, Salem, MA


March 26, 2014

Letter: Waiting for the Third Industrial Revolution

To the editor:

Two of the recent columns by Brian Watson advocated two Band-Aids: extending unemployment compensation and raising the minimum wage. While ignoring their adverse effects, he did reiterate a point that has been made several times in several places. Blame it on “productivity” or off-shoring, but a lot of jobs that were eliminated are not coming back. All the Band-Aids, party favors (aka QE, TARP, ZIRP etc.) and reducing our carbon footprint won’t add back the jobs for the middle class. We’re in the economic doldrums; marking time before the Third Industrial Revolution.

The First Industrial Revolution was powered by the development of the steam engine and substituting coal for charcoal. Something the environmentalists don’t appreciate. Progress isn’t perfect, but it’s better than what came before, and development takes time. Most of the trees in England were cut down and burned to make charcoal for smelting iron into steel. It wasn’t a pretty sight. I’ve seen the paintings of Coalbrookdale by Turner and Loutherberg. Believe it or not, that was progress. Still, the standard of living and life expectancy improved dramatically relative to farming.

In my estimation, The Second Industrial Revolution was pioneered by George Westinghouse (developed AC electricity) and Henry Ford (developed affordable autos — through a combination of productivity and paying a better wage). What followed were electric appliances (I have seen them described as the equivalent of having 22 personal servants) and an improving transportation network (better cars require better roads, which means cars can get better). Along the way, Rockefeller saved the whales by replacing whale oil with kerosene; again, the environmentalists don’t acknowledge it.

I don’t think many people would have a problem with a low minimum wage for a real low-skill requirement, entry-level job. The problem is after you have proved your dependability; there is no smooth transition to a middle-class job. It’s someplace between naïve and a disingenuous smoke screen to criticize McDonald’s for not paying more than the job is worth and expecting them to make up for the administration’s ineptitude and lack of focus on the real problems.

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