Friday 11 January 2013

The plucking of low-hanging fruit

Tyler Cowen argued that some 20th Century growth was due to educational growth: in the early 20th Century, an awful lot of very smart people didn't get much education. By the 1970s, the gains from getting that pool of highly skilled labour into higher return occupations had largely already been exploited. Here's The Economist's take:
What low-hanging fruit? Educational fruit, for instance. Decades ago, the rich world was moving most of its population from very low levels of education to university educations, and was shifting lots of potential geniuses from the fields to the factories to the research labs. That was relatively easy to do and it fueled a big growth boom. These days, improvements in educational attainment are quite hard. Nearly half of all young people now go to college. Moving marginal students into college will require a lot of effort and won't yield large gains. That doesn't mean it isn't worth doing, he says. It simply means that easy gains from education are gone.
That move hadn't started in the rural Manitoba of the 1930s.

From my uncle Daniel Hacault's eulogy to my grandfather, who died 3 January aged 87:
Years ago I had talked to George Hutlet about what kind of student Dad was. George smiled and said he was always in trouble with the nuns and that he doodled a lot. Not very studious at all. Dad got his Grade 8 and left school to work on the farm, not an auspicious beginning for someones life, maybe not too smart-maybe not too bright. REALLY?

Dad was a self educated man. When we were young there were always books around that he read on algebra, welding and finance that he used to round out his education. Dad took a correspondence course in drafting and I can remember the mechanical drawings of machinery he had built or was about to build rolled up on his desk. His education was built on problem solving and common sense.

Lewis and I found a micrometer he had made when cleaning out the shop on the farm.  He probably made it in the 1950's. We measured it with a digital caliper and it is still accurate to a thousandth of an inch. It is on display in the hall.  Dad's metal lathe abilities are legendary and we still needed him to give us advice on how to center a work piece last year. Dad's self education instilled in his children a desire to learn either a trade or achieve higher education in university.

As you can see from the story, Dad was very mechanically inclined. He could fix or build almost anything. I can remember taking phone calls for the neighbors looking for “TI PAUL” to fix or build some farm machinery. I heard a story that he even built a double burner still for some of his more adventurous customers. His mechanical abilities filtered down to his sons in varying degrees. His boys followed in his inquisitive footsteps and dismantled his accordion – just to see how it worked. I think this put an end to his musical career as a polka band leader.
 I didn't know about the still. But it makes me smile.

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