Signs of the Times #6: Peripheral Stuff

We have been hearing and reading for several decades that the United States is becoming (has become) a “service” economy. So, exactly what is a “service” economy? I turned as usual to the Investopedia website: “The portion of the economy that produces intangible goods. ” (http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/service-sector.asp)

In other words: trucking, information, housekeeping, financial, and administrative activities, I think you are getting the idea. So in my head, I said, “Gee, all the peripheral stuff!”

So we don’t make the machine, we might buy the finished machine through a service entity (Amazon or Sears). We don’t make the motor that runs the machine that we buy through a service entity (Kohl’s or Macy’s). We don’t make the wiring or solder the circuits or install the “on-off” button on the motor of the machine that may be sold (actually IMPORTED) by our sales service entity (Amazon, Sears, Kohl’s or Macy’s). We don’t make the metal (steel, aluminum) that contains the motor that runs the machine that needs wiring or solder or the “on-off” button (if one even exists anymore on the design of the item!)… we work doing the “peripheral stuff.” That includes unloading the container from the ship coming from the country that is EXPORTing the goods to the U.S.

So when are we going to wake up to the fact that the service jobs are NOT going to pay the same amount of money that manufacturing jobs do. Pushing up the “minimum wage” to $15.00/hour is not the answer. Let’s define a “minimum wage” job… gee, they are jobs that are HISTORICALLY performed by UNskilled labor. That means, not highly-educated people. In the early years of fast food joints, high school students did many of the part-time jobs. The jobs were not meant for adults, especially the parent or household income-earner. Ironically, the success and growth let alone, increased prosperity of the middle-class and the housewife leaving the home and going to work, the dual-income household appearing on the scene, caused less pressure on teens to get a job after school. (This was not a universal phenomenon, I started working part-time at 16. There were middle-class (wealthier) families developing and there were families with two parents working but the dream to live a pleasant life was a constant “struggle.”

What I’m getting at is the money was in the making of stuff not just marketing or selling it. Funny thing, the appliance sales people at a retail store were paid a “commission” on their sales not a salary. In other words, you don’t sell it, you don’t get paid! Real estate was always based on a commission pay scheme. My dad worked at a shoe factory. He however was paid by “piece work.” In other words, he was paid by the number of pieces that he did. If he had a “bad” day, he obviously had a poorer paycheck. The rise of the unions in the United States were, in some ways, for good reasons, child labor laws, “living” wage, working conditions. Like other human endeavors, greed, power, and other avarice gets in the way.

I’m getting a bit off of my topic of “peripheral stuff.” The point I’ve been trying to make is that the U.S. now is all about the “peripheral stuff.” That’s why our standard of living has fallen. I do love a bargain as well as the next guy, but I also remember when “Made in United States” was a phrase of pride. Did Wal-Mart and the idea of “buy it cheaper” kill the American Dream? Did “prosperity” kill the American Dream? Heck, what is the “American Dream?” For those growing up in the 50’s, it was buying a house not renting one. Homes were a place to live in not “flip” after living in it for six months.

Well, American values have changed. The times change. The company General Electric had a motto “Progress is our most important product.” I found a bit of nostalgia about GE (http://www.smecc.org/frontiers_of_progress_-_1961_sales_meeting.htm#reagan). Funny thing about “progress”, it comes at a “price.” No one ever talks about the “price” of progress. I’m not against progress, I’m a product of progress just as everyone else. It’s the “pace of progress” and our human ability to adapt to an “ever accelerating” pace of progress that concerns me.

So, can a new President in 2017 reverse our “service economy” type jobs orientation? Can the U.S. become a manufacturing powerhouse again? Are some of us just being nostalgic, silly, ole Americans? Presidential want-a-bees Trump and Sanders are popular because they “voice” the thoughts and feelings of the “silent majority.” Complacency, prosperity, and yes progress have made the “silent majority what it “has become” …silent. We have progressed from an agrarian to an industrial to a information-age society. It’s the Age of Peripheral Stuff. Funny thing, I think 3-D printing will bring manufacturing back to the family garage and maybe a “corner” grocery store (remember those!) Since I’m full of “quotes” in this writing piece , here’s another: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

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