One of my more exalted positions while at the University was my time on the Building and Grounds Committee. As with all things, I knew there was something I could learn about people and their interaction with the world. One of these, in this case, was planning for people as they are, not as you want them to be. The University fronted on a major street but with a buffer zone of lawn and flower beds. Footpaths crossed the area and went around the flower beds in an illogical pattern. The Administration and Maintenance constantly complained about many students who ignored the footpaths and often walked through the flower beds. I pointed out at the first meeting I attended where this was raised that you are blaming the people for your incompetent, illogical, planning. The following year we built a new building, and I convinced them to not build the paths until after the winter. They then placed stakes where the people walked and built the paths accordingly.
I laugh when I hear people talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) taking over our lives. I have heard similar stories my entire life (80 years) except that it was spoken about as the threat of automation. My father told me he heard the same threats and his father told him the same story. The point is governments over the years have talked about the impact of change and progress on society, especially from technology, and never did anything. No, I should qualify that, they always blamed the people for failing to adapt or blaming the technology for destroying their lives, just like the people took the wrong path at the University.
Hannah Arendt spoke about the problem.
“Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”
One of the events in history for which this warning is very relevant concerns a group called the Luddites. As one author explains, the name,
“ is now a blanket term used to describe people who dislike new technology.”
This is a total misrepresentation of who and what the original group was about and an incorrect definition for those aware and concerned about technology today. They and many since them who oppose technocracy are called Luddites, that is people opposed to progress. It was not the technology or progress that was the focus of the Luddites wrath. The original Luddites were textile workers and weavers working in England at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 18th century. They were caught up in the great transition from the Agricultural Revolution that preceded the Industrial Revolution. They were part of what was called the Cottage Industry in which people worked at home contracting their skills and products to wholesalers. One website defines it this way,
A cottage industry is a small-scale, decentralized manufacturing business often operated out of a home rather than a purpose-built facility. Cottage industries are defined by the amount of investment required to start, as well as the number of people employed. They often focus on the production of labor-intensive goods but face a significant disadvantage when competing with factory-based manufacturers that mass-produce goods.
It was the failure of the technocrats and the politicians to consider the implications of the technology on people’s lives, careers, livelihoods, and futures. This reaction of the technocrats and politicians to blame the people is as it was throughout history.
You know a program has potential when your opposition considers it worthwhile. The Huffington Post, a left of center newspaper, wrote this about Donald Trump’s job program. Under the headline “Trump’s Job Training Program gets The Government out of the Way.”
If it works, Trump’s apprenticeship initiative will give more control to the people who know best what skills are needed — employers.
The employers wanted an apprenticeship program but were afraid to move. They explained why.
“We know we need to train workers,” one contractor who specialized in bridge building explained. “And we’re prepared to pay the cost. But I don’t want the government coming into my company, telling me what to teach my own workers and overseeing the day-to-day details of my training program.”
The major Trump innovation is recognition that the education system does not fit the people or their needs.
The American workforce is changing dramatically. In field after field, machines are taking over routine tasks and creating new openings for skilled workers with specialized technical training. College is still a good choice for many but so are an array of other paths: programs that prepare workers for what economists call “middle-skill” jobs — positions that require more than high school but less than four years of college — in manufacturing, construction, health care, information technology, transportation and a host of other fields. Indeed, in some instances, middle-skill training pays off better than college. A custom welder can make more than $100,000 a year.
This is remarkable. Trump, the non-politician was able to move beyond politics as usual and recognize that the education system is not meeting the needs of the individual or society. It is as if the government of the day understood what the new loom technology implied for weavers and therefore society. Here is how it works, especially for graduates of the education system who learn the hard way the disconnect between what they are taught and what society needs.
One reason for this supply and demand imbalance in manufacturing and elsewhere is that too many job seekers, including college graduates, are leaving school without marketable skills or any practical work experience. The automation of traditional “knowledge jobs” will only exaggerate this gap. In an apprenticeship, participants are earning and learning both on and off the job. This differs from many other employment-related programs and purely classroom-based education.
Until Trump came on the scene, the politicians, and the education system they created produced people for jobs that didn’t exist or were rapidly disappearing due to technology. They built paths that took people in the wrong direction and then blamed the people for failing to be ready and find their way. Neither the technocrats nor the politicians cared because it kept people off balance and easier to control. Now, Trump continues his true middle-class revolution and is building paths that suit and accommodate the way people are not as he or others want them to be.