We Don’t Want Those Jobs Back

An interesting Op-Ed in USA Today by former Senate candidate Jeff Greene. He lists much of the conventional wisdom about how we create the jobs of the future in America. Note that just because I said that it’s conventional wisdom doesn’t mean that it’s likely to happen or that most people support it. That’s the sad thing about conventional wisdom these days. He states:

know that it’s tempting to avoid hard truths when you are a candidate. When I ran for the U.S. Senate in Florida, I often heard from people who were perplexed by the decline of certain industries. I’ll never forget the retiree with a heavy accent who said, “I worked in the garment center in New Yorkfor 45 years. How do we get those jobs back for our grandchildren?”

Struck by his sincerity, I delayed my departure for the next event to offer this gentleman a detailed response. “I don’t think we want those jobs back,” I told him. “If we do things right, our kids will be so well educated and innovative that they’ll have much better jobs than that. If we fail, our grandchildren will wind up working at sewing machines.”

More Americans should realize that success means that their children will probably be doing something better than they spent their life doing. Remember the famous John Adams quote:

“I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.”

Greene makes the usual arguments for investing in infrastructure and education, but he ends the piece in an interesting way. The future not belongs to whichever country can field the cheapest workforce, but to whichever country can design the best robots.

Because the technology revolution will continue, the future belongs to the country that fields the best teams of engineers and scientists. Their value can already be seen on factory floors where robots replace more workers every day. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a time when cheap labor will be less advantageous than today because machines work without wages.

Tomorrow’s best industrial jobs will be held by people who invent, create and operate the machines, whether they are nanotechnology devices for health care or massive welding stations in factories. Global competition could be a matter of “our robots” vs. “their robots.” Although this scenario might sound like science fiction, it is our inevitable future. Considering the quality of America’s best young minds, I have confidence in our side. We just need to give them what they need to win.

I agree.

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