Walter Russell Mead: “Two hundred years ago people thought that the only real jobs involved growing food”
Walter Russell Mead, on the relationship between American politics and American society…
Does the American middle class (and by extension, the middle class in other advanced democracies) have a future in a post-blue world? That is the basic question at the heart of American politics;. As I’ve noted, 4.0 liberals think that it doesn’t, and think that the defense of the blue social model is the only way to protect the social achievements of the twentieth century.…and on how a future that is different from the present is a source of both hope and fear…
They’re wrong. The post-blue future for the middle class is bright, and instead of using the weight of the state to shore up a declining blue system to defend an embattled middle class we need to use that power to promote the transition to a 21st-century political economy and a reinvigorated middle class—larger, richer and more in charge than ever before. This is not a call to dismantle the state; there really are important things that government has to do in a complicated and interconnected society. It’s a call to transform, retool and repurpose the state so that it becomes an engine for progress rather than an anchor trying to hold us in place.
The information revolution destroys jobs, but it also creates them, and we are already in the early stages of a jobs explosion. And as it proceeds, the information revolution is likely to propel the rise of a middle class that is more productive, better educated, more autonomous and more interested in and capable of civic leadership than the Fordist middle class of the late industrial age.
The new jobs will be different from the old jobs, and this is one of the reasons many fear the economic transition we’re in. There are a lot of people on both the right and the left who think that in a country that doesn’t “make stuff” there won’t be any jobs. If it isn’t a widget that you can grab in your hand and do something with, it isn’t real. This is nonsense. Two hundred years ago people thought that the only real jobs involved growing food, and that people who made non-necessary consumer goods were engaged in a socially parasitic activity….
The industrial revolution transformed agriculture from the core business of the human race into just one of many things that we do. The information revolution is doing the same to manufacturing….Design, software and engineering become more important as manufacture slips into a secondary status. (We still need factories, just as we still need farms—but fewer and fewer people will be working in them and less and less of our GDP will be bound up in their products.)