Past Performance Is No Predictor of Future Performance

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Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins. This adage has meaning beyond its original intent when considering our current world. Like it or not, since the earth is now crowded with billions more folks than it had 50 or 100 or more years ago, and thus the free range of motion of our own arms has shrunk. We no longer can pull our nation’s head and legs into our own shell and exist on our own island. The fallacy of this isolationistic perspective is being tested with the self-defeating policies that the Trump administration is attempting to implement.


According to the Trump doctrine, in order to make America great again, it is necessary to reverse decades of stitching together the nations of the world in greater interdependence so as to allow American exceptionalism to reign supreme. The world we knew when everyone who wanted entree into the middle class could walk into the nearby factory and punch their timecard in a manufacturing plant, that world no longer exists. We can mourn the absence of the world that existed when the US served as the only intact manufacturing entity after WWII, and thus held an immeasurable competitive advantage for decades. Those were the decades of greatness that the America First agenda wishes to bring back.


It is always foolhardy to craft national policy on the basis of nostalgia, but that apparently is what is motivating the America First crowd. Instead of looking behind us for inspiration (Immigration Act of 1924, Leave It to Beaver, Homestead Works of Pittsburgh belching sparks and smoke), I prefer an attempt to steer our country and its economy towards the future. What does the future hold? Where are the opportunities for new jobs that can provide a true middle-class lifestyle?


First, let’s acknowledge that many of the jobs of the future look a lot like the jobs of the past. In particular, skilled craftsmen and women have a bright future ahead of them. Manufacturers cannot get enough skilled welders. An industry trade group projects that the nation will need 290,000 new welders by 2020 in order to accommodate those welders who will retire, plus handle the new jobs being created within manufacturing and the energy industry. There will always be opportunities for plumbers, and electricians, and for skilled carpenters. These professions also offer the chance to become an entrepreneur, since most opportunities in these fields are local. The demographic wave of the baby boom generation crested long ago, and that wave is withdrawing from the shores of the labor market. The vacuum in the labor market must be filled, and for those who have desires to work with their hands, there are opportunities. What is needed is strong vocational training and/or apprentice programs to transition folks from novices to skilled craftsmen and women.


Next, let’s talk about energy. This field runs the gamut from solar panel installation, to wind turbine construction and maintenance, to electrical grid modernization, to drilling rig worker, and to pipeline construction worker. In my state of West Virginia, where the coal industry has scalped the tops of our small mountains, leaving behind ground denuded of topsoil, but a relatively flat surface, we have the opportunity to develop large-scale solar farms. These farms can be integrated with small scale agriculture intended to take advantage of the shade provided (ginseng, anyone?), and can serve as a career option for the last generation of coal miners and those who currently have no hope and are surrendering their future to oxycontin and heroin.


Now let’s address the elephant in the room – the Republican-led conspiracy to deny that changes in energy policy are necessary, in order to mitigate a warming environment due to burning fossil fuels. I’ve seen the entire range of beliefs of those who refuse to acknowledge that atmospheric effects from anthropogenic emissions are changing the thermometer setpoint of the earth. Some of their stated beliefs are possibly correct (example – we may be entering a solar minimum period that may overwhelm any changes from atmospheric composition). Some of their beliefs are simply incorrect (temperature records are invalid since they represent a change from rural to urban temperature measurements, and besides, climate scientists have fudged their records, and besides, you know, thermodynamics is just so wrong). Some of their beliefs are based upon religious claims, like mankind has no capability of overruling God’s control over our environment. And some are purely conspiratorial in nature, such as the belief that claims of global warming are a tool of the one-world agenda deep state that wishes to impose political control over each and every aspect of life in our country, causing us to cede our sovereignty to a one-world government.


To refute each of these beliefs would take more space than my blog normally uses, and besides, my argument is that in order to transition away from fossil fuels, it is actually necessary to use one version of fossil fuels more extensively than we have in the past. Of course, that fuel is natural gas or methane, which has the virtue of emitting much less carbon dioxide per kilogram of input than any other hydrocarbon. Simply put, displacement of a high carbon fuel source (coal) with methane is the main reason why the US has reduced CO2 emissions over recent years. According to the US Energy Information Administration, CO2 emissions in the US decreased 12% between 2005 and 2015, and the drop is mainly attributed to replacement of coal by natural gas in electric power generation. So if we are waiting for renewable energy to take its place as the primary power source , or if we are awaiting for advancements in either fusion or fission (see thorium reactor cycle) in nuclear energy, then methane serves as a reliable bridge fuel.


Methane also offers many opportunities for jobs. Since much of the methane resources available through fracking are not in areas with pipeline infrastructure, it is necessary to build new pipelines, and that is a key source of job opportunities. Fracking also requires many more drill rigs due to the rapid depletion of fracking hydrocarbon reservoirs. I know that there is much dispute over environmental damage done by pipelines and by fracking. But it is not realistic to transition directly from dependence upon coal, to a totally green energy solution. Methane offers a transition period that enables maintenance of the living standard we enjoy that relies upon intense consumption of energy. Those who rely upon and believe in the moral superiority of coal and oil will not give in easily, though. In West Virginia, one of the bumper stickers used by the proponents of coal is “Let the Bastards Freeze in the Dark”. Those stickers are often affixed to the bumpers of diesel pick-ups that have been fixed with special combustion controls that dump excess fuel into the cylinders, causing a cloud of black smoke that they use to obscure the visibility of Prius drivers, like myself. I’ve been coal rolled a few times.


Photo of rolling coal from Justin Westbrook credited on story.


Jobs in agriculture have been decreasing for generations. Many city dwellers are now several generations removed from the farm and from rural life. Yet amazingly, farming is now coming into the cities. High technology hydroponic farming is making it possible to use some of the urban real estate that used to house factories, and convert it into high-yielding produce farms. In the suburban/rural interface, high-tunnel greenhouses are allowing intensive cultivation on small plots, enabling small-scale farmers to supply the local produce markets for cities that want organic produce sourced locally. As western diets move away from corn and soy based food chains to more vegetables, look for the number of people making a living growing food to increase steadily.


One area where the job demand is increasing is also one where the wages earned do not reflect the value provided to society. That is in the personal care industry. Whether we are looking at home assistance provided to the elderly, or the labor needed for assisted living facilities and nursing homes, these workers provide a service that our society should value. The low wages provided for these workers shows that the current job market does not value these workers, and as a result, those who are in the field are often overworked. Abuse (either intentional or not) can result, since in our society we do not properly value this form of labor.


What should we not look for in the future job market? We should not look for low-value manufacturing to return to this country, regardless of the tariffs imposed on those exporters who are accused of manipulating their currency to hurt us in the US. It is unlikely that we will ever see inexpensive metal implements to be manufactured in the US again. It is also unlikely that we will see basic garment manufacture to be sourced domestically again – unless the manufacturing processes are automated to such an extent that the number of jobs associated with the manufacture is reduced by an order of magnitude from the old garment mills. US manufacturing jobs will increasingly be focused on huge, high-tech machinery, or on processes that can be completely automated. Either way, the new manufacturing worker must be educated and trained well beyond the existing labor forces capabilities.


What we will find as we swing our nation’s fists wildly in an attempt to protect ourselves from the rest of the worlds increasing integration, is that our fists are as likely to strike ourselves in the nose as we are to rain blows down upon our perceived adversaries. The world’s economies are too tightly interwoven to enable one country to extricate ourselves from the tentacles of commerce without ripping our own economy to shreds. Beware the effect of unintended consequences as we try to make America great again.


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Jeffry Gilbert Added Sep 12, 2017 - 1:01am
Your underlying contention that globalism is preferable and inevitable therefore just roll over and be quiet it won't hurt for long is absurd. 
wsucram15 Added Sep 12, 2017 - 6:47am
Wow great photo.   Dont you just hate it when a car or truck blows that black or heavy gray smoke in your face?  I always wonder how they pass emissions tests, at least here.  Its like being in the car with a smoker.
People believe what they want to believe.  John..thats weird enough for me to look at.  The other story you gave me has no validation, that does not mean it will not however. 
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 12, 2017 - 10:40am
Jeffry - whether you believe it or not, we have to deal with other countries. You may call that globalism. I prefer to believe it is enlightened self-interest to interact in a way with other nations that benefits both partners. To blindly state that all multi-lateral trade agreements are weighted against us and demand that our nation becomes the winner (as measured by trade deficits on a bilateral basis) is foolish at best, and could become catastrophic as the US loses its competitive advantage by losing reserve currency status. The advantage we have from holding the reserve currency is like the externalized costs associated with pollution - we have difficulty in considering what a total economic accounting would be. But if through the on-going isolationist trends evoked by Trump, we find ourselves with a 50% devaluation of the dollar, let me assure you that our export industries will boom, but we will be the big losers due to the increased costs we will incur for many products sold in the US.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 12, 2017 - 10:44am
John - economics of fracking are up to debate. My father-in-law had some of the first fracking wells on his farm. They were vertical, not horizontal, and the depletion rate was very fast. Did it pay off? Don't know. But as the infrastructure gets built for pipelines, then there is a higher probability that the gas released at the initial production point for the well will be monetized at a higher cost than has happened with the post 2008 natural gas pricing.
At $2.50 per mcf at the well-head? I might agree with you. At $4.00 per mcf? The IRR of that project would pay back well cost in under a year.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 12, 2017 - 10:49am
Jeanne - most of the trucks that roll coal that I've seen have a stainless exhaust pipe or two sticking out just above and beyond the cab of the truck. That ensures the best dispersion of the smoke into the airspace of the following vehicle.
I am struck by the vituperative vitriol that comes from the coal and oil supporters. If you are against blowing off the tops of mountains in order to get a couple of 2' seams of coal, you are a commie pinko f__ and not worthy to be in mixed company. Of course, this is West Virginia, where we have rolled over for coal barons for over a century. And this is where we still have no economic development plan other than bringing coal back.
Joe Chiang Added Sep 12, 2017 - 12:46pm
I understand that fracking has had problems in the past.  But the Bakken Oil field is being harvested almost entirely through fracking, with no issues. 
The issue of global participation is another issue,  The world, especially thanks to the Internet and multi-national corporations is now a world economic stage.  No amount of complaining that we do not want to participate is going to change the facts,
Our Founding Fathers could have never anticipated a global economic world.  I am all for a Constitutional government, but there are some realities that must be addressed.
Dino Manalis Added Sep 12, 2017 - 1:52pm
America first in conjunction with our friends and allies around the world.  Trump has to acknowledge trade is pro-growth and creates jobs, but we have to be ready for it with low corporate taxes; constant R&D of better goods and services; and more worker retraining to prepare employees  with skills for new jobs.
Joe Chiang Added Sep 12, 2017 - 2:07pm
I have a different thought on corporations.  The US Constitution and our economic system was never designed with Corporations being "persons" and having a life span of forever.
Businesses were expected to be born with the owner, grow under the watchful eye of the owner, and die with the owner.  Some were passed down to children, but ability levels limited such continuation.  In addition, a family business would have the best interest of not only the business, but also the community. 
Corporation have no such altruistic motivations.  The person in charge is the one who can deliver the biggest profit no matter the cost to the community, the family, or the environment.
I believe the eternal corporation is the cause for the "One World Government" efforts.  A corporation need not just look at the lifetime of the President, but can consider the world 2-6 Corporate Presidents in the future.
Saint George Added Sep 12, 2017 - 6:28pm
Fracking is a ponzi scheme
You just have no idea of what an actual Ponzi scheme is!
Go back to sleep.
Jeff Jackson Added Sep 12, 2017 - 11:19pm
Great article. Mr. Clock. I think the world government is a bad idea simply because it is competition that makes for better products and services, and the idea of a single economic/political entity sounds like a Marxist leftover. The same goes for a world government ruling over everyone; I do not see it ruling effectively, no matter how many good points the believers suggest it will bring.
Joe, ruling corporations as "persons" is the only way that corporations can legally own things and conduct business, but many corporations have died, just as people perish. While the constitution didn't foresee corporations, I do not see any other legal means by which they can operate.
Saint George Added Sep 13, 2017 - 2:39am
The precedent of granting corporate 'personhood' was actually a mistake on the part of a court transcript reporter.
More junk economic history.
Saint George Added Sep 13, 2017 - 5:02am
Whether from arse-wipe-unintelligible-skid-mark-john-g-1, or arse-wipe-literate-skid-mark-john-g-2, your posts have contributed nothing to the success or attraction of WriterBeat. Both of you are here as trolls.
You should both impale yourselves on a long, slender, wooden shard anchored vertically into the ground at the bottom of a Turkish toilet. Then you could invite all of your terrorist friends for a cook-out as they roast you over an open fire: a big shit-kebob.
Katharine Otto Added Sep 13, 2017 - 1:20pm
This post raises many issues for me.  I'll try to approach each one succinctly.  First, burning one molecule of methane produces one of CO2 and two of H20. Methane is still a carbon-based fuel.  
Second, fracking is polluting, hell on groundwater.  
Third, I contend that large-scale industry, especially with products destined for export, are hell on local communities.  Better to get off this export mentality and look into supplying regional areas.  For instance, why is Georgia exporting frozen chicken to China, when China can raise its own chickens?  The poultry industry is incredibly contaminating at home but wouldn't be so bad if the farms were smaller with waste re-used.  Same with wood, cotton, and other raw materials.
Fourth, you've mentioned pipelines before, and in Georgia we are looking at Kinder-Morgan's eminent domaining land through 210 miles of the state to ship methane to the ports for export.  Why?  Landfills generate methane, too, and you don't need pipelines to capture methane for regional energy use.  I'm also interested in the potential of waste-to-energy plants for reclaiming all those BTUs from all our plastic trash. To allow private industry to eminent domain private land for commercial purposes is a very dangerous precedent.
Fifth, I agree with the idea of solar farms and planting underneath the panels, but the real beauty of solar is decentralization.  I would love to get off the grid, especially after our last power outage, but all these centralizers think central power, both in utilities and in government, is good.
Finally, if you look at the types of products being imported and exported, you will find we're exporting the good stuff and importing junk.  Large industry pollutes at home, provides nasty jobs for low-wage earners, and ships the major profits to Wall Street and otherwise out of town.  
Maybe the US needs to learn how to relax, not work so hard, and learn to live more fully within our means and our borders.  The rest of the world might appreciate it.
George N Romey Added Sep 13, 2017 - 4:09pm
Most of our policy is driven by the demands of the big money donors. First change to publicly funded elections for national offices and the donors go away. Same thing get rid of PACSs and lobbyists. 
The big big money is doing phenomenally well. No surprise they pay for little to no change.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 13, 2017 - 8:40pm
Katherine - thank you for your thoughtful comments. This is the type of discussion I am hoping to foster on this site.
The issues of pipelines is very emotionally charged. Especially since their completion relies upon eminent domain in order to gain access to the land for their intrusive nature. Then there is the unfortunate possibility of having a high pressure pipeline rupture and cause a catastrophic fire due to inadequate maintenance. This actually happened in my hometown of Charleston WV a few years ago - an interstate was disrupted due to the rupture of a pipeline. Fortunately there were no injuries but it could have been a huge incident.
Natural gas at present has two purposes - one is serving domestic markets and large-scale power generation. Methane from landfills is very low pressure, small in quantity, and is best suited for small-scale electrical generation at the source. This is an extremely good use of the methane generated from our waste, but it is a drop in the bucket of the total energy needs.
Natural gas for export represents a 3rd possibility not listed in the previous paragraph. Now you are talking about global politics, in that if you export liquefied natural gas to Europe, you are directly reducing Europe's dependence upon Russian natural gas. Gazprom has a strangle-hold on Europe's energy balance at present time due to their being the sole provider of exported natural gas to the EU. So there is a geo-political aspect to being able to increase exports to Europe.
Your other points are good, but I'm not going to try to address each of them in term. Just let me say that I agree that fracking can cause pollution, and thus needs to be regulated. It doesn't have to cause pollution , since there are many wells drilled that do not cause local well taps to ignite with methane. Regulation is a good thing in these cases.
Also, we can discuss big business and its impact on society until the cows come home (an old dairy farmer saying).  Just today, I deliberately purchased asparagus in my local grocery store at $1.99 / pound. The asparagus was grown in Peru. Does it make any sense from a global and an ecological perspective to ship a perishable produce product across the equator and sell it for a loss-leader price? Hell, no. But I as a consumer - given the opportunity to have out-of-season asparagus to accompany our fish tonight - I went for it and don't have a regret. I do believe that this is a horrible waste of assets and energy to make this an option available in the US. But the market has spoken, and thus we have this enormous range of possibilities available to us, if we have the money.
Thank you again for your comments and your thoughts on this issue.
Joe Chiang Added Sep 14, 2017 - 12:42pm
I believe the first example of a corporation was Lloyds of London.  When ships sailed, the owners wanted to buy insurance coverage in case of the ships being lost, with cargo.
As ships got larger, the risk became too much of a risk for any one individual.  Lloyds was already established as a clearinghouse for those wanting coverage and those willing to provide coverage.
The logical result was a standardized premium rate all investors were willing to accept.  Then a group would be put together to provide that coverage.  These people may or may not have known each other.
St George:  I question that this was a transcription error.  The transcriptionist reads over the transcript, then the judges, then both attorneys.  Now, after all hat, could the transcriptionist could the transcriptionist be paid to replace that paper?  That I could believe.
Dave Volek Added Sep 14, 2017 - 3:19pm
Excellent article, indeed.
I would just like to challenge you on fracking. The new way of fracking has some serious concerns (shallow, high density fracks, and strange new chemicals). Because the anti-fracking lobby is either falsifying the process or just doesn't care to understand it, the petroleum industry can easily make the anti-fracking lobby look silly. The politicians have sided with the petroleum industry, so we don't have a lot a regulations for an industrial process that should have regulations.
Just my thoughts.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 14, 2017 - 4:40pm
Dave - I would agree that additional regulation is needed for fracking. Being a chemical engineer myself, I cannot understand what reason for claiming proprietary privilege as an excuse to not releasing the contents of fracking chemicals.
Similarly, concerns about pipelines do need to be addressed. In the Appalachian mountains, there are a lot of stream crossings and general up and down work that must be done for a new pipeline to be laid. The impact from construction must be minimized, but still the pipelines will need to be laid.
Stone-Eater Added Sep 14, 2017 - 5:58pm
I prefer to believe it is enlightened self-interest to interact in a way with other nations that benefits both partners
See you in Africa LOL
Doug Plumb Added Sep 14, 2017 - 6:00pm
I cannot imagine how someone could actually be in favor of not only any kind of global government, but also the kind that is developing. The kind of global government that is developing wants you dead. You can see it in the Georgia Guidestones, read it in the Bible or in their own policy papers, or just look at the evidence, from Fluoride in the water to 9-11 and virtually everything in-between. You can learn about its nature from Aristotle or Plato. You should know something about law, enlightened people always do. If you knew something about law, then you would understand what common law is and the fact that the greatest and freest nations ever created have their government structures and law built upon its foundation. Without the Western Jurisprudence foundation all is lost and the world becomes a third or fourth world shit-hole.
  The only reason people want globalism is because they think they will have more stuff. The argument is always along economic lines and its made by people who do not understand the money system.
Jeff Michka Added Sep 14, 2017 - 8:44pm
John G notes: It always amuses me that the staunchest defenders of the rights of corporations are usually the staunchest opponents of unions.-Wow, so it's not just me that's noticed.  The real interesting ones are those that hate unions, yet wax laconic about Citizen Untied and need for more "corporate person hood." 
Jeff Michka Added Sep 14, 2017 - 8:46pm
Geo Romey tells people: First change to publicly funded elections for national offices and the donors go away. Same thing get rid of PACSs and lobbyists. -OK. agreed.  Now what are you going to DO to make it happen?
Katharine Otto Added Sep 14, 2017 - 9:28pm
You're right that the global issues are too complex for discussion on this thread.  Do I care whether Europe gets its natural gas from Russia?  No.  I care that our own government is colluding with Big Oil to sell me out, while raping the land to plant pipelines.  The import-export issue is a huge one, deserving of its own blog or series of blogs.  I'm the only person who seems to think exporting valuable things like liquefied gas is not good for the US.  Fracking might not be necessary if not for exports.  
I'm all for importing things that are out of season or can't be grown or produced here.  We're lucky that we have such a wide variety of food choices.  
By the way, asparagus is easy to grow, it's a perennial, and deer don't eat it.  I grow it, and so could you.  
What do you think of the waste-to-energy plants? Germany is importing waste because Germans are so resourceful they don't produce enough to feed their plants.  China is building them like wildfire.  
Joe Chiang Added Sep 17, 2017 - 4:27pm
We have some asparagus in our garden.  We also planted two apple trees