Correspondence

From the Executive Editor

Republicans and conservatives are, to steal a 45-year-old line from Tom Lehrer, beginning to feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis. A record-low percentage of Americans think well of them. Their presumptive presidential nominee has taken no position on any major issue with which a majority of Americans agree. They lose off-year elections in rock-solid Republican districts. What's a party to do?

In this month's cover story, Prospect columnist Mark Schmitt posits that the GOP has nothing left but identity politics -- the politics of American-ness. With Republicans' brand of laissez-faire conservatism offering no answers to the nation's problems, cultural and racial identity is likely all Republican candidates have left to run on. And in our book review section, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz looks back to a time when conservatism was more vibrant, in part because it was not yet the sole tendency within Republican ranks.

The turn of the ideological wheel is also apparent in our essay by William Galston. Once the leading intellectual theorist of Bill Clinton's New Democrats, Galston now surveys the wreckage of the employment-based welfare state and concludes that the era of big government being over must itself be over, too -- that only government can plausibly provide the safety net that the corporate employers of the 20th century once offered their employees. Ideological crashes and rebirths, in this month's Prospect.

--Harold Meyerson

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I agree with Robert Kuttner that human-service jobs should be "good jobs" that pay living wages with good benefits ["Good Jobs for Americans Who Help Americans," May 2008]. Unfortunately, Kuttner fails to acknowledge the elephant in the living room: Most of the human-service jobs he mentions are held by women. Our society's continued subconscious belief in the male breadwinner and concomitant belief that child care, elder care, etc., should be done by the wife at home hampers movement toward better pay for human-service occupations.

Holding the building trade union's prevailing wage as an example of government's support for collective bargaining and willingness to uphold good wages only reinforces this male-breadwinner theme. The majority of construction jobs are held by men.

Kuttner further insults human-service workers with his patronizing "carrot and stick" reasoning that Congress require that any human- service job supported "in part by federal funds would have to pay a professional wage and be part of a career track" [my emphasis]. Using his prevailing wage reasoning for construction workers, I would argue that the building trades continue to make good wages despite the actual de-skilling of the trades over time.

To say that human-service workers need to prove themselves worthy of good wages by seeking more education and training is unfair. To compare the human-service sector to the outdated and politically charged prevailing wage held by the unionized building trades is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst. It should be enough to say that human-service workers deserve to be paid a living wage and leave it at that.

Linda Macdonald

East Weymouth, MA

Manufacturing Solutions

All that's said in the articles in the May 2008 issue by Damon Silvers, Kevin Phillips, and Kuttner ["Fixing the Economy" series] and Kate Sheppard ["The Green Gap"] is true but insufficient. They miss a key manifestation of the increasing power of the speculative economy -- the destruction of our productive capacity in manufacturing. And they miss the opportunities created by this crisis.

While we have lost many generally low-skilled jobs to offshore competition, thousands of companies remain that are focused on making complex, high-value-added products.

The majority of the 12,000 manufacturing companies in Chicago are small, privately held companies. Together these firms employ nearly 500,000 people, whose work, in turn, creates another 1.5 million jobs. These companies have largely shifted to making complex products that many export globally. Their employees must be highly skilled in technical fields and proficient in critical thinking and teamwork. These companies will lose 40 percent of their work force in the next 5 to 10 years due to the wave of baby-boom retirees. And it's in these companies that a lot of good "green" jobs for youth exist.

Many of these companies depend on an effective local public sector for their survival. As such, the consequences of our failing, and historically misdirected, public-education system ripple throughout the economy. We found, in a joint study with the Chicago Federation of Labor, that the major problem was the quality of public education. Education is only one part of what should be a package of policies and programs that build this sector and the essential public/private alliance that can make it an engine of development that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.

Dan Swinney

Center for Labor and
Community Research

Chicago, IL

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