America needs a cultural and economic shift. We all know that America has been having some economic troubles recently, but a quick article up on Salon.com recently painted a nice picture of what they call an economic collapse of our empire. Sharing this link with a friend of mine prompted a conversation regarding what America should do to prevent this collapse.
My response is a return to trade skills. All ecosystems work in pendulum swings between states of inequality to generate a (dynamic) balance, and the American economy is no different, especially now that it is arguably in its most unified state since founding. We are on the side of the swing that is economic decline due to overgrowth in one sector, services, and we need to promote a return to other sectors in order to keep the pendulum moving back towardseconomicrecovery.
The problem with these statements is that oftentimes they invoke negative imagery of sweatshop labor, families unable to pay their bills, etc. Yet this not need be the case. Instead, consider America’s economic-distribution curve like an inchworm making it’s way along, where the head moves forward while the tail catches up. The head is the economic elite, the tail is the rest. The inchworm moves forward, it’s just that the elite get to achieve the results first. We all talk about the decline of the middle class, but in reality its not a decline at all, many of them have just caught up with the head, they have succeeded. The problem is that no matter the case, the head will always be in front of the tail, which is why we will always have a classed economy.
The problem with the inchworm is that the model only works when the inchworm has somewhere to go. America has no direction right now. Currently, society as a whole is focused on fighting wars, changing health care, promoting or banning gay marriage, banning immigrants, prepping for eco-energy and promoting and fighting climate change, all at the same time (at least, that’s the news headlines summation of America). It’s an inchworm reared up on it’s hind legs, scouting out the terrain frantically, with no direction. America needs to shift it’s focus to reassessing it’s own economic initiatives.
I am not talking about at the government level, but instead at the cultural level. The friend that prompted this discussion remarked, about Utah’s potentially making the 12th grade voluntary, that it would be a good thing if they also put a focus on technical education. Of course, this will probably not be the case, as in times like these budget cuts don’t often come with compromises of that sort, but it’s a point with which I agree.
America’s cultural shift needs to be away from this notion that everybody needs to go to college. College is becoming less about education, and more about a social right-of-passage for many. However, it has left one positive side-affect: American’s have demonstrated an increasing willingness to put off their lives for another two to four years before entering the work force. This is our leverage for initiating change.
Take those two to four years and focus them on producing more specific workers. Beef up high school so that it provides an extremely good environment for producing critical thinkers who also have general knowledge from which to derive their understanding of the patterns of the world. Then provide these students with more than the three opportunities we have now: college, military or a crappy job. Bring back technical education, place it post-secondary school and make it culturally praise-worthy, just like that four year degree!
With this accomplished, we need not return to the manufacturing and trades of old (though there will always be a need for good, national infrastructure support individuals). There are plenty of new markets available that America can exploit, from green energy to battery technology (of which we used to be a leader, but no more), to computer programming. In fact, regarding programming, the CEO of Zoho talks of snagging people right out of high school and training them to be programmers. It’s a return to the apprenticeship model that has always been a lifeline to economies; one of the first structured means of passing along technical information from one generation to the next.
It’s a model I see at work here in Kenya. The students that complete the NYS program and become tradespeople are considered the best. I run into individuals randomly around Kenya who have completed NYS themselves and are proud of the lives they have created and attribute their success to the NYS program.
Many people feel that an education means a four year degree. Yet I constantly meet people who tell me that they went to college, but don’t remember half of what they learned. Why are we promoting such a wasteful system? We need to readjust our cultural values away from the perception that a college-degree is necessary, and towards the perception that technical trade skills and prepping individuals to be immediately productive in the economy are to be admired and respected. With this we can ensure the tail catches up with the head and the inchworm can move along his merry way.