Monday, July 10, 2006

The Information Age vs The Automobile

We have heard for years that we have entered the "Information Age" but too much of the economy seems deeply tied to good old-fashioned manufacturing of hard goods. Perhaps those in the manufacturing sector are so ingrained there that they cannot get their heads high enough to see the changing times.

We hear talk (particularly here in the midwest) of technology and how it is changing things, but the only technology being spoken of is manufacturing technology! The area I live in is supposedly focused on how technology will free our economy from the rust belt mentality that has caused its economy to stagnate for several decades. But I see no real effective moves to educate our workforce or shift our economic focus to jobs that are not inherently just manufacturing jobs. And this while many such jobs are quickly moving offshore.

If the midwest really believed in the information age, it would long ago have shifted its focus to information-oriented jobs. But instead we watch while our children either (a) migrate to the coasts or various other areas where information-based jobs are valued, or (b) watch them slowly stagnate in second or third tier supplier jobs that are still tied to the automotive sector millstone.

For most of the 20th century the US economy was driven by or tied directly to the automobile. The recently celebrated anniversary of the "freeway" helped put our returning WWII soldiers to work. The government underwrote the American Dream with (1) a Veterans Benefit act that allowed the explosive growth of suburbia (and the housing industry) and (2) a first class freeway system to help tie it all together. Both helped fuel the automotive sector to dominate the second half of the century.

Where, oh, where is the equivalent economic idealism that will drive the 21st century?

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