[FoRK] Another election year.... another bum economy

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Thu Jun 16 09:33:27 PDT 2011

On Jun 16, 2011, at 2:29 AM, Stephen Williams wrote:
> It certainly did poorly over the last several years.  Plus, a number of huge fictions were unveiled.  However, it has stopped getting worse.  

Maybe it has stopped getting worse, it is hard to say. But that is not the issue per se.

Many average people recognize that in the current state of "not getting worse" things are going to work out badly for them long-term. They are playing against the house, it is a matter of "when", not "if". And they are probably correct unless the economy becomes vastly better.

> With a little imagination, research (by both journalists/news, alpha-techies, and the public in general), and incubators, etc., we could get a good positive buzz going to leverage all of that human effort being wasted right now.  Rather than waiting for Obama / Washington to generate a 5 year plan or something (or worse, doing everything possible to get him/them/us to fail so they can smugly claim that people misvoted), people should be thinking of creative ways to make themselves, and the US, more useful and competitive.  Washington's role ought to be occasionally seeding projects (DARPA challenges and similar), bringing top talent together, and finding creative ways to get regulations / taxes / etc. on the side of innovators in a big way (Indian Reservation style perhaps).

This will not work the way you think it will. The people that could meaningfully contribute to innovation are well-employed currently. Sure, you might be able to allow that same group of people to work more efficiently but that is just rearranging the deck chairs as far as everyone else is concerned. Great for you and I, just another unnecessary handout to already privileged parties as far as everyone else is concerned. There are also cultural impediments to entrepreneurial innovation that take decades to modify; the US is not Silicon Valley.

Also, the complaint I always hear from innovation funding organizations is not that there is a shortage of money for grants but that there are a shortage of people that can usefully apply the money. A lot of such money is left unspent.

> For instance, we should have moon-shot, or at least challenge-style, projects for various kinds of manufacturing, inexpensive / indestructible / attractive housing (including tornado / hurricane / flooding proof), farming / microfarming, robotic everything (factories, farming, care, education, misc. maintenance), etc.

This work is already being done by private industry. The handful of people with the skills to do it effectively are already working on it for the most part. We don't need challenge-style projects, these areas already pay for themselves. They also have a much better idea of what is real-world practical than most of the public that envisions these things without any real knowledge of the field. 

> There is plenty of private and a bit of public money to invest in potential blockbuster projects, plenty of available labor (albeit generally needing a continuous education program), plenty of land and resources if people get creative (terra form, in a sense, some of the vast cheap / free land we have if necessary), and plenty of projects.
> Not to mention many foreign projects that could be negotiated.  Pick a non-warring country and teach them English, various modern practices, etc. as a stock-option-like investment on their improvement.  "Unemployed?  Invest your time in the Option Corps."
> The possibilities are endless.

Endless, yes. And mostly silly and non-constructive. You are still left with the reality that cultures change very slowly, far too slowly to make a difference in the near future that people care about, and that most people cannot be educated to a level of high value in the economy going forward. 

Education does not elevate people above their natural ability and that is a real problem for a large portion of the population today and all of us in the future. As more growth industries necessarily set the employability bar at a level of cognitive capability that is significantly above average, it excludes a growing portion of the population from the part of the economy that has a bright future.

Smart people have something to look forward to, for now.  But most people are average people. Sure, things look good to you -- you are a smart person -- but most people do not even have the basic elements required to pivot into whatever highly technical field du jour they fancy and they know it. Education will not hurt but it also will not address the underlying issue.

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