If you want to understand the question the Democratic Party needs to answer, go read the winning essay in the Shell/Economist essay contest.
The question asked was “Import workers or export jobs?”, and while the winner – writer Claudia O’Keefe – has no prescription, she does have a damn good diagnosis of the problem based on her personal history.
I’ve always seen The Economist as the most Establishment of all publications, reflecting a clear-eyed mixture of High Corporate and Top Government thinking. It pleases me to think that people like Ms. O’Keefe have made it onto their radar.
My stepfather was a salesman during the 1960s, traveling California and the American southwest in his big, hulking Buick, selling bras, slips, and girdles to small department stores and five-and-dimes. Whenever he returned from one of his two-week trips, he brought several lunch sacks full of torn price tags with him, evidence of product sold. My job was to sort and count the tags, at a nickel for every hundred I recorded.
We lived in a three-bedroom home in an upscale Los Angeles suburb, owned two cars, and took annual vacations. My brother, sister, and I never lacked any of the benefits of a middle-class upbringing, a new school wardrobe each year, copious Christmas presents, private lessons, even horses when we were older. In a medical emergency we worried more about how to get to a doctor quickly than we did about paying the bill. All of this was affordable on my dad’s one sales job without incurring vast amounts of debt.
These days the same lingerie lines my dad marketed are now sold primarily in Wal-Mart. Instead of being crafted in the U.S.A. by American workers they are manufactured almost exclusively in China. Gone are the traveling salesmen who ferried clothing to small town variety stores across the nation, and their buyers who used to decide which lines to stock. Most of the old independent retailers no longer exist. A handful of chains have replaced them, with buying decisions made at the corporate level. Jobs which comfortably supported a family have been eliminated in favor of new ones paying so little employees are encouraged to apply for food stamps.
Go read the whole thing.
As I said, she has no meaningful prescription, no policy to get us back to what she – along with millions of other frightened middle-class Americans – sorely misses. When the Democrats come up with a meaningful one, they’ll start standing for something.