Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Image by Smithsonian Institution via FlickrThe other night, the City of Salem signed up to submit a grant that, if it's obtained, will require the city to waste yet more taxpayer money -- $160,000 or so, from the general fund that we keep being told has no money -- as corporate welfare for a private, for-profit business, SkyWest Airlines. This is on top of $8,000 that Salem is pouring down the drain for "market analysis."
Apparently the council is fine with slashing public services like pools and parks and library services to find the money to shovel into well-tailored airline pockets in a doomed attempt to pretend that flying from Salem makes economic sense. (Not to mention that, in the era of $80+ oil, flying is making less sense for anyone, anywhere.)
It seems that Salem's losing scheduled service every time the subsidies run out should tell us something, but the optimists in City Hall have their fingers pressed firmly in their ears, determined not to hear what the market is really saying. After all, who needs public services when you can be chasing the dream of flight?
It's tempting -- especially for those in the liberal arts -- to imagine that this "Great Recession" is simply a perturbation in the economy, which will eventually return to "normal" (growth). Young people are well advised to use some of that famous youth skepticism on that. Image via WikipediaA column at Inside Higher Ed about the problems of "graduating into the Great Recession" ends with this:
The last couple of recessions felt like somebody had hit 'pause.' When they ended, things came back in relatively recognizable forms. This one's different. If an 18 year old asked me what the hot occupation would be in a couple of years, I'd have no idea what to say. It's just not obvious.I know it's probably a waste of time, but I couldn't resist submitting this comment.
Paradoxically enough, that actually becomes a kind of argument for the liberal arts. It's one thing to juxtapose the employable to the abstract. But if nothing's employable anyway, why not go with something that's at least fascinating? Or, if you go the business route, focus on the entrepreneurial side; if the established firms are shrinking, there's not much point in trying to conform your way up. You can't play it safe anymore; there isn't any 'safe.'
I had a rough economic ride in my late twenties, but not like this. My condolences to the latest graduates. I hope you all keep this time in mind the next time you hear someone say that the economy is meritocratic.
If you haven't been paying attention, there are two dominant forces that will dictate circumstances in the US for the foreseeable future, and they combine to create a third that will seem like an independent force in itself. They are
(1) the end of cheap energy due to the peaking and then inexorable decline of oil production rates (Peak Oil); since virtually everything grown, mined, made, or moved comes to us courtesy only of a huge investment of energy, we've built our society on the assumption that there will always be an affordable abundance of energy -- everything about us points to this implicit assumption.
(2) the urgent need to slash fossil fuel carbon emissions drastically to avoid the worst effects of climate disruption (many serious effects are already "baked in" since there is a lag between emissions and effects of about 30 years, and CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries);
(3) As a result of 1 & 2, we are going to be a much, much less wealthy country. We are going to have to do without many of the consumer baubles we've become accustomed to and many of the daily comforts we've taken for granted.
Thus, the advice I give young people today is this: Learn how to grow your own food using as little energy or imported materials as possible or be important to those who do know how to do that. That simple rule unfailingly helps you decide well.
To the extent you can't participate in taking care of your own subsistence needs -- grow your own food successfully -- you will have to get it from others. If you want to be important to people who grow food, you will have to think about what they are likely to need in a much more relocalized world. You don't have to be a farmer -- you can be a doctor, or a nurse, or a PA or an EMT, or a plumber, or an electrician, or a miller, or a cook, or a builder of super-efficient houses, or a good mechanic, or a welder . . . and of course, here in the last throes of empire you can always be in the "protection racket" of the military.
What you will likely not want to be is anything that Toffler would have called a "symbolic analsyst" -- someone who only makes their living writing, speaking, or pushing pixels and only has a career in the context of an expanding economy (with steady tax revenues).