Is the glass half full or half empty? That's the question
In his annual State of the Union address, the
president described what he called "the American promise" this way: "if
you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send
your kids to college and put a little away for retirement." He then said, "the
defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive."
As far as the president is concerned, the glass
appears to be half full. In the last 22 months, he said, businesses have
created over 3 million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.
He went on to say that American manufacturers are adding jobs for the first
time since the 1990s.
But Gov. Daniels, who gave the Republican response following
the president's speech, had a different take. For him, the glass is half empty.
"The percentage of Americans with jobs is at the lowest in decades,"
he said. "One of five men of prime working age, and nearly half of all
persons under 30, did not go to work today."
The governor sounded the alarm. This year, he said,
may be our last chance "to restore an America of hope and upward mobility,
and greater equality." He said the U.S. is "only a short distance
behind Greece, Spain and other European countries now facing economic
Like President Obama, Daniels asserted that creating
jobs is the way back to "an America of promise." But he accused the
president of putting business down. "The late Steve Jobs
Jobs— what a fitting name he had — created more of them than
all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew. Out here, in
Indiana, when a businessperson asks me what he can do for our state, I say 'First,
make money. Be successful.' "
As far as Daniels is concerned, the president's faith in
government is misplaced; it's American business know-how that will see us
through. To hear him tell it, the governor's calendar is packed with meetings
in which eager business executives are pushing in front of one another to ask
what they can do for Indiana — besides make financial contributions to
local Republican candidates, that is.
The governor mentioned Steve Jobs. But in an eye-opening piece
eye-opening piecein the Jan. 22 New
York Times, reporters Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher write about how the
economics of manufacturing have prompted Apple to outsource engineering,
building and assembly of iPads and iPhones to overseas contractors. Apple
employs 43,000 people in the U.S., but pays 700,000 people in Asia, Europe and
elsewhere. A former Apple executive is quoted, saying Apple's entire supply
chain is now in China.
The iPhone is assembled at a place called Foxconn
City, where 230,000 employees live in barracks and are paid $17 per day and work
six 12-hour days per week. Duhigg and Bradsher note that the Chinese government
has, in many cases, underwritten the costs of numerous industries in their
country, like, for example, the building of worker dormitories.
Given his support for union-busting right-to-work legislation,
legislation,this story makes you wonder what Daniels had in mind when he
linked Steve Jobs and job creation.
It's worth noting that Indiana already has its own
version of the Chinese production model. For years, farms and orchards needing seasonal
labor have hired migrant workers to come here and harvest fruits and
vegetables. These workers often work from dawn to dusk. They also live in
barracks or bunkhouses. The farmers who hire them will often tell you they've
tried to employ local folks, but most Americans either can't or won't do the
work as well as their migrant competition. At least, not for that pay scale.
Both Governor Daniels and President Obama seem to
agree that America has a jobs problem. But the jobs problem is actually a
competition problem. If the terms of this competition are left to business
leaders to decide on their own, the issue will be reduced, as it seems to be in
Indiana, to figuring out how to get the most out of workers for the least
amount of money.
This is why the president proposes creating tax
incentives, making it more attractive for businesses to stay in this country.
Whether these measures are sufficient, though, remains to be seen.
Duhigg and Bradsher write that American business
leaders complain our workers lack mid-level skills and the cost of doing
business here is just too high to allow for the profits necessary to spur
innovation. What's more, as economist Betsey Stevenson tells them: "Companies
once felt an obligation to support American workers. .
. .That's disappeared."
So is the glass half empty, or half full? Maybe, when
it comes to our economic dilemma, it's time to stop thinking in such either/or
terms. Neither government nor business will be able to fix things by itself.