To be a Farmer

Facebook and social media has been abuzz with comments by Bloomberg today about how easy it is to be a farmer. The comments were part of a seminar at the University of Oxford in 2016.

But I think what you’ve got to understand is the people who are getting the subsidy want the dignity of a job. They want the dignity of being responsible for their family and being able to take care of it. And that’s the conundrum we’re going to have here because technology is reducing the ability to give them the jobs. We just — more and more, if you think about it, the agrarian society lasted 3,000 years, and we could teach processes. I could teach anybody — even people in this room, no offense intended — to be a farmer. It’s a [process]. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn. You could learn that. Then you have 300 years of the industrial society. You put the piece of metal on the lathe, you turn the crank in the direction of the arrow and you can have a job. And we created a lot of jobs. [At] one point, 98% of the world worked in agriculture, today it’s 2%, in the United States.

Now comes the information economy. And the information economy is fundamentally different because it’s built around replacing people with technology, and the skill sets that you have to learn are how to think and analyze. And that is a whole degree level different. You have to have a different skill set, you have to have a lot more gray matter. It’s not clear that teachers can teach or the students can learn. So the challenge for society is to find jobs for these people — who we can take care of giving them a roof over their head and a meal in their stomach, and a cellphone and a car and that sort of thing. But the thing that’s the most important, that will stop them from setting up the guillotines some day, is the dignity of a job. And nobody’s yet come up with a simple solution, in this day and age, to how we create jobs, particularly for people already out of school.

The comments are rambling, which seems to be normal for Bloomberg. It is hard to see where things connect to each other and he switches back and forth between thoughts.

Old Barn - Iowa Barn - Northboro,Iowa Barn - Barn on country road - Rural SceneI will give my thoughts on a few of his statements.

We just — more and more, if you think about it, the agrarian society lasted 3,000 years, and we could teach processes. I could teach anybody — even people in this room, no offense intended — to be a farmer.

First, farming is not just a process. Perhaps if you are just a farmhand then it could be a process, but to be a true farmer there is much more to know.

I have done a bit of farm work over the years and it is definitely not always just a process. Picking up bales of hay could be a process, but making decisions on when to plow, plant, fertilize,water and harvest are not so easy.

barn workshop, old vise, old barnsA farmer has to be a mechanic, a carpenter and an electrician plus have many other technical skills. Have you ever seen the workshop of a farmer?

Then you have 300 years of the industrial society. You put the piece of metal on the lathe, you turn the crank in the direction of the arrow and you can have a job.

Thinking of a farmer’s workshop makes me think of this statement. If it was only that simple to turn the crank in the direction of the arrow. No, jobs like this took a great amount of skill and education. Plus innate mechanical ability in most cases. Have you ever tried to teach complex mechanical procedures to someone without the skills required?

Old Tractor - Red Tractor - Farm Tractor - Gold Fish Pond - Peacock Farms - Koi Pond - WeddingA farmer today may use a simple tractor, but some farm equipment today is very complex and requires a lot of skill to operate.Iowa cornfield, ready for harvest, Iowa, corn, tall corn state

You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn. You could learn that.

This sounds pretty simple, but if it is not done right then the corn does not come up. How deep do you make the furrow? How far apart do you space the seeds? How much dirt to you place on top? How much water, and how often?  And, probably more important is when do you start the process.

Most of these questions are not so simple and depend on soil condition, temperature, humidity. It takes good decision making skills for a farmer to have a successful harvest.

First Thanksgiving - 1621 or 1623 - Plymouth Colony - Pilgrims - Brownists - Thanksgiving FeastJust think back to the passengers of the Mayflower. They needed help from Squanto to learn how to grow corn. Without his help there would not have been a successful harvest.

Now comes the information economy. And the information economy is fundamentally different because it’s built around replacing people with technology, and the skill sets that you have to learn are how to think and analyze. And that is a whole degree level different. You have to have a different skill set, you have to have a lot more gray matter

Does he not know that a successful farmer has a skill set that includes being able to think and analyze? The basic skill sets in the information economy are pretty much the same as they have been for thousands of years. Not everyone is a programmer or engineer that needs specific technology skills. There are still needs to market technical products, just as a farmer needs marketing skills to sell his products. Someone still has to clean the offices, just as a farmer has to clean out the stalls of his cattle.

It’s not clear that teachers can teach or the students can learn.

So the challenge for society is to find jobs for these people — who we can take care of giving them a roof over their head and a meal in their stomach, and a cellphone and a car and that sort of thing.

It helps to have a little context for this statement. You have to go back a bit in his remarks to find that he is taking about people who are ‘getting the subsidy’. Is he saying that these people do not have the capability to learn no matter how good a teacher is? Perhaps they do not have the skills to learn complex processes or have enough ‘gray matter’ for complex decision making. However, there are plenty of jobs that do not require this. The important thing is matching people to the right jobs for their skill level, then they can be trained.

The second part of the statement is also a bit interesting to me. I agree that everyone needs to have a roof over their head and a meal in their stomach, but do they need a cellphone and a car?

But the thing that’s the most important, that will stop them from setting up the guillotines some day, is the dignity of a job.

What does this mean? Is this a reference to the French Revolution?

And nobody’s yet come up with a simple solution, in this day and age, to how we create jobs, particularly for people already out of school.

Hmm, nobody knows how to create jobs? There is a solution for creating jobs for people already out of school and that is to create a culture of lifelong learning. Just because we have finished school doesn’t mean we stop learning. This is something we must do for our entire life, or we will be left behind.

My original plan had been to just write a post about family members who have been farmers, but my thoughts started to wander as I thought more about what Bloomberg said.

While social media is concentrating on what he said about farmers, I am also upset about what he is saying about education and how people learn.

Steven

 

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1 Response to To be a Farmer

  1. Pingback: One Extra Day this Month | Braman's Wanderings

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