The Talking Dog

September 9, 2012, Sunday Sunday

We'll start this Sunday with this happy sorta op-ed by Nick Kristoff in the Grey Lady on... wait for it... organic dairy farming. Yup: good food makes us happier not to mention, the cows are happier. I say this all the time: our grandparents and great grandparents had many more stresses in their lives than we do-- but crappy, health-destroying pseudo-food produced in the most heinous industrial conditions and traveling thousands of miles to get to them wasn't one of them. Exhibit A as to why we spend one in six dollars of our GDP on "health care" (we almost certainly spend far less on "food" itself!) Healthy lifestyles and good food, are of course, infinitely less profitable to the corporate behemoth monsters who own Washington (you can see them clearly identify themselves by their advertisements on Sunday morning political talk shows), and hence, discouraged in the strongest terms by our establishment. Follow them down their (proverbial) garden path at your extreme peril.

The lead article (at least on the Grey Lady's web-site) is this cacophony of student loan collection stories, noting some staggering facts, like the fact that current defaults alone exceed all current tuition expenses. As our readers know, student loans, if not repaid, follow us to the grave, as they are not capable of discharge in bankruptcy. But this is something else our grandparents and great grandparents didn't have to deal with: if college proved unaffordable, they simply didn't go, and there were plenty of opportunities in the job market anyway. Further, if they did go, colleges were infinitely more affordable (I note that my entire Ivy League degree cost less than a single semester at the same institution some thirty years or so later, for example.) Also, they didn't have to deal with the plethora of heavily advertised enterprises like "the University of Phoenix," profit-making "educational institutions" that, in a rational and healthy society would, like "health insurance companies," be against the law. (For-profit institutions have higher default rates, of course.)

Nor, of course, did our grandparents and great-grandparents have to deal with implicit pronouncements of their "character issues" from "lack of grit" if they didn't complete college, more or less the substance of this Joe Nocera op-ed on education. Nocera tries to laud charter schools and educational innovators who are improving the performance of generally under-performing groups of students (code for "poor and dark-skinned"); starting out with laudable goals, however, he, alas, advances the prevailing narrative that somehow people are poor and unable to advance through the education maze for reasons they can control.

OK... what is all this? Well, Kristoff is looking forward-- back to the future, if you will-- when we all eat good, healthy local food again (perhaps which we were involved in growing)-- because it makes us happier (and because the infrastructure of how we presently eat is largely unsustainable). Meanwhile, back in the Matrix, people have to deal with the realities of a declining economy which has largely been deindustrialized as it is, with a rather insane set of incentives: go get an expensive degree that you probably can't pay for (with just about automatic ability to borrow whatever it costs, regardless of any prospect for ever paying it back) which will probably not be of much help to obtaining high paying work in an economy with less and less high-paying employment and more and more people with college degrees competing for them...

Doesn't the bucolic, happy dairy farm seem "nice"? Anyway-- that's the broader point... our "health" and "education" complexes are not doing their job of nourishing body and soul... before we move on to broader "reforms"... perhaps we should undertake a more "basic" assessment?

Just saying...