Reaching for the Highest Rung

I encourage all of my students to stay in school and to reach for the highest rung on the economic ladder, and to do so not just for their own sakes.

Having spent many weeks learning about physical geography this school year, my students and I have just completed a series of lessons on human geography.   This includes the studies of culture, population, government, urbanization, and economics.  I wish that we had had more time for this — we just barely skimmed the surface.  But alas, we had to move on so that we can cover our full curriculum this year.  Now we have begun to explore the world, region-by-region, beginning with the United States and Canada.  Oh, how I love my job…

One of the more difficult concepts in human geography for my students to grasp seemed to be the various levels of economic activity that take place in a market economy such as ours.  These levels are: primary, the basic harvesting of resources, which includes farming, ranching, fishing and such; secondary, the making of things from the harvested resources to include the processing of food; tertiary, the services that are necessary to enable and sustain the other levels, and; quaternary, information management and research.  I tried to impress upon my students how important will be the tertiary activities in their futures, that most of them will in fact be employed providing services of various kinds to individuals and businesses.  I also tried to impress upon them the fact that the fourth level, quaternary, is where real prosperity is to be found for themselves and for all of us. 

Innovation — that’s where the real payoff is going to be.  If we’re going to stay economically ahead of our competition in this increasingly competitive world of ours, we’re going to have to stay ahead literally with new ideas and new technologies.  And this will require a whole new generation of highly-educated, highly-motivated young people. 

With all our ongoing challenges, the war on terror, global warming, illegal immigration, deficit spending, an aging population, ethics scandals, and lawmakers who spend more time and effort getting re-elected than making tough choices, America’s going to have to be even more creative and forward thinking than ever before.  If we’re going to survive as a people, we’re going to have to start pulling together.  Lo, some would say that we’re going to have to start pulling together as a world, not just as separate nations, if we’re going to survive as a species.  So, I encourage all my students to stay in school and to reach for the highest rung on the economic ladder, and not just for their own sakes.

Somehow our textbook publisher failed to include the word, altruism, in the many lists of Places and Terms to know about in the study of human geography.  I’ll have to remember to correct that oversight.

My Libertarian son will probably disagree with this, but I also think that, if we’re going to survive and thrive in the competition presented by this growing global economy of ours, we’re going to have to start worrying about more than just the bottom-line.  Corporations are going to have to start thinking globally (not just internationally), long-term and “out-of-the-box.”  I think too that we are excessively rewarding CEOs and others in high manage- ment positions in this country based on quarterly profits and stock values.  We put stockholders’ interests ahead of our employees, and this motivates the kind of behavior that results in Worldcom and Enron debacles.  And, as my other, more liberal-minded son might say, when the private sector fails to make the better choices for the greater good, government needs to be willing and able to step-in with incentives of various kinds.  It cannot do this, however, when it is joined at the hip with industry.

Case in-point, there’s been lots of talk here in Texas recently about TXU’s proposal to build eleven new coal-fired electricity plants in the near future and how the state’s local and regional leadership are all united in opposition owing to the increased pollution that will ensue.  Governor Perry, siding with the energy industry, is all for it saying that Texas can’t afford to be without the energy that these plants will produce in the future to sustain our economic growth.  His Democratic challenger, Chris Bell, and all the big-city mayors in the state are saying that we can afford even less to build these plants without using the latest technology, coal gasification.  Of course, what they’re talking about is avoiding costs associated with increased damage to the environment and the respiratory health of our state’s citizens.  TXU and the governor, while seemingly thinking long-term, are really more worried about the near-term, the bottom-line, and profitability.  That’s why TXU’s management is claiming that coal gasification is an unproven technology despite the success of Tampa Florida’s Polk Station and the Wabash River plant in Indiana, plants that have been in successful operation for over a decade.  Click here to see what the U.S. Department of Energy has to say about these plants

In an October 23d TIME magazine article, “The Future is Bright,” I read where a German company, CONERGY, bought-out the New Mexico-based Dankoff Solar Products last year.  “If the U.S. market had started in 1996, maybe a U.S. company would have bought us,” said CONERGY’s CEO in this article.  This is just one example of how our competition is pulling ahead, preparing for a future wherein energy dependence will no-longer be just strategic- ally naive, but economically disastrous as well.  All the coal we have, and we do have lots of it, won’t solve the problem.  In fact, using it increasingly without applying the latest technology to spare the environment, could well mean the end of times as we’ve come to know them.

Parents, your generation, mine before yours, and my parents generation, have left a real mess for our kids to have to clean up.  So let’s stop borrowing against their tomorrows and give them an honest shot at getting it done.

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Published in: on October 21, 2006 at 10:02 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Thanks for the article Kent. I made a copy for my grandson and will give it to him. Now if only we could get our elected officials to think for a change!


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