by Paul Kashmann
I remember the first time I heard someone talking about “outsourcing,” in which American executives fire American workers and give their jobs to people in other countries who are willing to work for less.
My first thought was that the word itself sounded like soulless
corporate-speak – or “donkey dust” as my late father would have said. My
second thought was, “This cannot be a good thing.”
The explanation came from the suits on high that in order for
their companies to remain competitive in the world marketplace, they
couldn’t afford to pay the salaries that the American workforce demands.
The impression being put forth was, this was corporate CPR, breathing
life into businesses hovering on death’s doorstep. I doubted it then, I
doubt it now.
I found it fascinating that accompanying this critical slashing of
the workforce, there was no accompanying clear-cutting that took similar
dead aim at the positions and salaries of top-end executives.
I think it is clear that the near-total destruction of the American
manufacturing sector, and the recent cratering of our economy, indicates
outsourcing might have been a bullet in the head of the working class,
and not the silver bullet we were assured would cure our economic woes.
In the America of 2013 you have an equal chance of finding a “Made in
the U.S.A.” label at your local shopping mall as you do of finding
Jimmy Hoffa, the Lindbergh baby, or an open-minded congressman.
So, when I read a recent headline in the Wall Street Journal
entitled, “Daddy, Could You Tell Me What A Truck Driver Was?” I sensed
deja vu all over again. Nothing about that headline made me want to
dance and sing out, “Happy days are here again!”
The author, Dennis K. Berman, came out of the gate with guns blazing,
explaining that 5.7 million American truck drivers best hold onto their
steering wheels tightly, because their jobs (and the accompanying
salary, benefits and self esteem that go along with employment) are in
Apparently, there is a movement afoot to replace these
benefit-sucking humanoids – and God knows how many other truckers
worldwide – with (corporate speak alert!!) “autonomous” driverless robot
vehicles that can work longer hours, make fewer mistakes and require no
benefits or performance review, and when their work life is over, no
bon voyage party or gold watch.
One of the darlings of the commercial vehicle market, Caterpillar
Inc., will soon outfit an Australian mining company with 45 driverless,
240-ton mining vehicles to haul rock and other material without the need
to haul a driver along as well. While “autonomous” passenger vehicles
have been in development for years, the Australian project is among the
first major forays into the commercial realm. Does this make your chest
swell with pride as you marvel at this latest landmark in technological
achievement, or are you feeling that same dull ache in the pit of your
stomach that has me reaching for the Pepto-Bismol?
I am not a fan of change for the sake of change, and I’m not a fan of
profit being the driving factor in each and every decision related to
the latest conflict between man and machine. Economists will say that
increased production results in a stronger economy, and a stronger
economy benefits us all in the long run. Can you say, “trickle-down?”
My view is forget the long run. What’s happening today is that as the
economy gets stronger, the resultant profits are ending up in fewer and
A recent study by the non-profit Center for Budget and Policy
Priorities revealed that “the top 1 percent of Americans control 43
percent of the financial wealth, while the bottom 80 percent control
only 7 percent of the wealth. Further, the wealthiest 400 Americans have
the same combined wealth as the poorest half of Americans -- over 150
Somebody better call a plumber, because the trickle-down ain’t
trickling very well. We either have a clogged pipe, or someone is
hijacking the flow. Either way, something needs to change.
American ingenuity has done some marvelous things through the years.
There have been times when we, as a nation, have acted with a
compassionate heart, and done wonderful things here at home and around
the world. It’s time we break free of the urban myth that technology is
the key to our future, and that we should divert all educational and
occupational energy and resources in that direction.
Isn’t it curious that the recent decades in which the wealth has
begun to rise to the very top of the pyramid coincides with the rise of
the information age?
The key to our future is in reinvigorating and rebuilding our middle
class. We need to figure out how to make technology serve our best
interests. For too long now, it has been the other way around. The free
market system needs to serve the many, not just the few.
It doesn’t have to be black or white. If you want any worker in any
job to be more efficient and less mistake-prone, then give them some
tools that will assist in that effort. You don’t need to ignore
technological assets, just stop making them the only value in the
equation. That equation should have greater job opportunity on the far
end of the equal sign, not less.
This quote, attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller, referring to
German intellectuals who turned their back while Hitler ran amok through
Europe, certainly seems appropriate:
“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
“Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Don’t care that they’re coming for the truckers? Maybe you should.