The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Boeing and the Myth of ‘Skills’

Posted on | June 21, 2011 | 27 Comments

Back during the 1990s, I got tired of hearing a line that Bill Clinton relentlessly repeated about the need to “invest” in education to provide “the skills needed to compete in the 21st-century economy.”

As nice as that rhetoric sounds, it didn’t match the economic reality: Major manufacturers weren’t opening new factories in Latin America and Asia because those people had superior skills and education, but simply because they were willing to work cheap. While it is in general true for any individual worker that he can improve his economic situation by improving his skills, the companies that were shipping jobs to Indonesia and Brazil weren’t doing so because workers in those countries possessed an advantage skill-wise over workers in Toledo or Pittsburgh.

All of this is by way of introducing the astonishingly idiotic argument Thomas Geoghegan makes against Boeing’s re-location to South Carolina:

Why is Boeing, one of our few real global champions in beefing up exports, moving work on the Dreamliner from a high-skill work force ($28 an hour on average) to a much lower-wage work force ($14 an hour starting wage)? Nothing could be a bigger threat to the economic security of this country.
We should be aghast that Boeing is sending a big fat market signal that it wants a less-skilled, lower-quality work force. . . .
We depend on Boeing to out-compete Airbus, its European rival. But when major firms move South, it is usually a harbinger of quality decline.

Read the whole thing, but I must warn you that the argument is fact-deficient and frankly prejudiced against the South — and yet further proof that law schools are a lousy place to learn economics.


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