#338 The Human Toll of the Coming Technology Tsunami – Example, Lordstown, OH Plant

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  With all that’s happened lately in Washington, I wrote a special sense check, Entry #332.  

One of the contributing factors to the Revenge Revolution will be a technology tsunami, which I believe is rapidly headed toward US shores.  Fifteen recent entries addressed various aspects how the tech tsunami might: (i) affect the US economy and family incomes; (ii) be mitigated by taking certain actions.  The series of entries is available as an eBook. This entry is an supplement to the booklet and now included with the booklet.  (Download: 19 06 01 Tech Tsunami Booklet with Supplement)

The impact of the technology tsunami can easily be viewed as an abstract concept, especially if one is not affected directly. For example, you read an article about technology replacing someone’s job. Then the person replaced finds another job, which is fairly easy in today’s labor market. Reader thinks, “What’s the net effect on the person whose original job was replaced by technology? Zero. What’s the net effect on the unemployment rate? Zero. Time to move on to the next article.”

But, hold on, there’s more to this story. What prompted this blog entry was an article in the New York Times about a family whose members had worked at the GM Lordstown, OH plant almost from the opening day of the facility.

The Lordstown plant was built in the mid-1960s, but over the years GM continued to invest and upgrade the facility. What resulted from investments in Lordstown and other plants throughout North America was increased potential capacity with lower labor content per car/truck produced. Thus, more output with fewer employees. (As I wrote in late 2018, although I had no first-hand information, based on my experience inside GM, closing Lordstown, and other plants in North America, seemed justified.)

What happens to workers when a GM plant closes? Depending upon an individual’s seniority and the number of jobs available at other facilities, some laid-off employees might be eligible to transfer to another GM plant. Some laid-off workers at Lordstown met the criteria and have transferred.

What about workers who aren’t eligible to transfer or who don’t want to transfer, which often involves relocation? Some training is available for other types of jobs, which are usually non-automotive and often at lower pay. In addition, some laid-off workers, again depending upon seniority, receive from GM supplemental unemployment benefits for a limited period.

Back to the family featured in the NYT article. If you haven’t read the article, it’s worth a read. (19 05 28 NYT Lordstown Shutdown Employee Impact Examples ) The short version is the father gets out of the military, goes to work at the Lordstown plant soon after it opens. Over time the father becomes a representative of the union. The son, born after the father starts at Lordstown, doesn’t study much in school but is confident he will get a job at the plant, primarily because of his father‘s position with the union.

After completing high school, the son is hired and one of his jobs is prepping cars before final painting. Painting is an areas where the auto industry has installed as much technology as possible over the years to improve the quality and consistency of the finish. The implementation of technology in the paint shop has dramatically reduced employment. At Lordstown plant the number of employees declined from 38 to 4, a decrease of almost 90%. While the decrease in employment in the paint shop is at the high-end, substantial declines in employment from technology have affected body welding, engine machining and other high-precision areas with high labor content.

At the time of closing, the son had worked at Lordstown for 25 years. While no specific age was cited in the article, the son is probably in his mid to late 40s. With his years of service, he’ll be eligible for a modest pension from GM. However, he has at least 20-25 years left before being eligible for Social Security and Medicare.

Where does the son find another middle-class paying job given his limited education and skill level? Another job in the auto industry unless he relocates to another GM plant. Even if he finds an auto job, he runs a high risk of losing it given the continuous implementation of labor-saving technology by the auto companies and suppliers.

The extent of how many jobs in the auto industries (and other industries) are being eliminated by technology goes far beyond the assembly plant, which most people think of. In an earlier blog entry I mentioned an auto supplier in Fort Wayne, IN that bends tubing to make exhaust systems for cars and trucks for many auto OEM’s. If you don’t think there are lots of twists and turns in your vehicle’s exhaust system, next time you see a car or truck up on a service rack, go take a look underneath.

The process of bending tubing might seem straightforward (no pun intended) until one thinks about what happens when a tube is bent. The metal on the “outside” of the bend becomes thinner and the metal on the “inside” of the bend wants to “crinkle.” Bending tubing can be much more complicated than it first appears.

The company that bends the tubes is a perfect example of the impact on employment of the coming technology tsunami. The company incorporates an extraordinary amount of high technology, with a plethora of very sophisticated machines…and very few people staffing those machines. The parking lot of the company is the tell-tale sign of the technology tsunami. The company operates 24×7 with significant daily output, yet has a small parking lot that even during the day when office staff is working, has plenty of empty parking spaces for visitors.

Is this just a story about how one family was affected by a GM plant closing or are there broader implications? If the attitude of the now unemployed son is at all representative, then US society has a growing problem. While the son apparently has not yet come to grips with the long-term implications of the layoff, he is searching for answers to “Why is this happening to me?” “Why, after 25 years of working at this facility, am I getting screwed?”

He’s very frustrated and believes that people in Washington “just don’t get it.” The frustration includes Trump, whom he voted for in 2016, and members of both parties. He’s also frustrated with large corporations, which he thinks suffer no penalty for shuttering plants and relocating operations to say Mexico.

The frustration and anger of the son is understandable. While from a business perspective I think GM is more than justified in closing the Lordstown plant, especially given some of labor problems over the years, the business justification does not eliminate the economic and social issues facing the laid-off workers.

We, as I keep suggesting is the proverbial societal we, need to help this family transition from pissed-off members of society to being productive workers in an ever-increasing technology-laden workplace. As it stands now, even with a small pension and some additional benefits, the son is the kind of guy who is ripe to be part of a Revenge Revolution. For those not familiar with northern Ohio, almost guaranteed he’s got a deer rifle or two and a bunch of ammo. Now, he’s out of a job, has shrinking income, thinks politicians don’t understand the problem, and thinks large corporations are exploiting people and communities. Not a good combination.  (The son is much like the character “Sandy” who appears periodically in the blog entries.)

Without some serious societal effort, the ranks of this group are going to grow. Making America great again does not involve trying to reintroduce high-labor content products or industries from decades past. The implementation of technology to replace humans is going to continue. All types of jobs and skill levels will be affected, from manufacturing to legal to medical. Without a national plan to begin lifetime education for people of all ages, from 6 to 66 (and older), the US is going to face a growing segment of the population which is extremely angry and poses a growing threat to a stable democracy.

Reminder: For more about how the technology tsunami might affect the US economy and culture, and ideas to help mitigate the effects, there’s a free ebook waiting for your download. The book is a compilation of this entry and 15 earlier blog entries about the technology tsunami. Comments welcome. (Download, 19 06 01 Tech Tsunami Booklet with Supplement)

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#337 Compartmentalizing Irrational Behavior. Fiction Trumps Truth.

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  With all that’s happened lately in Washington, I wrote a special sense check, Entry #332.  

One of the contributing factors to the Revenge Revolution will be a technology tsunami, which I believe is rapidly headed toward US shores.  Fifteen recent entries addressed various aspects how the tech tsunami might: (i) affect the US economy and family incomes; (ii) be mitigated by taking certain actions.  The series of entries is available as an eBook.  (19 05 19 Tech Tsunami Booklet)

The first draft of this blog entry was an attempt to convince Trumpsters to ask themselves why they continued to support behavior that if exhibited by a Democrat would have caused them to be apoplectic. With each passing month I have become more perplexed why and how Republican thinking switched 180 degrees from categorizing certain behavior as unacceptable in pre-Trump to categorizing the same behavior as acceptable under Trump. What caused the definition of “acceptable behavior” to change? Formerly unacceptable behavior has become the norm with only a whimper of protest from a few Republicans. Why?

The blog entry got delayed because of activities surrounding Memorial Day weekend…fortunately. Why fortunately? There was a fascinating opinion piece in the “Review” section of the 05/26/2019 NY Times, titled, “Why Fiction Trumps Truth” that seemed to explain how some people willingly allow clearly untrue assertions to affect some of their behavior, yet act rationally much of the other time. The article noted that people who compartmentalize seem to accept more readily claims that are truly bizarre and outlandish.

Whether the author’s analysis is completely accurate, I don’t know. I am not a trained psychologist, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst. Some people think I’m just psycho. However, the writer’s premise and support seems plausible and helps me understand what can best be described only as irrational behavior. In previous blog entries, I’ve suggested the cause of such “compartmentalized” behavior by Trump supporters was some form of brainwashing.

Part of the brainwashing could be attributed to such talking heads as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh who fill their airtime not with questions and analysis but with declarative statements and claims unsupported by facts. An even more influential source for the brainwashing is Trump, who if nothing else, is a master of making and repeating false statements, offering no context or support for his claims. After a while, people here the lie often enough, they get brainwashed and believe the lie.

While Republicans under Trump seem to have taken the compartmentalizing phenomenon to the extreme, the phenomenon is not unique to Trump supporters or the Republican Party. We are all probably guilty of some degree of “compartmentalizing” irrational behavior, even if such behavior applies only to a favorite sports team.

Please read the opinion piece using the link above. Given the degree of compartmentalization, the question now seems to be, “How does US society get out of this mess?” Other than a catastrophic event, such as a revolution, is there any to convince “compartmentalized” voters, left and right, to come out of the closet, err compartment?

While both parties have voters in such compartments, the degree to which Republicans have begun accepting as normal, behavior that for decades had been considered “highly unacceptable,” is startling and hard to explain. Why do Republicans without any protest whatsoever allow Trump to enable the Attorney General, if he so chooses, to disclose publicly any and all sources of intelligence information, domestic and foreign?

Whether the Attorney General ever discloses the sources doesn’t matter. The damage is already done. The fear by the source of being “outed” will cause most every source to no longer provide information. In many countries, any type of disclosure for a source has a severe negative consequence – imprisonment, torture and possibly death. Trump’s action, which was done purely for political reasons, is a direct threat to national security. And where were protests from Republicans, who claim to be the party of national security? No response!!!!!

Where are all the Republicans who clamored for putting Hillary Clinton in jail for using a non-government server? Where’s the protest Representative Jim Jordan Ohio? Guess you’re not such a tough guy wrestler after all. Trump seems to have you in a choke hold. Where are protests from Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader? Cat got your tongue? Where are Republican supporters of the military when Trump tweets that Russia and North Korea are not really threats?

I’ll tell you where Republicans are. Clamoring for an investigation of the people in the FBI and CIA who found out people in the Trump Campaign were dealing with the Russians before the election. And, no, Trump supporters, there was no attempted coup. First, Trump and supporters should thank James Comey for handing Trump the election with the press conference chastising Hillary Clinton.

But, no, in Trump world everything is backwards. Good is bad and bad is good. Next, go read the Muller Report, not Trump’s or Barr’s misinterpretation. If you still need convincing that Trump just might be acting in violation of US law, look at all the financial information from Trump’s tax returns, phony foundation, money laundering through Deutsche Bank and elsewhere.

Despite overwhelming evidence, Republicans in a classic flip flop compared to demands for say Clinton, insist any financial information not be disclosed. Why? The information would be used for political purposes. Republicans would never do such a thing but Democrats always do. Well then, let’s use this argument. The law requires the IRS to turn over tax returns to specified members of Congress. Using a standard Republican argument about complying with the law, if Trump’s done nothing wrong and has nothing to hide, why not let people view the information who are charged in the Constitution with oversight of the Executive Branch? If you have questions about the House’s authority, please read Article I of the Constitution.

OK, I’ve ranted enough and probably not changed a single Republican’s mind. I do hope, however, that everyone reading the blog (Republicans and Democrats) will at least read the opinion piece in the NYT and step back and ask, “What irrational behavior (fiction) am I ‘compartmentalizing’ and allowing to influence my behavior that I would otherwise consider unacceptable?” Also ask, “How can each of us change behavior to avoid what seems to be the inevitable road to the Revenge Revolution?”

Comments and suggestions welcome. Thanks for your time.

 

#336 Policies to Address Tech Tsunami. Socialism? No. National Security.

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  With all that’s happened lately in Washington, I wrote a special sense check, Entry #332.

This entry is a “wrap” to the technology tsunami series, at least for a while.  The format for this entry is conversational.  The character, Sandy (comments in quotes) is an ardent Trump and NRA supporter who has appeared in previous entries.  Like virtually all the characters that appear in this blog, Sandy is patterned after someone I know with very similar characteristics. The entire technology tsunami series, including this entry is available as a eBook. (19 05 19 Tech Tsunami Booklet)

Sandy: “I don’t buy all this BS that some so-called technology tsunami could wreck the US economy. Stuff like that only happens in socialist countries. Look at what happened in Venezuela.”

True that Venezuela was the richest country in South America and then tanked economically. The reason they went into free fall was not becasue of socialism but because of bad economic policies.

“Hold on Bubba.  I’m telling you those kind of economic problems are what happens to all socialist countries. If you don’t believe me look at what happened to the economies of Cuba and to Russia. You know I’m right. Admit it.”

You are right that Cuba and Russia have suffered economically. But in the most diplomatic terms, you’re wrong about why. Let’s not confuse communism, which is more political, with socialism, which is more related to economic policy.

“Communism, socialism. They’re the same thing to me.  I know one thing for sure.  You can’t have all those socialist policies and still have a democracy.”

Like I said, let’s not confuse socialism and communism. There are many countries you might label as being socialist that are democracies. All the Nordic countries, for example, have many government-controlled social programs. Other countries in Europe, including Germany, have some degree of what you’re labeling as socialism. Even Canada. Yet, all those countries are democracies.

“Well, what about Greece? They had all those government programs and they went under. Italy almost went under. Call them what you want.  I’m telling you government programs are what causes these countries to go under.”

OK, then let’s add one more country to the list of countries that almost went under.  In fact, this country has come close to going under twice in the last hundred years. Want to guess which country?

“Probably a trick question. Who?”

The United States. We came within a hair’s breadth of the economy going into free fall in 1932 and 2008.

“I’ll tell you why. Because of the Democrats. They’re the problem. Democrats FDR and Obama were coming into office when the economy tanked. Democrats are always the problem.”

Could you please put away the Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh drivel and look at this issue objectively. Bad government policies under the Hoover and Bush 43 administrations created most of the problems. Notice that I said most of the problems, not all. If you want to later, we can discuss which economic policies were the primary causes. But for now, my point is without sound government policies to counteract the coming technology tsunami, the country is likely to be faced with another economic crisis.

“When you say crisis, are you suggesting unemployment could shoot up to 20 to 25% and real wages fall, just like during the Great Depression?”

Yes. If you don’t think technology can have a devastating impact, look at what’s happened to companies and employment in industries where disruptive technology was introduced.

“You mean like the coal industry? I hate to laugh but I understand even the Coal Mining Museum gets some electricity from solar panels on its roof. Anyway, technology and economics have killed the industry. Unemployment in the coal industry is what, maybe only 40-50% of what it was just 25-30 years ago?”

Now you understand why strategic planning and good government policy are so important?  I hope you also have somne appreciation of the risk associated with bad  government policy. Bad policy presents a real risk to the US economy and the country’s future as a democracy.

“Gee, I never looked at government policy quite that way. The real impact of government is not whether Democrats or Republicans are in power. The real impact is whether government makes policies that can sustain the well-being of the country.  And, you know what?  Overturning Roe v. Wade seems far less important than these other issues.”

Sandy, I’m proud of you.  If more people had your attitude, the country could start to make real progress in implementing policies to counteract the coming technology tsunami.

“I think I get it.  What you’re suggesting is not just more government intervention, but government intervention to avoid a economic catastrophe. Really, the need to address the coming tech tsunami is more a national security issue.”

Now, if only the Trump Administration and some key people in Congress would “get it” like Sandy.

#335 Curiouser and Curiouser

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1. 

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  With all that’s happened lately in Washington, I wrote a special sense check, Entry #332.

Have we, societal we, fallen down the rabbit hole? Have we lost our sense of direction? Have we lost our moral compass?

Over the last couple of months, most entries in this blog have focused on what I’ve characterized (as have others) as the coming technology tsunami. The entries describe the possible significant negative effect on the US economy of the tech tsunami and proposed solutions, the centerpiece of those solutions being more education. Education, however, not just for those currently in school but education for all age groups, even those in their 60’s. Education efforts would also include those who are, or have been unable to learn when taught using more traditional methods.

Many ideas suggested in the blog entries are not new. What’s changed is the urgency created by the oncoming technology tsunami. Like climate change, waiting until the impact is obvious to most everyone is too late. At that point the game for the US economy will be over. The fat lady will have sung…and done an encore. For the doubters, the tech tsunami is not some abstract idea or a tsunami that’s far-off shore. The water at the shoreline has started to recede and the need to take action is now.

Others share this view. Others also share the view that different approaches to education need to be tried. I was heartened by an article in the 05/12/19 New York Times  (19 05 12 NYT Teaching Math Like Football) suggesting math teachers should approach the classroom more like a football coach in the locker room. Hear, hear! Great idea. In grammar school and high-school, I was lucky enough to have a couple of “football-coach” math teachers. They challenged each student and tried to make learning math fun. The football-coach approach could be helpful to many students who do not “get math” taught using traditional approaches.

OK, what about a topic for this entry? When thinking about what to write, what kept running through my head was a simple question, “Why do educated people keep supporting a president whose actions, by US law, are clearly criminal (obstruction of justice and tax evasion are just two) and possibly treasonous?” “How can rational people overlook, let alone support such behavior?” (He even cheats at golf!)

And, the behavior is not sporadic. It’s a continuous stream. What is the latest from the Trumpland? Asking Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to go to the Ukraine and ask the Ukrainian president to try to dig up dirt on a family member of a candidate for Democratic nominee for president. Duh, Republican folks, that’s Trump asking yet another foreign country to meddle in a US election. When are Republicans going to wake up and realize where Trump’s allegiance lies? If you don’t know where to start looking, try his bank account.

Trump does not care about any Republicans, let alone members of the hardcore base. Let me repeat Trump does not care about any Republicans, let alone members of the hardcore base.

If you don’t believe me, then what about those tariffs on Chinese exports? Do you believe Trump’s tweets that the Chinese will pay the tab? Even Trump’s economic advisor won’t buy that outrageous claim. No, the tariffs per se might go to the Treasury but the prices of Chinese goods sold in the US will increase by the amount of the tariffs…and possibly more. And, yes, you get to pay for the tariff. Yet another economics class Trump skipped while in college.

“Hold on,” you say, “Chinese jobs making all those goods will come back to America. Trump is actually creating jobs. Trump is saving America! Wake up liberals.”

Okay, a few jobs might come back, but only a few. But how many more other jobs will be lost with China’s retaliatory tariffs on American exports (imports to the Chinese).

But then you say, “Didn’t Trump save thousands of jobs when he negotiated to have GM sell the Lordstown, OH plant to that other company? You know that Workhorse company?” Sorry to inform you, the answer again is “no.” Workhorse buying the Lordstown assembly plant (not a done deal as of this entry’s publication) created no net new jobs. Workhorse was merely looking for a facility to assemble a proposed electric-powered truck.

And the list of misconceptions, misunderstanding, sheer blindness by Republicans continues on and on and on. Even the Energizer Bunny is starting to get tired. The lack of a modicum of thinking by Republicans makes their behavior curiouser and curiouser. What’s the value to Republicans of supporting Trump? Trump’s in the White House for cash. What do Republicans get out of the deal?

When I hear a Republican gloat about supporting Trump, I ask a very simple question. ”Assume all the same policies, economic conditions, cabinet appointments, relationships with foreign countries, tweets, known lies, etc. Now assume Trump is not a Republican but a Democrat. Would you still be supporting Trump and/or be opposed to the investigation by the various committees in the House?” Count how many current Trump supporters say “Yes they would continue to support Trump if he were a Democrat.” If you can count more than a handful, let me know.

To be fair, you should ask some Democrats the same question. “Assume all the same policies, economic conditions, etc., would you still be so anti-Trump?” My guess is a much greater percentage of Democrats would continue to be anti-Trump and especially support the investigations in the House of Representatives.

So why do Republicans support Trump when so many of his policies are reversals of long-held Republican positions? Why have Republicans let Trump hijack their brain? As noted in several earlier blog entries, it seems that many Republicans have been brainwashed.

How can such a large group be brainwashed? If there’s one thing Trump is very good at doing, its manipulating people. Especially vulnerable are those with limited inner strength. Helping Trump with the brainwashing are the Republican talking heads – Limbaugh and Hannity in particular – who fill their air time not with questions and a discussion of possible solutions, but fill their air time with declarative statements of suggested attitudes and behavior. Kim Jung-un probably listens to “Fox News” for ideas how to brainwash North Korean citizens more effectively.

Other recent truly bizarre actions by Trump include declaring that executive privilege can apply retroactively to virtually any discussion of any action taken by anyone in the Trump Administration. Huh? Trump has also told Administration officials to ignore the law. And where are the voices of the righteous Constitutionalists Republican Senators? Save one or two, Republican Senators have contracted laryngitis while also sucking up to Trump.

The willingness to support a rogue and lawless president rather than the Constitution leaves me with only one conclusion. There needs to be a Revenge Revolution in the US in order to rid the country of the Trump cancer and bring the Republicans back to their senses. Let’s hope the 2020 election can accomplish the same thing but I’m not as hopeful.

One might not like the actions or style of certain Democratic leader, or proposed policies of certain Democrat candidates for president. Those disagreements are understandable and part of a democracy. What is not understandable is why Republicans are blaming Democrats for trying to uphold their obligations under the Constitution by investigating criminal behavior and possibly treason of the president, members of the president’s family, members/former cabinet members and people associated with the 2016 campaign.

Just in case you, and maybe Republicans in the Senate, need a reminder of the words contained in the oath for members of the House and Senate, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” (I can’t find where the oath mandates allegiance to the president, can you?)

#334 Could a Change in Semantics Break the Ideologue Logjam? More about Cost of Preparing for the Tech Tsunami.

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1. 

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  With all that’s happened lately in Washington, I wrote a special sense check, Entry #332.

This week’s Entry continues the series about preparing for the upcoming “technology tsunami” that will have a major impact on the US economy.  The series starts Entry #319. 

Arguments against society-wide programs – healthcare, education, climate change – claim that such programs are too expensive. Taxpayers cannot afford these programs.

There is a kernel of truth to that claim. Such programs have considerable start-up costs and the payback is often a few years out. Sometimes the payback is a decade or two later.

Of course, the idea of having delayed payback does not apply when the same “too expensive” group decides to make business or personal Investments. Nor does the logic apply when this group is evaluating the performance of coaches for favorite college or professional sports teams. Why coaches? Surely everyone knows it takes time to build a solid sports team. Give the coach at least five years to perform and demonstrate his or her worth.

More seriously, the question is, “Is society willing to take the risk of not investing in programs that will have a sustained, if delayed, return on investment? As an example of a similar personal-level decision is whether to delay needed maintenance on your house or car. Delaying can result in some immediate cash savings. However, the decision to delay is a two-edge sword. The repairs are needed and by waiting the severity and cost of repairs likely will be much higher. While delaying maintenance may seem to be a savings in the short-term, the decision to delay is not really savings at all, but additional cost. To paraphrase an old TV commercial, pay me now or pay me more later.

How does “pay me now or pay me more later” apply to the education of people who will be displaced by the technology tsunami? Let’s say the cost of educating those displaced averages $25,000 per person, roughly equal to 2 years cost of tuition, books and fees at a community college and even some state universities. In addition to the cost of education, let’s assume those being retrained receive a salary of about $50,000 per year. For the two years, the total cost for retraining would be about $125,000 per person.

The $125,000 cost per person seems extraordinarily high until one calculates the cost of not retraining. What is the cost not to retrain?

Assume the median age of the person being retrained is 45 years old, which means the person has 20 to 25 years left before retirement. Without retraining for the post technology-tsunami world, the person may be unemployable, and therefore, receive assistance for the next 25 years of his or her working career. In addition, the person would receive some form of assistance for another 10 to 15 years after reaching retirement age. Total time not working and receiving assistance…and not paying taxes? A total of 35-40 years.

If the person receives just $10,000 per year assistance, which is on the very low side, the cost of assistance for a person previously employed but now displaced, would be at least $400,000. Thus, the cost of not retraining is more than 3x the cost of 2-year training – tuition, fees, books and salary of $50,000 per year. Oops, we’re not finished. The person on assistance and not employed, would also not pay income taxes as well no withholding for FICA and no withholding for Medicare.

So which is smarter? Pay now to retrain the person displaced by the technology tsunami or pay more than 3x as much later (constant dollars) to have the person on assistance his or her entire life and never again paying income taxes or contributing to the cost of Social Security or Medicare?

The ROI to retrain workers is positive for workers in their 50’s and even early 60’s when all the costs are included. In addition to society saving money by retraining workers, having an employed workforce with more disposable income will increase consumer consumption, increase overall GDP and with some tweaks, to the tax structure, increase family wealth.

Despite the obvious benefits, for some reason “return on investment” does not yet seem to be part of most discussions about broad social programs, whether the discussion in Washington or in many state capitals. I am always personally baffled why Republicans focus on immediate cost and ignore “return on investment” logic for social programs, yet use the very same ROI logic for personal and/or business investment decisions. Guys, voters are not completely stupid. ROI is a concept that voters can understand.

To break the ideologue logjam, maybe such programs need to be positioned with Republicans as “business Investments” and not “social programs.” To mollify Republican critics of these programs, maybe recipients of the proposed technology-tsunami education program should be required to pay a minimum tax of say 1.0% of gross income per year for up to 10 years following completion of the retraining. The minimum tax would allow Republicans to claim assistance recipients have some “skin in the game.”

Democrats would do well to position technology-tsunami retraining, the Green New Deal, Medicare for all and other ideas, not as social programs, and especially not as “socialist programs,” but position as Investments that will help increase US GDP. Democrats should also agree that every wage-earner has to pay some income tax, even if it’s only $100 per year.

Some of the changes in positioning should be considered more semantic than substantive. However, the changes could allow Republicans and Democrats to claim some type of victory and begin to work more closely together. The changes would also thwart some of the statements by conservative talking heads implying that about half the population pays no tax. These talking heads only state “income tax” and make no mention of people paying sales tax, property taxes, fees and many other related taxes. (FYI, the percentage is remarkably flat by quartile of income paid for all types of taxes.)

Will the rhetoric change and Republicans and Democrats begin working together soon – at least agree to retrain workers to be displaced by the technology tsunami? Maybe start working together before the Revenge Revolution? As long as Trump is controlling the Republican Party, there is no hope. Republicans have demonstrated repeatedly a willingness to prostitute themselves for whatever the Donald demands, however contrary those demands are to long-held Republican principles.

Democrats, however, have a great opportunity for 2020 to begin repositioning arguments that many so-called “socialist programs” are really business Investments with positive ROI.

Should we be hopeful? Let’s see what happens. Stay tuned.

 

 

#333 Preparing for the Technology Tsunami: On-Going Education (12th in Series)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1. 

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  With all that’s happened lately in Washington, I wrote a special sense check, Entry #332.

This week’s Entry continues the series about preparing for the upcoming “technology tsunami” that will have a major impact on the US economy.  The series starts Entry #319. 

The need for on-going education and training of workers is nothing new. Who’s been responsible in the past for such training? Until about the mid-1990’s or early 2000’s, the employing organization seemed to be the principal source of on-going training.

In some cases, employee training was done on the organization’s premises; in other cases, employees were encouraged to attend classes outside. Expenses for such classes usually were reimbursed by the organization. Based on my experience, mostly in manufacturing-based companies, the training seemed to focus on procedures and systems unique to that company.

What has changed within the companies in the last 20-25 years is how machines and support equipment operate. There is ever-growing integration of software programs to help manage all aspects of machine operation, movement of material and the flow of information.

While some features of the software programs might be unique to the organization, the fundamental components of a given software program, or suite of programs, are the same. Understanding the fundamentals of software programs has created two classes of workers:

  1. A group, generally younger, who are now more mobile. Because these workers understand the fundamentals of software, they can carry that knowledge to another organization and not face as steep learning curve, thereby contributing more quickly than workers in the past;
  2. A group, generally older, who were trained in the organization’s approach before many software programs were integrated into daily operations. These workers become far less mobile and, despite their experience, less valuable to the existing organization. The “reduced-value” phenomenon applies to both blue-collar and white-collar workers. Unfortunately, some of these “reduced-value” workers have 25 to 30 years remaining before retirement. This group will be the most negatively affected by the technology tsunami.

What does society do with existing “reduced-value” workers…and ideally implement plans to minimize the number of such workers in the future? Back to school! But, can you really teach an old dog, or a middle-age dog, new tricks?

The stumbling block for many of these workers seems to be never having learned basic math. While one does not need to know calculus to understand how to use computer programs effectively, one does need to know basic algebra. Programs are basically built are conditional statements – if A, then B, etc. Understanding the approach applies not only to Excel-type programs but word-processing programs as well.

What about people who just don’t “get” math, even basic addition and subtraction taught in grammar school? Obviously, not everyone learns the same way and not everyone is skilled at every subject. However, my guess is at least half the people who claim “not to get math” would “get it” if math were taught in a way more understandable to them.

Without having completed any formal research, I’ll bet there are at least three approaches used to teaching math. And one of those approaches probably will work on most people. So, for the “I-don’t-get-math” group, let’s take away the stigma of not understanding the traditional approach to teaching math, and try using the other approaches. Just visualize the smiles on faces when “I-don’t-get-math” students move to the “I-get-math” category.

Will all these students become math wizards? No, but once the basics are understood, we…societal we…might be shocked at how many in this group progress to basic algebra, and beyond.

What about people who despite different approaches to teaching, never “get” math? How do we prepare them for the tech tsunami? Or, what if someone just doesn’t want to learn?

A certain percentage of people won’t learn, and the consequences are the same whether one is unable to learn or chooses not to learn. The consequences in all likelihood will be a lower-paying service-type job. For those who try, but can’t learn, unfortunately the consequence are the same.

Any time society has been disrupted by technology — printing presses replacing scribes, machinery replacing farm hands, robots replacing assembly workers…and other examples – some people are left behind economically. While a society-funded safety net can provide some assistance, a large percentage of people in this category will fall several rungs on the economic ladder.

OK, you say, I’ll buy the argument that we should be training more workers for the tech tsunami. But who should pay for the training, much of which seems to be remedial? Why should taxpayers pay for the bill and let the companies off the hook? Shouldn’t companies that are laying off workers have an obligation to retrain these workers?

If one looks at other countries for guidance, many industrialized countries, especially in Europe, have laws that penalize, or even prevent companies from relocating or arbitrarily dismissing employees. The US has no such laws. As a result, companies are not penalized for relocating and leaving behind infrastructure installed specifically to help the company and/or leaving behind a loyal workforce with some skills that need updating.

In many states, North Carolina and South Carolina are but two examples, “economic development” is defined primarily as enticing other companies to relocate operations from the Midwest or Northeast to North Carolina or South Carolina. Incentives thrown at companies to relocate border on the ridiculous, but almost always include taxpayer-funded training for employees.

Yet the same “economic development” efforts often ignore, or even discourage, albeit possibly inadvertently, entrepreneurs from starting companies or offering no meaningful incentives to smaller company businesses trying to expand. If any incentives are offered to entrepreneurs, the “incentives” often consist of an “opportunity” to locate in some rehabbed building at a lower rent. While the reduced rent is nice public-relations strategy for politicians, most start-up businesses are starved for capital and capable key executives.

In the near-term, laws preventing companies from relocating and/or laws preventing states or cities from offering incentives for relocation are not likely to be implemented. Even if passed, there likely would be a drawn-out court challenge. A more effective approach to encourage existing companies to stay put might be to help the company analyze costs and determine if updating skills of employees and implementing other cost-reduction systems might be more effective than relocating, especially relocating operations outside the US.

Encouraging companies to stay put and retrain workers gain momentum in the next few years, especially as the technology tsunami becomes more apparent. While the US 2020 presidential election is 18 months away, many Democratic candidates seem to be discussing how to help rebuild the American middle class by leveraging new technology rather than the Trump approach of propping up industries on the decline – coal, e.g.

Programs to help update skills of existing workers could be very “hands-on,” akin to how many infrastructure projects were initiated in the 1930’s under New Deal WPA. Such national WPA-like programs are even more likely after the technology tsunami hits and/or after the country experiences the Revenge Revolution.

Programs to help mitigate the technology tsunami, programs to implement the evolving Green New Deal and other such ideas present a great opportunity for the US to create sustained economic growth. Sustained economic growth, however, can only be achieved with a high labor-force participation rate…and a high participation rate in a technology-tsunami world can be achieved only with an educated workforce.

 

#332 Special Sense Check re Likelihood of a 5th US Revolution

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1. 

Since starting to publish the blog in late 2013, I’ve written a “sense check” about every six months. The purpose of the sense check (the most recent prior sense check, Entry #318) is to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.

With each sense check I’ve become more convinced the US is headed for a 5th revolution. I understand that allowing the author to claim to evaluate content objectivity is like allowing the fox guard the henhouse.

What prompted me to write this “special sense check” was a combination of Trump’s known behavior the last few months, which can most politely be described as out of control, and Trump’s less-known behavior described in the Mueller Report, which can be described as even more out of control.  Given what we now know…and what’s likely to be released in the coming months…a Revenge Revolution seems not only possible, but now firmly in the category of “highly likely.”

If you’re a Trump supporter and still reading this entry, I want you to ask yourself, “If Trump were a Democrat with exactly the same accomplishments, same behavior, same cabinet, etc., would I still be so supportive of Democratic president Trump?”  A tougher question, “What if Hillary Clinton were president and had the same accomplishments, behavior…as Trump?”  If you support the president over party, then we can talk.  If you support party over president, you need to rethink your standards.  And Democrats?  You need to ask yourselves the same questions.    

While Trump’s behavior should be considered bizarre, even for some dictators, what is even more bizarre is the behavior by Republicans in Congress, especially the Senate. Republicans in the Senate have buried any moral standing and abdicated all responsibility for oversight of the Executive Branch. Republicans no longer bother to question, let alone resist actions and behaviors by Trump that are clearly contrary to the Constitution and, by accounts of most prosecutors, likely illegal.

Since the release of the Mueller Report, only one Republican Senator, Mitt Romney, has castigated Trump publicly for his behavior. Lindsey Graham, an alleged friend and supporter of the late John McCain, stated there was no reason for the Senate Judiciary Committee to call Robert Mueller to testify and provide more insight into his report. Yes, Lindsey, be a good lackey and make sure you don’t ask any questions about Trump…because someone might tell you the truth.

Republicans in the House and Senate should be more appropriately recast as Trump’s eunuchs. Starting with Mitch McConnell with Graham following closely, Republicans seem happy to have stood in line as Trump castrated them. Once castrated, the Republican eunuchs…excuse me Senators…allowed and even encouraged Trump to disregard safeguards created by the Founding Fathers. Senators, please read the Constitution and explain it to Trump, who obviously has never read it.

During the week of April 8, 2019, Trump, supported by the hack of an Attorney General confirmed for the job by the Republican eunuchs, accused members of the Justice Department of attempting a coup on his presidency. Trump’s primary talent seems to be as a great manipulator, who long ago convinced his base and now has convinced the Republic eunuchs that he overcame a sinister plot by Republicans inside the Justice Department to keep him out of office.

According to Trump, his election efforts were hurt, not helped, by the Comey press conference chastising Hillary Clinton. His election efforts were hurt, not helped because President Obama was respectful enough not to disclose publicly intercepts between members of the Trump election team and the Russians. According to Trump, he overcame the power of the Justice Department and the FBI. The career officials in Justice and the FBI should be considered the enemy because they attempted a coup to get him removed from office.

Seriously? I mean who actually thinks if the FBI wanted to take Trump out of office, they couldn’t do it? Who actually thinks like this? Sadly, a bunch of Trump supporters who refuse to read anything that’s written objectively, who believe the Barr BS and who only watch the alleged truthsayers on Fox News. Gee, boys and girls, don’t ya’ think one or two FBI agents could take Trump out in a heartbeat? In case you didn’t know it, that’s what some of the agents are trained to do.

But, no, we must cast logic aside. This is Trumpworld. The Great Manipulator, like the Wizard of Oz, claims to be a genius whose proclamations, no matter how far from reality, must be believed. According to Trump, Mueller wasn’t objective in his reporting. Why? Everyone on the Mueller team was a Democrat out to get Trump. (I guess the Donald forgot Mueller has long been a registered Republican.) And, to live in Trumpworld, we must believe the crap that comes from Donald’s tweets and foul mouth. Sadly, the Trump base and the castrated, brainwashed Republican senators do believe him.

If you still don’t believe that the Trump Administration is built around lying and deceit, then listen to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the scholar from Ouachita Baptist University, who proclaimed that Trump’s tax returns were too complicated to understand and therefore should not be given to Democratic members of Congress…and certainly not released to the public. Forget that even after her admission of lying noted in the Mueller Report she refused to retract her claim about receiving communiques supporting Comey’s firing from “countless members” members of the Justice Department. Sarah Huckabee Sanders — what a great role model for her kids and the religious right. Oh, and Sarah’s daddy, Mike Huckabee, the preacher, former governor of Arkansas and former Republican candidate for president.  He must have taught her well and must be very proud of her lying.

So how does the country extricate itself from this mess? Given the Senate majority consists of mindless castrated puppets pretending to be thinking Republicans, the only way out of this incredible mess seems to be a Revolution. If not a full-blown Revolution, then what? Well, as ugly as it seems and sounds, the revolution, unfortunately, might include at least an attempted assassination of Trump and/or Pence, if either or both still in office, McConnell and possibly Barr. And, no, this revolution is not just a revolt led by Democrats. As I’ve noted from the get go with the blog, the revolution will be driven by a revolt from the working class.

The working stiffs have been screwed by Trump. While some of these people might stay in Trump’s camp because he continues to support their “whiteness,” which therefore makes them superior to “non-white” Americans, at some point money wins out over half-assed ideology. When the inevitable economic downturn occurs, the working stiffs will begin to appreciate just how little Trump has done for them. When they do, then all the other Trump shenanigans that have been ignored — stealing significant amounts of money, money laundering for Russians and who knows what else — will start to grate on the Trumpsters.

And who in this country has the largest cache of firearms and ammunition? It’s not the wealthy and the educated middle class. The largest cache is in the hands of the people who have been and will continue to be negatively affected economically under Trump. To quell the rebellion, let’s assume that Trump calls out the military. Even throw in all the local police. Well, there’s not enough manpower to stop the rebellion. There’ll be too many locations once the rebellion gets started. Plus, some of those who Trump will be asking to help quell the rebellion will be the very people he screwed. Mmm, just wonder how loyal those people will be to the Donald…and how many will be willing to fight family and friends under orders from the Donald?

Like I said, an ugly scenario. Well I’m open to ideas on how to stop what seems to be inevitable train wreck. If you have some ideas, please let me know. Thanks.

#331 Solution to Diversity? Economics, Not Gov’t Intervention.

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

Entry #319 begins a series describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), and how the US should prepare.  Last week’s Entry #330, outlined reasons why diversity will be important to prepare for…and then capitalize on…the coming technology tsunami. The entry also noted that some conventional ways of creating diversity — school busing, for example — are fraught with problems and have significant potential downsides.

Diversity seems best accomplished on its own. Our neighbors, within a stone’s throw or two, include families from at least four countries. Within this group, there are at least five religions. All that in a suburban environment.

How did such diversity occur? With government intervention? With housing subsidies? “No” to both questions. The diversity evolved from economics…and attitude.

Granted our neighborhood is a bit more affluent than most but affluence may result in less, rather than more diversity. In Entry #330, I described observations from a 5-day visit to a well-known retirement community in Florida. When leaving the community, my wife and I both remarked we had seen no blacks, no Hispanics — yes, this was Florida — one Asian, and no one from the Middle East. We also both commented while we had a lovely time visiting our friends, we wouldn’t want to live there.

So what strategy can help stimulate diversity? Throughout the technology tsunami series I’ve stressed education as a key. Education opens the mind to new ideas, both academic and societal. And for the vast majority of people, education also provides a chance to improve economic status.

Education for this discussion consists of four major stages, or chunks:

  1. Primary education — i.e., “readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic” — and some social skills
  2. Secondary education — middle school and high school
  3. University or Advanced Technical Training
  4. Continuing education – following initial employment and continuing throughout one’s career

For primary and secondary education, the public has consistently supported taxpayer funding. While some changes to the primary and secondary curriculum might be required for the technology tsunami, the key to preparing for the coming technology tsunami seems to lie in Stage 3 — College, Advanced Technical Training — and Stage 4 — on-going training once in the workforce.

Currently, only a small percentage of the population can afford securing a college degree or advanced technical training certificate without financial assistance. Even with scholarships or reduced tuition, many students need loans. Terms of these loans are often onerous, saddling graduates with years of debt, which in turn reduce their opportunity to save for buying a house and/or to start saving for their children’s education. (For more about the problems with people paying off loans, or thinking they have paid off loans, see 19 04 13 Student Loan Repayment Issues and Problems)

Maybe the solution to the how-to-finance-advanced-education conundrum is easier than we think. Why not take the same approach to financing education that seems to work well for medical coverage in all industrialized countries…other than the US (so far). Allow students to attend a home-state university at little or no charge for a specified period — say five (5) years. Extend the no-charge time period if a student works.

Like universal health care, offer a “private,” additional-cost option. Under this option, students could attend an out-of-state university or private college/university. Tuition and other costs would be set by the institution. The private institution could still offer financial aid to students.

Technical trade schools could have the same option. Attend state-run technical schools at no charge with the option to attend private-technical or trade schools.

Technical/trade schools would need to meet one hurdle not currently required — accreditation.  Accreditation would sharply reduce considerable fraud among private technical/trade schools — Trump University being but one example. The accreditation process would be similar to that used for academic institutions.

And please don’t view subjecting the trade/technical schools to accreditation as government overreach. Educational institutions need some form of regulation. A market-based system will not work because, by the time the student understands the school is not providing adequate education, the student has wasted several years and is saddled with significant debt.

What about people who do not want additional education or who are not mentally capable? We’re not living in Lake Woebegone where all students are above-average.

A portion of the student population will not pursue additional education and a percentage of those will not even graduate from high school. While some low-skill jobs likely will continue to exist, people in those jobs should earn a minimum wage that allows them to live above the poverty line.

Policies to address this lower-education group are separate from policies to prepare the US society for the coming technology tsunami. The goal of the “tsunami series” in this blog is to outline approaches that will increase significantly the percentage of the population that is skilled adequately to thrive in a technology-based economy.

What about the education outlined in Stage 4? Ongoing education seems to be in a black hole where: (i) there is no existing infrastructure supporting such education…and none planned; (ii) no one in state or Federal government seems to be responsible for on-going Abbott Costelloeducation; (iii) there is no coordinated effort by private industry and/or trade groups. Policies for on-going education seem to have evolved from the Abbott and Costello routine of “Who’s on First?” Just who’s in charge of continuing education?

Logically you’d think private companies would want to maintain an educated workforce. But because of lack of restrictions…or penalties…re relocation, many US companies operate as if they have no responsibility to spend money to provide continuing education to their workforce. When the workforce skills become dated, a company, with little or no penalty, can close shop and move to another location. The new location will be selected based on which state or city is offering the most incentives, including training the new workforce.

Taxpayers at both ends – the location where the company left and the new location – get stiffed while the company management and shareholders benefit. (For more about the impact of how companies can adversely affect a community, and not suffer any consequences, see Entry #86, “Is North Carolina a Stealin’ State?” and Entry #87. There are several other entries as well that address similar issues.)

As far as addressing the issues of ongoing education, that deserves a separate entry, which will be number #332.

Note: within hours of publishing this blog entry, received the 04/14/2019 edition of the Charlotte Observer.  A front-page article discussed whether eliminating certain zoning restrictions — banning single-family zoning, e.g. — would help stimulate diversity.  My short answer is “No.”  Tweaking of zoning regulations for single-families is different than wholesale banning, which is likely to have major negative consequences for attracting higher-income families to remain in the city limits.  Link to article, 19 04 14 CLT Observer re Zoning Changes for Diversity

#330 Is Diversity a Key Component of Preparing for the Technology Tsunami?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

Entry #319 begins a series describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), and how the US should prepare.  Part of the preparation is understanding and appreciating other countries and cultures. How do people in other countries/cultures think, behave, and interact with others? Developing this understanding will help prepare the United States for how to respond when other countries attempt to use technology against us in the future.

As technology has evolved from sailing ships to ocean liners to airplanes to communications via satellite, the world has become smaller. Earlier this week, I was reminded how small the world has become with advances in technology. A chain of communications started when I emailed a business colleague, congratulating her on more than 20 years operating a consulting firm.

Her response, which I received the next morning, thanked me for the note…and also indicated she was responding from a hut in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. A couple of back-and-forth emails explained she had access to some solar power and a slow-speed satellite link. The link was fast enough to allow sending a picture of a rather large tarantula meandering on the deck surrounding her hut.

While my business colleague was experiencing diversity in the Amazon rainforest by working with indigenous people, what about experiencing diversity at home – in the city where you live? In your neighborhood? And does experiencing diversity even matter? Well, yes, I think diversity does matter if the US is to develop an effective strategy to capitalize on the coming technology tsunami rather than being overwhelmed by the technology tsunami.

A key component of preparing for the technology tsunami is education…and education for all age cohorts. Part of that education includes learning about and really understanding other cultures. Ideally that understanding is gained on the ground in the local country. Unlike my business colleague, few families, however, can afford to travel worldwide and experience these cultures firsthand. What’s an alternative? A great way to start is trying to understand cultures in your immediate locale. Most urban areas in the US have pockets of different ethnic groups and cultures.

What happens when your locale is not diverse? When everyone in your locale looks and speaks the same? Does the lack of diversity really matter? Homogeneity may be comforting but it runs the risk of stifling creativity. Homogeneity is also a breeding ground for “group think.” Make no mistake, overcoming the threats of technology tsunami will require significant creativity.

Recently my wife and I visited some longtime friends who moved to a well-known retirement community in Florida. Their house is lovely, and in the larger community the grounds well-maintained and almost every shopping need and service is nearby. Our host jokingly referred to the development as a “reservation.” He also noted liking to stay on the reservation and avoiding the real world, which he considered not always pleasant.

Another friend, whom we met for coffee, had lived and worked on the “reservation” but later moved to a nearby location. He noted how virtually every aspect of life in the retirement community was managed, including hiring doctors in the clinics who fit a “Marcus Welby” profile.

During our stay, which included golf, multiple restaurants, shopping and extensive travel by golf cart, neither of us saw any blacks, Hispanics or members of virtually any non-western European ethnic group. Only one member of a golf group that I was in, which included several foursomes, was Asian.

So, back to the question – “Does diversity really matter in preparing for the technology tsunami?” Does living in a sanitized bubble really matter, especially for people who are retired? Do the retirees really care about the coming technology tsunami? And does the rest of society care what retirees think?

My vote – living in a sanitized bubble is not good for society, even for retirees. Most retirees living in the bubble have children and grandchildren. Why Gramps may be technology challenged and/or a curmudgeon, Gramps still has some influence on the grandchildren. And Gramps still votes. And we know Gramps mostly watches Fox News, which seemed to be the channel of choice virtually everywhere we went on the reservation.

The technology tsunami will be a major threat to Gramps children and grandchildren. Without an effective US response, sustained economic growth will become nearly impossible. To create an economy that can capitalize on the technology tsunami…and not be overrun by it…will require a range of thinking from people of different cultures.

If you don’t believe diversity and creativity are linked, take a look at the mix of faculty and students at say the Media Lab at MIT. Then take a close look at the range of highly innovative ideas and products emerging from the lab. Living in a bubble, whether physically or politically, lessens the opportunity for creative thinking.

Diversity can be accomplished a number of different ways. Ideally, diversity evolves on its own without any intervention. For example, in the eight houses in our neighborhood that I pass on the way to get coffee, there are families from at least four countries. And the eight houses include families practicing at least five different religions. An even more diverse population exists in the apartments that I pass closer to the coffee shop. That cultural/religious mix happened on its own.

Forcing such a diverse mix is problematic and smacks of too much government intervention. However we…societal we…can Implement policies that encourage more diversity….and we can also prohibit policies that intentionally discourage diversity.

What about policies that encourage diversity in schools? How should diversity in schools accomplished? A seemingly obvious solution is busing. While busing might make create a diverse classroom, busing has many negatives, including excessive cost and excessive travel time for many students. Another downside of busing not often discussed is the risk that businesses may decide not to locate in a school district where busing is mandated. The longer-term effect of not attracting businesses and staff is a lower tax base and slower economic growth for the school district.

A policy that discourages diversity is charter schools. North Carolina is an example of this strategy, although not necessarily representative of all states with charter schools.

In North Carolina, charter schools: (i) receive taxpayer funding; (ii) select students, although the charter schools claim admission is open to all who “qualify”; (iii) are not subject to the same rules and/or oversight as public schools. Recently, the North Carolina legislature passed a law requiring all teachers in North Carolina to secure a North Carolina license. Teachers licensed to teach in other states still need to pass the North Carolina test because the test in another state “might not be as rigorous” as in North Carolina. All teachers…oops all teachers except those in charter schools…are subject to the license requirement. Thus, any teacher relocating to North Carolina is effectively incentivized to avoid the hassle of getting a NC teachers license required for a public school and instead, teach at a charter school. In addition to not needing a license, teacher pay at a charter school is not subject to the same guidelines as at a public school.

The continued negative policies of the North Carolina legislature to erode the value of public education is one of the reasons I wrote blog Entries #324 and #325, which outline why banning charter schools is a necessary component of preparing for the technology tsunami. Still, banning charter schools still does not solve the diversity issue. And busing kids to create diversity has too far many negatives.

What’s the solution to more diversity in schools and society? Economics and attitude. More to come.

 

#329 College Admissions Scandal – a Different Perspective

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

In the entry describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), I suggested a way for the US to help mitigate the impact of the inevitable tsunami was increasing support for public education. How does the college admissions process fit into the discussion of the US preparing for the coming technology tsunami?

The topic seems appropriate for two reasons: (i) as noted in several blog entries, the US needs to increase the percentage of students with either an advanced technical degree or a college degree; (ii) the public discourse about the college admissions process is missing a key component.  That overlooked component allows many students to attend certain higher-end academic institutions.

The rhetoric about the college admissions process ratcheted up in March 2019 with a number of articles published about parents using influence…and/or cash…to help their children get admitted to various colleges/universities. Some of these activities involved cash bribes and a few high-profile parents have been charged by the FBI.

After the FBI charges were made public, many media “talking heads,” pundits, not-so-privileged students and others claimed to be outraged by the activities of the parents. “Such practices are unfair!” “What about the students whose place in the college/university was taken by one of the privileged?” “The admission process needs to be based more on meritocracy!” Some further claimed the admissions process was racist.

Seriously folks? You’ve been living under a rock if you don’t think it’s a long-standing practice for parents to leverage connections and to “bribe” the administration to get children into prestigious schools. For decades, academic institutions have tweaked admissions standards for certain students. If parents were willing to say make a healthy donation to the school or there was a long history of family members attending the school, then students were often admitted under somewhat different standards.

I recall in my high-school days learning that the brother of a classmate that I’d known since the first days of grammar school had been admitted to a rather prestigious college. When I asked how, my classmate laughed and said “Simple, my dad paid for a new building.” Does anyone really think George W. Bush was admitted to Yale, then the Harvard Business School on his own merit? And, hmm, maybe the Donald falls in that same category.  Wonder why he insists his transcripts not be released?

However, what seems to be new in this story about privilege is the academic institution is getting cut out of benefitting from the bribe. Yale, for example, apparently was unaware their long-term soccer coach was on the take and willing to recruit for the team each year a couple of players who would not be admitted to Yale based on academic merit. If the coach only had given Yale part of the take.

What seems more prevalent than cash bribes, although the proactive is not new, is having someone other than the student take the SAT or ACT. What is new in the last decade or so is the parents claiming the student has some type of learning disability, which then allots more time to complete the test. While using “stand-ins” and claiming “learning disability” are unethical, such practices should be fairly easy to stop.

Some who are outraged at a few privileged students skirting the normal admissions process have also claimed that athletes granted scholarships did not skirt the rules because the scholarships were based on merit. Really? Merit for what? Playing basketball? Playing football?

Okay, the individuals might be gifted in a particular sport but how many of these athletes are gifted academically?  5.0%?  10.0% tops.  Last I looked, the primary role of a college or university was academics, not athletics. Colleges and universities are accredited based on academic standards, not the success of the football team or the basketball team.

Let’s see if I get understand how the athlete is admitted based on merit. A student is admitted to say Duke University under a scholarship to play basketball. The first semester the student does not attend class, fails all subjects and is put on academic probation. The terms of the probation state if the student’s GPA doesn’t improve in the second semester, he will be ineligible to play basketball, and might be subject to expulsion.

The student continues to play basketball through the second semester – and Duke hopes the NCAA tournament – but like the first semester fails all classes. The penalty? Even if the student-athlete is expelled, what does he care? His goal was never a college degree. His goal was to get drafted by an NBA team. The Duke coaching staff, the University’s administration and the student knew from day one he was going to be a “one-and-done.” But the student was admitted anyway.

So tell me how the “one-and-done” student-athlete was admitted to Duke based on merit? Merit to help the basketball team but not admitted based on academics. For those claiming such athletes are enrolled based on their merit, while other students are admitted based on privilege and not merit, please stop the hypocrisy.  (Want to read about a real-world example of the hypocrisy of one-and-done? 19 05 15 NYT NBA Draft and Rights to Duke Freshman)

A final thought, which no one seems to talk about…and to me is a critical component of the discussion. Admitting a limited number of students from very wealthy families is a benefit to all students at the institution. Why?.  Go back to my classmate whose parents donated a building as a trade for her brother’s admittance. Yes, it was a deal for the privileged. But from a broader perspective, for many years students at the college benefited from the cost of a building not being part of their tuition.

A question we should be asking is, “How many students who otherwise could not afford to attend an Ivy League or other top-line school have benefited from the wealthy contributing to the endowment of the college/university?” Maybe the students who are attending such schools only because of a scholarship should ask themselves, “Would I be able to afford to attend without subsidies from the institution’s endowment?” In almost all cases, the answer would be “no.” So for the not-so-privileged students, please swallow your pride and be grateful that someone is subsidizing your education.

Thus, from my perspective, the so-called “admissions scandal” for the privileged has two very different sides. First, no question that illegal bribes are out-of-bounds and should be prosecuted. However, those who claim using a back-door or side-door route to admission is unfair need to be careful about wanting to make the admissions process the same for everyone. Instead, take a deep breath, step back and be thankful for donors who help build buildings and who donate generously to the endowment that is allowing more students to attend a college or university they otherwise could not afford…and allowing the US to prepare more effectively for the on-coming technology tsunami.