September 20th, 2008

wombat

So where do things go from here?

therevdrnye was in the neighborhood last night, so we got together and descended on the local Popeye's for chikuns and conversation. One of the things that came up was the question of where the economy goes from here - not in terms of depression or recession, but the overall shape of the thing. We've been in the process of moving away from an economy in which Big Corporations manufacture a lot of the same things, taking advantage of the economies/efficiences of scale to make them cheaper than the competition. Part of the economy is information services, but aside from programmers, analysts, data entry clerks, and all the people who build and maintain the networks, that leaves a lot of people with time on their hands who used to do things that have been mechanized or computerized out of the work force.

My theory is that the economy is becoming more baroque. As the general standard of living rises, people don't want the same things everybody else has. Custom or designer or limited-edition merchandise is the style, and people will satisfy that desire if there's a living to be made from it. As indeed there is. You used to need billions to get into the auto business, as Henry J. discovered to his sorrow, but advances in manufacturing and materials have lowered the bar to the point where there are more automakers in the United States than there were when I was a kid, and I'm not even counting foreign companies that have factories here in the States. People want cars that don't look like everyone else's, they want cars that don't rely on gasoline or diesel, and they're willing to pay extra. People want homes that don't all look like the rest of the cookie-cutter prefabs in their subdivision, on the inside if not on the outside, and we have Home Depot and Lowe's to cater to them along with a couple of cable networks and a legion of remodeling firms.

This comes around to my notions about the failure of the public school systems. There will continue to be a need for people who are good with words and numbers, but we also have an ongoing need for people who are good with their hands, and the homogenization of American high-schools into one giant set of college-prep rat mazes doesn't help those people one bit. Likewise, all the colleges selling liberal arts curricula are going to find themselves in a bear market once the economy of America goes for baroque.