This concept of replacement theory where white workers are subject to a planned replacement by black and brown workers has been around for decades. In fact, the fascists in England were using this replacement theory in the early 1960s, of course, blaming Jews for its orchestration. In essence, the theory says white workers’ jobs are being systematically replaced by immigrants and those other people who don’t belong here. Sound familiar? Yet, this replacement theory well preceded the 1960s.
It is all subterfuge to create fear and blame others for your problems. Fear has been used to sell ideas and manipulate people for a long time. Overstating an inflammable cause is one way to do that. The fear of the other overlooks the deeper problems for loss of jobs and disenfranchisement. The key reasons for disenfranchisement are the actual replacement practices that we need to address. These are not some theory, but deployed routinely and recurringly in practice.
There are two key reasons, which impact all workers of all colors:
– technology improvements which reduce the number of workers needed, and
– CEOs chasing cheaper labor to lower the cost of production
The latter cause manifests itself in offshoring, outsourcing, or migration of factories. For example, the textile industry has left a trail of closed plants as the industry moved from England to the United States first in New England and then to southern states. Then in the 1980s, the heavy migration occurred to China and Mexico and eventually to Vietnam and Bangladesh searching for cheaper labor. One company that comes to mind went from 86,000 US employees in 1980 to about 4,000 today, with the rest abroad. That is not an isolated example and it is not just manufacturing work. It is call center, IT, analysis, etc. The US based insurance industry has been shipping claim forms for review to Ireland as the Irish were, on average, more literate than Americans, even before technology made it easier to get the Irish to review them.
The former cause has been occurring routinely as well, but has accelerated once again with the advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Yet, a robot need not look like a humanoid to be effective. Computer driven machines and robotic appendages have evolved over time. I watched a “60 Minutes” episode about ten years ago, which demonstrated a programmable robotic machine that went for the price of a car to be used by small businesses. The tasks need not be complex to improve efficiency, so these cheaper machines could replace a half-dozen workers.
So, when you hear immigration is a problem, that does not address the main issues. Of course, the immigration system could be improved and opportunities to do so were not voted on after some agreement even by some of the most vocal critics. But, there are some industries and municipalities that need more workers. Those workers need to be trained or trainable, so some may come from abroad and some from here.
Where we need to focus our attention is working with new and old industries in transition and community colleges to train new workers. The coal industry has been on the demise for a dozen years, but some politicians have been clinging on to its protection. I have said several times, whether or not you like Senator Bernie Sanders, he was the only presidential candidate in 2016 to stand up in front of coal miners and tell them the truth – your jobs are going away, but here is what I plan to do about it.
In this vein, some towns are dilapidated by closed factories that moved. The forward thinking towns invested in bringing new workers from whereever they could. They developed initiatives to reinvest in the area using the brainpower of the new and old blood mixed together. They developed incentives to draw younger adults to their towns. And, it worked.
The issue of workers needing more opportunity and investment is where we need to focus our attention. This is a good example of a group of PR people coming up with an issue, blowing it way out of proportion as the problem, and putting it on a bumper sticker. “Build a wall” some might say as the panacea. Ironically, when the major proponent of that comment accepted a deal to get $25 billion for this wall in exchange for making DACA law, he was talked out of it. This was his number one issue, but he said no after saying yes. Why? He knew it would not solve the problems and his bluff had been called.
Our problems are complex and have multiple factors. One of the tenets of the book “Built to Last” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum is most of America’s major problems over time were solved in concert between some combination of government (federal, state and/ or local), venture capital, and private industry or philanthropy investment. We won’t solve our problems unless we identify them and their many causes. We won’t solve them by listening to opinion hosts and candidates who are trying to scare, who really don’t want to solve anything other than getting someone elected.
We will solve them by looking at the facts, coming up with a plan, getting buy-in and funding and making it happen. That is hard to put on a bumper sticker or define in a two-minute sound byte by an opinion host.