Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Glorious World of the Future? Most Americans Say: Not So Much

In today's Times, an economics professor named Donald J. Boudreaux (who happens to be a libertarian and former president of the Foundation for Economic Education, a conservative outfit located within spitting distance of where I live in Irvington, New York), pooh-poohs today's economic insecurities with this letter:
Bob Herbert quotes the observation by Andrew L. Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, that Americans today "cannot see where the jobs of the future are that will allow their kids to have a better life than they had." Mr. Stern adds, "And they're not wrong."

But when could Americans of any generation foresee future jobs? Did the blacksmith in 1890 foresee jobs in the auto industry? Did the corner grocer in 1940 foresee his son prospering as a regional manager for Wal-Mart?

Did the telegram-deliverer in 1950 foresee his child designing software for cellphones? Did the local pharmacist in 1960 foresee his daughter's job as a biomedical engineer?

Our inability today to see the details of the future is no more worrisome than was the same inability of our grandparents.
Professor Boudreaux is engaging here in sophistical logic-chopping. It's true of course that people can't predict the details of the economic future. So, for example, it was not literally possible for a pharmacist in 1960 to foresee the emergence of biomedical engineering by the time his daughter was at work forty years later. But this is a trivial truism.

More relevant is the fact that most Americans in 1960--and, I think, in most past generations--were broadly optimistic about the economic future of their country and, specifically, of their children. And while the average American of 1960 surely didn't know that something called "biomedical engineering" was on the horizon, there was no dearth of giddy expectation about the incredible economic and social potential of emerging future technologies--as anyone who attended the 1964 World's Fair can attest.

Although Prof. Boudreaux's pharmacist might not have predicted that his daughter would someday work as a biomedical engineer, he might well have imagined that she would lead aqua-scooter tours outside the underwater Hotel Atlantis (as shown at the Fair's General Motors pavilion in the picture above).

If Americans today aren't so sanguine about their future, it's not (pace Prof. Boudreaux) because we're unimaginative dullards. It's because we have plenty to worry about, and we know it.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

"Infused with entrepreneurial spirit and the excitement of a worthy challenge."--Publishers Weekly

Read more . . .


What do GE, Pepsi, and Toyota know that Exxon, Wal-Mart, and Hershey don't?  It's sustainability . . . the business secret of the twenty-first century.

Read more . . .