How Bad Are Things, Anyway?

Walter Russell Mead brings some history to bear on the topic of wages:

that was in 1985 and still today the hourly and weekly wages for American workers in inflation-adjusted dollars are less than they were almost 40 years ago.

He speaks here of the blue-collar segment of the working population.

Tens of millions of Americans aren’t just reading about American decline; they are living American decline.  Access to middle class jobs is getting harder — and the jobs still around are less stable.  Public services are slowly declining; cash strapped states and towns can’t provide the kind of education that could open more doors.  Roads and bridges aren’t being maintained.  Retirements are less secure.  Health care is more problematic than ever as insurance prices rise — and fewer jobs offer decent plans.  College tuition has exploded; we have a generation of college students carrying mortgage-sized student loans even as they scramble for elusive jobs in a snakebit economy.

From this perspective, things do not sound very good. However, the author believes that with such a large pile of manure in the room, there must be a pony in here somewhere. Here is his recommendation for the realm of education:

The educational system is also going to change in ways the unions and the guilds can’t imagine — and will fight to the death.  Going forward, students need to be evaluated and credentialed on the basis of what they know, not on the basis of time served.  An exam based rather than an instructional hours based system will put students back in control of the educational system; the vast armada of meaningless degree programs in pseudo-academic disciplines like business communications, hospitality studies and sports management will sail off into the oblivion they so richly deserve.  The pressure for pointless academic credentials and meaningless degrees is one of the great, expensive blights on our society: we can’t afford this kind of waste anymore and it needs to go.  Employees will demonstrate their competence to employers by passing exams in different job-relevant subjects that test real skills; the training for these tests will be provided by entrepreneurial organizations that are likely to rapidly replace many of the inefficient and expensive post-secondary educational institutions around today, once appropriate systems to regulate their practices and monitor their performance can be developed.  (Traditional liberal arts education needs to survive, and it will, but education and training are very different things that require very different approaches.  To promote economic growth and social mobility, and to help individuals continually retool their skills in a changing economy, we need to separate training from education and make training as widely available, cheap and convenient as possible.)

In short, he would have us become results-based in our educational approach, educate people with skills that the marketplace desires, and understand the difference between education and training. Sounds good to me.

How doable is this? Well, as a culture, we seem to be fast approaching the point where we make painful changes or we quickly find ourselves as more history than future.

It is an extensive piece, but worth reading in its entirety.