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“Where Do We Go From Here …”

September 15, 2014

“Where do we go from here

Now that all of the children are grown up,

And how do we spend our lives

If there’s no one to lend us a hand?”

The founders set it up that every four years we’d be encouraged to think carefully about the direction of our government, and, if need be, adjust course. As part of this process, they wanted candidates for public office to talk about the problems facing society and propose ambitious plans for dealing with those problems.

Sometimes this construct actually works. Four years ago, the challenge facing New Yorkers was restoring the functionality and competence of state government. Cuomo understood that challenge perfectly. He had a vision of what needed to be done. He won, and then he did what he said he was going to do. And we’re all better off as a result.

But now, today, we ask: What’s the current challenge facing the state? And does the incumbent governor understand this new and different challenge and does he have a plan to address it?

We’ve written before imploring Cuomo to come forward with a vision and a plan for the next four years. But with only six weeks to go – nothing yet. Nothing. We think he’s too smart not to get the imperative here, but we are starting to wonder whether he might be Churchillian – great in a crisis, but lacking a broader vision.

To be sure, it is an incredibly difficult thing to do – run a government and ponder, ponder, ponder where do we go from here? But he needs to give it a try.

In that spirit, we’ll try. We’ll offer something – not a unified field theory, but a stab at one issue that is at least as important as others.

But first, some background: Members of our group have been studying the work of Charles Hugh Smith recently. Sounds impressive, right? Such an erudite group we are — pouring over the writings of an obscure author and then getting together for passionate debate. But wait, this fella – even though he uses three names — isn’t a theologian or philosopher. He’s a blogger, financial analyst and most recently a kind of uber career counselor who writes about labor market trends.

The gist of what Chuck Smith says is this: There’s no clear path for people to “make it” in today’s rapidly changing high-tech world. A college degree isn’t a guarantee of success. Far from it.

In fact, he says: “The reality is that the current system of higher education is broken and incapable of fixing itself. It has failed in its most basic purpose, which is preparing students to earn a livelihood. It depends on soaring student debt for financing. This is a double whammy failure: Burdening students and their families with crippling debt while its product, a college diploma, has diminishing value.”

Smith’s vision is for a different higher education model, one in which real life experience plus self-directed online learning lead to a honing of the actual skills most needed in the job market today. He calls it “self accreditation.”

Not to be too abstract, but we think that if you put Chuck Smith, Terry Gilliam and Bill Maher in a room for a while, you could maybe begin to sort out society’s problems.

That was the first thing that occurred to us in our group discussion. The second was moment of self doubt. We collectively said: “Were we wrong about Zephyr and Tim?  Damn, we were making fun of net neutrality and the whole connectedness thing and now it turns out to be integral!”

But our doubts on this score were laid to rest when one member of our group quoted Smith, who believes that academia is a far more “corrupt” institution than government. In this regard, Smith calls Teachout and Wu’s world “an “intrinsically elitist cartel” that simply isn’t interested in the well-being of ordinary people.

It’s a really depressing thought – that something we were all raised to believe in (get a degree and you’ll be a success) isn’t valid anymore.  And then one of our members began to sing the above-mentioned verse from that obscure 80s band – The Alan Parsons Project. We all laughed.

We then engaged in a debate on whether it was possible for state government to facilitate a revolution in higher learning to better serve people:

Could our state government ever act on Smith’s vision for a new education model or would it just degenerate into a special interest jihad and rampant political posturing? In this regard, there’d certainly be an outcry from the college lobby. And cheap pols would do what they always do – pop off without thinking it through – just like what they did when Cuomo suggested that inmates be eligible to take online college courses.

We pretended to be speechwriters for Cuomo for a while and felt as though we’d framed the issue quite well as populist initiative with could resonate nationally.

But as the discussion continued we realized that our reach in the discussion (and in this post) probably exceeded our grasp.

But is that wrong? Is that a crime? No, not at all. It’s what we’re supposed to do. And it’s what candidates are supposed to do, too. No?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    September 15, 2014 2:07 PM

    This is one of the biggest issues facing our society. We are going down the road to a ‘lost generation.’ Around 50% of the people in this cohort are college graduates who have jobs that don’t require a degree. And once someone takes that first job, it sets their income standard for all subsequent jobs. So if that first job pays significantly less than they need to meet their loan obligations and lead a ‘successful life,’ the stats say that they will never be able to make up that financial ground.

    The debt issue is far reaching. There’s a growing bubble in our economy (and now global economy) that many are aware of, but no one has proposed a solution to. Once this debt bubble bursts, our banks will again need to be bailed out, and again it’s the middle class and poor families who will get the short end of the stick.

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