Massachusetts Daily Collegian

It is not only possible, it is probable

By Max Calloway

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Look around your house. How many of your belongings sport a “made in the U.S.A.” label? If you shop at big box stores like Wal-mart or Target, there is a good chance you’re looking at labels from Sri Lanka, Thailand and of course China. Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other “free trade” agreements, production of consumer goods can be orchestrated cheaper globally, so companies with a bottom line in mind have shipped industry elsewhere. The fact is, we don’t “make” anything anymore.

The good news is, neither does the rest of the “developed world.”

According to 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, from 1970 to 2009 manufacturing jobs have decreased from 26.4 percent to 10.2 percent of the American labor market. The BLS study also included Canada, Japan and most of Western Europe, indicating a 14.2 percent average decline in manufacturing jobs as a function of total employment for the countries surveyed.

Agricultural statistics are even more dismal, falling from 4.5 percent to 1.5 percent of the American job market. This, however, is less surprising as emphasis on industrial employment at the cost of agricultural production has been a trend since the Industrial Revolution.                      

While the agricultural and industrial sectors have withered, the service sector is still booming. Over the past three decades employment in service industries has increased nearly 20 percent. Today, 80.2 percent of the American job market is service based and research suggests this growth is far from over.

“Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018”, a new study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (GUCEW) predicts the creation of over 46 million new jobs, 30 million of which will be in the service sector and require a post-secondary education.

At first glance, the findings seem like a miracle, but as the report warns, if the country doesn’t start producing more post-secondary graduates we will face an employment-educational gap. This educational deficit could threaten the economic gains increased employment opportunities represent. According to the report, all the nation needs to recover fully is a workforce that is willing to spend the time and of course money, for more credentials after graduating from the free, public system.

Now, I’m not condemning wholly the push for us, as a nation, to stress the importance of higher education. An education is a great opportunity for those who wish to pursue it and those who do should have the support – financial or otherwise – to obtain it. However, with our domestic economy headed in a service-based direction, forget education as you’ve been taught to conceive of it.

In a service based economy, employers don’t want personnel with well-rounded liberal arts educations. They need a workforce versed in the increasingly narrow and specialized skills characteristic of the service sector. What the study recommends is nothing short of turning the higher-education system into glorified job training.    

Witnessing the economic shift from agriculture to industry firsthand, Karl Marx was alarmed at what he termed “man’s alienation from his labor.” Before this time, farmers could work enough to produce a mild surplus, securing sustenance for themselves and their families.

After the shift, sustenance became reliant on a wage allowing for the purchase of necessities, once the direct product of labor. As Marx expounded in “The Communist Manifesto,” the industrial market stripped power away from the working-class by appropriating the means of production for its continual progress. Thus, production control was to be driven by the “invisible hand” of the market rather than the hands of the workers.

As a result, we live in a society that touts mindless consumption as the highest value. Policy makers and pundits constantly refer to “consumer confidence” as a measure of financial stability. If we do not buy, we do not progress. Value is no longer placed on our work or its product, but rather on the merits of our purchases.

If the Georgetown University study is correct and its recommendations are carried out, we may bear witness to the market’s attempt to appropriate education in the name of continual progress, just as it did with industry and manufacturing. Once this happens, students and faculty will no longer consciously shape their curriculum; our capacity for critical thought will have been packaged and sold back to us. Instead, the “invisible mind” of the neoliberal market could dictate what should be taught and to whom. The forces of economic progress would have seceded in isolating us from our very essence: our actions and thoughts.

Max Calloway is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “It is not only possible, it is probable”

  1. Ken Jacobson on September 24th, 2010 9:25 am

    Bravo! Your column demonstrates the value of a good liberal education: you have critically thought through a complicated issue, questioning “authority” in the process. I would be curious what you see as alternatives to the Georgetown conclusions. Also, what are these “service” jobs; are they unionized; and do they pay as well as the manufacturing jobs they replace?

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