Friday, September 16, 2016

Creative and Creating Classes Working Together

“On August 18, for the first time since 1999, the three stock market indices set record highs on the same day. If your retirement account is growing, elect Hillary to continue Obama’s legacy”
“For many people, America has never been better”, says Hillary Clinton. Society has never been more racially integrated. The Old Boy’s Club is losing power. More women than ever are in traditionally-male professions and occupations. Inner cities have never been cleaner or more prosperous. For those left out, it’s because you turned your back on higher education. It’s not Darwinism! Cheering on big business is a winner with the New Yorker-reading set (last check, the cover price is $8.99. Hardly radical). For fair-weather liberals seeking social approval with click-bait, big companies’ public relation moves on social issues is true progress. The nefarious element of overseas sweatshops and domestic stagnant wages, a centuries-old mainstay of big business, has fallen off the public consciousness. In any case, they’re making progress on social issues, so it’s okay. And what happened to the “Shop Local” campaign? Well, there are a few bigoted photographers and bakers out there who claim first-amendment protection for their bigotry. Better not risk supporting one.
“On August 18, for the first time since 1999, the three stock market indices set record highs on the same day. If your retirement account is growing, elect Hillary to continue Obama’s legacy”.
What difference does it make? My country is being humiliated overseas, and my income is declining. “Make America great again”. Restoring working-class prosperity is Donald Trump’s announced intention; Bernie Sanders hinted at this as well when he called for in-sourcing jobs from overseas. Trump’s America is a dark world of shortening life expectancy and increasing suicides. The working-class man, driven out to exurban and rural ghettos, is ashamed that he cannot provide for his family without community assistance. Bernie’s America is college educated and well-versed in the language of multiculturalism. They live at home, or receive parental subsistence for rent. There may be a faded Obama poster in the bedroom. They’re in dead-end jobs not related to their college major or career of choice. They’re living the nightmare of soul-crushing jobs the Port Huron Accords predicted half a century ago.  They wonder when they can move on into the post-collegiate life they’ve seen on TV; the lifestyle their teachers promised. 

Big business seems to be a force for social justice; and drive profits as scientifically-driven organizations with streamlined procedures and efficient logistics. But I don’t like the idea of treating people like numbers on a spreadsheet. I’m uncomfortable with companies that protect the bottom-line by using their staff as an on-call labor force with unpredictable schedules. I’m suspect of the intelligence of companies disposing their most senior employees, who happen to be the greatest repositories of knowledge, because they’re paid “too much”. They’ve scorched too much earth. In the last recession, forward-thinking employees who were laid off decided to go it alone- or work it out together. After the parent company of the Washington Blade paper collapsed, one employee reported in a news article, along the lines that “we were only unemployed a few hours that day, from the time we got the news until we realized that we’d continue the paper ourselves”.  Others adapted to the new economy by embracing the You Economy. 

Nearing retirement, one of my professors said that the Future of Work, the You Economy, is a big deal. He sent us an article by email and asked us about it in class.  The topic passed over our heads as we were headed into a domestic maritime industry of strong unions, protected trade, and significant regulatory barriers to entry for both labor and owners. Many would also get good union-sponsored pensions and health benefits strong enough that Richard Trumka, leader of the AFL-CIO, came out against the “Cadillac” Health Plan tax. “Sail Union, get married, retire at 50” appeared more than once in USMMA yearbooks- a middle-class dream right there.  

But what if the You Economy could resurrect the middle class? Entrepreneurs are building from the scrap heap of big business; use their techniques, such as outsourcing tasks to contractors, on a smaller scale to create new products and services. Just-in-time production allows innovators to order prototypes, using their own modest bank accounts as seed money without calling on angel investors. With hipster intrigue into the Maker movement, more leaders than ever are discovering the capabilities of American craftsmanship and manufacturing; knowledge and technical talent working tirelessly in nondescript companies with names like Ball Bearing and Rubber Products. The multigenerational creative class would likely not know that people other than gardeners and elevator mechanics still work with their hands. A few colleges, though, are known for their interface with industry. Stanford University, for example, is the brain of Silicon Valley. It caters to the tech industry, which is hip; and is nearby San Francisco, which is totally hip. I knew someone who won a Gates Scholarship and chose to attend Stanford instead of Harvard. But isn’t Harvard better ranked? Lehigh and Harvey Mudd, longtime interfaces of industrial-collegiate collaboration, aren’t located in the hippest cities; steel and oil are so old-school.  Ideas are created on paper- hence, creative class, and rendered into products by machinists, technicians, and operators utilizing workshops and factories in as much as the tech sector has coders. The same talent that creates the products can engineer their processes based on a living wage for workers. “For many people, America has never been better” for the creative class, those who’ve mastered the You Economy. “Make America great again” for the working class is an achievable goal.