Are “brown jobs” more egalitarian?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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What’s the Matter with Nebraska, Anyway? Are the “brown” energy-related jobs favored by conservatives–and currently multiplying in the Midwest–more socially egalitarian than the finance and information jobs in liberal coastal states? That seems to be Joel Kotkin’s point:

Growth of these sectors — along with construction and manufacturing — could prove critical to our beleaguered working class. There’s not much respect among the university-dominated pundit class for people who work with  their hands or have specific tangible  skills. Instead they need to lower their expectations and seek, as Slate recently suggested, to find work “in the service sector supporting America’s innovative class.”

In this neo-Victorian society, the “new normal” means a society dominated by  “innovative” or “creative” masters and their chosen, lucky servants. Leave your job and family in the Midwest or Nevada to become a toenail painter in Silicon Valley, San Francisco or Boston. Besides losing any sense of one’s independence, it’s hard to see how a barber or gardener can live decently, particularly with a family, in such expensive places.

This bleak reality may not inevitable, though. In many places construction employment is on the rise from its nadir in 2010. This recovery has been a nationwide phenomena but is, not surprisingly, most evident in growth states like Montana, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee and Utah. [E.A.] **

If true, this might provide an “objective’–in the Marxian sense–explanation for how Republicans convinced the white working class that Democrats were a bunch of elitists, the riddle Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas” tried to solve. Frank blames a form of false consciousness produced by skillful Republican manipulation of cultural issues (like abortion and gay marriage). But is it ‘false consciousness’ if liberals actually, in practice, favor an economy that, however prosperous, is filled with jobs where the booklearned get to boss around the unbooklearned? If what you care about is social equality, not money equality, it doesn’t seem false at all. ….


** –: Good Kotkin dig at this cluelessly economistic Slate article by Ray Fisman, who doesn’t seem to realize how creepy the future he offers to America’s unskilled workers is:

While the idea creators—those who design iPhones and develop new drugs—will continue to be the drivers of prosperity, more than a few crumbs may fall to the workers who support them. For example, Moretti estimates that Microsoft alone is responsible for adding 120,000 low-skill jobs to the Seattle area, where the company is based. This is because of the support workers required to style the hair, cut the grass, and yes, build the houses, of all those Microsoft engineers and computer scientists. [E.A.]

If they’re lucky and government training works, says Fisman, the former factory laborers might become better paid “artisans”–“fashion consultants and landscape designers” or “high touch” personal trainers–whose services are “sufficiently desirable to Moretti’s idea-creators.” …

Can’t really blame them for preferring work on a natural gas rig. …

Update: Cheaper, less regulated housing might encourage service workers to move to high-cost coastal cities, where (thanks to greater earnings) they would be more likely to live side-by-side with their educational betters, notes Virginia Postrel. But that’s a different dynamic. It would achieve more social equality by producing more economic equality (and therefore equality of real-estate consumption) even if those achieving their newfound middle-classness did it by serving those making more. “Brown jobs” produce social equality through the workplace itself, by allowing the uneducated to make a decent living without being anyone’s personal servant. That would seem to be true whether the incomes earned at “brown” jobs result in a more equal or less equal income curve. (It’s maybe even true if they are near-minimum wage jobs. They’re still not hair styling jobs–or other jobs where you have to suck up to “idea creators.”) …

Mickey Kaus