Blogs & Comment

Obama bans robots!

Ok, he didnt. At least not yet. But maybe he should.
The dustup on the Democratic campaign about which candidate really, really, really, really hates NAFTA (and which one just really, really hates it) has got me wondering when Lou Dobbs started writing speeches for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Granted, both candidates want to win Ohio today, and that demands proving blue-collar bona fides. (One might call this an exercise in nostalgia, but you could say the same thing about a process which determines a party leader based on polling of delegates who have been wooed for weeks [even in the electronic age] by stump speeches and town-hall meetings and whistlestop tours and kissing babiesie, the entire primary process is a nostalgic exercise.)
But this NAFTA-bashing is stupid stuff. For one thing, the Rust Belt was the Rust Belt long before free trade with Canada and Mexico came along. The major manufacturing centres of the US northeast started declining in the 1960s; when I was a kid in the 70s we were already talking about Cleveland and Buffalo as the epicentres of Rust Belt inactivity. (OK, maybe we didn’t say “epicentres.”) I attended an urban renewal conference in the early 90s (pre-NAFTA) talking about the new ruralization of inner-city Detroitparts of the core that had been abandoned by humanity, but were being reclaimed by trees and woodchucks and such. This decline is old hat, folks.
The more successful areas have moved beyond their manufacturing heritage and embraced the service and cultural industries. Pittsburgh is among them.
There are some really good ideas for reviving the economies of the former Rust Belt (and some just interesting ones, too.) But reopening NAFTA isnt one of them. If anything, the trouble with NAFTA is that it doesnt go far enough in making trade among Canada, the US and Mexico seamless.
But lets keep the insanity rolling for a minute. If a candidate really (really really really really) wanted to bring back manufacturing jobs in Ohio or elsewhere in the Northeast, heres how she/he could do it, at least if she/he wanted to address the real reasons those jobs disappeared:
1) You could invade the Southern states and force them to pay their workers the same wages and give them the same job security as unionized employees used to enjoy in the former Rust Belt. (Actually, since you want jobs to return to Ohio, youd have to force southerners to be more expensive.) 2) You could raise a trade wall against China, but also Indonesia, Haiti, India, Mexico and any other low-cost manufacturing bases you can think of. Wal-Mart shoppers wouldnt mind the rise in prices that would cause, would they? 3) You could demolish the robots that have been steadily putting workers out of work, and decree that they not be replaced. Might as well shut down MIT and other highfalutin centres of technocracy while youre at it, just for good measure.
Theres more a presidential candidate could promise, of course, but I like the idea of a simple, three-point plan, however insane. Beyond the fact that such measures would lead to civil war, price inflation and a new era of Luddism in American society, the only thing working against them is that they might be too complicated. Far simpler to just blame foreigners for all your troubles.
Blaming everybody else has the added benefit of letting you off the hook from developing smarter tax policies, better education systems and more flexible workforces.
In good ol Yank-bashin Canada, this is a political feint with which we are quite familiar.
Oh, well, at least John McCain likes us. Doesnt he?