Friday, September 09, 2005

The Heart of the Matter

As usual, Ms. P gets right down to the bare bones: one page.
     At root the nightmare that arose in New Orleans is about the abandonment of long-term comprehensive planning in the United States. The tragedy played out in New Orleans removed arguments for long-term planning from the abstractions of economic and political theories and put them in concrete, simple terms. So now, everybody understands.
The neglect of long-range planning has been across the board: in education, jobs retraining, energy exploration, maintenance of critical infrastructures, land/water management, civil defense, the list goes on.
Actually, her list could be the prelude to a don’t-get-me-started rant. What is most interesting, if you look closely, is that her points are all intertwined. For example, just to take two: education and the maintenance of critical infrastructures. We are not training enough people in maintaining anything. Maintenance jobs are considered “low status” and kids who shouldn’t be there are pushed into college.
    Simply put, there are more skilled technical positions than workers to fill them. To top it off, many of the more experienced technical workers are reaching retirement age.
The average age of a skilled tradesperson is 48. The average age of a supervisor is 51.
Meanwhile, the machinists’ jobs are going begging:
     Often, the more specific a technical skill or craft is, the higher the demand and the higher the pay. A tool-and-die maker can earn $50,000 to $100,000. These highly skilled craftspeople make the tools and construct the metal molds, gauges and fixtures used in manufacturing.
"That's an old, old trade, and I don't think most people understand what it is. It's the artist of manufacturing," says Butch Merritt, director of job placement and cooperative education at Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton, S.C. "That's a real skill. Accuracy is so important."
Look at this jobs data from 2001-2002:

Employment change by highest educational attainment
January 2001 - January 2002
 January 2002 total12-month change
Less than high school diploma15,908,416-510,695
High school diploma only40,450,000-1,360,000
Some college, no degree25,990,000-890,000
Post-secondary technical degree6,507,836419,122
Two-year academic degree5,603,021-14,835
Bachelor's degree25,080,000-90,000
Advanced degree12,597,373119,162
Source: Employment Policy Foundation tabulation of Bureau of Labor Statistics/Census Current Population Survey microdata files, January 2001 and January 2002.

And guess what did not get funded by that slab of pork called “No Child Left Behind”? Vocational training. No money for “them.” We need to educate more English majors to work at Starbucks while we complain over our lattes about outsourcing.

Pundita goes on to outline the causes of our catastrophically short-sighted quick-fix remedies for long term problems:
     Many causes led this country to drift from long-range thinking; among them:
The two-party system of politics, which became a literal industry serving its own needs at the expense of the national welfare.
Pork barrel politics: localities elected officials not for their foresight and governance skills but for what they could do, short-term, for a business faction or voting bloc.
Over-idealization of democratic principles: obsessive focus on the Right and Left to ramrod ideals about freedom into legislation at the expense of basic, critical national needs.
Abuse of the concept of federalism, which transformed many US state governments into a virtual duchy.
She’s right about something else, too. The two-party system in this country is broken. It’s an anachronism, as is our tax code. The fear of change is killing us, literally. Pundita points to the latest example of the Congressional idea about how to fix things. It amounts to how to fix blame.
     The two-party political machine way of doing things began to creak and groan two decades ago under the pressures of the modern era. The machine is now broken. Any doubts on that score, consider the squabbling in Congress these past days about the makeup of the Goat Commission to fix blame for what happened to New Orleans -- the very commission Congress called for.
Here is her parting shot across the bow of the pols, emphasis added:
     Face this: the aftermath of a hurricane is sweeping away an era in American politics. If the Congress does not confront the failure of long-term planning they will lose the American public. Then the Democrat and Republican parties will find themselves facing a third party candidate by 2008.
The candidate will not be Ralph Nader or a Green Party type -- one easily blocked by Democrat and GOP machines at the state level. It will be a candidate representing the tidal wave of public outrage. The American workforce is among the hardest working, if not the hardest working, in the world. And hands down, we are the busiest people in the world. We don't have time for verbal sleights of hand from elected officials..
From her mouth to God’s ears.


al fin said...

That is certainly a fair point about vocational education. Most young people manage to get through secondary education and university without learning anything practical. The assumption seems to be that it helps the economy for educated people to be helpless. By needing to hire specialists to make repairs and provide services for every little need, the wheels of the economy are kept moving somehow.

Helpless, overeducated fools. I would include myself in that category as well, but I am at least trying to learn some practical skills along with my never ending professional and scholastic training.

I wish I had been given vocational training along with my early forays into prep school and college. Every child should have vocational training, starting in primary school. Enough of raising generations of helpless, book-learned boobies.

David Foster said...

See my post The Suppression of Shop for an analysis of factors involved in the deemphasis on vocational education.