There are a lot of things I like about the Obama Administration, and a lot of things that they will do right. Transparency, open dialogue, stern but inclusive leadership, an agenda with the best intentions at heart are all part of what has driven me to like him. (I know, I know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.)
But, hand-cuffing the Middle Class to Green Jobs though seems like a bad idea to me. Doing so is like hand cuffing Green Peace to CRA. Sure you feel doubly good telling the story, but each cause has its own priorities creating conflict within the solution.
As I age, I am learning that the first rule of politics is to take the opposite side of your opponent first, and then figure out if your argument holds water second. That at least seems to be the current guiding principal of the G.O.P. No surprise given that these are the same people who brought you the quagmire in Afghanistan, WMD’s in Iraq, and of course the largest financial crisis in our lifetime followed by the nationalization of our financial system. Given my choice of words it should be clear that I do fully support the current administration and I am not a subversive G.O.P. blogger. Thanks to the last administration I went from being a left leaning conservative to a right leaning liberal, and changed my affiliation to Independent, since I hate paperwork and am no longer confident that centrists will ever prevail again.
Anywho, as a natural skeptic, this new drive to create and support a Middle Class Task Force, while noble in nature, feels more like a postmoderncomedy, or a cartoonish parody of itself. When I look at the website I expect to see someone in a superhero costume wearing tights, a cape and a MC on his chest.
While I appreciate the good intentions to link the rebuilding of the Middle Class to Green Jobs, both important, worthy, and time sensitive causes; I am concerned that this program, which feels too forced, will end up neither helping the Middle Class, nor the creation of Green Jobs. I fear that such a platform is built to either win both or lose both campaigns together. Furthermore, such a focus removes other support that could prevail to define both issues separately. Think of it as the opportunity cost of a Green Jobs program that will not be created. Such a linkage also offers the G.O.P. an easier target against two concepts they generally abhor. Attack one and they are able to now attack both, a two for one deal of sorts.
There has been some recent rebuke that Green Jobs don’t pay all that much, and truth be told that is at least partially true. At the least it would be hard to create an entire middle class platform out of Green Jobs alone, one that promises the Obama Administration’s definition of Middle Class and one that puts the large masses of knowledge workers back to work.
My boss, the Vice President, often describes the “middle class” as any family that can’t afford to miss more than two or three paychecks without financial difficulty. Given job market turmoil, that’s an awfully timely way to think about the question. It used to be that the middle class was able to achieve the American dream of owning a decent home in a safe neighborhood with a good public school, having access to affordable health care, saving for college and retirement, and enjoying the occasional meal out, movie, and vacation. The problem is that many middle class families are no longer able to achieve this dream. The task force will focus on making the American dream accessible again to the middle class.
While we could use a Middle Class Task Force (in some form), I think separating the issues would be a better start. The middle class task force is at the heart of Obama’s plans to preserve or reduce taxes on working families and to raise them on wealthy ones, no supporting or negating its efficacy this has logic behind in principal.
However, if middle class family incomes are approximately the often cited $150k, and you assume two working parents, you’re down to $75k per parent. While this seems modest, its a lot more than most non-union blue collar jobs pay today. And we all know the issues with the unions in Detroit.
We do need to build a sustainable future, and that will require a greener and more renewable use of human, natural and economic capital. The types of jobs we will need to grow to be able to fortify the middle class however, are going to be diverse. At the very least a good number of Green Jobs cannot be outsourced, as least as far as the “last mile providers” go. So the folks installing the new technologies will need to be on U.S. soil.
While I agree that the engine of our economy is driven by the mass majority who produce and consume, I don’t know that someone installing solar panels will be able to afford a home, let alone save enought to pay for a couple of children to go to college. The only way that would be possible today would be to start an eco-workers union, and equally cartoonish concept. And doing so woud make the products green workers create even less affordable or competitive internationally. I do think we need a focus on green job creation, after all my blog’s name is Greenewable. I equally think that there is a good need to support and rebuild our middle class. However, I flinch when someone tells me we can solve all these issues in one fell swoop.
What is the middle class?
The White House Blog, February 13, 2009
The White House Blog, February 12, 2009