Dr. Walter Russell Mead, history professor and writer of OpEds, has been for some time exploring the decline of what he has labeled ‘The Blue Economy’ (essentially the Industrial world and the unions, jobs, and government it created – that are so prevalent in Blue States, from which his “Blue Economy” references come), and the coming challenges presented to that Blue economy by the advancing Information Age.
Being intrigued by Mead’s thoughts on the impact of the Information Age on jobs, K-12, online Higher Ed, telecommuting, etc., I find myself wondering if the changes to come might not be orders-of-magnitude greater than even he posits. Is Dr Mead thinking far enough outside the box?
Dr Mead has put a serious amount of thought, perhaps more than anyone else to this juncture, in to the decline of the industrial Blue State and the rise of the Information Age economies. What will happen with education? Telecommuting? Telemedicine? Automation? Will automation so advance as to strip the world of jobs people must have? He has written insightfully on all of these issues and more as the Information Age dawns and the Industrial Age – and its jobs, lifestyles, educational systems – begins to recede.
As Dr. Mead sees it, “There are really two choices before us as we think about the future of jobs in an age of information. Either most human beings are about to become economically obsolete, or the information economy can find a use for their talent and hard work. Much depends on which of these two pictures turns out to be the best description of the future…If we believe in the first alternative, we are going to start planning for the mother of all welfare states…”
I find it intriguing that he has not yet seemed to identify one of the more massive alterations that may well be caused by the decline of Industrialism and the rise of what is, essentially (and due to the same advancing / accelerating Information Age of which he writes) a more autonomous citizen and world: The fragmentation of nations, and particularly of America – a truly industrial state that may become more and more of an anachronism in the Information Age.
Look at the nations that developed prior to the Industrial Age: A few large, mostly rural countries that have remained “developing” nations for centuries , and bunch of tiny, densely-populated countries in Europe, all created prior to the advent of industrialization, none built based on the industrial ability to project power, good & services, money and people; it is not a wonder they are small.
Then look at the continental nation of America, the only nation truly developed – and hugely expanded – essentially after, and as a direct result of, the rise of industrialization and the unique ability of industrial states to project power, goods & services, money and people; it is not a wonder we are large.
But that begs my question: Can America exist in a post-Industrial world? Or will it, necessarily, fragment?
It would seem that a true forward-looking set of essays also would deal with the Information-based fragmentation of not only the workplace, education and industries, but of nations, but perhaps he is working his way there by laying the expert foundations he is putting down.
For those of us in the industrialized, advancing First World, we who are the objects of Dr. Meads’ thinking, where we actually live, are educated, and work no longer matters. With telecommuting, tele-education and telemedicine, it really doesn’t matter where we physically are: we can work, be educated, deliver and have delivered goods & services nearly completely irrespective of geography.
Take the thinking to a new step: If where we live becomes nearly inconsequential to our work, education, healthcare, etc., why – and how – does the State not follow in fragmentation?
How could it be otherwise?
And if the State shrinks or splits as people offshore themselves for lower taxes, less crime, higher quality-of-life, less corruption, less crowding, a greater ability to not sacrifice location for work, and greater freedom and increased personal liberty – all brought about by the rise of the Information Age…. what is it that then holds-together an industrial state as large as America? And in the coming century, perhaps including the BRICs?
Assimilation and shared values once were the glue of America. Our “education” system and our elites have overthrown that, to the cheers of those ignorant of the value of America in particular and of Western Civilization in general. Little, it seems, holds together America today other than inertia.
Information – as we have seen with the rise of the Tea Party and the ever-increasing dissatisfaction with our political status quo – is the enemy of inertia.
Blue States seem mostly to demand tax revenue to cure the ills of the past: Welfare for those left behind as the world advances, government-sector unionization to defend against a more efficient, information-based future.
Red States see no point in putting Band-Aids on the past and prefer to keep their money in the private sector in their own communities to create jobs for the future their children will be populating.
(A quick look at Blue-State / Red State demographics shows why Red Staters care about future jobs – and Blue Staters do not: Blue States (like the Blue nations of Europe, Japan, etc.) simply are not having children. In no industrialized country other than America, and in only small-population Blue States of HI and NV in America, is total fertility flat – all are in decline, some in what demographers are calling “suicidal” and “unrecoverable” population decreases (Japan, Italy, Spain, for example). Red States, on the other hand, exhibit fertility growth. Simply, citizens, and voters, in Red States care about the future enough to populate it… and Blue voters – do not.)
If American were to fragment, given the spending choices on the sides of the initial obvious fault lines, will (can?) the Blues still fund massive welfare payments, spending more and more (until they can only spend less and less) on those who refuse to work?
Will Reds decide to expand on the Texas experience, creating larger, and excellent, institutions of education, funneling students and money into information technologies, jobs and budget surpluses, much as the Silicon Hills experience in Austin? Will the Red states become magnets of learning, technology and jobs, much as the Blue states have become magnets for welfare? How can it be otherwise given current voting patterns?
The two huge modern-day bureaucracies favored by these voters (Welfare in Blue States and Defense in Red States – though many in Red States are beginning to question the purpose of our enormous defense outlays, while those in Blue states seem ever-more-hungry for ever-increasing welfare redistribution) also are coming into greater-and-greater conflict for dollars, for huge and ever-increasing amounts of tax revenue that may be less available as jobs shrink from automation. Should the State itself fragment, however, the tax base to support either – certainly to support both – will decline far past the point at which it seems even worthwhile to discuss how to continue massive outlays for either.
How, then, does ANY state remain a huge industrial – or defense – power in the Information Age?
Perhaps they simply… cannot?
If they cannot, do the elites – Red and Blue – that rely on the power of the massive State and its Welfare-Industrial or Military-Industrial complexes simply outlaw emigration? Outlaw telecommuting? Outlaw freedom of choice in personal geography? How can they do otherwise and retain their power?
What will a domestic America really look like in an Information Age driven by the acceleration of ideas, technologies and personal freedom… and not by industrialized inertia?
If a Great Power such as America fragments, what is the impact on global security? We are seeing now what happens as America disengages from S Asia and the Far East – chaos and bloodshed in the pre-modern N. Africa, S. Asia and Middle East, and industrialized aggression toward weaker neighbors in the Far East.
If America fragments, her strategic disengagements will not be reversible by future administrations or Congresses. What will be the impact on our allies and their enemies? On non-aligned states? How can we even know or guess?
There are many more changes coming, I think, than perhaps Dr. Mead is seeing.