Photo: North Charleston / Flickr
Forget global warming and climate change. Despite their importance, those terms have become somewhat hackneyed and mind-numbing in the public consciousness. Let’s talk economics instead.
Is the new Trump administration taking us down a yellow brick road to La La Land or somewhere else?
President Trump has promised to create millions of manufacturing jobs. He says he will do this by cutting taxes (mostly for the rich), removing regulations (mostly at the expense of public safety) and switching back to fossil fuels as the primary energy source (mostly out of shortsightedness).
The U.S. has lost manufacturing jobs by the millions, yet manufacturing output has increased at a rate of about 2.2 percent per year between 2006 and 2013. Offshore trade accounted for less than 13 percent of lost jobs, while automation accounted for about 88 percent of jobs lost.
The vast majority of job losses are attributable to unskilled, repetitive work that is replaced by robots, automation and greater efficiency.
The old days of manual labor on assembly lines are gone for good. Skilled labor is necessary for manufacturing in the cyber age. If we want to create new, livable wage jobs, we will need to train and retrain a more skilled workforce. Tariffs alone won’t make U.S. workers employable. More emphasis needs to be placed on quality education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The private sector has adopted STEM education as self-serving. Some corporations are already stepping into internship programs and even public school involvement. However, broad reach can only be achieved by local, state and federal government support with overall strategic policies.
The goal of business is to make the most product, from the least raw material, through greater process efficiency. Efficiency translates to greater profits and business security. Simply increasing human labor seldom leads to increased profits, so automation is here to stay. In the cyber age, labor has to adapt to advances in technology or be left behind.
Trump’s two for one regulation policy is an example of shortsighted thinking. Regulations were put in place for a reason. It makes no sense to simply remove regulations without first considering their original justification.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a good example. Most environmental regulations were designed to put the burden of prevention and clean up on the generator and not the public. It has long been clear that the cost of clean up after a release is many times greater than prevention. The two for one directive ignores the future cost to the public sector. Nearly all public health, environmental and safety regulations are based upon estimates of future financial harm. Removing regulations carte blanche will only place the financial burden of remediation on the public. The public won’t stand for it. Litigation will increase, swamping our already crowded courts.
The Trump administration has pledged that removing regulations will bring back coal mining jobs. As a first step, he has ordered the removal of regulations preventing coal companies from dumping waste into streams. This places public health and the environment at greater risk. Coal-mining automation has increased productivity, but removed most of the labor force. Coal is losing competitiveness with other sources of energy. The international market has already begun the shift to gas and renewables. Production could be increased, but only a few thousand jobs would be created, not tens of thousands as some hope.
Trump has said the Keystone pipeline would create 28,000 new, high-paying construction jobs. Not so. Only a fraction would be construction jobs. The vast majority would only last 16 to 20 weeks. Once the pipeline is completed, it would only take a skeleton crew of a few dozen to maintain it.
The Dakota Access Pipeline introduces a couple additional issues. Native American Treaty rights are in question, again. So far the record is Great White Father in DC: 100 percent, Native American Treaty rights: 0 percent. Every time it comes to natural resources vs. native human rights, native treaties are ignored. That isn’t sour grapes sentiment, just fact.
Sovereign rights and treaties are not supposed to have unwritten assumptions like: “unless we discover gold in Dakota territory,” or “unless we discover uranium on the Navajo reservation,” or “unless we want the land where the buffalo roam for invasive European settlements.”
The environment pays no attention to political boundaries or laws. Downstream pollution is a function of gravity and geophysical forces, not economics.
There is also this question: Does the world need that oil? The CO2 from fossil fuel goes into everyone’s atmosphere. Look at the air in China or India that has resulted from coal and oil. Is that the future we want? There are alternatives that create better and more sustainable jobs.
Who exactly will profit from pipelines and deregulation; and, who will lose in the longer run? That is a question that comes up repeatedly with this administration. Who gains from deregulation? Who gains by ignoring treaty rights to build additional pipelines? We have to say corporations.
Does it really mean more living wage jobs? Not so much.
W. Douglas Smith is an environmental scientist, environmental diplomat, explorer, educator and a retired Senior Compliance Investigator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked for 36 years.