When will we see the writing on the wall? What should we do then?


Yesterday, I heard the talk show “On point” hosted by Tom Ashbrook. The topic was: Why our kids are not winning today?  http://onpoint.wbur.org/2015/03/11/robert-putnam-our-kids-book  The guest at this talk show was Prof. Robert D. Putnam His new book, “Our Kids: The American Dream In Crisis.” (Simon & Schuster), suggests that the crisis for the children in USA today is indeed severe and it is not a blue or red issue, but a “purple problem”.

On looking at the blame game between both the Democrats and the Republicans on the growing income gap and its toll on our children, the host made the following passionate plea: “How appalling, how galling this picture is to me! I grew up in a down in the income ladder family. I was a white kid in a strong community with good schools at a time when you could rise and the society was structured to help me to rise and I did. What a marvelous thing that is! To imagine being down there with all the rungs stripped away, looking at a kind of hopeless surrounding that you describe the kids are seeing, just makes me crazy. That is not what this country is supposed to be”

Professor Putnam responded “We need to think of all these kids as OUR kids. For my parents “our” kids did not mean my sister and me, but all the kids in the community. In the past 30 or 40 years, the meaning of the term our kids has shriveled…… If we don’t invest in poor kids, all our kids and their future are at stake

Throughout the discussion reference was made to three decades of growing income gap and disparity between the rich and the poor. But nobody seems to ask, “Why three decades?”, “Why not before?” or “What is unique to this time frame of three decades”?

To suggest that some how every one in the country and the communities we live have now become mean spirited and selfish, seems to miss the point. When there is a growing scarcity for economic opportunities, instincts of self-preservation could also be the fall out. But, with a broader view – system thinking that focusses on the broader picture instead of the dots or pixels in it – we can see the issues are more fundamental and less superficial than that.

What is consistently missing in such scholarly discussions here and elsewhere is a simple, but fundamental fact of life: It is undeniable fact that evolution in IT (and Digital Technology in a broader context) has diminished the role and need for human skills from a large body of workers, generally belonging to the middle class in the USA. This has been growing from the early 70s and is in full swing since 1980s (for the past three decades). This implies that we need a few – very few well educated and skilled professionals, who will be paid well and rewarded nicely and their children will be well cared for. This was indeed reflected in a scenario described by one of the callers: “I am a stay at home mom. My parents are first generation immigrants with only 3rd and 4th grade education, who worked in the factories. I have got a degree in Bio Technology and we have a very good life. Our children are well cared for”. This mom and their family succeeded in the same time period – past three decades, when so many other families and their children are suffering and failing. What really happened?

The work in the 21st century is divided between (a) Finance – make money off money, (b) Professional work which requires knowledge (through higher education, when possible) and its use, (c) Information work (which can be increasingly automated using IT) and (d) Physical work (which can be increasingly automated using robots, CNC and drones).  The distinctions between these four categories of work is now far more discrete and their boundaries are less permeable. Add to that the ability to off shore all these kinds of work (b, c and d) as required, against thanks to DT enabled capabilities. This leaves a very small slice of work – professional work to deliver knowledge driven solutions – that can be carried out by a few with unique set of skills, which we call as SYSTEM THINKING AND TRANSFORMATIONAL SKILLS. These few jobs pay good wages within the shores of this country. All the rest (including those who work on Finance) will be driven to low skill, minimum wage jobs. Therein lies the secret of the growing wage disparity. Unless we recognize this new reality and then develop policies that incorporates this new reality, we shall continue to have growing wage disparity and an increasing number of children driven to poverty and its ravages. We call this as the Binary Economy.

One can only hope such evolved thinking and policy making will happen sooner than later. In the meantime, what can you do? If you are from the poor or middle class family, you need to learn the few ropes still available to you and pull yourself out of the forces of the Binary Economy and its downward spiral. If you are lucky enough to attend a college don’t just learn what you are taught. The same issues faced by families are also faced by companies and their survival in the USA. Every one of them can benefit from System Thinking and Transformational Skills as part of their knowledge portfolio. For more details Contact Us.