It's always bothered me that the markets (and economists is general) define productivity in terms of growth, i.e., number of widgets produced, rather than in terms of quality. According to their lights, we are not "progressing" unless we are creating more things at less expense.
Not only are there inherent limits in that model, the model itself is injurious to our general welfare. While it might delight consumers to have cheap widgets aplenty, what is happening to the folks who actually produce those widgets? More, faster, cheaper is not necessarily good for them. Outsourcing to India and lead-laden toys from China are outcomes of that philosophy.
The quality of my life is certainly in some ways far better now than it was in the 50's, and I would not advocate a return to those days. My wife and I happened to be in Boston this weekend and we visited the JFK Museum. It was very emotional for us who remember those years, the uplifting hope of a young President "with vigah" and the crashes of assassinations, race riots, Cold War, etc. So many of the social issues facing us in 1960 remain unresolved.
So, how does one measure productivity, and what does that measure have to do with social progress and quality of life?
Barre Supervisory Union
>>> Vincent Rossano <[log in to unmask]> 2/2/2008 8:51 PM >>>
>>> On 2/2/2008 at 4:10 PM, Ray Ballou <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> b/c a Horse and Buggy lifestyle is not going to get us through the next
> century. And even if it would, China and India care about productivity, so
> we should too.
Who's talking about a "Horse and Buggy lifestyle"? Do you believe that reduced productivity necessarily equals 19th century living conditions? I'm not sure about that. But it may well mean making do with a less than we have now. (Just don't take away my broadband connection! :-) )
Now, if you wanna talk "China and India", you'd better take a look at their education systems. They are beating the pants off us in science and math, yet I'd guess they don't have one-tenth of the computers in the classrooms that we do. In fact, in China, they even have *computer* classes without computers. And I doubt that many of their schools have anyone called a "technology integrationist". Maybe this entire listserv is irrelevant in terms of productivity in education.
No, it's not. We do education differently in the U.S. And, personally, I like the way we do it better. But, if we define "better" in terms of increased productivity, we need to make some changes fast. More "drill and kill" and less personal fulfillment. Forget about a research paper on your favorite baseball team. Forget about a research paper on anything. Get your butt into calculus class. And if you can't hack calculus, get your butt out into the workplace and be "productive".
Neither you nor I want to be part of such a hard-nosed education system, but if we're using productivity as our standard, maybe we need to do that.
When I was in 6th grade, the Russians launched Sputnik and the United States freaked out. The Soviets were "beating" us! There were all sorts of dire predictions about the end of civilization as we knew it if we didn't put a science lab in every school - as soon as we cleared the halls from the "duck and cover" drills. Changes were frantically made in curriculum - which probably was called for- and perhaps the renewed focus on science really was important. But we never ever got as rigorous about it as the Soviets. Then, several decades later, the Soviet Union self-destructed. (This is not to say the former Soviet Union isn't, today, a major player in geopolitics - and a big worry.)
I just can't get worked up into a sweat about China and India "beating" us. Anyway, there may not be much we can do about it - increased productivity or not. China already holds far more of our national debt than any other foreign country. All they need to do is call in that debt and we're screwed. (Of course, they'd be screwed too, but that's another story.) It just may be that the 20th century will prove to be the first and last where the United States is THE world-dominant power. And, as far as I'm concerned, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
On a personal note: in 1969, I was working for a wine importing company in New York City. I had just gotten a nice promotion when I announced I was moving to Vermont. People were astounded. ("Vermont? Where is that? Someplace upstate?") My boss tried to get me to change my mind by warning me about the difficulty of returning to a "horse and buggy lifestyle". (Really, he did say something like that.) He clearly didn't know much about Vermont, but he warned me that there'd be low salaries and no shopping malls. My family, also horrified, said pretty much the same thing.
I moved to Vermont and, sure enough, there were low salaries and no shopping malls. Now we've got shopping malls (damn!), but we still have low salaries. Among my cousins (who all stayed in New York or moved to other major urban centers), I'm the only one not earning over $150k a year. (I - like you - am not earning half of that.) And I don't regret it for a minute.
Must be something besides productivity that makes life worth living. :-)