Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bring Back Those Factory Jobs: Robots Rule!

This morning I heard Donald Trump telling workers he was going to bring back their manufacturing jobs.  Unemployed rust belt workers from Pennsylvania to Michigan, who know it wasn't their fault they lost their jobs to China or wherever are now lining up to vote for Mr. Trump. 

Of course, those jobs are now done in China by robots and if they were ever brought back to the USA, it would be robots employed in those factories here.

Later, in the same broadcast, I heard a factory owner in New Hampshire complain about "government regulations" as the reason he was thinking about leaving New Hampshire, but when he was asked specifically which regulations he found onerous, he could only say it was the Environmental Services Administration and some labor regulations he found objectionable. His factory "uses a lot of chemicals" and he has to jump through all sorts of unreasonable hoops related to those.  He also complained that there is "a loud sucking sound" coming from Massachusetts drawing workers away from his factory in New Hampshire with higher wages and he can't find New Hampshire workers with the right skills.

I know this personally, as I was lured from working in New Hampshire to Massachusetts with a 14% raise, after the added income tax (5.1% in Massachusetts and 0% in New Hampshire.)  The salary wasn't the main factor, but it made the decision easier. All my friends in New Hampshire rolled their eyes, "Oh, now you're paying state income tax!" Yes, I told them and after paying that tax, I'm still making significantly more money--enough to buy a new car every year.

As Andrew Hacker has observed, when company owners complain about the lack of skilled workers, it's almost never the case there are no American workers with those skills; the problem is the workers with those skills refuse to work for low wages, and go elsewhere.

So what this New Hampshire factory owner was complaining about was he was unable to despoil the environment and unable to exploit laborers. 

As the economist Alan Stieglist has noted, the trouble with international trade agreements is they are negotiated by  government officials with a business background, who intend to return to the private sector, and these agreements are all about benefiting the bottom line of international companies, not about benefiting the workers or the environment.  A really good trade agreement would force Chinese factory owners to pay their employees a living wage and not despoil the environment in China; China exports its pollution across the Pacific. 

So, vote for the Donald and American companies will return to American shores, just the way Boeing has stayed in the USA by moving to South Carolina where it can exploit desperate workers with low wages.

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