Monday, March 26, 2007

Where Have All The Pioneers Gone?

In case some of my readers don't know it, Michigan's economy is in the tank big time. After Governor Jennifer Granholm made cuts to services, Michigan still faces an $800 million debt. The governor's latest round of intended cuts was just defeated by the state legislature. So now what? Local papers have been asking readers for ideas on how to revive the state's economy. Those of course run the entire political spectrum. But what caught Mike's Eyes today was an editorial in the liberal leaning Detroit Free Press by editorial editor Ron Dzwonkowski titled "State needs pioneers". (March 25th 2007)

The editorial starts with:
At a meeting of a half-dozen smart people with a deep concern for Michigan's future, one member of the group said that the state needs, figuratively at least, to go back in time.

"This place was built by pioneers. Then came the settlers," he said. "Now it's all settlers. We need some new pioneers."

What a concept. And a nice capsule, too, of where we came from and where we are, leaving open the big question of where we are going.
Michigan was explored a long time ago so we don't need any more of that kind of pioneer. Obviously the terms pioneer and settler are metaphors. To what do they refer?
The first wave was trappers, lumberjacks and miners. Then came the automotive and industrial innovators, whose factories drew Southerners and foreigners chasing the American dream for $5 a day, followed by the union pioneers and the early leaders of the civil rights movement. There was a spirit of adventure in this place, from the Copper Country to the Rouge. It was a land of possibilities, a place where a good idea and hard work were tickets to a better life than your mother and father had back where they came from.
And,
Pioneers take chances. But they also make changes.
Obviously then, pioneer refers to entrepreneurs and inventors who "take chances" and "make changes." But the editorial never asks the questions "What is the nature of a pioneer and what are the social requirements for his survival and prosperity? It simply says:
Pioneers attract other pioneers, who are always chasing dreams. And then pioneers move on. It's what makes them pioneers.
In other words, pioneers are not attracted by freedom or opportunity to profit from a challenge, but by other pioneers without whom there would be no attraction. But what attracted the first pioneers? It looks like the answer is dreams. And when these dreams are somehow turned into reality, the pioneers just "move on.' Well, this last is not true. Henry Ford, the Kellogs, Lionel trains and many others didn't go anywhere. They stayed here and provided jobs for millions of people. But the editorial never says this explicitly. Even though it states "...whose factories drew Southerners and foreigners chasing the American dream for $5 a day..." it never points out that it was the mind of the producers that is the real draw. Failure to point this out allows Mr. Dzwonkowski to tell us that it is the factories that are the cause of the draw. What causes factories? Pioneers. What causes pioneers? Blank out.

So now that the pioneers are all gone, whose responsibility is it to save Michigan? Why it's the settlers of course. How did they come by this responsibility?
In Michigan's case, they (the pioneers-ME) ceded the place to settlers, who also prospered but became vested in things as they were, not spending too much energy on what they could be. When the present is good, why worry about the future?
In other words, the previously hard working settlers became lazy and unconcerned about their future. This is another blatant falsehood. Sure some people will always be unconcerned about their future. But most are concerned as evidenced by the flood of settlers leaving Michigan precisely because they are concerned for their future.

I could be wrong but I think the phrase "vested in things as they are" is a veiled slap at the welfare and entitlement state that is Michigan, but why veil it? If one is serious about correcting a big problem, it is crucial that one identify it as explicitly as possible. A feeble attempt follows:
Is it not stunning that polls of state residents show a substantial majority of adults do not see much value in a college education? After all, they didn't need one to get a house, two cars and a boat. They don't seem to get the global shift to a knowledge-based economy, where what you know is what you're worth -- and knowing how to make the machinery more efficient is worth a lot more than just knowing how to operate it.
It's the "substantial majority of adults" who don't get it. So, why don't they get it? What is the school system for? No answer. This is just a complaint that the settlers aren't rising up to become the new pioneers of tomorrow. And why aren't they?
A place needs settlers to make it stable and build its institutions, but those institutions -- whether business or labor or government or education -- should be developing the next generation of pioneers. Now in Michigan, we are too settled. Not willing enough to change, even as the economy crumbles around us.
So it's "we" who are too settled that is the problem.

This editorial reminds me of the song "Where have all the flowers gone?" by the Kingston Trio. In that song we are told that the flowers were picked by girls who then went to husbands who in turn went to war and then to graveyards where they produced more flowers and the cycle repeats itself.

This editorial is singing a similar lament but one it doesn't want to identify explicitly, thus the metaphors, obfuscations and false claims. The unidentified truth is that pioneers came to Michigan attracted by the freedom and opportunity for self-profit. But self-profit was deemed by altruism as evil. Profit as evil led to duty to others as a virtue (altruism). Duty to others became enforced by governments via controls and regulations. Controls and regulations violate the rights of pioneers to think and act on those thoughts freely. The lack of such freedom and opportunity equals no pioneers. No pioneers leads to a stagnant economy and demands that we somehow create more pioneers and the cycle just keeps going.

In the song, after every verse are sung the words "When will they ever learn?"
Good question. Perhaps when they learn that rational selfishness is not evil but is the highest moral virtue.
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