Preventing the Next Big One

An Economic Virus Will Present Itself as Mass Unemployment of Unskilled Workers

Credit: John Darkow, Columbia, MO

Let’s play 20 questions. Okay, fine, let’s play three questions:

What does our limbic system want? If you said it wants to be happy, you’re correct. What does our cortex want? If you said it wants to make our limbic system happy, you’re correct again. What is the purpose of an iPad or an iPhone? Hmm…

If we view these ubiquitous gadgets of artificial intelligence as co-conspirators of our cortex, then the answer is easy: to make us happier. And we all want to be happier, don’t we? Of course, we do. And the reason we want to be happier is that we are slaves to our limbic system.

A leading thinker, or influencer, in big business is suggesting the next pandemic in America might not be an organic virus but an economic virus. And it will manifest and present itself as mass unemployment of unskilled workers in our economy. This got me thinking.

Joe Armendariz

I believe one of the highest priorities for Santa Barbara County’s elected policymakers and, frankly, elected policymakers throughout California should be to see to it that every low-income family has a computer with access to the internet.

Back in 2009, I served on the special fundraising team for Partners in Education’s “Computers for Families.” This excellent initiative, organized under the leadership of my good friend Ben Romo, raised millions of dollars from the private sector to underwrite the cost of making personal computers available to any family with children who needed one. You might say the purpose of the program was to make children happier.

In light of what we are seeing today, schools shut down due to COVID-19, students falling behind, perhaps with little or no chance of catching up, this or a similar program should be expanded and special attention paid so that every low-income parent in our county, and in our country, knows this opportunity exists. I can tell you from direct experience that not every parent in our county knows about the terrific opportunity provided by Computers for Families.

In the midst of the political chaos surrounding events in Washington, D.C., the Santa Barbara School Board considered an idea by the administration that would have resulted in the elimination of Ds and Fs on students’ report cards. This idea, well-intended as it was, is a misguided attempt to support low-income students, the overwhelming majority of whom are Latino. The school board rejected the idea.

And so it seems to me, rather than adopting as a policy the soft-bigotry of low expectations, school boards throughout Santa Barbara County should focus their collective attention on computerizing and networking low-income families. This should happen as part of an urgent effort to close the digital divide. Our economy depends on it.

Most experts believe unemployment will happen in direct relationship to automation displacing people from their job. This is especially true without concurrently retraining them and retooling them for other types of employment. A future American workforce proficient in technology is an insurance policy against America losing its competitiveness in the ever-evolving global economy.

That same Wall Street thinker, the one I referred to at the beginning of this essay, said: “throughout history, education has proven to be the vaccine for poverty and for the gaps between the haves and have-nots.”

Let me say it’s pretty hard, if not impossible to argue with that statement. And that is why my good friend Lanny Ebenstein and I authored an opinion piece recently where we promoted Lanny’s idea of expanding summer school to mitigate the negative impacts associated with closing down our public schools.

Lanny’s idea, combined with closing the digital divide in our county and state, should become imperative as we begin this new decade. We might not be able to prevent the next pandemic, but we should do all we can to prevent the next economic virus.

Joe Armendariz is chairman, president, and CEO of Armendariz Partners and a recovering politician who served on the Carpinteria City Council from 2004 through 2012.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.