Marc Andreessen: For Most of Us, It Will Get Worse October 29, 2012

Jesus said, “The master replied,`I say to you that everyone who has will be given more, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away”.”  [Luke 19:26, Common English Version]

Jesus was, given His other sayings, not talking about the economic world He desired, but on the one hand of grim reality, and on the other hand of the ultimate choice of heaven or hell and the lack of an eternal middle ground.  But according to Marc Andreessen, interviewed in a special 30th anniversary of USA Today, Jesus’ dystopic vision is going to be closer to the reality in the next 30 years.

Andreessen declares that there will be two classes; those who tell computers what to do, and those that are told by computers what to do; and there will be no Limbo, no middle ground.  “For people who want to be well-paid employees but not start businesses,” he says “superior creative talent or exceptional brain power will be essential.”  The Century of the Common Man, it appears, was the 20th, not the 21st.  People who do want to be entrepreneurs have a chance, although it looks like they have to be pretty talented too, and America is still a fairly good place for them; “China is very entrepreneurial but has no rule of law . . . . Europe has rule of law but isn’t entrepreneurial.”  And everyone will look out for themselves in a way not common in the 20th century; “the mere mortals in the workforce will have to get creative to succeed” because the “big companies are not going to take care of you.”

Today’s 20 year-olds have to deal with the schools as they are.  Andreessen recommends that they “”study STEM’ (science, technology, engineering and math).”  A few liberal arts students will make it into the upper class; “a person will have to be good enough so that his book is a best seller, or he’ll have to be smart enough to apply philosophy to corporate strategic thinking.”

What are we to make of this?  I suspect two things will happen to the liberal arts; first, they will be mostly studied by people in midlife, not young people, as young people will primarily see education as economic empowerment, as they mostly have for the last 40 years [the real reason, in my opinion, that “Western Civ has got to go”].   Second, I propose a Great Books education for the trustfunder class, and I do think there should be a trustfunder class.  They will be the few that get to live off what Kurt Vonnegut, in his God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, called the Money River, the river of stocks and bonds and other liquid investments, and will have the luxury of getting a classical education while still young.

If I were doing my life over, I would go to a Great Books school like St. Johns or Thomas Aquinas. Occidental wasn’t bad, but it did not expose me to original sources to the extent that St. Johns or Thomas Aquinas would, and if one is going to lead a life of philanthropy [as opposed to “tithing”, which I still think we all should do] that kind of education would be the best to have.  I’m American enough not to want my trustfunder class to dominate or rule the country, though we have produced some important Presidents like Washington, Jefferson, the two Roosevelts, and the two Bushes.  But I would like my “trustfunder” class to function as a sort of counterculture to the predominant culture of the upwardly mobile and the “successful”.

What of education for citizenship?  Will STEM-based education prepare people adequately to be citizens? That’s a question I can’t answer.  Maybe liberal arts core requirements in high schools and below, and in undergraduate colleges, can help.  As far as the moral content, people affiliated with churches and other religious institutions will receive a certain measure of it there – but where will the “nones”, those affiliated with no religion [who are not, by the way, mostly agnostics or atheists, but “spiritual” people, whatever that is supposed to mean] learn the kind of morals they will need?

Politically, I do not see the welfare state going away.  If corporations are no longer going to take care of people, as they did for so long [and small business never realy could], they will expect the government to step into that role.  For all the faults of Obamacare and Medicare, and yes they do need to be drastically revised, the businesses of the future will not wish to provide healthcare for their employees, except in the very nominal way it is done in France and Germany.  And employees will hardly wish to be tied to the same company for 40 years for the sake of health insurance, any more than companies wish to be tied to employees for 40 years.  My main concern about the welfare state is that “entitlements” should not lead us to perpetual government deficits.  And the philosophy of “entitlement” is a dangerous one, especially when the society does not have enough resources to pay off the “entitlements”.  But a lot has been written about that, and I don’t need to add to it here.

I am concerned about a sharp two-caste society such as Mr. Andreessen has predicted.  This is the first time that America will not be a primarily “middle class” society, whatever that means.  How will the lower class majority function politically?  Will it swing any weight at all?  Will it be able to sustain a healthy moral and family life, or as Charles Murray has feared in his latest book, Coming Apart, will their lives disintegrate and become like those of today’s underclass?  Jesus certainly didn’t think that the poor were less capable of virtue or salvation, nor that the rich were in any ultimate sense better behaved!

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