(reprint from 10/29/11)
*With apologies to David Bowie
By: Thomas Mischler
In the first half of the 20th century there was a major shift in the US: we stopped growing things and started building things. We moved from the farms to the factories. We are currently undergoing a similar transformation: we have stopped building things and now we are going to … to do what, exactly? That’s the problem – few people have any idea at this point what we should do next. Some say we are moving toward an information society, and that may be true for some. But is there enough opportunity there to provide meaningful work for millions of Americans in large and small towns?
Similar questions must have plagued the old farmers and their wives in the 1920’s when their neighbors left their farms and moved to the cities to find work. The traditional family farms were abandoned and left to rot as people moved to big cities and factories. These changes occurred slowly, but by the 1960’s American life was about suburbs, consumerism, and prosperity for all. Most Americans didn’t seem to mind – they were doing well in the new economy.
Back then young men and women could graduate from high school, get jobs in local factories or other businesses – in large towns or small – and expect to make pretty good lives for themselves. They could buy a home and furnish it, raise a small family, buy new cars, enjoy vacations, and even put their kids through college. Life was good. Hard work paid well.
Obviously that’s no longer the case. Young people with advanced degrees find the only work available to them is at a local big box store or fast food outlet. Due to the high cost of college, these graduates are saddled with debt and unable to find a job to pay it off. Forget about raising a family, purchasing a home, etc. – many only want to survive. That may be why they’re marching in the streets.
I’ve read that most jobs that today’s kids will end up doing haven’t even been thought of yet. To me, that means we need new ideas. Henry Ford didn’t start out building wagons and one day decide to add a motor. Steve Jobs wasn’t a typewriter designer who suddenly thought of a new approach. These people ignored the status quo and came up with radical new concepts, thus creating new jobs and new industries. The aggregate effect was a new America – in the 1920’s and in the 1990’s.
Today there may be a Henry Ford or Steve Jobs out there. They may be tinkering in their back yard, or sitting in front of a computer, creating something that will change the world. But they may not be in America. They may be growing up in a small town in Russia, a village in Kenya, or a side street in Bangalore.
And what will that mean for an 8-year-old kid growing up in a small Midwestern city, whose grandfather assembled Fords?
For those who have been thinking of the tune after reading the title, enjoy the video: