12.16.2010

Knowledge is Power


Here's a fun little piece of time-series data, which I found for a speaking engagement earlier this week, that tells an interesting story:

* Employment by sector in 1800 - agriculture 50% manufacturing 25% services 25%

* In 1900 - agriculture 30% manufacturing 35% services 35%

* In 2000 - agriculture 3% manufacturing 23% services 74%

Incredibly, we've become so efficient in feeding ourselves and in making things that we can devote less and less bodies to those tasks. Not only so, but we have access to far better and more food and made goods.

It is incorrect to call this job loss or to blame outsourcing, since the vast majority of the efficiency and improvement has come from mechanization and not Mexico or China. And unless you like doing back-breaking and dangerous manual labor 12 hours a day for six days a week, the fact that we use machines instead of people is a good thing.

How this long-term trend should stir you is by reinforcing the grave importance of making sure our schools dispense good quality education in an effective and equitable manner. For if brainpower is what we need to hold down today's and tomorrow's jobs, we need to make sure every kid has a chance to obtain it.

Teaching inner city kids about agriculture to help them understand how food is grown and to foster in them a nutritious lifestyle is great. And making sure inner city kids are exposed to careers in construction and manufacturing is great, so that those who want to go that route are not impaired in knowing how to succeed there. But let’s not stop there, lest the job paths we encourage and resource represent the very ones that are disappearing. Rather, let’s all the more figure out how to make sure our inner city classrooms are producing knowledge workers. Because that’s what our kids need, and that’s what our country needs, to stay competitive.

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