Paul Volcker On Rare Earths, Green Jobs And All That

by Jack Lifton on March 5, 2010 · 1 comment

in Event Reviews, News Analysis

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I spoke in San Francisco two days ago on the market fundamentals of the “rare metals in the age of technology” at a conference for clients of the Hong Kong powerhouse brokerage, CLSA. The keynoter that day at the CLSA San Francisco Forum 2010 was Paul Volcker whose vigor and keen intellect at 83 put many men a generation younger than he to shame.

Paul Volcker didn’t mention the “rare earths” specifically so don’t hit your speed dial for your broker just yet. But he did speak about “green jobs,” and I was surprised at what he said on Wednesday although it anticipated the hubbub that has occurred since as several members of Congress seem to have noticed just where the green jobs are being created.

The former Federal Reserve Chairman said that although “green jobs” were desirable and perhaps necessary he wasn’t at all sure that they weren’t being created in such a way that they would benefit anyone seeking a manufacturing job in the USA. I understood him to be saying that current policies seem to insure that green manufacturing jobs will be in the low labor cost countries where the natural resources are available. He didn’t once utter the name, Obama, in his talk nor did he say anything about the current administration’s policy that I heard.

This morning (Friday, March 5) I note that some Missouri Congressman has started a fuss calling on the administration to drop out of NAFTA. Standing behind him in the photo in the paper were, of course, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the reverse Burns & Allen who now govern in America. I wonder if any of the people in that photo have ever asked Paul Volcker for advice. I doubt it.

Jobs have moved to Mexico because labor is cheaper there; Jobs have moved to Canada, because natural resources are abundant there and Canada is a nation not yet ready to give up its industrial base entirely just to create Wall Street (Bay Street) bonuses; and Canada is an immensely rich treasure house of natural resources.

If the USA wants to truly reverse the trend of offshoring and outsourcing it will have to enlarge, not diminish, its engineering education system and make it accessible to those qualified by merit alone. It will have to resume the mining of and the development of domestic resources of strategic and critical metals such as the rare earths, and it will have to support both of these agendas financially.

The Congress constantly treats the symptoms of our economic decline rather than the disease.

Can anyone in Washington hear what Paul Volcker is saying? Is their tone deafness on natural resources and technology a symptom of our disorder or is it the disease that is bringing us down?

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1 Thaidiamond March 17, 2010 at 12:27 am

Is it just low cost labor that gives a country a manufacturing edge?

To be sure, that’s an advantage, but then then how does Germany, with some of the world’s most expensive labor, export so successfully year after year.

Indeed, until last year, Germany was the world’s leader exporter. Not bad for an economy of some 82 million people. And it was only replaced with China’s 1.3 billion sized economy. For years, Germany has exported more than the U.S., yet its economy is less than 1/3 of America’s in size.

Quality — particularly at the highest end of the product spectrum — still counts. And apparently still affords advantages against low price ‘cheap’ labor.

I’m also not sure what is meant when Lifton tells us America has to enlarge “its engineering education system and make it accessible to those qualified by merit alone.”

Apparently Jack should check enrollment at U.S. universities — particularly at the graduate level. In engineering, science and math related studies, the majority of students aren’t Americans — they’re foreigners or ‘aliens’ as U.S. law calls them.

Isn’t that a testament both to the quality of U.S. universities and to the meritocracy of getting in?

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