IS THE AMERICAN WORKER UNDER SEIGE?

A grim assessment of the American worker from the Manhattan Institute’s Oren Cass. He discusses the possible causes and potential solutions.

Aired on January 9, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> THE SHOCKING RESULTS OF THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION SEEMED TO HAVE AWAKEN AT LEAST SOME IN AMERICA'S RULING ELITE TO THE PROFOUND ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CRISES BLIGHTING MUCH OF THE NATION.

HOW DID IT COME TO THIS AND WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

IN HIS BOOK 'THE ONCE AND FUTURE WORKER, AUTHOR OREN CASS ARGUES THAT BAD PUBLIC POLICY SACRIFICED THE AMERICAN WORKER IN THE ENDLESS PURSUIT OF CONSUMPTION AND SETS A NOVEL SET OF FOCUS ON THE KIND OF WORK CAPABLE OF SUPPORTING STRONG FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES.

THANK YOU FOR JOINS US NOW.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US TODAY.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

MY INTRODUCTION DOESN'T DO JUSTICE TO YOUR BOOK.

WHAT IS THE FUNDAMENTAL ARGUMENT?

THE BOOK IS ABOUT WORK AT THE END OF THE DAY, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF WORK, NOT JUST INDIVIDUALS BUT TO THEIR FAMILIES AND COMMUNITY, AND TO THINKING ABOUT WHERE DOES WORK COME FROM.

I MEAN ULTIMATELY WORK OCCURS WITHIN THE LABOR MARKET, WHICH IS THIS SORT OF BORING SOUNDING ECONOMIC CONCEPT, BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY IT IS THE PART OF OUR ECONOMY THAT DETERMINES HOW MANY JOBS WE HAVE, WHERE ARE THEY.

WHAT DO THEY PAY.

WHAT DO THEY PAY.

AND THE POLICIES THAT WE CHOOSE HAVE HUGE INFLUENCE ON WHAT HAPPENS IN THE LABOR MARKET.

UNFORTUNATELY, REALLY GOING BACK TO THE 1960s WE HAVEN'T CHOSEN POLICIES THAT PAID ANY ATTENTION TO THE LABOR MARKET.

WE HAD AN IDEA AS LONG AS THE ECONOMIC PIE WAS GROWING, AS LONG AS EVERYBODY COULD CONSUME MORE WE ALL WOULD BE HAPPY.

IN A SENSE IT WORKED.

CONSUMPTION DOES KEEP GOING UP FOR EVERYBODY, BUT IF YOU DO IT IN A WAY THAT IGNORES THE LABOR MARKET, THAT DOESN'T PAY ATTENTION TO WHO IS WORKING AND WHETHER THEY CAN SUPPORT FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES, YOU CAN END UP WITH BOTH RISING CONSUMPTION AND STATEMENT REALLY BAD OUTCOMES FOR A LOT OF FOLKS IN SOCIETY.

I THINK THAT'S WHAT WE'RE SEEING.

AND YOU CALL THIS FOCUS ON CONSUMPTION ECONOMIC PIETIES, RIGHT?

UH-HUH.

YOU CALL WHAT YOU ARE PROPOSING PRODUCTIVE PLURALISM.

COULD YOU ELABORATE ON THIS A LITTLE BIT?

ECONOMIC PIETY COMES TO THE IDEA OF THE ECONOMIC PIE WHICH WE ARE ALL USED TO HEARING AT THIS POINT.

ALMOST EVERY PRESIDENT, DEMOCRAT, REPUBLICAN, HAS USED THE TERM.

'WALL STREET JOURNAL' AND 'THE NEW YORK TIMES' WILL EDITORIALIZE USING THE TERM.

WE SORT OF TAKE FOR GRANTED, OH, YEAH, IT IS LIKE IF THE ECONOMY IS THIS THING AND IF IT KEEPS GETTING BIGGER WE ALL GET A BIGGER SLICE AND THAT'S TERRIFIC.

TO STRETCH THE METAPHOR TOO FAR IT IGNORES WHO IS BAKING THE PIE.

AS LONG AS YOU GET A BIG ENOUGH SLICE, IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO IS BAKING THE PIE.

WE ALL WILL BE HAPPY.

THE IDEA IS TO SAY, HEY, A GROWING PIE IS HUGELY IMPORTANT.

RISING CONSUMPTION AND LIVING STANDARDS IS A GREAT THING BUT IT IS NOT THE END ALL, BE ALL.

THE CORE THING WE NEED TO FOCUS ON IS ABOUT PRODUCTION THAN CONSUMPTION.

YOU SAY THAT'S THE IDEA THAT CENTURY?

THAT'S RIGHT.

I THINK YOU SEE IT EMERGING REALLY IN THE 1960s.

THERE ARE A LOT OF INTERESTING ECONOMIC TRENDS THAT PUSHED US TO OUR OBSESSION WITH GDP, HOW WE MEASURE THINGS CULTURALLY WITH THE IDEA THAT EVERYONE IS AN INDIVIDUAL WHO IS TRYING TO MAKE THEMSELVES HAPPY AND IF WE HAVE MORE STUFF WE WILL BE HAPPIER.

FOR A LONG TIME THERE WAS A ROBUST SENSE OF WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO ACHIEVE AS A SOCIETY THAT WAS NOT JUST ABOUT CONSUMPTION.

IT WAS REALLY THE GREAT DEPRESSION I THINK AND THE SO-CALLED KENSIAN EFFORTS TO GET OUT OF THE DEPRESSION.

THE IDEA WE USE GOVERNMENT SPENDING TO SPUR THE ECONOMY.

WE STARTED SAYING LET'S MEASURE GDP, AND THAT'S WHAT WE MEASURE.

THE CRITICAL FACTOR IS WORLD WAR II WHICH CAME RIGHT AFTER.

WHEN YOU ARE IN A WORLD WAR, GDP, WHO CAN MAKE THE MOST STUFF THE FASTEST, THAT'S IMPORTANT.

THAT'S A GOOD WAY.

BUT HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THOSE WHO WOULD MAKE THE ARGUMENT AND HAVE MADE THE ARGUMENT THAT, LOOK, THIS SYSTEM, THE ECONOMIC PIETY, HAS CREATED SO MUCH WEALTH FOR THIS COUNTRY THAT EVEN THE POOREST AMONG US HAVE GOODS AND SERVICES THAT THE WEALTHIEST LESS THAN A CENTURY AGO COULD ONLY DREAM OF, AND IF YOU MONKEY AROUND WITH THAT, WITH THE GOAL OF EXPANDING THE BUY, YOU ARE JUST GOING TO MAKE EVERYONE POORER IN THE LONG RUN?

I THINK THERE ARE TWO THINGS I WOULD SAY.

ONE IS WE NEED TO BE CAREFUL HOW WE DEFINE WHETHER EVERYONE IS BETTER OFF.

THE FACT YOU CAN GET A BIGGER FLAT SCREEN TV THAN YOU USED TO BE ABLE TO GET IS NICE, BUT IF YOU ARE LIVING IN A COMMUNITY THAT IS SEEING THE JOBS DISAPPEAR, IF YOUR OWN KIDS HAVE LESS OPPORTUNITY, IF YOU SEE YOUR HEALTH AND THE HEALTH OF THOSE AROUND YOU DECLINING, THAT'S NOT CANCELLED OUT BY THE BIGGER TV.

YOU KNOW, WE'VE SEEN NOW REALLY GOING BACK SEVERAL DECADES IT TURNS OUT DECLINING HEALTH, FOR INSTANCE, PARTICULARLY AMONG LESS-EDUCATED PREDOMINANTLY WHITE AMERICANS.

DECLINING LIFE SPANS.

NATIONWIDE WE HAVE SEEN LIFE SPANS DECLINING THREE STRAIGHT YEARS.

TO GIVE YOU A SENSE OF HOW EXTRAORDINARY IT IS, THE LAST TIME IT HAPPENED WAS 100 YEARS AGO AND IT TOOK WORLD WAR I AND A GLOBAL FOOD PANDEMIC.

STATISTICS SAY IF YOU HAD A BETTER INCOME, SO WHY DON'T WE RISE THEM UP IN EDUCATION BY FREE COLLEGE FOR EXAMPLE OR BY REEDUCATING WORKERS THAT LOST THEIR INDUSTRY.

WE'RE NOT.

THAT TRADE-OFF YOU JUST DESCRIBED IS THE RIGHT ONE TO ASK ABOUT.

ARE WE GOING TO SAY, ALL RIGHT.

WE BETTER GEAR OUR ECONOMY AND SOCIETY TO THE PEOPLE WE HAVE OR DO WE NEED TO FIND A WAY TO GEAR THE PEOPLE WE HAVE TO THE IDEA OF ECONOMY IN SOCIETY.

IT IS NICE AND COMFORTING AND REQUIRES NO TRADE-OFFS FOR ANYBODY IF WE BELIEVE OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM COULD JUST TRANSFORM EVERYBODY INTO THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO ARE GETTING AHEAD.

THE REALITY IS WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO DO THAT AND NO EVIDENCE THAT WE CAN.

IF YOU LOOK AT THE K-12 SYSTEM, WE'VE ESSENTIALLY DOUBLED WHAT WE SPEND PER PUPIL OVER THE LAST 40 YEARS, TEST SCORES HAVEN'T MOVED.

IN YOU LOOK INTO HIGHER EDUCATION, CERTAINLY WE ARE PUSHING MORE PEOPLE IN, BUT THE SHARE ACTUALLY COMPLETING A BACHELORS IS NOT MOVING MUCH AT ALL.

IN FACT, MOST AMERICANS DON'T STILL EARN A COMMUNITY COLLEGE DEGREE.

EVEN THOSE WHO EARN A COLLEGE DEGREE DON'T END UP IN A JOB THAT REQUIRES A DEGREE.

WE ARE ALMOST OUT OF TIME.

YOU HAVE SO MANY POLICY PROPOSALS.

YOU BASICALLY JUST TOUCHED ODE INDICATION.

GIVE ME ANOTHER ONE THAT IS CRITICAL FOR US TO MOVE AWAY FROM THE ECONOMIC PIETY INTO WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT.

SURE.

I THINK WHEN WE TALK ABOUT TRADE AND IMMIGRATION AND THE WAY THAT WE APPROACH GLOBALIZATION WE HAVE TO LOOK AT IT WITH A MUCH MORE CRITICAL EYE.

I THINK IN THEORY GLOBALIZATION CAN BE A WONDERFUL FORCE, MORE TRADE, MORE IMMIGRATION CAN BE VERY GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY.

BUT IF YOU THINK IN TERMS OF WORKERS INSTEAD OF IN TERMS OF CONSUMERS, YOU REALIZE IT IS NOT AUTOMATICALLY A GOOD THING, THAT BALANCE ACTUALLY REALLY MATTERS.

IF WE'RE GOING TO DO MORE TRADE WITH OTHER COUNTRIES, WE NEED TO BE MAKING MORE THINGS FOR THE WORLD, NOT JUST HAVE THE WORLD MAKE MORE THINGS FOR US.

IF WE'RE GOING TO BE HAVING HIGH LEVELS OF IMMIGRATION, IT NEEDS TO BE THE KIND OF IMMIGRATION THAT COMES TO THE PARTS OF THE LABOR MARKET THAT HAS SHORTAGES OF WORKERS AND NOT -- IF WE BELIEVE ONE OF OUR BIG PROBLEMS IS RELATIVELY TOO MANY LESS SKILLED WORKERS IN THE LABOR MARKET, AN IMMIGRATION SYSTEM THAT ENCOURAGES MORE LESS-SKILLED WORKERS INTO THE LABOR MARKET IS PUSHING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION.

WE JUST SCRATCHED THE SURFACE OF WHAT YOU COVER IN YOUR BOOK.

IT IS A FASCINATING BOOK, 'THE ONCE AND FUTURE WORKER, A VISION FOR THE RENEWAL OF WORK IN AMERICA.'

WARREN, THANK YOU FOR JOINING ME.

THANK YOU.

IT WAS A GREAT CONVERSATION

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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