November 29, 2005

Z.C. #6:

Labor's Lost Story (E. J. Dionne Jr., November 29, 2005, Washington Post)

Critics of globalization tell an additional story of how free trade is sending many of our best-paying blue-collar jobs offshore. There is also the decline of union membership, a chicken-and-egg tale, since private-sector unions historically were strongest in the older manufacturing industries such as steel and cars. The UAW's numbers tell the story: 1,619,000 members in 1970, 1,446,000 in 1980, 952,000 in 1990, 623,000 in 2004. Where have you gone, Walter Reuther?

The contrast between these two accounts explains why economic conservatives currently hold the upper hand in America's political debate. The conservatives have a single, coherent story and stick to it: Economic change is good for everyone, especially for consumers, who get better stuff at lower prices. The fact that "producer groups" (such as those unions) are losing their "monopolies" and their capacity for "rent seeking" is cheered as progress.

The left's narrative is less compelling not only because there is no single story but also because few on the left attack the current system with the same gusto the right brings to defending it. Gone, for good reason, is the time when significant parts of the left called for "government ownership of the means of production." Much of the left accepts a certain amount of creative destruction because, in Margaret Thatcher's famous phrase, there is no alternative.

But this muddle reflects a default on parts of the left and, especially, within the Democratic Party. Because so many Democrats fear that they might sound like -- God forbid! -- socialists, they are unwilling to challenge the right's core story

God does, of course, forbid socialism, but, more importantly from a political perspective, so do voters. Meanwhile, here's a simple question that Mr. Dionne could grapple with if he wants to understand economics: if they're "high-paying jobs" then how come we pay the foreign workers so little?

MORE (via Tom Corcoran):
Labor Pains: Detroit needs to play by market rules. (Henry Payne, 11/29/05, National Review)

Massive job cuts at General Motors, America's largest carmaker — coupled with the bankruptcy of Delphi, America's biggest autoparts maker — have provoked predictable handwringing from liberal pundits who worry that America is "losing its manufacturing base." But the wrenching change now buffeting the auto industry defies the usual press formulas. Just listen to Steve Miller a turnaround specialist who is steering Delphi's restructuring process. He exploded the myth of America's "endangered" union manufacturing jobs at his October press conference announcing Delphi's move into Chapter 11: "We cannot continue to pay $65 an hour for someone to cut the grass and remain competitive."

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 29, 2005 8:08 AM

To heck with reality for liberals like Dionne. It's all about the "narrative" and the Right's control of it.


Posted by: kevin whited at November 29, 2005 9:33 AM

They were only high paying jobs because the limits of technology, transportation and the lingering effects of World War II made the U.S. in effect a closed system for the better part of 25 years. Unless Dionne wants the U.S. to enact an economic version of Pat Buchannan's "Foretress America" or wants to send a bunch of UAW organizers to Asia, things aren't going back to the way they once were.

Posted by: John at November 29, 2005 10:15 AM

I suspect many UAW members would consider trading what they have now for what they could have at a Japanese or German plant in Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, or Mississippi.

And Dionne would cry a river.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 29, 2005 10:23 AM

-- Because so many Democrats fear that they might sound like -- God forbid! -- socialists, they are unwilling to challenge the right's core story---

Finally, truth-telling. To Thine Own Self Be True.


Econopundit has a mfg. job migration map if anyone is interested.

Posted by: Sandy P at November 29, 2005 10:41 AM

God forbids socialism? Where?

Posted by: Brandon at November 29, 2005 11:03 AM

In heaven.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 29, 2005 11:13 AM

The Democrats have the same problem here that they have with Iraq policy: there is only one politically viable policy, and the Republicans are already sitting on it. The Democrats are reduced to quibbling at the margins and trying to make it sound like an alternative.

So that covers foreign and economic policy.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at November 29, 2005 11:14 AM


Nope. It's simpler.

Posted by: oj at November 29, 2005 11:24 AM


Does that mean if I go to heaven I have to get a job?

Posted by: Brandon at November 29, 2005 11:25 AM


That's why it fails.

Posted by: oj at November 29, 2005 11:25 AM


It fails because God forbids it? Conversely, God only allows things that succeed? That's an odd theology to come from a Red Sox fan.

Posted by: Brandon at November 29, 2005 11:46 AM

Just traveled cross-country, via commercial air. No travel agent, no ticket clerks; just computer terminals. Just got back from the super market. Few check out clerks; many self checkout stations. I am guessing that most of those 'non clerks' represent union jobs.

Posted by: tgn at November 29, 2005 11:49 AM

"Does that mean if I go to heaven I have to get a job?"

Don't immanentize the eschaton! ;)

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at November 29, 2005 11:50 AM


Yes, things that aren't workable are not part of God's plan generally. However, it is the particular failing of socialism that it depends on treating people unequally, on the state taking on duties that rightly belong to society, and on the atomization of mankind.

Posted by: oj at November 29, 2005 11:55 AM

The Bible teaches that the business of heaven is worshipping God. Heaven is a job. Hollywood's conception of heaven as a sort of eternal fantasy dream state in movies like What Dreams May Come grossly distort Christian theology.

If you want to party-hardy in heaven, become a Muslim.

Posted by: Gideon at November 29, 2005 12:41 PM

Brandon: go ahead and immanentize your eschaton. In other words, get a job. Slacker.

Posted by: joe shropshire at November 29, 2005 1:55 PM

Hey, I have a job.

Which I'm not doing while I post comments.

Posted by: Brandon at November 29, 2005 2:51 PM


Now, if you worked under socialism, you might be able to post all day without fear. Unless, of course, Bros. Judd was banned by the government.

Me, I live in terror of the day that this site gets blocked by our server (which, incidentally, is now located in Paris!).

Posted by: ratbert at November 29, 2005 3:06 PM is your friend, ratbert.

Posted by: toe at November 29, 2005 3:30 PM

Gideon - A loving God does not want or need to be worshipped. Only the men (or women) that think they know what God wants need to be worshipped.

Posted by: BJW at November 29, 2005 4:04 PM

Only the Internet can bring us a new prophet every 20 minutes.

Posted by: David Cohen at November 29, 2005 5:15 PM

One thing that always amuses me about the left is the way they can see clear, irrefutable linkage between (say) SUVs and climate change, but fail to see the link between unionization and industries becoming sclerotic and uncompetitive.

Posted by: PapayaSF at November 29, 2005 5:58 PM

Oh, and the "Z.C. #6" headline reference totally flew over my head. Explanation, please?

Posted by: PapayaSF at November 29, 2005 5:59 PM

Zen Cohen.

Posted by: joe shropshire at November 29, 2005 6:34 PM