January 24, 2009

Building Bridges

So this is what post-racial America is going to look like:

Obama economic advisor Robert Reich:

I am concerned, as I’m sure many of you are, that these jobs not simply go to high-skilled people who are already professionals or to white male construction workers. … I have nothing against white male construction workers. I’m just saying that there are a lot of other people who have needs as well. … Criteria can be set so that the money does go to others, the long term unemployed minorities, women, people who are not necessarily construction workers or high-skilled professionals.

See, bridges and roads need not be built by people with experience building bridges and roads, or qualifications to do so. Not if you want Stimulus cash, that is. Using logic only government understands, you'll have to hire a mandated percentage from the segment of the population least qualified and experienced.

But set aside for the moment the prospect of driving across bridges built by the long term unemployed. Consider instead the specter of an Obama administration, elected on a platform of unity and racial reconciliation, dictating not just to state transportation departments, but also to private design and engineering firms and construction contractors...you know, the people who actually build roads and bridges... that they must discriminate on the basis of race in the hiring of their employees, a practice that is supposed to be against the law.

A primary premise of racial preferences and contract set-asides is that there is a latent and malign racist force in America that would rise up to persecute and deny opportunities to minorities on the basis of their skin color, in the absence of government policies to suppress that force. Could it be time to ask government to at least make its intellectual case that this is true? Could President Obama weigh in on whether or not he thinks it is true?

The Reich quote raises so many other questions about where the Stimulus spending orgy will be going, and to what lengths the government will go to achieve statistics that are pleasing their bean-counters. Will Reich, for example, spend money to train the long-term unemployed with the skills to work as surveyors, CAD designers, estimators, project managers, superintendents, or welders? How long do you suppose it will be before those retrained workers will be out stimulating the economy?

Will the Stimulus relocate the favored categories of unemployed to the locations where roadwork and infrastructure projects are being undertaken, or will a project's proximity to pockets of long-term unemployed be a factor in its selection to be financed? Will private construction contractors have mandatory racial quotas?

And if minority status and length of time unemployed are both to be considered as subjects of Charlie Rangel's mandates, who would get preferential treatment for the brand new road-paving job....a white woman unemployed for two years, or a Mexican-American unemployed for six months? And what genius bureaucrat would be tasked with defining that distinction? One thing that seems sure is that it wouldn't matter if neither of them knew their ass from asphalt.

If the government is to be in the business of deciding who gets hired (and I guess the promise of 600,000 new government jobs says that they are) I don't have a philosophical problem with considering the length of time a person has been unemployed as a 'weighted' factor in a possible hiring decision. But neither do I think the government should have, as official policy, a practice of hiring first those who have worked least. The notion of meritocracy scares the shit out of Democrats.

But on the matter of the federal government mandating racial discrimination in hiring practices, isn't it time to just stop? Polls show large majorities of blacks and whites think it's time to stop. The election of Barack Obama says it's time to stop.

UPDATE 1/30: Reich fleshes out the plan here. And he does propose to use the power of the federal government to force private construction contractors into hiring quotas with racial criteria. Oh, and the contractors will have to be "nudged" some more, into providing the training for the new employees from the various favored categories...

...there's no reason to think about "green jobs" as simply high-tech. Many low-income and low-skilled workers -- women as well as men -- could be put directly to work providing homes and businesses with more efficient and renewable heating, lighting, cooling, and refrigeration systems; installing solar panels and efficient photovoltaic systems; rehabilitating and renovating old properties, and improving recycling systems. "Green Jobs Corps" teams could be trained to evaluate and advise homeowners and businesses on these and other means of conserving energy.

People can be trained relatively quickly for these sorts of jobs, as well as many infrastructure jobs generated by the stimulus -- installing new pipes for water and sewage systems, repairing and upgrading equipment, basic construction -- but contractors have to be nudged both to provide the training and to do the hiring.

I'd suggest that all contracts entered into with stimulus funds require contractors to provide at least 20 percent of jobs to the long-term unemployed and to people with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

All we have to do now is create the new permanent bureaucracy to make the federal Greenie Corps a reality...(coming to your neighborhood soon to insulate your house and paint your garage roof white, all on the taxpayer dime)

UPDATE 1/27: Michael G. Franc - "With the civil-rights race won, our government should embrace colorblindness"

Posted by dan at January 24, 2009 4:09 PM