An Economy in Deep Trouble

An Economy in Deep Trouble

The direction of Robert Heilbroner’s “An Economy in Deep Trouble (Dissent, Fall 1992) is the need for “transformational growth,” to be achieved by a major public-works program and improved education, including a comprehensive apprenticeship system. The problem he sees is in “persuading the American public…and the elites…that a vigorous public sector is a legitimate part of modern capitalism.”

His prescription, it seems to me, does not adequately answer the problem. Consider this scenario: a class of newly hatched apprentices in various skilled trades emerges from the program, certificates in hand, looking forward to useful employment in industries producing cars, aircraft, air conditioners, computers, and so on. Thanks to an expanded road network completed as another element of the plan, they are prepared to commute fifty or even seventy miles each way to work. At this point they run into the sobering fact that those industries have disappeared (gone to Taiwan, China, the Philippines, or Mexico) or have diminished to the level of screwdriver plants, assembling foreign components, in either case having little need for their services. The American Association of Engineering Societies reports that a hundred thousand engineers were laid off in 1991 alone. Why train more?

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Lima