Friday, September 4, 2009

America Turns Inward

It’s interesting to note where new jobs are happening. Okay, you can figure if you’re a bankruptcy lawyer, you’re raking it in. If you are rich and can afford to play “distressed trading games” and create and then bet on market trends – hello Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and friends – well, why not. But where else is there job growth? I’ve already blogged how China is beating us at our own “solar energy” game with cheaper labor, a centrally-directed economy and even a growing inexpensive pool of university-trained engineers. We don’t seem to be getting the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” out of the design-delayed manufacturing process, our entertainment and software sectors are contracting and facing new stiff competition from off-shore creativity, and even our agricultural hegemony seems to be challenged by new farming combines in Latin America and Africa.

What exactly is it that we “export” anyway? Great question, and the answer does seem to focus on our design and engineering expertise, elements that are increasingly facing competition from accelerating educational programs overseas. So what exactly are Americans going to do, going forward, to make a living? We’re certainly seeing educational advancement falling by the wayside, governmental commitments to the contrary notwithstanding. And without that, well, let’s just say, don’t bet on the dollar or the relative competitive growth of U.S. in the foreseeable future. I hate that!

I saw this blurb in the Sept. 2nd New York Times that looks good to a foodie, but augurs badly for the longer-term prospects of American entrepreneurial excellence in the service sector: “Beyond the cut-and-thrust of the restaurant fray, there is evidence to suggest a triumph of survival in New York. The city’s leisure and hospitality workers have fared much better in the city’s economic mix than financial and professional-service workers, said Michael L. Dolfman, the regional commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics in New York. Although the city’s food and drinking places shed more than 10,000 out of some 200,000 workers after the jolt to the economy last fall, employment was back to 200,000 by May — and up 4,000 more by July. ‘If higher-end restaurants may be suffering, the lower-end restaurants may be seeing an increase in demand — and employment,’ Dr. Dolfman said.”

Wow! Growth in low-end restaurant service jobs. Catering to locals and tourists. Wow! But with commercial and residential real estate woes, I suspect that we won’t be seeing concomitant growth in low-level construction jobs… again catering to locals and a few bored foreign buyers who want cheap U.S. real estate in prestige communities, but where are the exports? What do we make? Are we exporting just our financial expertise (that’s something the world must be looking forward to; it worked so well in the pre-Sept. 15, 2008 era! Not!). We sure buy lots of stuff from the international marketplace, oil from everywhere and manufactures from… well… mostly China… but what are we sending back? Are we going to make our livings in a cloistered world of an internal service economy?

The dollar isn’t faring particularly well either, reflecting the above as well as America’s growing unemployment, declining real estate values (now, it’s commercial real estate) and flat retail sales. Sliding down in value with world leaders declaring that the days of international values being measured in U.S. dollars are numbered (the U.S. dollar is currently the “reserve currency” held by nations to reflect the price of commodities, global trading values, etc.).

We’ve been hammered by Chinese leaders (but they have a whole pile of dollars, so they can’t let us drown too fast), and we expect to be trashed in that arena by Russia (yeah, they hate dollars), but France? Nicholas Sarkozy? "The political and economic reality of a multipolar world will have to find sooner or later a translation on the monetary level." Read: it can’t be the dollar. We’re battling to transition into a “special drawing right” currency equivalent – a blend of dominant currencies to become the new reserve currency – with the dollar remaining the dominant component… but the writing is on the wall.

Exactly what, Mr. President, is the plan to create new “real values” that Americans can make and export in the near and longer-term? What is it that we, as Americans, do that has economic value to the rest of the world? And what are we doing to make sure we are sufficiently trained and educated to provide those values well into the future?

I’m Peter Dekom, and I am deeply concerned.

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