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Week in Review

This week’s essay focused on America’s jobs problem, and outlined why work is an essential human right:

When thinking about the future of jobs during the Information Revolution, it’s important to remember that the drive to work is embedded in human nature rather than in economic scarcity. Human beings don’t just work because they want to get paid so they won’t freeze and starve in the dark; they want to make meaningful contributions to the societies in which they live, and they want to be recognized and esteemed for the contributions they make to the common good.

There is a horrible snobbery lurking beneath the idea that most people will not be able to find meaningful work when the age of scarcity ends. Once the working classes aren’t needed to dig coal anymore, in this view, there is nothing to be done for the mass of mankind than to sit them in front of the TV on a comfy couch with a big bag of chips. They are good for nothing else.

This is a premise which any serious theist or humanist must reject. If we believe that every human being has a unique real worth, we must also believe that every human being has a contribution to make. Keynes rather snidely remarks that few people have the talent to live creative lives; writing about the difficulty many will have adjusting to lives without toil he warns of the intense boredom that most will suffer. “Yet it will only be for those who have to do with the singing that life will be tolerable and how few of us can sing!”

This week, Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe walked back from nationalistic comments he made in the past, though tension will remain high in the region; Seoul and Beijing will probably now see Tokyo as insincere and antagonistic. In China, the people of the Chinese city of Kunming protested loudly about during demonstrations against the construction of a possibly dangerous factory. Balancing the environment with economic growth is an enormous challenge for China—already the country is struggling mightily with water scarcity and water pollution. Looking south, a delay in the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline that will eventually connect China to the Bay of Bengal kept Beijing reliant on oil shipped through Asia’s most important and clogged waterway, the Strait of Malacca.

Russia kicked more dirt in John Kerry’s face this week when it arrested a man on charges of spying for the United States. The news wasn’t much better in Europe, where a ring of Bulgarian gangsters were caught defrauding the Dutch. Episodes like that threaten the viability of the European welfare state, and news that France is now more euroskeptic than Britain underscores just how fragile the EU is.

Syria produced more horror stories this week; the country has disintegrated into a bloody mess of warring provinces. Things are looking grim for OPEC, which is being undermined by the shale revolution and falling American demand for oil. One piece of news out of the Middle East proved that truth really is stranger than fiction: Iran was selected to chair this month’s UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament.

Texas, of all places, proved to be a global green paragon in this century’s first decade when it reduced its percentages of emissions more than supposedly green places like California, Germany, and Europe. A new report on America’s changing driving habits was another boost to US emissions curtailment. But domestic energy news wasn’t all positive; America’s biofuel boondoggle continues to boggle the mind as we learned that the US both exports ethanol to and imports ethanol from Brazil in a complicated and messy arrangement that underscores just how misguided our country’s ethanol policies are.

Obamacare looks to be slowing job growth, at least for now. It also seems designed to kick young men while they’re down. Comparing the ACA to the Swiss system can help us understand what we’ll be getting in the coming years, and the outlook isn’t good.

But MOOCs continue to show promise; Georgia Tech announced a $7,000 Masters program. Dr. Dre and music mogul Jimmy Iovine jumped into the higher education game with a $70 million donation to USC. But if you read one thing about MOOCs this week, make it the New Yorker piece we discuss here.

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