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“The Coming Tide”

“The Coming Tide”

July 25th, 2017 // 7:22 am @

A Prediction

For decades the Democrats proudly saw themselves as the party of the little guy and the working poor. Republicans were considered the party of Wall Street, white collar professionals, and big business. But these alignments have changed during the opening years of the 21st Century. The Democrats are now, as The Atlantic put it, “a coalition of Millennials, minorities, and white professionals.” The Republicans consist of whatever is left over, which amounts to a majority of people in the large majority of states.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this new political arrangement is that so many white-collar professionals are now Democrats. Moreover, a large number of them are genuinely liberal, even progressive. This is a major departure from historical trends.

The most obvious reason for this shift is something members of the professional class have in common: years of participation in and graduation from the modern American university system. To find success in today’s campus environment often corresponds with embracing academe’s general values, processes, and views. When such views emphasize diversity of thought and vigorous debate of different ideas, the result is a certain kind of learning—and a certain kind of graduate. This approach helped make American universities the best in the world.

But when such views and values include rejection of diverse ideas, religious values, and pressure to adopt one overarching political and cultural perspective (pervasively advanced by the Left), a different result is natural. A different kind of typical graduate is also inevitable. This is where we find ourselves today. As the American campus has moved increasingly Left, the culture experienced and accepted by a large number of its participants has followed suit.

College Flight

This leaves many conservative or religious families, and others who aren’t particularly conservative or religious but don’t want their college youth to be ridiculed for their views or indoctrinated with blatant liberalism, with a difficult choice. College, long considered a required rite of passage into adulthood by many families, is becoming less attractive to a lot of people. The rebuttal is that the financial rewards of a college degree make it unavoidable. This boils down to two widely accepted but currently weakening views:

  1. College leads to financial success
  2. Financial success requires college

Perception is never quite as accurate as reality. Belief #1 (college leads to financial success) is a partial truth. It turns out to be true for some people, not true for others. In the 2010s, it is false for more than half of college graduates. Belief #2 (financial success requires college), on the other hand, is patently false. There are many people with financial success and means who dropped out of college or never enrolled at all. Indeed, many business owners who never finished college find their company bombarded with resumes and applications of those who did.

Certainly college is an effective path to career for many people. However, a downside for parents who aren’t committed liberal ideologues is the worry that many of today’s universities will turn their children into exactly that. And the biggest losers in the current system—even in the few schools where religious or conservative values are acceptable—are students whose focus on career prep distracts them from getting a truly great education. Sadly, this describes a significant majority.

II.

To be clear, all of this is part of a much larger national context. The bigger trend is that Americans are increasingly rejecting the 1960s promise of a society of experts who wisely and efficiently fix everything. The golden era of the American university was an outgrowth of this post-World War II zeitgeist: that everyone could participate in a society of experts, and that expertise and institutions held the solutions to all our national, world, community, material, and even personal problems.

Increased medical expertise and technology would make us truly healthy; better law schools and lawyers would ensure true justice to everyone; advanced technology and training in journalism would bring a golden age of media full of light and truth; business advances and expertise would eradicate poverty and bring prosperity to all. And so on….

The promise of what experts would bring the world was exciting, even intoxicating. True political experts, we were assured, would bring lasting peace, end conflicts, and spread happiness to every city and town. The Fed would ensure a stable and growing economy at all times, using modern expertise and financial algorithms to save us from major financial challenges. The promises were endless.

Over fifty years later, none of these expectations have been realized. Not even one of them. The entire “experts will fix everything” project is a bust. Just look at the current state of our politics, from the Clinton era to the Bush years, from Obama to Trump. Problems are far from solved. Many of our great national institutions, both public and private, have declined or lost their way. The citizenry’s trust of our government, and of experts in general, is lower and lower each decade.

In truth, the era of the expert is insolvent. It’s well past bankrupt, to be precise. We’re still training more experts, but they still haven’t solved the problems that caused us to want more of them in the first place. A lot of things have gotten worse. In short, something else is needed…

And soon.

What’s Next?

While national debts continue to skyrocket (more than doubling in the past 8 years), markets show increased volatility, and governmental credit ratings are downgraded, many of the experts assure us that things are getting better. But all they’ve shown is that they don’t really know what they’re doing. They know how to keep themselves well paid and in power, but beyond that, they haven’t fulfilled their purpose.

For example, imagine what would happen if we faced an economic depression like those the U.S. suffered in the 1930s, 1860s, or 1780s. When the Great Depression came, most Americans trusted the government, our leaders, and our national institutions. Today most citizens have very little trust in any of these; indeed, over sixty percent of Americas don’t trust the government to do the right thing most of the time. If crisis comes in this atmosphere of mistrust, few solutions from Washington will find enough traction to be successful.

This is a dominant characteristic of our times: We can’t seem to solve our national problems, big or small. We are mired in political squabbles, both between parties and within parties, and Washington accomplishes very little that actually helps the American people. It often causes harm, in fact.

As a people, we have largely lost trust not only in governmental officials and institutions but also in the media, Wall Street, Hollywood, the schools, big business…the list is long. Whom do we really trust as a people? Whom can we turn to in crisis—with real confidence they’ll fix things? In short, which experts do we really believe have our backs anymore?

If the promise of “experts will save us, and all our youth should become experts” doesn’t ring true anymore, what does? What is the answer? From the founding era through westward migration and the Industrial Revolution, the overarching goal of most Americans was to build a business and raise a family. This was our drive, our agenda. It was our national project, carried out by myriad individuals and families.

Then after World War II we turned our gaze in another direction: the career, a profession, education as job training, and daily life spent meeting the needs of the corporation or whatever organization employed us. In short, experts ruled and most people wanted to be experts. If they couldn’t swing it themselves, they at least tried to make it a reality for their children. Even family goals were expected to bend or give way to the interests of employers. Schools, likewise, were reorganized to separate, grade, sort, and point young people in the direction most likely to meet corporate needs. Experts oversaw the entire process, literally from cradle to grave and almost everything in between.

As the evidence of expert limitations grows, and as our national faith in the power of experts to solve our problems erodes and crumbles, what is left? Where will we turn? A whole generation of Millennials grapple with this situation in their work life, and more decide to opt out of the system than join it. Where are we headed?

III.

So far, nobody can definitively answer these questions. Time will tell, but in the meantime we must do our best to understand and prepare for the economy and world that is emerging in the post-faith-in-experts era. My opinion is that the most likely path forward is to reconnect with our American roots and turn our sights once again toward entrepreneurship. Business ownership is, in fact, the historical American pastime. The fact that many people abandoned it for half a century only worked because a few business owners did things on a big enough scale to employ the many.

But eventually, like any system where the many depend on the few for survival and progress, the few began taking more and more of the profits and power for themselves. In history this was called aristocracy, in more recent times it has been called socialism, and in our day it often gets away with calling itself capitalism. But whatever we call it, such a model is a far cry from the free enterprise system that turned America into a world leader—based firmly on freedom and the goal of most people to be independent owners and build their own businesses.

If and when this goal once again permeates our national mindset and our people’s choices, we’ll see the rise of a nation of problem-solvers. At that point, we won’t be dependent on politicians to fix things, and as a result, things will actually get fixed. In the process, we’ll naturally see a decreasing attachment to political parties and the rise of a non-political majority of business owners and family raisers.

There was once a name for just such goals: “The American Dream.” It’s time to bring it back.

To put it succinctly: Experts won’t save us. Politicians won’t fix what ails our nation. The solution will come, if at all, from a cultural change that marks the resurgence of a certain kind of person. At one point in history, people around the world had a word for such independent-thinking mavericks who took risks and then worked incredibly hard to make their businesses flourish and grow. They called them “Americans.” What qualified one for such a title? A burning drive to build and lead one’s own business, and to raise a family and community of young people with the same goal.

I think we’ll witness the rebirth of this same “tide in human affairs” very soon. In fact, I believe it’s already begun. But it faces strong headwinds blowing in the other direction, so we need to do better if we want the American Dream to succeed again. This is our key to the kind of future we want to pass down to our children and grandchildren.

Families, schools, communities and parents can either raise a nation of “independents” or a society of “dependents.” One will bring freedom and opportunity, the other won’t.

It’s our choice, and the decision won’t be made in Washington — or even at the ballot box.

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