A ‘what if’ story… or maybe not

There were two things I read this week which jumped out at me. Both came from very different sources. One was Moneyweek (issue 577, 24 Feb 2012) and the other was Seth Godin, a famous marketing guru in America.

In Moneyweek, one of its columnists, Simon Caulfield, wrote a piece titled ‘What if this is not a financial crisis?’ Citing Professor Bruce Greenwald of Columbia University, he explained that the terminal decline of manufacturing employment was the reason for the financial crisis.

Caulfield went on to identify the two causes of the manufacturing employment problem. Firstly, that “the value of manufactured goods has held up well. But employment has been decimated”. He likened this to America in the 30s when the agriculture industry was dying. Mechanisation and fertilisers improved productivity but it meant redundant farm workers could not find jobs. Secondly, globalisation – manufacturing jobs moving to countries with cheaper labour like China, India and Asia.

What Caulfield describes is a seismic shift in our country’s economy. The lost manufacturing jobs are gone forever. New types of jobs will have to be created. But by whom? In Seth Godin’s book Stop Stealing Dreams, he argues that our school system was created for an industrial age and our children are not developing the character necessary for our post-industrial generation.

Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists.

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

The reason so many people grow up to look for a job is that the economy has needed people who would grow up to look for a job. Jobs were invented before workers were invented.

There are two recessions going on. One is gradually ending. This is the cyclical recession. We have them all the time; they come and they go. Not fun, but not permanent. The other one, I fear, is here forever. This is the recession of the industrial age, the receding wave of bounty that workers and businesses got as a result of rising productivity but imperfect market communication. Industrial jobs no longer create new industrial jobs in our country. A surplus of obedient hourly workers leads to unemployment, not more factories. On the other hand, creative jobs lead to more creative jobs. Self-starting, selfreliant, initiative-taking individuals often start new projects that need new workers. In my opinion, the now politicized role of “job creator” has nothing at all to do with tax cuts and everything to do with people who trained to have the guts to raise their hands and say, “I’m starting.” An economy that’s stuck needs more inventors, scientists, explorers, and artists. Because those are the people who open doors for others.

A key point that Godin keeps coming back to is the importance of passion. School does a good job of silencing passion but Godin argues that it’s essential our children to be passionate about something. Whether it’s dinosaurs, computer programming or writing.

As the industrial age peters out, as the growth fades away, the challenge is this: training creative, independent, and innovative artists is new to us. We can’t use the old tools, because resorting to obedience to teach passion just isn’t going to work. Our instinct, the easy go-to tool of activating the amygdala, isn’t going to work this time.

So what if the theory is true? That the industrial age is over and we are living in a new era, where tried and tested traditional solutions no longer work and we need new ones. What does this mean, for us and for our children?

2 Comments

  1. Powerful stuff, I think this point by Seth Godin is so true…

    “Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists.”

    I felt that at school and my school days ended a while back. It is a concern I have for my daughter, which is why for the moment she is at a Montessori pre-school nursery.

    And on the end of the industrial age, yes, sounds about right. It gives us the potential to move off in another, more exciting and rewarding direction, but both our generation and future generations need to be properly equipped to seize the opportunity.

    • It’s the new frontier. No one knows what the future holds. I’m considering teaching my 7yo some philosophy basics. Not that I know anything about it, but there are philosophy for children books.
      A lifelong questioning mind is what I hope he will get out of it.

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