Day 53-SIP-Economic Diversity

One thing I have learned over the past thirty years is the importance of balancing my financial portfolio. Asset allocation balancing was sold to me by a young Certified Financial Planner (CFP) while I was still working. He was new to the working world just recently graduated from the University of Illinois, my alma mater. His first job was with American Express Financial Services. I met him through a program we had at work called “Five O’clock Scholar” which brought in people from various disciplines to help us with life. The one I attended was on planning for retirement.

The idea behind asset allocation is diversity. The theory is that a diversified portfolio will earn more money than one that is non-diversified. When investing over a long term a few percent advantage adds up.

Back in the nineteen eighties I wrestled with the concept of world competition. I saw jobs going to foreign countries because their labor rates were lower than ours in the USA. I argued with blue collar workers who saw this as a loss of their jobs. My arguments were about the need to move to cheaper labor because it was necessary for the overall health (profit) of the company relied on it, and I truly beloved it to be true. The blue collars saw it as a means to kill jobs and it was a major threat to their security. No argument could or would change their minds.

The question of how would we be able to balance the differences between pay in different countries bothered me. One obvious way would be for our workers to take less money per hour for the work they do. Fat chance of that happening, I thought. Another way is to increase wages in foreign countries. That has happened, but only after decades of effort by these countries to better themselves. In the meantime, the USA loses more jobs. Our answer was that workers would have to adapt to the information age. Our workers need to get educated in order to fill the new jobs that would be created by the info-age.

Our school systems immediately adapted and weeded out vocational jobs education. Everyone wanted their kids to go to college so they could get jobs in the info-age. Last year I had the pleasure of presenting our Lions Club scholarships to the seniors at Lincoln Way East Community High School. There were over 170 students receiving scholarships.. Of the entire group only one student accepted a scholarship for a trade. He was off to welding school. The remaining 169 were off to colleges all across the country to become doctors, oceanologists, astronauts, economists, chemists, dancers, and you name it they were going to become it. Only one was headed toward a job that requires education and manual labor. The real question is where will the remainder (2200) of the class get jobs?

What are the jobs that are available to the low paid workers? Namely they cut grass, wash dishes, make beds, clean rooms That are deemed service sector jobs. Many of them filled by people entering the country from paces where making $300 dollars a year is a fortune. They will take the menial jobs that a high school grad won’t touch. Instead our grads rely of hitting it big on YouTube as performers. Some will invent something for a market I will never understand because it involves gaming or some internet based need. The names of the companies are so different it is impossible to decipher what it is they sell or do. Yesterday, I watched a segment of a TV program called Shark Tank. One of the Sharks (investor) told the story of a chance he took with a young chef who had an idea to sell ready made meals via internet. Within two years the business grew to three hundred million dollars a year in sales. I never learned what kind of background the chef had. That is the kind of story the CFP continues to sell me as necessary to save our country, innovation, risk, and drive toward creating wealth.

We’ve adapted the educational system so well that we now suffer from a lack of competent tradesman who can deal with fixing normal household issues. The problem as I saw it, is there are not enough info-age jobs to employ all the college degrees that are generated. The result is that a lot of degreed people work as burger-flippers, and bar-men in order to survive, and as these jobs lobby for more dollars per hour we replace them with automated order takers. We still lack enough credible jobs to handle the need. In the meantime, our jobs base has shrunk to the point of endangering the country.

A few years ago as I drove toward our local shopping mall in Orland Park, the town close by I passed six medical clinics that sprung nearly over-night clinics in the eight mile stretch between Frankfort and Orland Park. That trend continues to grow. The idea bulb lit up over my shrunken brain and I thought to myself, this is the new industry in America. Medicine is replacing manufacturing., and yes the training for medicine is quite different than it is for carpentry or plumbing. It has been fifty years since the migration of industry began from the USA to foreign countries. Over those fifty years countries like Japan, South Korea, and China have prospered and their economies are growing. The US economy has grown also, but mostly in financial and medical markets, but so have China, Japan, and South Korea.

Fast forward to 2020 and look at the state of affairs in America relative to jobs. COVID-19 enters the picture and we find a need to shut down our economy to fight the virus. Instantaneously we are in a situation that makes the great depression pale in comparison. We find ourselves lacking in critical manufacturing industries to supply the needs for medical equipment, personal protective equipment, and drugs. Why? We don’t make that stuff anymore we rely on the global economy for supply.

Suddenly we begin to look at the labels on the products we buy, and learn that most (probably 90%) are made in China. Suddenly, we realize that China, once destitute and starving is catching us in the world market. Suddenly, we see China as a threat to our security in politics, military, medicines, banking, manufacturing, and food processing. Try to buy something, anything that is labeled made in the USA, it is a challenge.

So what is the answer? Since the eighties I have maintained that our country needs a segment of jobs that feeds the poor. Those who are uneducated, who don’t want to be educated, those who can’t be educated. My CFP has always argued with me that this is not the way economics handles the problem. I have maintained that we need to have an economy that is modeled after an asset allocated portfolio. We need jobs for everyone across the entire spectrum of classes and abilities.

If there is anything that is coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic it is a need to keep strategic industries at home in order to protect our security. How can we be a world leader if we have to rely on our enemy to supply war goods? Of course there is a segment of society that argues that a lack of ability to produce war goods is a detriment to war. Except, the argument fails when realizing all the countries that don’t have the resources to make war equipment but still maintain state of the art armies with the latest armaments. All it takes is money and good relations with the supplier countries.

My final recommendation is you talk or write to your representative in Washington, and demand legislation that requires that critical materials needed to protect the country be manufactured here on home soil, and not by the enemy.

One Response

  1. Everyone wants to be in a sexy job. Slightly tangential, but today, as well as when I used to work for large corporates, I come across promotions for training programs that would ‘make you a leader.’ Every program and every trainer promises to make you a leader. “If everyone becomes a leader, who will they lead,” I often used to wonder. The herd mentality is taking over. If Investment Banker is a sexy job, everyone will try to become one. Regardless of capability and interest. And there will be more gurus spouting pearls like, “you can do anything you put your mind to,” so that there are more frustrated and angry people. But anyway, who is to blame. As adults, I guess we are expected to have the wisdom to know what is good for us. Covid-19 might help us separate the grain from the chaff.

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