Finance and technology do not create many jobs, and the conduct of business in those sectors is rapacious and predatory, shading often into fraud. Some years ago we calculated the rise of income inequality measured between counties during the 1990s boom years, and found that half the increase was due to income gains in just five counties: Manhattan, Silicon Valley, Seattle. There have been other big gainers since, but the fact remains: the largest income and wealth gains in America have become highly concentrated in a few very specific places, sectors – and people.
Yet practically all new jobs created in the past 30 years have been in services, and most of those in “stagnant services” – the profusion of restaurants, retail shops, hospitals and clinics, offices and entertainment venues, fueled by household incomes (and borrowings) exceeding requirements for material goods. Pay in these jobs is mediocre and employment is unstable. Families compensated by having two or more earners, each sometimes holding two or more jobs, where 50 years ago the norm was one earner with a steady job paying a living wage. Then Covid blasted the sector.
For better or worse, we can’t go back: globalization and the digital revolution are irreversible facts of life. The June 2021 White House Review on the supply chain made this very clear, using semiconductors, rare earths, batteries and pharmaceuticals as examples. Our advanced sectors need world markets – including the Chinese market – as much as they need access to the world’s resources. US consumers benefit from imported goods and from the efficiencies of the information age.