Education, Training And The Middle Class In America

This article was submitted to Edge of Humanity Magazine by AZULDELMAR2KR.

Americans don’t resent the wealthy, nor do people around the world. Most know they will never be rich.  They don’t care. What they do expect is to have economic hope, a sense that they will be free from fear of economic insecurity.

There is flexibility in defining hope and expectation, which is different around the world. Some want more, expect more, and are fortunate enough to get it. There is, however, no flexibility in hopelessness.  Americans expect, or used to, that hard work would provide freedom from economic fear. They knew that being an American meant there was opportunity for the willing worker.

In the last fifty or sixty years, it might be fair to break down Americans as they reached their early 20’s into four groups.  One could argue the four groups are not enough, but it’s enough to capture most people.

There are those who graduated from college or graduate school with a job in hand or got one shortly thereafter, and looked forward to several years of hard work and economic gain. They were confident in their ability and the structural conditions under which hard work combined with their ability, would pay off.  (In the early 70’s I left the U.S. Navy after six years, four years later graduated from a university, thinking my ability to succeed was based on my willingness to work hard. Never once did I think the American economic engine would falter, inhibiting my chances.) University graduates had high expectations, and most lived up to them.  The opportunity was there.  Economic growth was consistent.  All you had to do was to have the right degree and be willing and able to participate.  It wasn’t that hard.

Second, there were those trained to do things, skilled tradesmen, often self-employed.  They were also confident, and part of the economic backbone of a thriving middle class.  Their ability to thrive was not so much based on education, but on training. Education without training means a country full of those can do little beyond read, type, double-click, text, swipe, copy and paste. Training means doing important tasks. (I am one of the fortunate few who was trained while in the U.S. Navy to operate a nuclear power plant, then educated in the engineering sciences in a university. That order of things turned out to be important to the things I did.)

In the U.S. we clamor for more spending on education, in my opinion, a waste. (I just heard on the news about the riots in Baltimore that education spending there is 2ndin the country.)  There is too much education, and not enough training.

A society with a solid middle class is a function of training, not education.  When a middle class is lost, as is happening in the U.S., education will not fix it. A real education is a life-long endeavor for those of us who take it as a personal responsibility, not that of the State. A real education is never over. Training means teaching people, more appropriately, showing people,  to DO things.

Where can a high school graduate go to work and earn more than a menial wage? After 12 years of school, all you can earn is a few dollars an hour?  Outrageous. What do the taxpayers get in return for the $10,000 to $20,000 per student per year for a public school education?  We should have people graduate from high school able to work and pay taxes, and they would if they could DO something. A government with nothing to offer but an increase in the minimum is populist, with no understanding of how economics work. Does higher education solve theproblem?

The third group is the large number of people who take jobs in factories. They are mostly trained to do their jobs by the employer.  They are trustworthy and capable. The work might be demanding, but workers knew they would be able to provide for their families, maybe save for retirement, and possibly buy a fishing boat and take a vacation once in a while.  They had families, and the families stayed together. These were good folks, with solid values. They respected hard work and demanded it from their children. Most Americans have a family history that runs right through a factory, whether it was assembling cars at General Motors, locomotives or appliances at General Electric, aircraft engines at Pratt & Whitney, or operating machinery at suppliers to these companies. These were good companies and good places to work. Now we have divested ourselves of factories in the U.S. Americans hardly invest in capital equipment in the U.S.

The last category is those people who are hopeless.  When the hopeless are merely a few, the confident will support or imprison them.  The hopeless are those raised without fathers and cultural constraints and respect for themselves. If the hopeless class is growing, with no route for escape, and the government fosters hopelessness by supporting it, then the fear of economic insecurity the other three groups worked so hard to escape creeps into the rest of the population, destroying confidence. The hopeless need to be limited to a few for a free society to exist. They need a way out. History shows only one way; training and a place to apply that training in making things. In the best case, poverty is transitional, retaining hope. Poverty is a fearful place, worse without hope.  In the best case, the poor find a place in the stream of wealth creation, making things. If people lose hope, then they will never be in the middle class, and never really feel American by more than birth. Without a middle class, there is no America.

We now also have a generation of young adults, whose parents work, but cannot enter the shrinking middle class. Unlike when I graduated, they fear the future. They might work at Starbucks, afraid they will never be able to pay off student loans. Maybe hard work isn’t going to pay off for them. Maybe the America I knew is no longer.  They don’t know real work, are not trained, cannot get a job at the factory, because it is gone, and find a college education of shockingly little value. Many who are trained will likely do just fine. But even for those who are trained, there are few places to make stuff.

Americans now claim they need jobs.  Americans don’t need jobs…they need work. Work means being part of a stream of wealth creation. Americans need to make things again.. The rest is just meta-work.

The American people who no longer understand, respect and revere the power of work and wealth, will not stand as free people. I fear they will lose their God given rights, taken by the government. How did all this fall apart so fast?  How did we get to be so fat and lazy? In order to have a look, I think it matters to look at the creation of wealth and work, how it is different across cultures, and how a few cultures have so much to teach us.

See also:

4 Streams of Wealth

By AZULDELMAR2KR

 


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