THE FUTURE IS RUSHING UPON US
We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Even an incompetent weak leader is occasionally prodded into doing something right for his country ( even if to get re-elected). No Child Left Behind bill which was co-sponsored by Edward Kennedy was signed by George W. Bush in 2001. United States took a major step towards improving the quality of its workforce.
At least that's what appeared to happen if only 10th amendment didn't get in the way of creating a national standard for America's children. United States never had a national education minister to properly oversee the country's competitive development versus international rivals. A national education standard regardless of class or race to which all students strive to makes solid geopolitical sense. Yet even at the height of the cold war American constitutional arrangement stood in the way. Such a standard (that many leading Western nations have long had) would help culturally equalize the population, narrow the gap in worker quality between different regions, and allow national leadership to effectively track how much economic value an average American student can bring to the world's table. As of today it is rather difficult to assess where an average American elementary kid stands in comparison to a kid in Australia, Canada, or France.
United Nations tries to do some tracking with its Human Development Index (on which United States is 19th, sliding down, and about to be surpassed by Italy of all countries). UN's task is drastically complicated by major structural and cultural roadblocks:
2) Substantial qualitative gaps between private schooling of the rich, middle class public schooling, and public schooling for the poor. The geographically large 300 million multi-ethnic federal union also suffers from often large cultural differences between regional, racial, and ethnic populations that translate into significant splits within the state wide education system.
When High School children around the country reach the time to take a nationally standardized SAT test, many are in for a rude awakening. A "good student", from a rural locality in a state that doesn't try to modernize might think his high grades prepare him well. However he often scores worse than a "good student" from a state that tries hard to modernize and implement European style standards and assessment.
In 2005, the then chairman of the federal reserve Alan Greenspan has identified that American students compete well globally at 4th grade level but that there is a drop off in average quality after that. Greenspan, one of the biggest defenders of the free market, has pinpointed the lack of educational investment for high schools as the leading cause of widening gap between the rich and the poor.
"The income gap between the rich and the rest of the US population has become so wide, and is growing so fast, that it might eventually threaten the stability of democratic capitalism itself" - Alan Greenspan in a public testimony.
Such shocking statements by a man who oversaw nation's fiscal policy have gone unnoticed by most of the union's population. A chart of mean 2008 SAT scores by state can show the extent of the socioeconomic divide that is pushing US towards potential social instability in the future. What is most striking and telling about the state of economic inequality in US is that the states with the highest average SAT scores have the lowest amount of students taking the exam.
poorest states in GDP per capita.
This is taking into account the distorting effect that those earning over $100,000 a year have on the average GDP per capita evaluation. Midwestern regions of the union as well as the non-diversified export states are under oligarchic control as blatant as that seen in parts of South America (where GINI index of inequality is even higher than in US). Midwestern and the Southern regions are much poorer than their entrenched strongmen claim. Announcements of high SAT scores or more people getting into college serve to perpetuate the illusion of rural development.
Perhaps the best example of oligarchic influence on political power centers is shown by Washington DC. Many nations of the world are judged by the social conditions of their capital cities. Capital cities often show the microcosm of the overall society itself since that's where the most power elites are concentrated (whose thoughts in turn shape society). In US, due to its decentralized federal structure, that is less of a case (considering the importance of state capitals, financial/cultural hubs of New York and Los Angeles, and strategic port cities) but still worth a look.
District of Columbia has the highest GDP per capita, the lowest mean SAT scores, and the highest SAT participation rate (and subsequent disillusionment). Lets dissect this innocent data.
New York for instance has same level of participation rate in SAT taking as DC and is only 45th worst mean SAT score performer (DC is 51st worst). However, New York is 6th highest by GDP per capita (DC is first) and we see that nation's capital is 34% more socioeconomically unequal than even the state with the financial heart of the American union, Wall Street. Such striking gap in wealth and ethnic culture is unthinkable in Europe's capitals (even now that they are becoming culturally segregated by immigrant and native neighborhoods). Even Moscow, with the flashy belligerence of its oligarchs has not reached such a level of gilded age extravagance. Such reality in the beginning of 21st century should make any American pause about direction of the country. Past Western accusations that involved materialism gap between Soviet elites and average Soviet citizens begin to sound ridiculous in comparison to counter Soviet accusations of material gap in capitalist urban areas. Washington DC, of course, also has the best medical care in the country to keep its elderly Brezhnevs functional for decades.
After taking an explanatory background detour we return to the issue of worker competitiveness. Political realities make even a rabid modernizing president unable to create proper educational assessment of citizenry within his own country. Lack of national educational standards will continue to make rural regions of the country more uneven compared to economically growing urban areas. We have seen how group think of American elites has led to the financial bubbles as well as to the nationally draining occupation of parts of Asia. Doing an American perestroika-style restructuring when the economy is stagnating or declining runs the risk of massive failure. Undergoing needed restructuring itself will require nothing short of a constitutional convention or a number of new amendments. The entrenched regional powers in more distant parts of the union will not allow such a restructuring to happen or to properly succeed even if it begins. Large swaths of the American population in rural areas are thoroughly indoctrinated with ideological nationalism. Many sincerely believe the American federal union is in a rather fine shape compared to more consolidated, educated, industrialized, and egalitarian countries of the world. Many also sincerely believe that if they just work harder (to make capitalism more pure), the superpower will be set on the right path. Unfortunately, many of these ideological conservatives are the elderly and about to gain even more power as baby boomers retire. Their neural patterns are thoroughly indoctrinated and they are not as open to education via new forms of media like the Internet.
Toyota deciding to open a factory in Ontario instead of southern US, is a foreshadowing of whats to come. Toyota decided that although America has workers willing to work for less (and local authorities provide tax incentives)it is still more profitable to open a factory in Canada since Canadian workforce is better educated and better medically covered. Considering the rate of income growth in US slowed to below growth in inflation in 2008, we need to start thinking about what to do about the 10th amendment. It's THAT serious.