Lessons From The Shipyard Farmers

When the badly unprepared United States entered World War II, its navy urgently needed new ships. But with droves of young men drafted into the military, there were few able-bodied workers to build them.


When the city of Brunswick, Georgia was chosen for construction of a new shipyard, depression-weary Georgia farmers carrying burlap bags packed with wood-cutting tools flocked to the coast in hopes of finding work. Men who had never seen the ocean or any vessel larger than a rowboat joined women and the elderly to learn to weld steel and to build an enormous wartime shipyard. Then they built workhorse ships to counter Germany’s industrial might. Faced with war and presented a chance to learn and work, these people rose to meet the moment.

Fast forward to 2018. As political and business leaders gather in Davos next week, the future of work will be a hot topic. The introduction of automation and artificial intelligence into the workplace will create one of the biggest challenges of our time, because, as you may have heard, robots are coming for our jobs. Economists have done studies in recent years to determine whether this workplace tech revolution will kill more jobs than it creates. The results, not surprisingly, are inconclusive.

In short, we don’t know what long-term effect automation will have on job creation, but we do know that new jobs will demand a new kind of education and training. We can’t expect the guy driving today’s truck to simply slide to the passenger side to earn his living maintaining the software that drives tomorrow’s truck.

One likely impact: governments with money to spend on education, worker retraining, and social safety net protections for workers who can’t make the transition will have an adaptability advantage over governments that don’t have the cash.

But… as the farmers who built the warships remind us, human beings, especially those who must adapt to survive, can do extraordinary things.

Wrecking the global economy's hopes for a relaxing late-August Friday, China and the US have taken fresh shots at each other in their deepening trade war.

First, China announced new tariffs on US goods in response to US levies on China's exports that are set to take effect next month.

Trump responded with a vintage tweet storm, lashing out at China and demanding that US firms stop doing business there. The Dow plunged as markets waited for the next shoe to drop. And drop it did: later in the day Trump announced higher tariffs on nearly everything that China exports to the United States.

Why now? Bear in mind, all of this comes right as Trump is leaving for this weekend's G7 summit in France. That gathering already promised to be a testy one – but with the global economy slowing, the impact of Trump's increasingly nasty trade war with China will add fresh tensions to the occasion.

So where are we in the trade war now? Here is an updated list of what measures each side has imposed to date, and what's next. Both sides have a lot at stake, but from the looks of it, the list isn't going to get shorter any time soon.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.