Who Took Our Jibs?

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Only in this age of Drumpf and amidst the derisive mania masquerading as rationalization, sour taunting, and capitulation wrapping a lone petite poseur posing as a douche nozzle applied en masse somehow simultaneously touching about half their personal choicing pleasures, yes bigly is to the opposite of manly, using all appropriate discretion of course, we find ourselves dreaming of days of old. Remember 1979? Jobs flooded out of the rust belt already bent over under whip-inflation-now and certain stagnification in the mire of post-VietNam debt and blood and smack, The Deer Hunter was playing, Jon Voigt made eyes and then 3-Mile Island blew the fucj up. We were hiring, no doubt. $3.28/hour and you were lined up around the block. So this is for all you who placed second or worse in the popular plebicide. It is also for the worst of us, those that did not even show up. You’re fired!

 

Things improved as Reagan tax cuts squeezed by Texas neglect popped the Savings and Loan zit secreting stickiness passing for gray matter all over paradise, the biggest defense buildup since the big one and the reason our kids got through college debt-free. It all came with the bonus of fraud, waste and abuse, in ten minute increments, remember that, and of course keeping peace in the middle east with bribes of war planes and trades of drugs for guns in the conquest of another Central American revolution always in progress. Yes things improved even with the giant pop, they were murdered in the right wing parlance, and even as our marines got blown away in Lebanon. But Bermuda shorts were back along with plaids and all kinds of Ronnie wannas enrolled in business schools everywhere. Michael Milken was making theft good enough to bring home to punk the parents. Oh and unemployment, inflation, interest rates, and gas prices? Come on please, Republicans don’t ask these questions of Republicans.

 

Further improvement came in the blind Bush years, the first Bush, the puking one with a Quail in tow, such cute birds and really a lot smarter than the press knows. Visions fissions, at least the press conferences were explosive, more like a dainty fart, than some nasty gaseous hangover. Reagan was gone, hardly dead, his brain reduced still further to worms dancing electric to Nancy’s séances, hey Alzheimers has its moments, which brings us back to a Bush. The wall fell, a recession blew, and we blew our dividend. Sixty nine traded with eighty nine, even the Zodiac was lost. Peace ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and of course, it’s the economy stupid is pretty much where this all began.

 

Then we are on to blowjobs in the office, as we mourn the baby boom coming of age, with latent early angst regarding the biological dial. Remember those Bermuda shorts? Well who knows the effect of geometry on tight geographies? I mean theories abound. And I’m pretty sure the interns invested heavily in the Bermudas and all that plaid which explains how they sneaked past the Bush and into Tipper’s lap, I mean lust is seductive. Hey Tipper. We know it was you really pumped the internet first, I mean the synergy between the web and the moving pictures makes you blind right? What’s in a name?

 

So then to be entirely correct, leaving all trace of blue behind, the weather balls all turned pink and even red, my eyes roll back in my head. Just to recount, laugh out loud, unemployment fell, stocks went through the roof, inflation tamed, and technology bailed us out. Leaving us new gifts, these extra utilities, bills to pay. Phones, internet, wifi, computers, and smart apps, are all new taxes mostly manufactured in foreign lands. Brand new companies and brand new jobs and brand name tee shirts, the new land of retail replaces the land of opportunity?

 

And now we awake in the present, oh I know it’s a long two decades smushed into the present, but our so-called jobs were already gone by W Bush, the dumb like a snake one, and the economy went bust enough that we paid indulgences to a black man, and it seems nearly half of us resented it — a lot. So now we turn to the lottery and name an apprentice our president, and he named his self, Drumpf. It wasn’t us.  Can you imagine? You don’t have to, it is happening before your blind gassy eyes.

 

But seriously where are the jobs we wax romantic about? I still remember watching the presidential debate in the 90’s, the one with Perot’s whiny giant suck sound, and when he actually enunciates the phrase itself, come on sneer this out loud and then slap your knees, ‘that giant sucking sound’, it cracks me up every time. Because there was a soft gurgling sound for sure, the nourishing smack of the baby gorging on the tit. But the tit is technology, or is it guns and religion I forget, and the only whining you will ever hear is when the baby want the tit back. Ok?

 

Or alternatively that giant sucking sound is stupidity sucking the facts out of reality, the factual vacuum being the petri dish of modern fact-free journalism, campaigning, and sadly now governing. We are in this amoebic state mutating with fright in a culture nourished by exaggeration, incitement and outright deception. Only the more skillful dissemblers, with the deepest of pockets, will make the final ascent, to the subjugation of the throne in the office of President of the United States. He is not my President, just for the record.

 

A few mileposts from this rout, really anecdotes of exasperation may at least throw a wet bed or two on this brush fire engulfing red, formerly native, states. Let’s start with an international business class I took in the 70’s, the capstone course for my first degree. Our professor was the rock star type with parties at his house and we indulged him with the mandatory fluffing recounts narrated by, you know the California girls, as distracting introductions to his twice weekly spouts; these reminiscences blur together in my mind against the backdrop of Bermudas and OP tee shirts.

 

Our group was assigned a project for his course to evaluate an assigned country as a prospective investment opportunity for a company looking to expand globally. We drew Venezuela. As a group we determined that the political risk, lack of infrastructure and inchoate societal fabric made the country too risky to deploy anything more than field offices. They simply were not ready to sustain large scale service or manufacturing operations, nor did we foresee much change in the decades ahead. We got a C- as the good Dr. B thought us too pessimistic. He even suggested to our Type A dominated quartet that perhaps we had not researched the country in sufficient depth and thus suffered in determined ignorance of the obvious truth that Venezuela was poised for a golden age in the next century. Imagine our pique?

 

Yeah, Dr. B how is that working for you now? Betancourt’s dream yielded to Hugo’s cancer and then Maduro, aged like a baby’s birthday, for what we now know as a failed state. Our futile appeal collapsed under the superior frown of an unimpeachable ASU professor. And in truth he got it right in the larger sense. He was swimming up stream against the imputed wisdom of the technology crowd. They were of the opinion that the world was basically flat and the U.S. needed to protect its technology advantage against the monsters over the edge. So as semiconductors shrank along the predicted reverse geometric progression, the bosses of tech crowed coyly to the world of their openness to share lower value assembly operations magic; but the higher order magic of a front end? Never. Semiconductor fabs were simply too exclusive and proprietary a technology to be entrusted to foreign hoardes.

 

And so it was for a few years until the internet crawled in under the sill. As Al Gore was conferring with Tipper about a global interweb, think movies, a few robotics classes taught by one of my good business professor’s peers took me in. We spent a good bit of time touring manufacturing plants in the west. There was never enough parking, despite acres of asphalt surrounding the islands of brick and mortar within which miles long assembly lines were manned with mostly sweet little old ladies. Women did semiconductors and men did factory work, and yes I know it is all manufacturing work but this is how we segregated the work at the time.

 

Many campuses had thousands of people on campus at any point in time imprisoned in layers of filters and inhumanity, keeping out the bad old dust along with everything else, the nearest bird or tree being many orbits removed. Silicon coal mines are only slightly safer than dirty coal mines; canaries can adapt to each.They were doing god’s work which the men commanding these ladies could scarcely conceive possible; not saying they were grateful. Wearing an eye loop with 100X magnification and more and holding the finest of tweezers to solder bonds of microscopic wires securing and connecting magic to these dense circuits of godlike-design. It was art to behold even with the naked eye. Sadly these ladies’ eyes had a brief life span, but their tamales were special and could be made and enjoyed even blind.

 

And with a bit of a squint the ladies were admonished each and every day, posted clearly in giant 40 block capitals on metal signs in a stair cavity with double flights of enormous ramps leading to an upstairs cafeteria with a capacity for thousands of people, by the ominously terminal sounding caution, “Do Not Sit on the Stairs”. The signs are there still now 50 years later. Anachronisms die a slow death and live in an odd void in the years before they transition from reality to forgotten history. If I close my eyes, I can see throngs of little old ladies, mostly Latinas congregating on these stairs enjoying their leftovers lunches, because it is cozier here, and plus the man said no, not to mention that the cafeteria was packed with suits during the workers’ impossibly short 30 minute break – don’t forget the transit time of course. These were the jobs my friend, remember?

 

Don’t Sit on the Stairs was enforced equally to robots too. Except they never sit, not even for a minute. Soon, wave solder machines and ever-smaller circuitry eliminated wires, wire bonding, people and crowded stairwells everywhere. It was the same, if different, in the steel mills, the appliance manufacturers, the carmakers, you name it.

 

Automation has taken 3 of 4 jobs we had in the 60’s! My evidence is my first few jobs. When I began at the refrigeration factory I had charge of 1300 people. After we installed an automated inventory distribution system and powdered paint modules, we ran the same production with 300 people. The transition took all of a year –11 months to build and install the new systems and 1 month to layoff and transition the workforce.

 

Similarly, there were semiconductor operations formerly employing thousands of people. In a few brief years they would come to employ maybe a few hundreds, most of whom doing non-production, if higher value, work. Automation is powerful enough to be the exclusive enabler of such job-eliminating efficiency in the any factory.

But there are binders full of spells of doom which may be invoked in high technology. Cheap labor is another such incantation. In the 80’s, and accelerating in the 90’s, the technology world got over its smack talk about never building semiconductor fabs outside the United States. Now it’s hard to find a new fab in the United States, or even plans to build one. Automation in combination with the conversion of the corporate technologists to the promise of cheap labor, were platinum nails in the coffin of hundreds of thousands of jobs, or jibs. There was a time when our economy depended on these jobs — factory, production, assembly, fabrication, the occupations of building things for a consuming public. In the irrevocable sense of an historical watershed, the days of manual labor are no more, having given in to dark and empty factories. Where are our jibs? Hey it’s a good thing?

 

The point is that NAFTA, let alone immigration, has absolutely nothing to do with it. By the time of NAFTA, these so-called jobs, and let’s be clear these unskilled or semiskilled jobs might enable a person to earn a living but have little impact on their ability to upgrade skills, were already gone or on their way out. These jobs were disposable, or they were staffed by disposable people and often were contracted out to temporary workers. Temporary is a loaded term. Meanwhile, nearly 3 billion people were coming on line in the global economy in just China and India alone, dwarfing the entire population of the United States ten-fold. Which meant that we no longer had a monopoly on manufacturing jobs. Nobody told us, but there are literally billions of people who are willing to do the very jibs we used to complain about for a fraction of the cost. And just as a footnote, the entire population of South America is similarly swamped by this same Asian tsunami of talent.

 

If automation and huge new labor pools of competition are not the cause of mass economic dislocations of massive pools of workers in the United States, then tax strategies are more than up to the job. Next man up. Companies can now, and have been for years, able to relocate pretend headquarters and skeleton functions, to non-U.S. locations to avoid paying taxes in the U.S. Think sunny island tax shelters. Think Potemkin villages certified by the IRS with the hired assistance of armies of tax dodging consultants. Tax strategies are more important than labor strategies in the modern organization. Where Frederick Taylor was the genius of mass production, Price Waterhouse Coopers is the genius of tax advantaged revenue invisibility strategies. Automation is portable and mostly unencumbered by regulation, taxes or attitude. Supply chains are comprised of fungible resources and gumby-like flexibility. So if a company has any work to offer at all, the next question is where can they put these jobs besides the United States? Why should companies pay taxes in the United States? Why should shareholders invest in companies who pay taxes in the United States? Now we are getting to the question.

 

The people have spoken and vote with their feet everyday in the same big boxed clones in every county in the land. We want lower prices. Frankly we just want it free, perfect and now. But cheaper is the opening line everyday. This is called globalization, and it has everything to do with our desires as consumers. Dad wants blueberries every day of the year. Minute Maid sells orange juice all year long. We check the online clickbait from India servers with our Chinese-made computers, slip on our Indonesian-issue Nikes and drive to the store in our Brazilian-made car to save a few pesos. We demand globalization-derived low prices. But don’t take our jibs!

 

In fairness we are preserving some jobs from the globalization demons. Some of our jobs we ship south to save money too. South to Tennessee, Alabama, Carolina, Texas, anywhere to save a few pesos, not as many but a few, by stealing from the union workers in the north and giving part of the plunder to poor workers in the south. We steal jobs from each other everyday. We vote for mayors and governors who campaign explicitly on a platform of job theft from citizens in other states.  It is a Robin Hood tale, but it’s so difficult to cast the parts. Who is the villain? Who is the bad guy? And where is the forest? Is that smoke you smell?

 

Meanwhile, as we drain the swamp, government jobs in total, and definitely as a percent of the economy are in sharp decline. Again, to save a few pesos, we lay off each other to secure the door as we hibernate in ignorance until the next age. And so our roads crack up. Our schools are publicly embarrassed. Our police are harassed by the mob and everybody is left to hope the firefighters are still on the job. Nurses and doctors are left to suffer the aging of America in emergency rooms everywhere. We are picking our own pockets until all that’s left is lint. Getting old is hell.

 

And it gets better. In a few short years, our drivers and pilots will give up the wheel and the stick. Other jobs will be swallowed whole with the workers still inside. Machines will continue to eliminate, you will read this rob us, today’s jobs. Our own people will rob of us of work just to hold a wad of minimum wage in their own hands. Robin Hood is still in the forest, but he’s lost. Sure he will get a call soon enough as the military starts hiring en masse. Enemies are being screened for casting. Mad Max was of 1979 too. Acid takes its time to work. Work again, that word is everywhere. It continues to be a word but what will it mean in the future? We used to think of work as god’s distraction, our calling, our occupation as our job. But acid has been trickling down from the top for generations, and soon there might be nothing left. Who will be left to blame? Blame them who took our jibs.
I wonder?

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