Economies of Helplessness
One of the legacies of the Woodstock generation, my generation, was the development, and unchecked extension, of powerful economies of helplessness. Helplessness directly finances a tremendous number of private businesses and government jobs. Helplessness pays billions of dollars of wages and taxes, and has become a significant component of the American GDP, as well as the GDP of India and other nations to whom our helplessness is outsourced. Most significant is that American economies of helplessness are expanding and unlikely to slow anytime soon.
It is a truism that American industry is no longer as deeply rooted in manufacturing as it once was. We are no longer the dominant producers of steel, automobiles, televisions or even computers. Our economy, as a consequence of the shift away from manufacturing, has become ever more dependent on service providers. But the services we have begun to specialize in are best described as soft services in distinction to hard services. Hard services are those that depend on extensive education in fields including mathematics, biology, chemistry and engineering — those typically described as hard sciences. But as we lose international market share in manufacturing we also seem to be losing international dominance in the empirical sciences that created the hypotheses that led to the stunning technological advances that originated in America. We may have invented the computers and the programs, but most of both are now produced in other countries. Hard Science education is falling to Social Science education in America. Hard services are being surpassed by soft services, social services. Where my students once aspired to become scientists and doctors, they now aspire to become psychologists and social workers. And the nations that are moving to dominate world manufacturing are also rapidly outstripping us in hard-science based services, leaving us to make the most of our helplessness.
The American soft service industry has continued to flourish by growing services uniquely applicable in America and Europe. These services include those of a myriad of consulting firms run out of America’s largest accounting companies. For the most part corporate consultants use interviews, questionnaires, a smidgen of statistics and applied math. Based on this far-from-rigorous data, consultants then make the recommendations that corporate boards need to justify their decisions. In a word, it is common for corporate boards to look to the equivalent of tea-leaf readers and pseudo-scientists to justify their decisions, and thereby protect themselves legally if things go awry. Other soft services include, but are certainly not limited to family lawyers, psychological evaluators, tax consultants, social workers and realtors. As a consequence, enormous pockets of the American economy depend on wage earners and service providers who profit from the confusion, harm and hardship created by the very society that now depends on these soft services for our growing helplessness. Simpler tax code? Not a chance. Our very economy and that of many Indian communities who do hundreds of thousands of American tax returns annually depend on our maintaining our absurdly complex tax code: a tax code that assures our helplessness and the continuation of the soft services that unnecessary complexity requires.