The current economic environment is certainly fodder for 10-second pundits and politicians of every stripe. Thank goodness I'm medicated, since that allows me to get through the sound bites that describe my country as a basket case.
Let's start with a basic observation: Last November the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tallied the workforce as 139,150,000 strong, a record high for monthly employment. In December that level fell to 138,973,000 (a preliminary number at this writing), the second highest month on record. But nowhere does the BLS explain the skill levels or educational background required to fill those jobs.
I'll make a wild guess about the skill level of the people who make up the U.S. workforce. Nowhere in the world is there such a diversity of skills and training required as here in the United States. I interpret that to mean that in general the cross-section of jobs in this country require very high skill levels. No other country could accomplish what we do without significant additional training. While some may have many of the jobs covered, no one has them all covered.
Here's another observation about the U.S. We have the single largest aggregation of high-quality natural resources on the planet. That means we can supply our own energy, grow our own food, and build our own products more readily than anyone else. And it should be noted that we have chosen not to supply all of our required energy.
In addition, the U.S. has an educational system that is open to a greater portion of our population — not to mention students from other countries — than any other place in the world. People also have an incredibly wide variety of choices in terms of what they want to study or the kinds of skills they want to master. Although there are many other facets to this diamond, I'll mention just one more: freedom. Freedom is the construct on which the rest of our society is built. Citizens in the U.S. have at least as much freedom as those living in other countries, and more than most. We have the largest population to have lived under the umbrella of freedom for the longest continuous period of time. This is the key to our economy.
Several of the factors noted above contribute to the ability of the average U.S. citizen to exercise this freedom. We can move anywhere, we can try most anything, and we can succeed or fail — freely.
This brings us to some of the choices we have when faced with a troubled economy. Three of the historic “bootstrap” economic events that dramatically changed this country can serve as models for how we should proceed now. First, the dust storms of the 1930s turned the Great Plains into a dust bowl. Second, the Depression of the 1930s led to significant reallocation of resources and programs to encourage economic stability and growth. Third, the movement of the textiles industries created significant economic challenges in the Northeast and Southeast.
How did people respond to these trying circumstances? To varying degrees, people took it upon themselves not only to learn new skills, but also to relocate geographically so they could continue to provide for their families. People were thus able to re-engage the American dream during times that were much more dire than those currently at hand.
The bottom line is we should provide reallocation incentives and/or training to those facing difficult times that are indeed beyond their control. We should let the fundamental forces of this country lead them to make their own choices, rather than have some boneheads legislate the solution.