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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Education is pointless

We used to cheerfully ask children, "What do you want to be when you grown up?"

In today's economy it is an impertinent and irrelevant question.  The question of the day is, "Do you think there is a place for you when you grow up?" 

The answer is provided by the economy.  It is a resounding "no."  Last year, 284,000 college graduates held minimum wage jobs.  The Huffington Post states:

Nearly half of the college graduates in the class of 2010 are working in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and 38 percent have jobs that don’t even require a high school diploma, according to a January report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The underemployment trend is noted in these statements:
Three-fifths of the jobs lost during the recession paid middle-income wages, while the same share of the jobs created during the recovery are low-wage work, according to an August study from the National Employment Law Project. 
The problem with the loss of decent jobs did not begin during the recession.  The recession just brought the matter into sharper focus.  The loss of jobs and the decline of the middle class began with the Reagan administration and its many fronts of attack on working people: supply-side economics, deliberate shift from manufacturing to service jobs; attacks on labor unions; reduction of government regulators; and deregulation of rules that required fair-play in employment and the market place.  Reagan most likely believed that supply-side economics would load up the rich who would trickle down wealth to the working underclass, but American history indicates that is not how the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few works.  The consequences of the three-decades of Reagan revolution are:

  •  The top 1 percent of Americans hold 23.5 percent of the wealth.
  •     The top 10 percent of Americans hold 83 percent of the wealth.
  •     The top 1 percent of Americans gather 10 percent of the income.
  •     The top 10 percent of Americans gather 49 percent of the income.
  •      The bottom 90 percent of Americans share 27 percent of the nation's wealth.
  •     The bottom 90 percent of Americans divide 51 percent of the nation's income.  
Peter Dreier in The Nation provides the narrative:

During his two terms in the White House (1981–89), Reagan presided over a widening gap between the rich and everyone else, declining wages and living standards for working families, an assault on labor unions as a vehicle to lift Americans into the middle class, a dramatic increase in poverty and homelessness, and the consolidation and deregulation of the financial industry that led to the current mortgage meltdown, foreclosure epidemic and lingering recession.

But whatever economic growth occurred during the Reagan years mostly benefitted those already well off. The income gap between the rich and everyone else in America widened. Wages for the average worker declined and the nation’s homeownership rate fell. During Reagan’s two terms in the White House, the minimum wage was frozen at $3.35 an hour, while prices rose, thus eroding the standard of living of millions of low-wage workers. The number of people living beneath the federal poverty line rose from 26.1 million in 1979 to 32.7 million in 1988. Meanwhile, the rich got much richer. By the end of the decade, the richest 1 percent of Americans had 39 percent of the nation’s wealth.
The loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S.  accelerated the loss of earning power and wealth among working people.  Daily Finance states the case: "Economic strength requires a strong manufacturing base, but while Asian countries are building theirs, America has slowly allowed its own base to starve." 

According to the ecological model, there must be a broad and stable base of producers to support an economy.  The loss of jobs which create and make goods triggers a loss of jobs throughout the economy.  College graduates are finding that the jobs they hoped to compete for just are not there.  The plight of working people is summarized by the March jobs report
  Many Americans are still so discouraged that they’ve given up on the job market....
People without a job who stop looking for one are no longer counted as unemployed. That’s why the U.S. unemployment rate dropped in March despite weak hiring. If the 496,000 who left the labor force last month had still been looking for jobs, the unemployment rate would have risen to 7.9 percent in March
There is a very large segment of people with educations who find that America is no longer the land of opportunity.  To those who have worked to develop knowledge, talent, and skills and find themselves rejected and excluded from participating in a productive life, education is a bitter irrelevancy. 

There is the treacherous aspect of a class war in the situation.  Karl Marx is not the first to recognize and mention the class struggle (he never used the terms war or warfare),  He focused on the dangers of capitalism for the working class.  A major problem in the American economy stems from the liberals being so reluctant to face up to the fact that we are in a class war and the working people are, even the educated ones, the sacrificial goats.  As a Princeton history professor states it:  "Many on the right would attack liberalism, even if it was, you know, mainstream liberalism that respected capitalism as being a form of socialism. Many liberals backed off. They didn't want to talk about economic classes. They talked about other issues and they talked about it in different ways."  They were afraid of being labeled and libeled as Marxists. 

The young people coming out of college  today did not live through the Cold War and are not  acquainted with the Soviet Union as a Marxist state.  They do not associate the oppressive and negative aspects of that time with the terms communism and socialism.  They are more likely to know something of  what is taking place in South America and
and the efforts of rather extreme left wing forces to bring some equality and freedom to the people there.  Pope Francis has approached the deprivations and their consequences from the aspect of Christian doctrine.  

The American Dream for aspiring workers is to develop talents through which one can make a reasonable living and to enjoy the concepts of liberty, equality, and justice that America promises.  The American Dream in the CEO suites and among their sycophants is to have a cheap and disposable labor force that does not have the material or intellectual resources to assert equality or demand justice.

The CEO dream is a nightmare for those who work.  Productive jobs were eliminated and replaced with those that require an obedient servility.  As a consequence of that shift, education is no longer a preparation for any available career, and has been made so expensive that it, like health care, is becoming unaffordable for many.  Universal public education, which was the way to democratic equality to Abraham Lincoln, is under attack, as the movement to eliminate art and humanities from the curriculum gains momentum, with the aim of preparing students to be cogs in the machinery of a technology that will more efficiently produce wealth for the one percent.

The solution is not class warfare.  The proposition has never been the redistribution of wealth.  The proposition is to be serious about liberty, equality, and justice.  If college students cannot find jobs, at least they might learn enough about the struggles of humanity for freedom and equality and justice to understand the feudal mentalities that preside over the corporate offices.  Such understanding might produce class warfare, but it might also produce generations who pursue the ways to build things and build a just and equal society that can restore the American promise.  

I, for one, would rather live with educated malcontents, than people educated into being mindless robots.   We got a glimpse of the those disatisfied people in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  The media and those who were alarmed by the movement have taken its reticence of the last year to mean that the movement was short-lived and went away.  It didn't.  Astute young people realized that some wished to co-opt the movement and thrust it into the class warfare fight, and they saw how the counterparts to their movement in the Middle East were co-opted by old ideologues.  However, the influence of a thoughtful, educated people can be seen in the movement to marriage equality, the legalizing of marijuana, and the massive public support for taking measures to get control of gun violence.  

Education is not pointless.  It is the total point when it comes to redirecting America toward realizing its promise.  That redirection comes from knowing that the feudal mentality leads back to slavery and vicious discrimination against people who do not choose to be controlled by the one percent or the ten percent or, in matters of peaceful pursuits, even the 90 percent.  

People who know and understand things rather than people who simply can repeat the dogmas and cant of outworn creeds are the path to realizing the American principles.

Education is not irrelevant to people who want to realize the American promise.  The truly educated are the ones who will lead the way in achieving it.   And insistently if they are forced to take minimum wage jobs for a time.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States