U.S. Navy, Public Domain
Source: U.S. Navy, Public Domain

We speak of income inequality gaps too symptomatically: We may speak of an achievement gap, income gap,  and digital divide.

But there’s a more foundational gap that society must first address if it expects to close the others: the efficacy gap.

There's consensus that ever more repetitive jobs will be automated and that ever more of the remaining decent-paying jobs will require technical chops, people skills, and emotional solidity sufficient to handle change's acceleration and life's timeless slings and arrows. Alas, too many people cannot be expected to possess that amalgam.

What is being done?

We can continue the path we’ve long been on: Pour more money into education and other uplift programs. Alas, despite 50 years and $22 trillion dollars, and spending #1 or close to it (depending on which study you believe) per capita in the world on K-12 education, and the U.S. higher education system being "the envy of the world," the income and achievement gap is as wide as ever. And the requirements for well-paying jobs will likely only rise from here.

The current crop of changes will likely yield only modest benefit. Among the more touted changes is to bolster high schools’ and community colleges’ career-technical education programs. Yes, that will probably prepare more plumbers, electricians, medical assistants, welders, and chefs but it's unclear whether any shortage of such workers is so great as to provide sustainable employment for the many students who perform marginally or worse in the standard curriculum.

What could be done?

We increasingly recognize that our environment facilitates or inhibits our potential's fulfillment but, per the evidence above, if a person's potential is insufficient, education and uplift programs may not be enough.

A wiser approach may be to truly celebrate diversity: to replace the one-size-fits-all “high standards for all students” mantra with “personalized standards for all students." Personalizing requires using technology. Only that can provide fully individualized, high-quality, immersive, interactive instruction—and in any child's native language!

Alas, even that may be insufficient. There will still likely be many people unable or unwilling to be continually self-supporting. For them, government should create jobs at which they can succeed, whether WPA-like infrastructure or people-helping jobs, for example, tutor of primary-grade kids or companion to elders. To discourage the so-called "welfare mentality," pay would need to be significantly above what government would pay them if not working.

By virtue of being human, everyone should be entitled to a basic humane standard of living, but not necessarily in cash. If dorms and cafeterias are good enough for Harvard students who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege, dorms and cafeterias should be good enough for able-bodied people unwilling to work even at a government-handed-out job and who expect taxpayers to support them for not working. Basic but humane health care should be provided. For example, primary care for able-bodied people unwilling to work would be provided by RNs, with cost-benefited advanced care provided by specialists available at the time.

I wrote this essay despite being aware that my influence is far too small for this approach to be implemented and that some readers will dislike at least some part of it. But I believe that prerequisite to developing approaches for a next half-century that will be more successful than the previous requires increased embracing the ideological diversity that social justice warriors claim is essential. This essay is a small attempt at that.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. He can be reached at mnemko@comcast.net.

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