Saturday, September 11, 2010

The British Disease

David Brooks took a look at the American economic problems from a useful historic perspective in his New York Times editorial, the Genteel Nation. He describes our current state of economic downturn and lack of confidence as "the British disease."
After decades of affluence, the U.S. has drifted away from the hardheaded practical mentality that built the nation’s wealth in the first place.
So how do we get back to our economic strength? We've got to make some real stuff, erase the balance of payments deficit by making what we make efficiently and at high standards, and seek greater meaning in the things we buy and spend money on.

Brooks points out that it isn't exactly socially acceptable for a graduate of the Ivy league colleges to go back to Akron to make auto parts, but that is exactly what we need... for the best and brightest to get into careers beyond "consulting and finance."

We now have schools in which there are few hands-on activities beyond the keyboard and worksheet. We have Ivy League schools and universities in which all teaching is by lecture. We have homes in which children are sedated by TV and video games and are no longer building things in their back yards. So we may have nearly laid waste a generation in that few know anything at all about their own real-hands-on possibilities.

Brooks also points out that one of the odd things about this recession is that there are so many skilled jobs that are being left unfilled.
Manufacturing firms can’t find skilled machinists. Narayana Kocherlakota of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank calculates that if we had a normal match between the skills workers possess and the skills employers require, then the unemployment rate would be 6.5 percent, not 9.6 percent.
So you can see that by failing to understand the significance of our hands and the wisdom they impart toward culture and economy, we have screwed things up.

In David Brooks editorial he takes on Michelle Obama, critically as follows:
The shift away from commercial values has been expressed well by Michelle Obama in a series of speeches. “Don’t go into corporate America,” she told a group of women in Ohio. “You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. ... Make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry.” As talented people adopt those priorities, America may become more humane, but it will be less prosperous.
But Brooks fails to see how what Michelle Obama proposes might help to alleviate the following:
Finally, there’s the lower class. The problem here is social breakdown. Something like a quarter to a third of American children are living with one or no parents, in chaotic neighborhoods with failing schools. A gigantic slice of America’s human capital is vastly underused, and it has been that way for a generation.
So, lets hope some good things come from the recession. Can you imagine Ivy League graduates becoming so inspired by hands-on learning that they put our nation back at work? Not just the white middle class, but those too, who have been so long ignored and whose talents have been wasted? We are way past due for a revolution in education.

It seems we have been coming to our senses and realizing we have screwed things up. We can fix things, too. You can start by fixing something that's broken. What's broken in your home today? Fix it yourself or at least try. Can't fix it? Let your kids take it apart and learn how things work. Get out the tools and paints and make messes in your own family explorations of real physical reality. Even the greatest things have humblest beginnings.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:59 AM

    My hands carving
    My hands building
    My hands fixing
    My hands loving
    My hands bring about so many possibilities
    My whole being connects to and through my hands
    The joy is there for everyone
    you just have to try.

    Thank you Doug for leading the way.

    Scrap Wood