Tech and Rural NH

An influential op ed by Eduardo Porter in the December 2018 New York Times attributes the election of Donald Trump to the loss of industrial jobs in rural America. He argues that the jobs are disappearing because the rural workforce is not keeping up with technological change, and that there may be no solution except for rural people to move into low-cost housing in more technologically sophisticated cities. We contrasted Porter’s argument that job loss in rural areas is due to rapid technological change with that of Dean Baker in a 2017 Los Angeles Times op ed, who argues that rumors of automation replacing workers are greatly exaggerated. US productivity growth has fallen to new lows since the dawn of the 21st century. Here’s what the students had to say:

Finn Callihan watching the lecture.

The rhetoric of the ‘political class’ as Porter refers to them was almost non-existent on the topic of industrial decline until recently. Many still clung to the idea that de-industrialization was a thing of the past, something that happened in the 1980s, Until something catastrophic happened: the states where manufacturing job loss had set in worst, voted, and they voted for Trump. Take a state like Michigan, for example, which saw 46.7% job loss in manufacturing between 2000 and 2010–all of their sixteen delegates went to Trump. Or take New Hampshire where we saw 36% of job loss in manufacturing during the 2000-2010 period. This [lack of discussion] set the stage for real estate mogul Donald Trump, a candidate spitting empty promises about bringing back the United States of the past with a flourishing industrial base. These campaign promises struck a chord, and I can see why.

Finn Callihan

Porter lacks evidence and he makes assumptions instead of proving his point, such as, ‘In hindsight, no amount of tax incentives would have convinced Amazon to expand in a medium-sized city such as Columbus, Ohio, rather than Northern Virginia and Queens, which have some of the largest pools of talent in the country.’ I do not think there is more talent in Queens than rural America, there are a lot of hardships in Queens…What we found with Nanotech and Precitech is that these manufacturing companies in Keene, NH were adapting just fine to the technological change and were making profits from technological change while keeping people employed.”

Jesse labarre
Chloe Labrie at her computer

Porter says that technology needs to come to Hicksville…[But] people in rural communities aren’t behind in technology…it’s the change of priority in companies that has people left out on the curb…The company buys another company with money they could have been using to improve machinery, the knowledge of the workers–to really inspire innovation…The cause of major job loss is the fact that companies don’t value their workers anymore and are just trying to mass produce and beat other companies. When they can’t mass produce and innovate because their workers lack any drive to support a company that doesn’t support them, they lose a lot of revenue. Job loss will only continue if steps aren’t taken for [large publicly-held] manufacturing plants to invest back in themselves and their workers.

chloe labrie

Dean Baker doesn’t think automation has anything to do with job loss. His argument is based on the premise that if robots were taking people’s jobs, then productivity would be going up significantly because [the few workers left] could work more efficiently. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity growth is way down from past eras. Baker suggests that there must be a different reason for job loss. The answer can be found in Keene’s local industrial history.

Jackson Brannen

Markem was a manufacturing company in Keene that manufactured machines that printed dates on food products. This type of manufacturing required rapid technological advances to be ahead of the game with printing. Unlike what Eduardo Porter would expect, Markem innovated and improved their product as printing technology evolved [1979 to 1993].

Jackson brannen

Porter says, ‘Robots and workers in China put together most of the manufactured goods that Americans buy, and the high tech industries powering the economy today don’t have much need for the cheap labor that rural communities contributed to America’s industrial past.’ To the contrary, I have found quite a bit of evidence that contradicts these claims. Moore Nanotech based in Swanzey , NH a small rural town of 7,116 people is not just keeping up with technological change but accelerating it. They make diamond turning machines for milling optics and have been setting the industry standard for years. So why is the rhetoric so common? It is because it places the blame on the natural pull of novelty and not on the utter corruption of our political system that has fueled the financialization of the American economy.

Finn Callihan

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