everything I buy for where its made, and making at least some effort to seek out a made in USA option if one is available, sometimes that actually means buying used. Most recently it’s been a new shovel shovel, paint scraper, cooler, and rolling pin. I bought a pair of New Balances, unfortunately my particular size was made in Vietnam, the same exact shoe one size down was made in USA. I especially try to seek out American made replacement parts for my vehicles. At that point, it’s not just patriotism, but a matter of ensuring I’m getting a safe and well built thing. Have gotten burned on cheap generic Chinese parts in the past. I was raised on Japanese cars and frankly I still have more confidence in them than anything else, but they’ve made my decisions easier by producing a ton of their vehicles in the USA, with a very high proportion of components likewise made in USA. Tundra is neck and neck with the F150 for most American truck these days. GM and RAM are basically non-starters for me at this point for what they’re made out of/where they are made.

  • avatar
    redapple

    More jobs in the USA?
    Even the playing field. Now- China and Mexico have UNFAIR advantages.
    IE
    Govt Subsidized plants and tooling.
    Lower- much lower environmental standards.
    Govt reduced corporate taxes.
    Reduce the nonsense or make them play by the same rules.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      So, how did we come to where we are now? Did we have all the checks and balances in place?

      Its easy to sit high up on our thrones preaching. But it was us that has brought us to where we are now.

      Your comment is sort of like a rich person criticising some poor slob in ghettoes on “why are you not like me?”, if you are not like me I figure a way of leaving you there.

      We from the richer nations must lead and not punish. Reading most comments on how unfair it is, is based on fear with simple retribution as a response.

      All this driven by fear, with little thought on how to move forward.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) had some mechanisms to level the playing field between Chinese and American manufacturing.

      But, both Clinton and Trump ran against it, even though it looked like an improvement to me.

      But it was a complex beast, and it’s hard to explain a complex multi-facedeted deal (which is better than what we’ve got), during a campaign season where demagoguery ultimately carried the day. SMH.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Luke42 – I read an interview with a Canadian that was part of the original NAFTA negotiations. He did comment that he viewed TPP as a logical extension of NAFTA and did address some of the things that needed tweaking.
        Politically, TPP was killed to appease the huddled masses. It would have helped open Asia to North American business. It put China in the driver’s seat.

  • avatar
    redapple

    worst decision i ever made?
    Leaving GM and working at much smaller Tier 3 suppliers.
    Dont do it.
    They hate your competence and command of the field.

    • 0 avatar
      Charliej

      Why would anyone hate competence? When I ran a business, I hated incompetence. Competent people were promoted and paid commensurate to their competence. Competent people make running a business much easier. It is the incompetent ones who are a pain in the ass, until they are fired.

      • 0 avatar
        Salzigtal

        The vast majority of our Silicon Valley customers follow your model or disappear. I have seen 2 of the people redapple speaks of. 1. Mr. your competence threatens my job. Luckily, the people with their eyes on the $ marginalized him. 2. Mr. your competence makes me appear less competent. He had a 2 digit employee ID# and a 5 digit block of founders shares. Again, the people with their eyes on the $ worked around him. We even let him spell words the way he wanted in his press releases. One of the PR staff was livid, was given a little extra stock, yet still gave him the stink-eye & chin-flick every time he left a room.

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    As has been said, it’s not going to matter how much stuff is built here when robots build it. The robots can build products and make money for the CEOs and shareholders here or they can build products and make money for CEOs and shareholders overseas. The fact is, manufacturing jobs are on a decline and they aren’t “coming back” no matter what Mr. Trump says. Unless he signs an Executive Order banning robots, of course.

    I’ve even heard of some places around the world considering the idea of just levying a basic income for all citizens at some point in the future, since so many jobs just won’t be needed anymore. Kind of scary to think of, for me at least.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Will tariffs work to keep workers safe? I doubt it. That seems like a stretch to me.

    But I’ll tell you what will work: a federal government that actually holds employers who let their workers toil in unsafe conditions financially, and may be even criminally, responsible. President Trump (see, there, I said it, and even capitalized “President”) should direct OSHA to go after places who pull this kind of garbage with Onward-Christian-Soldiers zeal. Fund the agency appropriately and tell it to put the screws to scumbag employers like the one in that Bloomberg story.

    If this doesn’t happen, then you’ll see unions starting to become more powerful in the “new south.” I’d be shocked if that hasn’t already happened.

    • 0 avatar
      Malforus

      Absolutely, I see that Jack tagged OSHA in the post but didn’t mention them.

      The entire point of OSHA is to deal with this situation and its infantile to blame price pressures as an excuse not to have a safe work environment.

      I think the statistics speak for themselves and companies should wear it clearly. If you market your brand as friendly to workers with much fewer injuries the market will respond.

      Plus it falls into the voting with your wallet about the way people should be treated. People will pay a premium if you make the messaging about buying a product that is “Good”

      See also Subaru’s ability to court the gay market and promote environmentally friendly vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        gottacook

        I thought it was its Indiana factory, more than its cars, that Subaru was promoting as environmentally friendly:
        http://subaru-sia.wixsite.com/indiana/environment

  • avatar
    ajla

    Live hard and die quickly.

  • avatar
    turf3

    A few years ago the manufacturing-haters were all jumping on the “manufacturing isn’t important, it’s a new economy” bandwagon. Now they are all jumping on the “oh well, those jobs are really being lost to automation” bandwagon. I seriously doubt whether any of these people have ever worked in a manufacturing plant, or been involved in factory automation projects.

    It is true that jobs are lost when factory processes are automated. But what happens is very very different from when the whole factory is closed.

    1) Instead of losing hundreds or thousands of jobs at one fell swoop, jobs are lost a few or a few dozen at a time. Local economies can more easily absorb this than an entire factory closure. Even more so when the closed factory is a main employer in a small town.

    2) Most of the non-direct-labor work remains. Functions like cost accounting, HR, warehousing, quality control, manufacturing engineering, equipment and facilities maintenance, all remain, and in a few cases will actually require more people.

    3) Most of the other companies that support a large manufacturing plant will continue to supply what they supplied before a process was automated. Tool and die makers, industrial supplies, cutting tools, cutting fluids, small fasteners, electronic components, scrap haulage, hazmat disposal, etc., are all still required by a more-automated factory as by a less-automated factory. All of those functions are lost and done locally when the factory is closed and sent to Mexico or China.

    4) There are also factories that make the automated factory equipment. If you are working on automation of factory processes in a US factory, the automated equipment you buy will almost certainly come from either the US or another first world country whose trade agreements with the US are more fair than the ones we have with the third and second world countries. Furthermore, all the millwrights, electricians, etc., employed during the installation of such equipment will be locals.

    As far as I am concerned, anyone who cannot define what a tool and die maker does, has minimal standing to comment on what manufacturing consists of. I believe the media of popular culture, aided and abetted by the pointy heads at Sloan School and Harvard Business School plus some others, have created an image of manufacturing in the popular mind as something like a foundry circa 1900, while the majority of people who believe this and believe “manufacturing doesn’t matter” have never even been in a manufacturing facility.

    • 0 avatar
      Caboose

      That is insightful. The allied jobs that orbit even an increasingly robotized factory aren’t themselves lost. And once those allied jobs are taken into account, even a heavily robotized factory here provides a number of jobs that is significantly greater than zero; zero being the number of jobs retained when the whole factory moves out.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I don’t know why this is such a difficult concept for people. If jobs are really going away because of automation, why are there thousands of people employed directly at the Mexican factories. This doesn’t even take into account all the other jobs you mention.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    Yep – those jobs aren’t coming back.
    As someone who has covered the pharmaceutical industry for over 25 years for a B to B publication – the trend is to get people out of the process. People are dirty and lead to contaminated products. Automation is the answer.
    The jobs will come from the need to design, program, install and maintain robots.
    Granted the pharmaceutical industry is a small subset of the bigger manufacturing industry – but the days of people wearing hairnets and putting bottles of Advil in boxes is over.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Until we live in a world where ethics trumps (sic) greed, there will be those who will suffer.

    Trump’s proposed budget cuts the Department of Labor (Contains OSHA) by 21%.

    Do you think Trump and his ilk have ever shed a single tear over injured workers? Only if they lost a lawsuit.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      And conservatives wonder why unions still exist.

      It ain’t rocket science, boys.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        I was a steelworker (USWA) in the ’70’s at US Steel – every day the first 15 minutes of work was a safety meeting, where bosses would go over accident reports, and (occasionally) workers would bring up safety concerns.

        The adversarial relationship between union and management meant that the workers would face disciplinary action for safety violations (which a worker could appeal through the union), but it was certainly better than nothing – a worker could also refuse a task if they could demonstrate a company violation.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          What some conservatives don’t get is that unions are, in fact, a “market” reaction to employers that treat workers like garbage.

          • 0 avatar

            Sam Gompers, the father of the American labor movement, said that the biggest sin capital can commit against labor is to fail to turn a profit. The U.S. labor movement has been far more capitalist than its counterparts elsewhere.

            I’m a small L libertarian who thinks that based on 1st Amendment rights to freedom of association and the general right to contract that private sector labor unions are fine.

            You say that unions are a market solution. If that’s the case, public employees shouldn’t be able to form labor unions because it isn’t a market, which presumes choice and not a monopoly. Government by its nature is a monopoly. I can’t go to a different city hall.

            Civil service and labor unions don’t fit. That was the position of FDR. I wouldn’t object if President Trump overturned President Kennedy’s executive order allowing federal employees to organize.

            Public employee unions force the public to be on one side of the bargaining table.

            To quote the late, great Sonny Boy Williamson II, get yo’ hand out of my pocket ’cause nothing there belongs to you.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            “If that’s the case, public employees shouldn’t be able to form labor unions because it isn’t a market, which presumes choice and not a monopoly.”

            So, public employees can’t unionize even though it’s perfectly legal?

            I would say that the fourteenth amendment would prevent that…unless, of course, we want to argue that public employees are not ‘citizens.’ I’m sure that would be a fun rhetorical argument for any number of people, but it’s garbage from a legal standpoint.

            Whether public employee unions are a good thing or not is, of course, another question. But there’s no question they’re legal.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            On principle I agree with Ronnie. However in Canada the Supreme Court decided that the right to join a union is enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Automation is more of a threat to many of our jobs than other countries. Fair trade to one man is unfair to another and no amount of taxes or tariffs will ever change that.

    I’m too young to remember my home of Pittsburgh being a steel producing monster, it was in its decline during my youth in the 80’s.But I still see the after effects in a number of neighborhoods in which “The Mill” and its ancillary business provided a solid middle class living for generations. Many a man left school to provide for their family. Or they graduated and went to the mill to earn decent wage and eventually a pension. And lots of men died or were maimed doing that dangerous work. They used to shut down when someone fell into the molten steel, then they realized it wasn’t necessary.

    But to see places that fell apart when”The Mill” closed, they’d rather have that dangerous, hard work back. And the thousands of people who left when their job did, who provided the tax base. It’s the same story in any town when the biggest employer leaves. Or reduces force. The largest mill left in Pittsburgh employees 900 people. I’m sure there was a time when it was 900 people in just the production department per shift (possibly more). Rinse and repeat all over Pittsburgh for steel, Detroit for cars, textiles and furniture in the South.

    Automation is scary on many levels, but the job loss that could come from it is possibly the scariest thing of all (aside from AI killing us all)I see drones increasing in their sophistication and capability and wonder if I’ll see retirement as a pilot in 25 years. I wonder what my kids will do for a living. I like using automation and technology as a tool, but I’m still analog enough to need to be involved.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      I do remember Pittsburgh from the 50’s, and what Gov. Leader did to clean the place up. And, as I’m from Johnstown, I’ve seen what happens when a Pittsburgh-style collapse happens on a town that has less alternatives (and if anything, is guilty of deliberately accepting less alternatives) to fall back on.

      Pittsburgh has had enough success in the last two decades that they just spent the past week lecturing a bunch of Richmond councilmen, etc. on driving forward to growth even in the face of telling the voters to go to hell on developments that the voters didn’t want (starting with two stadiums). Johnstown’s just a shithole anymore, to that point that I have no desire to go home again.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Although diametrically opposed to Jack politically he is correct in most of his assumptions.

    A nation needs to ‘make’ things to ensure its economic prosperity.

    The best way to decrease crime, addiction, mental health issues and poverty is to provide full-time jobs to the ‘underclass’.

    What Jack has ignored is that the very people brought in to advise governments are the ones that benefit the most from ‘offshoring’ and ‘outsourcing’. Bankers, brokers and corporate Board members. Corporations currently have more cash available and are making bigger profits than anytime in recent history because they have offshored or outsourced production.

    To use an old truism: ‘Capital (money) has no loyalty’ and of course “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” – Lenin. Which is even truer today than when he said it.

  • avatar
    Adam_

    Excellent Article. My connection was my Dad was the General Practitioner (Phyician) in the Councel Estate (Husing Project) in Halewood, where Ford made the Harry Potter style Ford Anglia and later the Escort. The local pharmacist, an ace guy named Mo prescribed three things (in no particular order because no one could read my Dad’s nor indeed my handwriting. Benzo-diazapenes, Propoxyphene (co-proxamol) and contraceptives. It was a hole. It emplyed 12,000. Today it’s owned by Tata, makes Jags and Disco’s and employs 2,000 without 5% of the social pollution it caused back in the 60’s and 70’s. Car production is a political magnet, it looks good to be seen with but in reality policy maker in mature post-industrial economies would rather they buggered off and went to all those places that previous posters have mentioned. The supply chain is hollowed out so whilst you assemble them in the USA are you makeing them there? I have no smart solutions but the days of auto’s being an employment sponge and a trade deficit killer are over.

    This is on youtube. Humain. Trop Humain. The best depiction of how it was along with Blue Collar. In France of all places. Citroen. It would be Citroen!

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071635/

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    An important fact that people often forget:

    -The purpose of manufacturing is absolutely not to provide jobs.

    The purpose of manufacturing is to create tangible valuable things that can then be sold for a profit.

    The fact that it employs people is just a side effect, and an undesirable one from the point of view of an employer.

    I’d rather see money spent on training people to do valuable things or even providing a guaranteed minimum income than spend it to create arbitrary non-valuable manufacturing employment just so we can crow about “putting people back to work in factories”.

    Make-work factory jobs are no different than paying people to dig holes and then fill them in again.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      “-The purpose of manufacturing is absolutely not to provide jobs.”

      This is absolutely true. But it must be said that the following is also true:

      A job provides the means to buy manufactured goods and, thereby, create a market.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        @Bunkie, you reminded me of why Henry Ford started paying the then princely sum of $5 per day in his plants.

        1. To reduce turnover rates.
        2. So that workers could afford the products that they were manufacturing.

        • 0 avatar
          sco

          Ah but its so much more complicated these days. How about a company like Twitter, worth $10B but needs only 300 employees to make a free product used by 300 million people? And yeah I know its not manufacturing but this is where we’re headed. Why invest millions in a factory to become Ford Motor Company when you can be nearly as profitable making no tangible product?

          • 0 avatar
            gottacook

            “Why invest millions in a factory to become Ford Motor Company when you can be nearly as profitable making no tangible product?”

            Twitter has NOT turned a profit, despite its supposed high valuation.

          • 0 avatar
            Salzigtal

            Twitter is worth 10B in the eyes of investors. Have they collected the $ yet?

        • 0 avatar

          Why would Henry Ford care if his workers could afford Model Ts or not? He had about 14,000 employees then and was already selling many times that number of cars. Henry was about productivity.

          The idea that you can help your business by paying your employees to buy your products is not a sound business plan. It’s like moving money from your left pocket to your right, while deducting expenses.

          Your first point is why Ford started paying $5/day. He was having to hire something like 45,000 people a year just to keep 14,000 on the job. Working in one of Ford’s factories was not fun.

          If your business model is based on productivity, you can’t have that kind of turnover.

    • 0 avatar
      Ar-Pharazon

      baa, that is a very narrow perspective. The perspective of the owner of the factory. We have brainwashed ourselves over the past few hundred years to the point that we actually believe this. Humanity exists for the purpose of enriching the lucky few who happen to have collected an entirely artificial commodity we created called “money”.

      I call BS. Put yourself in a Twilight Zone situation . . . everybody is dead, except for the owner of the factory. And the factory is automated. It produces widgets at a breathtaking pace.

      So what? Does that benefit the owner, the sole surviving member of humanity? I say “not much”. He’ll be a lonely, miserable entity. And possibly starving (if the widgets his factory produces are not delicious morsels).

      A factory is a small part of society, and the goal of society should be more then enriching a small, small percentage of it’s members. Perhaps it’s goal should be more like maximizing the good of a lot of it’s members.

      We need some darn balance. I’m not advocating socialism or communism, but to honestly say that the only purpose or value of anything is to make money for the lucky person who owns it is just . . . wrong.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I believe he was just stating fact, versus making a value judgment.

        • 0 avatar
          bikegoesbaa

          That’s correct.

          I’m not saying that this is a desirable situation, just that it *is* the situation as society is currently constructed.

          Therefore, any expectation that a significant number of decision-makers will employ unneeded people just so those people can have a job is unlikely to be realized.

          If you want to employ people and/or provide paychecks for them manufacturing plants are not actually a good way to do that. That’s not what they’re *for*. Wrong tool for the job.

    • 0 avatar
      Salzigtal

      Gramps wasn’t all that fond of HF. (Henry) “Ford’s policy proved, however, that paying people more would enable Ford workers to afford the cars they were producing and be good for the local economy.”

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I can empathise with Jack’s niave view of the world. I can also respect that he wants jobs in the USA building vehicles.

    He must face reality. For a guy who always spruiks how smart and great he is he is simple as his opinion piece here illustrates.

    But there is more to this than his simplistic right wing reck neck views.

    First. The US and Australia have no inherent right or monopoly in manufacturing. Excuses like “we want fair trade” are cop outs, as Australia and the US didn’t get to where we are by being fair. People who state we want fair trade are saying we want trade geared to our advantage.

    The Aussie guy, Ben who wants his LS3 Commodore must be realistic. A country with 25 million is not a large enough market for the Commodore. As an example the last Falcons made were subsidised $7 000 each. Who the fnck thinks an industry is worth that much?

    The US subsidises each car made to the tune of over $3 000 each. This is ridiculous. This money can be better spent elsewhere in the economy.

    To the economic Luddites like Jack Baruth …. the world is changing, change or be left behind. Several hundred years ago the textile industry was “high tech” with the Scots leading the way. Imagine if the Scots said “its not fair” regarding the demise of the textile industry? They would have the same standard of living as a Central American Tee Shirt manufacturing nation.

    I don’t understand why the US views developing nations like China and Mexico as a threat. In auto manufacturing the Germans, Japanese, French, etc are.

    If you want to compete with lesser developed nations expect your standard of living to become closer to theirs.

    Let the market sort itself out with no interference. The sh!t will sink and the cream will rise. So the vehicles made in the US will be profitable. The market is big enough. Less vehicles might be made, but the profits greater.

  • avatar
    Wardotron

    The byline about robots is a red herring. This article is about labour, and the comparative costs of manufacturing in the first world versus emerging economies.

    Goods manufactured in America are subject to taxes (both directly and on materials and labour) that mitigate the societal or ecological consequences of manufacturing those goods. These are your Clean Air Acts, your Superfund sites, your welfare benefits, your health and safety legislation, your insurance that pays out when you lose an arm in a press.

    The reason imported goods are so cheap by comparison is that the mitigation of those societal and ecological impacts is not reflected in their cost. We import cheap goods, but export the hidden price of those goods. In emerging economies industrial by-products are disposed of haphazardly, leading to endemic pollution. No credence is paid to the environment or supply chain sustainability. Working conditions are terrible and compensation for workplace accidents is poor to non-existent.

    Free trade is all well and good, but only if everyone is held to the same standard. First world businesses use this inequality to cry foul and demand a race to the bottom: less red tape, lower wages, decreased security for employees. In reality this suits their profitability far more than it suits their employees.

    An alternative solution is to demand that imported goods be subject to the same environmental and welfare standards as locally manufactured goods. This might not suit anyone in the short term, driving up the cost of imported goods, but it will serve to protect domestic manufacturing. And in the long term, everyone will reap the dividend of improved working conditions and a higher standard of environmental stewardship.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    I worked in the front office of a Big 2 engine assembly plant about a decade ago. Regardless of your politics, the vast majority of the men and women of the UAW earned every penny working on the line. There was a fatality at the on-site casting plant when I was there that involved someone slipping and falling into a vat of molten iron. It was a pretty eye opening experience for a recent college grad.

    • 0 avatar
      Salzigtal

      Second that. The union painters who converted Agnews State Hospital into Sun Microsystems HQ (RIP – now Oracle) covered 5x more square footage in $28 / hour than the Home Depot parking lot crew did in $7 / hour for a neighbor.

  • avatar
    Sloomis

    I read the linked article and while we certainly need more manufacturing jobs in this country, it’s utterly shameful we’re allowing Americans to be exploited like this. We should not aspire to be a 3rd-world country. My 16-year-old son makes several dollars an hour more working retail in a strip mall than these people are making in dangerous industrial roles.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    That article is full of bullsh1t. I sincerely doubt a maintenance tech would not know how to lock out a robot. I also sincerely doubt those employees were not trained.

    What the authors / Ajin and everyone else fail to mention is that the entire scenario was with people who likely didn’t care to understand the perils of their job. Nor were they mentally prepared to deal with blood and death. My employer does a damned good job at scaring the sh1t out of young new hires. They also tend to only hire people who have experience and have likely seen workplace accidents. When accidents occur in my plant, you see an overwhelming response that safety has to clear people away because everyone wants to and knows how to help.

    Ben – what do you propose? To shove all these jobs onto underdeveloped countries with less safety regulations? Out of sight out of mind? Who gives a damn about an inferior people? THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE TELLING US BECAUSE THATS WHAT YOUR GOD D4MNED SOCIETY HAS INSTILLED INSIDE OF YOU.

    GIVE ME A GOD D4MNED BREAK.

    Who is going to make your consumerist sh1t? Robots can’t do everything. It’s too costly and the real world isn’t perfect. We now have collaborative robots… robots that ‘work together with human beans without safety cages because we all love each other and are harmonious and pick flowers in fields with robots together forever.” 6 axis monsters that would crush you to smitherines but have so many sensors around them that when you drive a f*cking fork lift next to it, it shuts down. You have to dig out an isolation pit and spend crazy money to get them to work in the environment we’re implementing them. HEY LETS SPEND ANOTHER 200K ON A ROBOT BECAUSE WE ARE ALL F*CKING STUPID. OR LETS JUST SHUT THE MOTHERF*CKER DOWN AND MOVE THAT OPERATION TO A COUNTRY THAT WE DON’T GIVE A F*CKING DAMN ABOUT BECAUSE THATS WHAT MOMMA WANTS ME TO DO.

    • 0 avatar
      Sloomis

      So your logic is “It doesn’t happen my plant, therefore it doesn’t happen anywhere”?

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        I suppose Ben and your logic is, if it doesn’t happen in my country, it doesn’t happen anywhere.

        You want the jobs to be in a more regulated country. I know bad sh1t happens. It even happens in my plant. I’m saying that the article is painting a picture that is full of sh1t. There was a set of unfortunate circumstance that led to an accident.

        • 0 avatar
          Sloomis

          No, I want jobs in this country with worker protections that are followed and enforced. This is America, we can do it, we’re better than a third-world country.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            I’m guessing the protections were in place. The unauthorized employee likely bypassed them.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Likely true, tres, but workers have a funny way of not following the rules when they’re under pressure to perform or else, and that’s true in an office or a factor.

            The difference is that in an office, you generally don’t get skewered like one of Ajax’s goons in “Deadpool” by a robot manufacturing machine, y’know?

          • 0 avatar
            mikey

            Where I worked everybody was trained in proper “lock out” procedures . Tres is right the tradesman do.get more intensive training . Every human being in the plant is issued a lock with your photo embossed.

            I have personally witnessed hourly, and salary people disciplined for failing to follow lock out procedures.

            Unfortunately I’ve also witnessed tragic injuries. In every case it can be traced back to human error.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      I think his logic is most workplace accidents are preventable with the right training and procedures. That costs money and brain cells, things that are a scarce commodity.

      We had a work event where it was strongly suggested we read ‘The Power of Habit,’ which opens with Paul O’Neil’s tenure at Alcoa and his #1 goal of reducing workplace accidents. He succeed.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-duhigg/the-power-of-habit_b_1304550.html

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Admittedly, tres, I have no experience in manufacturing, but it seems to me that if workplace protections had any teeth, and proper training would have been in place, it wouldn’t be necessary to scare the crap out of new hires. I doubt that poor woman would have been skewered if she’d been properly trained. And if she knew she would not face any job-related consequences for lost production due to technical failures, she’d have just waited for someone to come fix the robot in the first place. But she obviously under pressure to continue to produce, and had no training on how to fix the robot.

      Either way, what happened was on the employer.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        You can’t take personal responsibility away from the employee. She was not authorized to go beyond a safety gate. The article doesn’t indicate if the proper interlocks were present or even working. It doesn’t state if she bypassed them either. There is a lot not mentioned.

        The maintenance guy ran off as he/she couldn’t handle it.

        You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.

        Also, it seems that culture had something to do with her sense of urgency that caused her to do something incredibly stupid.

        She wasn’t trained as she was not supposed to be in that cell with the robot. Every employee on my site gets the lock out / tag out / de-energizing training, but unless they’re working in skilled trades – they only receive that training once. They may receive periodic refreshers but it isn’t often nor is it required as their job duties are clearly defined.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I wouldn’t disagree with you, tres, but in this case, I’d put the lion’s share of the blame on the employer.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            I’ll say company culture may have been a factor but I just don’t see that it was their ‘lion’s share’ of fault. The article even stated that the employees want to go home after they hit their number. The operator was brazen enough to bypass safety regulations so that she could go home early.

            Well, she did go home early. In a f*cking ambulance.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            The Law of Unintended Consequences. Which is why compensation programs are so important.

            Pay stockbrokers per transaction and they churn their customers’ accounts.

            Pay workers by the piece and they tend to disregard quality and safety and material costs.

            In Ontario the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that employers provide ‘competent’ supervision with a legal responsibility to train workers in potential hazards and enforce safety rules.

            All part of corporate culture.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            I almost hate to say it, but a UAW shop has such a strict separation of responsibilities that this wouldn’t have happened in a union shop.

            Line went down? Get maintenance on it. By god if anyone else touches that cell, you’ll get written up.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      BEFORE ANY OF YOU RESPOND TO THIS COMMENT – F*CK THE NANNY STATE LITIGIOUS SOCIETY, MAN. DAT SH1T IS ‘SPENSIVE. JUST OUTSOURCE THE MOTHERF*CKER SO WE CAN FEEL WARM AND SAFE AWAY FROM THE EVIL ROBOTS

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        F*ckin’-A, man.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Having been employed in the profession of occupational health & safety for a decade, including by our government, I can argue that most industrial safety incidents (please do not refer to them as accidents) result from a form of human error.

          To make a workplace safer, a culture of safety must be inculcated into not just the workers but also management.

          If management pushes to ‘cut corners’ then eventually the workers will rebel, either by leaving or by organizing.

          Unfortunately, the OSHA in the USA is considered to be underfunded and understaffed compared to Occupational Health and Safety Departments/Ministries/Administrations in most other 1st world jurisdictions. It is also much more reactionary than pro-active, more often resorting to large fines and prosecutions, rather than pro-active inspections and investigations.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            Humans will always make mistakes and for seemingly innocuous reasons.

            Safety procedures, training and/or physical barriers are not foolproof.

            The common metaphor for safety measures is that of multiple slices of Swiss cheese. There will always be “holes” but the hope is that enough measures means none of the holes line up.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      tresmonos,

      I know a few people who work at the local Toyota Plant here. Are they trained on how to build engines? Yes. Are they trained on when a mistake is made or when something goes arwy? No.

      I work in software now, but I used to work for a large chain paint store. Corporate trained us on how to tint paint, match paint, and use the shakers. What they never taught us was what happend when a mistake was made in the process or there was an equipment failure and with how to deal with it. Luckily, through both experience and the experience with employees around me, I was trained how to react when there were certain situations. This was not the “corporate” training I received.

      One of the reasons why Corporations don’t train for “When crap hits the fan” is that it becomes an acknowledgement that a mistake can be made or there can be an equipment failure, and if there was training on what to do, then then they are liable. Sure, they train on PREVENTION, but that is very different than catastrophic FAILURE of the process.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Daniel J – I disagree. Risk management is part of a corporation’s responsibility. Liability is much worse if there are no processes in place for dealing with reporting unsafe conditions, dealing with “near misses” and dealing with errors and equipment or system failures.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Don’t forget that there were some jobs that were simply meant to be automated. One of my high school teachers had worked in a Huffy bike factory while in college. His job was to bring an impact wrench to the nut that held the front wheel on the bike and hit the trigger until factory torque spec was reached. The gun would jerk violently when it hit the preset torque limit.

    He said his wrist would be involuntarily jerking at the end of the shift.

    That is a job that was meant for a robot rather than giving a human carpal tunnel.

    • 0 avatar

      “That is a job that was meant for a robot rather than giving a human carpal tunnel.”

      I’d say that creates the potential for jobs that design and make ergonomic tools.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      Not familiar with assy plants, are you?

      That was a job to which a $200 torque arm should have been added, not a $100,000 robot.

      I have been specifying torque arms for powered torque wrenches in assembly operations since about 1988. They are a standard feature in the last several decades, although a lot of people still try to get by without them.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        Yes I’m familiar with assy plants . Absolutely a torque arm can be a PITA. Not nearly as painful as losing four front teeth. Wearing a partial plate then rest of your life , can also be a PITA.

  • avatar

    I worked at a DuPont facility for over 20 years. DuPont started out more than 200 years ago making gunpowder and the company practically invented industrial safety. They even sell safety consulting to other companies. I worked in a paint lab with lots of flammables and in fact they had a big piece of equipment that I used locked out when it was determined it was an explosion hazard. We’d been using it for a while but the company had periodic reviews of all equipment that had safety implications. In this case it was a large washer that we used to get paint residue out of steel cans and buckets prior to recycling the steel. Though it had blowout panels and everything was non-ferrous and grounded to avoid sparks, our safety engineers decided the atmosphere inside was explosive so we stopped using a very expensive, custom built machine.

    You could get fired at DuPont for a safety violation quicker than any other infraction. When bosses wanted to make trouble for subordinates, they’d accuse them of safety violations.

    Still, there was a fatality on our site. One of the buildings was an experimental molding lab, with one of the world’s largest injection molding presses, capable of producing parts as big as fenders. Nobody knew that under immense pressure the molds were flattening out and taking pressure off of the bolts holding them in. After many cycles the bolts walked themselves out of the holes and the husband of a coworker of mine was doing some service on a mold when it simply fell off the machine, crushing him.

    Stuff happens, even in companies that take safety seriously and conscientiously.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I don’t think this company in the article took safety seriously. If it had, then:

      1) It wouldn’t hold employees accountable for production in the face of technical or machine failures beyond their control, and

      2) The employee in question would have been trained to back off and let someone qualified fix the machine.

      It’s laudable that the company you worked for was safety-conscious, but the fact is that plenty of them aren’t.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Ronnie, Did the company have a written and documented maintenance program for the presses? This is a requirement under the Occupational Health and Safety regulations in the jurisdiction where I work.

      Plus a sign-off by a Professional Engineer prior to starting up any new or modified piece of machinery.

  • avatar

    It will be interesting to see how lawyers and government workers will use their entrenched power to prevent artificial intelligence from taking over their jobs. A study in the UK claimed that only 20% of government employees do work that requires actual human intelligence.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    You’re never going to meet Hoops McCann at the factory, though.

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    I’ll go against the tide and say switching to robots is smoke.
    There are only two types of workers, task complete and observation/correction. Task complete are cheaper while O/C cost more and most businesses are reluctant to pay them. Hence the case for consulting/contracting model noted in comments.

    While robots work in heavy capitalized industries, they are not cost competitive in small and medium size companies nor are they flexible enough to adapt to changing line requirements. I design, build, and install pack lines that make task complete workers more effective meaning a higher throughput rate per person. All without the use of a robot. The reason is every time I’ve quoted a robot, the ROI is greater than 3 to 1. When factoring robot, controls, programming, barriers and maintenance it doesn’t yield comparable throughput of a worker.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      YES! Someone who actually knows something about the use of robots in assembly operations!

      You don’t automate operations when paying someone is less expensive. The lower the volume and higher the mix, the harder it is to show ROI on automation. (Incidentally, large sectors of manufactured goods are moving inexorably toward the low volume-high mix model.)

      That is why the Chinese factories are full of low-paid workers, not robots. If you were to charge a reasonable tariff, there would still be some of those operations that would be automated when they were done in the US; but a lot of them the ROI would not be there.

      • 0 avatar

        Adding new process and tools to a process is still basically automation. Your reducing the human component. Changing from manual torque tools to electronic torque tools, reduces time and QC issues I would consider that a form of automation.
        Low volume is slower to automate but I assume it will eventually. 3D printers for R and D are an example. CNC is another. I work with a lot of low volume manufacturing and it’s a slow change but automation is sneaking in. Things like loaders for raw materials that were un heard of in small job shops are becoming more common. For instance a local job shop we work with building aluminum parts recently installed a robotic welder, even thou they typically run quantities of under 100 units for a given part.

  • avatar

    I’m doing my part for American manufacturing by starting a factory in my dining room for building the Harmonicaster (I just received what I’m hoping are the last revisions to the production designs). I have a 3D printer I bought from Jo Prusa and I’m building at least one clone of it. I also have a cheap Chinese 2.5 watt diode based laser engraver/cutter I bought as a kit for less then $200. There’s no way that the laser meets any occupational safety standards at all so I might no be able to let an employee use it. Interestingly, I checked the OSHA rules on lasers and I was surprised (or maybe not) to find that there were very few technical rules in terms of safety equipment, but a lot of requirements for signage and employee training.

    The laser is low powered but it can certainly blind and if it can burn wood or metal it will do a number on your fingers.

    I was watching my five year old grandson last week and decided to engrave a wooden plaque for his bedroom door. Actually it was about teaching him about tool safety. Aryeh is bright and inquisitive and likes to touch stuff. The first thing we did was trim the wood to size with my radial arm saw. While Aryeh stood safely at a distance I cut the wood, but the first thing I told him was the first thing my father taught me about power saws, “This can cut your hand off before you know it.” I let him start the laser, but not before telling him to put on his safety goggles.

    Life is about risk and reward. You think there weren’t fatalities on farms in the pre-industrial age?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      In the pre industrial age we also had Torquemada.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        @FreedMike – now Mel Brook’s musical number from History of the World Part 1 is in my head – “can’t Torquemada anything”

      • 0 avatar

        As a student of Jewish history I’m well aware of the shortcomings of the political structures of the pre-industrial age but human nature hasn’t changed in thousands of years. You think the antifas and campus crybabies are any less totalitarian than Torquemada? The Inquistion at least recognized the limits to its jurisdiction.

        Like Sly Stone said, if it was good in the past it’s still good.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          “You think the antifas and campus crybabies are any less totalitarian than Torquemada?”

          I could say, “absolutely,” but what’s the point? You’re on some kind of “anyone who’s a political dingbat I disagree with is worse than Torquemada” trip – pretty amazing given that you’re a student of Jewish history, but it’d be equally amazing for someone to just Google the guy and come to a similar conclusion – so we’ll just part friends on this one. You do you, know what I mean?

          And sorry, but I don’t see how you compare teaching one child, one-on-one, how to use tools to making sure a factory with thousands of workers is a safe work environment.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      “The first thing we did was trim the wood to size with my radial arm saw.”

      I love my using power tools (cabinet saw, 14″ bandsaw, jointer, planer, etc.). But a radial arm saw is an accident waiting to happen. If you try a rip operation with it you don’t even have to wait very long.

      • 0 avatar

        I have always wanted one. I worked in a few shops that had one. They are very versatile, but not great for safety. I worked with one guy who used to use one with a aluminum cutting blade for fabricating things out of aluminum angle and sheet. That made some awful noises.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve always wanted a band saw. I learned how to use one in the woodshop in the basement of the JCC on Curtis and Meyers. The JCC is also where my brother, who fixes industrial machinery for a living, and I first learned about electronic theory at their ham radio club.

        I doubt very much there are any Jewish Community Centers that have woodshops and radio clubs for kids anymore. Jared and Jennifer are too busy with their afterschool activities.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    #WeWillPrevail

    youtube.com/watch?v=hzrWANNrNvs

  • avatar
    dwford

    The bottom line is that we need to increase manufacturing in the US to decrease the outflow of our dollars to other countries. A country can only sustain $500b trade deficits for so long before it is broke.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Fun fact: The bottom line is that the manufacturing output of the US is greater now than at any point in history.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        In terms of dollars!

        The numbers (both present and historic) are right there on the on the St Louis Fed’s website.

        It’s manufacturing jobs that are in the toilet. The manufacturing sector is doing just fine, without fewer and fewer workers every year.

        This is one of the many reasons why Trump’s ranting rings hollow.

        • 0 avatar
          bikegoesbaa

          Yes, of course in terms of dollars. The purpose of manufacturing is to create value. Dollars are a unit of value.

          What other metric would make sense? Tonnage?

  • avatar
    Caboose

    Two things.

    First, I blame Nixon. He opened China and in so doing opened the door for American firms to bail for cheap overseas labor. Sure, the Foxconn jobs don’t pay much, but they pay more than zero, which is what we now have from e.g.- iPhone manufacturing.

    Second, and RE: Guaranteed Minimum Income. The notion of a guaranteed basic income (or whatever we want to call it) does hold more appeal for me if done in lieu of all other welfare. We wouldn’t need food stamps and unemployment insurance if we were under a guaranteed minimum income scheme. We wouldn’t need Social Security retirement, either. Eliminating those bureaucracies in favor of a (hey! largely automated) system of regular paychecks to everyone would radically streamline the federal government.

    But I don’t see how we get away from the fact that there are, both nationally and globally, too many people chasing too few jobs/too little work. It’s not hard to envision a tipping point in the not-too-distant future where there will simply not be enough money being paid into federal coffers to pay out the guaranteed basic income.

    So the twin forces of globalization and automation aren’t just hollowing out the middle class of workers, they are also hollowing out the government’s ability to do its job by hollowing out the income tax base. The only ones with any money anymore are the corporations and, if you tax them, they’ll simply leave.

    Obviously, the only solution is a global conflagration that eliminates 90% of the world’s population.

    • 0 avatar
      3XC

      If it wasn’t China it would just be someplace else. Malaysia, India, wherever. China was the lucky recipient of a massive influx of capital around the time their periodic political instability was simmering down.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Aren’t jobs starting to leave China too? I’ve head that they are going to even lower wage, lower regulation places.

        Race to the bottom.

        • 0 avatar
          Caboose

          That’s the dirty secret: free trade = race to the bottom. And the biggest leading indicator of the race to the bottom of global wages is the race to the bottom in monetary policy. In the ’80s, Reagan campaigned saying he would, “make the dollar as good as gold again” (in reference to the Carter-era stagflation). Now, that would be suicide as the nation with the most valuable currency loses.

        • 0 avatar

          Yep they are headed to India and some back to mexico.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Only Nixon could go to China.

    • 0 avatar
      Salzigtal

      Thanks, IIRC POTUS XXXVII claimed that if each of the then 7 million Chinese bought 1 American product, there would be 2 cars in every pot and a chicken in every garage. I’m still fuzzy on the math of it. He never responded to the questions: where are they going to get the money? or, what parameters distinguish the good Chinese commies from the bad Cuban commies?

  • avatar
    Jason

    The fundamental problem comes down to this: as Americans, we want clean water, clean air, good schools, and safe workplaces, but we’re not willing to pay higher prices for products made under those conditions.

    • 0 avatar
      Caboose

      Au contraire! I am perfectly willing to pay the prices for those better- and more responsibly-made products. My employer, however, is unwilling to pay me a wage that would allow me to do so.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        that’s what everyone says as they amble their double-wide behinds down the aisles of Wal-Mart. “I *would* buy stuff made in the USA, but this is *so much cheaper.*” But, but, but.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Jack, thanks for the link to your hobby blog – I’ve bookmarked it.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Agreed, although the only really applicable/relevant item I saw so far were those Kirkland socks :p

      My mom always wistfully remembers walking to the Woolworths in downtown Ithaca when we first came to the US in ’92 (we had a rusty $750 Civic but still had a habit of walking everywhere) and being able to buy high quality made in USA 100% cotton Hanes t-shirts and underwear.

  • avatar
    DavesNotHere

    De-lurking to make an important point: Full employment is an official USG policy (one of the main reasons (supposedly) for creating the Fed), and Federal laws passed are supposed to support this policy. This has been lost in years of ‘free market’ bs, and lobbying to tilt the field heavily towards big business and capital. What has been lost is the compact between business and its workers; a stable workforce is essential to a stable economy, and the short-term rush to profit unencumbered by government has hollowed out the stable foundation.

  • avatar
    phila_DLJ

    “The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space…or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots!”

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Milk the blood to keep from running out.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Not sure why I’m even wading in here, as there will be a lot of very counterproductive ideas and I’m not going to try to debunk all of them.

    But things like tariffs and import bans are trying to push water uphill. They never work, and all they accomplish is to reduce living standards for the wealthier country while the same work still goes to the poorer country.

    The only way we are going to get out of this situation is to bring standards in poorer countries closer to our own. Yep, that’s really, really hard, especially if we want to do it without devastating our own economy. But it’s the only way that will work.

    How to do it? Free trade agreements with teeth, enforced. That is the only leverage we have to influence policy in developing countries. Right now, we think too much about the interests of multinationals and not nearly enough about policy when we’re drafting free trade agreements. We also are skittish about enforcing the good policy provisions we do put in, again to avoid offending multinationals. Tariffs are a good tool in just one situation: as an enforcement mechanism for these types of agreements. And if enforcement means Ford has to stop selling in Brazil until they clean up their own environmental policy, well, that’s why we need enforcement.

  • avatar
    Phil Ressler

    There are three answers to this, and none of them will be popular here. It also takes all three in concert. None alone will improve our situation.

    First, more unionization. A couple of centuries of corporate conduct have demonstrated that management, left to its own impulses will, consistently and more often than not, abuse labor. As long as labor is involved to any degree, it needs collective action on its behalf.

    Second, prudent government regulation. Hazardous work benefits from safety oversight. We have appropriate regulation in place, but the federal and state governments are under-enforcing them and when violations are found, penalties are too light. Managers simply factor in the wrist slaps as cost of doing business. This is true in bloodless industries like banking as well as in hazardous labor. Look at the fines imposed in the Bloomberg article — low six figures and in one case, ~$145K negotiated down to ~$100K. Ridiculous.

    Third, and this is the most difficult: Americans have to step back from our lowest-price culture. This requires us to re-acquire an older sense of communitarian conduct and thought that we had in much greater measure in the mid-20th century.

    The US has gotten accustomed to not paying the true cost of anything. That heaping basket of Chinese, Indian, Pakastani, Indonesian stuff you just bought at Walmart, Target, Macy’s or Best Buy? The environmental and social costs were left in someone else’s backyard. You’re not paying the true cost of energy in your gasoline purchases. Why is a German car cheaper in real terms shipped to the US than it is to a resident of Germany? Same in Japan. You’re not paying the real cost. We don’t pay the real cost of government either. The Right insists that taxes in the US are too high, but in a global context, they aren’t. We borrow the difference between the real cost of government and what we want to pay for it, the price of that concealed by us having the world’s reserve currency. That gig can be pulled.

    We *are* paying the real cost of our obsessive cheapness as consumers, in the form of mushrooming opioid addiction, persistent unemployment among the sub-college educated population. We *are* paying the real cost of our cheapness in the form of bad roads, old airports, truncated opportunity, erupting education cost, environmental damage and social dysfunction.

    The vote you make most often is each dollar you spend. Don’t buy a Mercedes, BMW, Kia, Toyota, Hyundai made in a non-union plant fed by non-union suppliers who perpetuate these working conditions. Buy a union plant product from another brand. Oh, that’s right, you’re gonna go all weepy because you don’t want the neighbors or your co-workers wondering why you have a Buick or Cadillac instead of a Mercedes. There’s the disease right there.

    Japanese and French particularly seem to understand more than we do that spending shapes societies. We used to be a progressive, reasonably communitarian, functioning country but now we’re cheap, tribal, politically superficial, governmentally dysfunctional, and willfully ceding of our individual and collective economic power to change our situation. We had the chance too *retain* much more of the manufacturing we had, but a combination of corporate greed and indifference, governmental loss of confidence in government, and a buying public that can’t see 30 seconds beyond any given purchase put us where we are now — pining for jobs that some portion of never should have left, and handwringing over lost wealth we never had to give up in the first place.

    I do remember when Pittsburgh was monster steelmaking town. I do remember when more people would check for “Made in USA” than not. I do remember when people would pay a little more to shop locally. I have been buying mostly American new cars for almost 40 years because I could and I knew it was economically vital to do so for Americans like my blue-collar Dad. I grew up in a small town with three shoe factories, now all gone but still buy shoes made in USA more often than not. I look for American-made whenever possible, even if the price is higher. I’m doing my part. I don’t see many others doing theirs.

    Not everyone has the same financial headroom. Some have none at all. But everyone has the ability to pay a little more for what they buy, but buy at least somewhat fewer things so the next consumer outlay is the same. WIth 330mm people, there are enough of us that the aggregate leverage of what relatively poor people do is still great, and the income-disparate top of the heap can and should be doing much more to voluntarily truncate excessive wealth concentration through combinations of their spending and investment “votes” and political support for appropriate load sharing to finance the culture and country we want.

    Politicians cannot alone fix what’s wrong with us, nor can they be trusted to. Neither can businesses and their leadership. Technology is now destroying jobs faster than societies and governments can cope with the displacement and replacement. The only thing that can possibly slow the pace is us.

    Phil

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Part of the problem on the corporate side, I think, goes to the hollowing-out of at least some attribution of values from a higher power. Treat people decently, pay a decent wage for an honest day’s work, and your company will do fine. But as the elements in this country try to take any semblance of religion, whatever, away, we’re left with no moral compass. Result: Corporations are going to go for every last dollar, workers and decency be damned.

    An example with which Jack might be familiar is happening right now at two locations in Columbus. OH: a Toledo-based agricultural/grain/rail-car interest called The Anderson’s, Inc., had a retail division which sold a wide variety of gourmet food products, baked goods, garden supplies, hardware, you-name it! Begun as a family business, they went public in the 1990s.

    They’ve done well over the years, with the retail arm a store where farmers could pick up groceries and whatnot, along with various other items, when they went to drop their harvest. They expanded too fast, and made some other weird mistakes, and after 2008’s recession, they started losing about $2 million/year. But the company pulls in $5 billion/year, which makes this loss a rounding error of sorts.

    And the stores had a cult following in Columbus, and were as much a piece of Toledo as Packo’s Hungarian hot dogs, made famous by Toledo native Jamie Farr, who played cross-dressing Max Klinger on M*A*S*H.

    However, last year, the CEO of agribusiness concern Cargill was hired by The Anderson’s as its first CEO from outside the family.

    With as much of a following as the retail stores had, even losing money, the “public face” of the company was that retail division! People got their first jobs at the stores, worked their way up, met their future spouses, etc. Good, honest folks, profiting from hard work! Young folk learning the value of good, honest work! The employees were one big family.

    However, the pursuit of the almighty buck, every last one, hit that retail division this past January 20th, when the news broke that the almost sixty-year run of The Anderson’s General Stores would be coming to an end. Beginning this week or next, they start liquidation!

    So now, we in the Toledo area are FORCED to go to a “big-box” hardware store like Lowes or Home Despot for a Chinese hammer that will shatter like glass with its third hit to a nail. We’ll be forced to buy the preservative-encrusted baked goods at Kroger, Meijer, or God help us, Wally-World!

    I’m as much of a capitalist as whoever, but if I’m running a company, I’m going to preserve a “public face” as much as possible, treat my people as I’d wish to be treated, and run lean and mean while protecting those people; they make me look good! Somewhere along the way, we lost that!

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      sgeffe – I do have to agree to a degree. The loss of “religion” and/or “attribution of values from a higher power” is an issue but both sides of the political spectrum are to blame for the degradation of religious influence.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      I can’t agree that “elements in this country” are trying to “take religion away.” People fall away from a religious upbringing all on their own, you know? And the idea that people without religious beliefs consequently “have no moral compass” contradicts reality; indeed, stories of people who profess such beliefs but behave monstrously are legion.

      Back to cars, dammit.

      • 0 avatar
        RobbieAZ

        “Don’t buy a Mercedes, BMW, Kia, Toyota, Hyundai made in a non-union plant fed by non-union suppliers who perpetuate these working conditions. Buy a union plant product from another brand. Oh, that’s right, you’re gonna go all weepy because you don’t want the neighbors or your co-workers wondering why you have a Buick or Cadillac instead of a Mercedes. There’s the disease right there.”

        The disease? It’s a disease to buy the product I want to buy just because it was not built by unionized labor? Wow.

        I have no use for unions and am certainly not about to base my purchasing decisions on whether or not something is built by unionized labor. In fact I’m happy that my Mercedes was built in Alabama.

        My wife is represented by a union and she’ll be the first one to tell you that it is useless. All they care about is how much money they can extort in union dies. They don’t follow their own regulations. Grievances go unfiled or the steward will only file if they have a direct stake in a solution. Crafts are routinely allowed to be crossed, putting jobs in danger of elimination. And to top it all off, they donate huge amounts of money to the Democratic party, a situation the employees have no say in. Thank God we live in a right to work state.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        gottacook – there is plenty of evidence that indicates “we” as a society are moving away from religion all on our own. Some argue that the “left’s” secularization is to blame and others blame religious “zealots” for alienating people.
        I do believe that part of the reason religion is waning is due to shifts in who holds power. I recall as a child and from what my parents had said; priests, Bishops etc. had more power and stature than politicians.
        Poor people who lived on farms for the most part did not have the financial or social means to send their children to college let alone grade school. Christian run schools and being groomed for the Seminary where a way to gain social status and get at least a few of your kids educated. Typical families were very large so it was a viable to encourage religious vocations.We currently only have a few children so sending one off to Seminary is less palatable.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “But as the elements in this country try to take any semblance of religion,”

      Religion doesn’t make people good. I’ve encountered numerous people who were all “God, Jesus, I’m saved!” who regularly let their ugly sides show through.

    • 0 avatar

      Sweet ! I thought I was the only person who called it the Despot. When I bought my house, we had a few local stores. Despot opened, with a great selection of decent stuff at good prices. It killed all the local stores, with one exception. Still, there were a lot of brands, variety

      FF 20 years. The variety is gone, quality of the stuff is much, much lower, and it is all lowest price to produce junk. You have to go to a pro jobber to get good stuff, and the local stores are gone. It has become Wal Mart of home goods.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    I suppose I should throw in my late-night $0.02 (or $0.015 after taxes) with “the most dangerous game,” farming. Every farmer and farm kid I know (myself included) has been injured to some degree doing something on the farm, but unlike even a generation ago, no one has been maimed or killed. My dad actually had a distant cousin/uncle who attended another cousin’s funeral in 1980 (the guy had a heart attack in the middle of town, broad daylight, as he was checking his timing belt or something) and then was gored to death by a bull later that same day.

    We have a hay accumulator and a bale grapple to do the absolute worst job on the farm, and can now put up 500 small bales of hay in 95-degree weather without feeling like death is imminent. We also just recently got autosteer, but we have so many contour fields that its usefulness is currently limited.

    This summer might (finally) be the first where I work in the field for which I studied , and not in the field in which I was brought up.

    I dunno if there’s any link between any of those thoughts.

    And oh yeah, this was actually a pretty good article. It’s possible (but difficult) to invite controversy yet exemplify good taste at the same time.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I have to agree that Jack did a wonderful job on this one. As we have seen with recent “opinion” pieces, the author sets the tone. This has been one of the most civil political discussions I’ve ever seen here.

  • avatar
    Salzigtal

    Edward Bernays would be proud of “subcontractors from “body shop” staffing firms”. My 1st Vacuum Tube Valley boss never missed an opportunity to answer their phone calls with “Sorry, we don’t need any temps right now and we don’t use pimps”. I fell off my drafting stool. A pre-internet ROFLMAO.


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