A Collective Goal
Each of these letters assumes one thing that I realize I cannot assume: that prosperity for all is a collective good. There would be some truly cynical people (or times when even an optimist such as I becomes cynical) who would argue that perhaps you do not want the whole of the population to prosper. At the darkest times, I sometimes wonder if there is something to be gained from keeping people under-educated and in poverty. In poverty, you do whatever you have to to get by—mine for minerals, dig ditches, clean public bathrooms, work the graveyard shift. To “economic minded individuals,” you must rely on poverty. Someone has to clean the grease traps, so goes the argument. Jesus said, there will be poor always. But this is a pretty parasitic view of the economy. The rich sit in comfortable leather office chairs, spinning toward the full-length windows to look out across the horizon as the street-level workers scrub and sell and dig.
And I suppose, even in my most idealistic brain, that there will always be “levels” of work. I am embarrassed to ask the student workers in the office to print letters of recommendation for me, but I do it because I have fifty more letters to write. Some division of labor is necessary. However, I do think that there should be fluidity between these divisions. That if someone doesn’t want to work the graveyard shift anymore, there is a way for them to quit. That the swiveling leather chair isn’t guaranteed to the man who sits in it and certainly isn’t guaranteed for his son to claim. That there should be some kind of symbiotic relationship between industries and its workers. That maybe you put some time in mopping floors but that time in counts towards a goal. When companies pay workers to go to college, there is symbiosis. You work doing a less-great job. We’ll pay you to go to school so you can get a better job. Raising people up isn’t just socialism, it’s good business sense. When you have employees with a strong liberal arts background, they are more inventive, more creative, more communicative. As Loretta Jackson Hayes, associate professor of chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis, wrote in The Washington Post in an article called “We Don’t Need More Stem Majors, We Need More STEM Majors with Liberal Arts Training.”
To innovate is to introduce change. While STEM workers can certainly drive innovation through science alone, imagine how much more innovative students and employees could be if the pool of knowledge from which they draw is wider and deeper. That occurs as the result of a liberal arts education. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/02/18/we-dont-need-more-stem-majors-we-need-more-stem-majors-with-liberal-arts-training/
Or, even if employees just get advanced degrees for jobs they already occupy, the new insight and new skills attained make way for new inventions, plans, and models.
If you are convinced that government should be run like a business, perhaps think of this symbiotic business model. Even if you still need, say, window washers so that you can look out the windows of your high rise, don’t you think that some certain number of years put in washing windows should allow for enough money to pay tuition to go to college so that you don’t have to wash windows forever? Don’t you think that your business-state would benefit from having someone who once washed windows invent a solar-gathering window device? If you think of the government as a separate entity from the people (as a business is from its employees), perhaps you can think of it as a symbiotic one.
Sometimes businesses/governments like to make metaphors from nature. Think, Wolf of Wall Street. But in the real forest, symbiosis is the underlying structure. Lichen, fungi, berries, ant, nurse trees all serve to help the forest grow. Even wolves, who in the movies need nothing or no one, appear have a symbiotic relationship with ravens. The ravens spot potential food for the ravens. The wolves tear open tough hides for the birds.
Go ahead and run your business like a real wolf. Tear open the expensive hides of Higher Ed by returning state funding to the universities. Let the ravens eat. They’ll signal more food for you later.