Issue 2 - Spring 1995

The Los Angeles Revolt: Its Lessons for the World (page 2 of 2)
By Alvin and Heidi Toffler
World Monitor

This was the background for old industrial-style racism, and it has some similarities to the situation in Germany, France, and other European nations that invited Turks, North Africans, and others to fill jobs at the bottom of the ladder during the years of economic expansion in the 1960s and 1970s.

As the Third Wave of change arrived, however, the needs of the advanced economies shifted, and so did public attitudes toward immigration, integration, and assimilation.

In the US, and especially in Los Angeles where the recent violence erupt ed, the melting pot has been replaced by the so-called "salad bowl" concept under which ethnic, religious, racial, and other groups retain their cultural identity yet, at the same time, demand dignity, justice, and equal access to economic opportunity.

This Third Wave alternative to the Second Wave melting pot is, in fact, nothing more than de-massification applied to inter-group relations as the whole society becomes more heterogeneous. In the US, it has produced a far more complex mosaic of racial and ethnic groupings. Tensions between majority and minority are now overlaid by minority vs. minority conflicts, is between Koreans and blacks in Los Angeles and New York, or between Cu bans and Haitians in Miami.

All these community conflicts are intensified by a structural change in the economy that has been virtually ignored in the entire post-riot tooth gnashing and hand wringing. A Third Wave economy simply does not have enough routine factory jobs for the Rodney Kings of the world - or, for that matter, for the racist skinheads who beat up blacks and Asians in California or Turks and North Africans in Europe.

Second Wave smokestack societies, based on rote repetitive labor, need such workers. The Third Wave economy, by contrast, is simply closed to larger and larger numbers of unskilled workers, irrespective of pigmentation.

On April 28, 1992, just one day before the Rodney King riots broke out and produced more than fifty deaths and over half a billion dollars worth of damage, the Los Angeles Times published a list of California's top 100 companies. Second Wave industries were conspicuously absent from the list.

Not a steel company or in automaker or a tire factory among them. Not a textile mill or a cement company. The key companies in the economy inhabited by Rodney King and by the ghetto young people who rushed into the streets to loot and burn are in fields like pharmaceuticals...computer soft- ware...medical insurance...investment ser- vices...medical laboratories...games and toys...semiconductors...medical imaging... management consulting...equipment leasing...banking...printed circuits...aircraft...radio and TV broadcasting... surgical supplies... title insurance...oil and gas... measuring instruments...telecommunications...and films....

There were a scattering of retail organizations, some construction, a bit of food processing, and a handful of others. But the list gives a perfect picture of an economy rapidly transitioning out of Second Wave low-skilled labor requirements and into the high-skill world created by the Third Wave.

These newer companies are the "basics" of the Third Wave economy spreading swiftly across the US, Europe, Japan and other regions. It is an economy whose primary resources are educated brain power, innovative creativity, rapidly learned and unlearned skills, organizational transience, and post-bureaucratic forms of authority. It is an economy dependent on instantaneous communication through phone and fax; on computerization; on a vast, fast, globe-girdling electronic infrastructure; on computers, databases; and, above all, on new attitudes and even newer (and ever-changing) skills.

Many Jobs Are Gone Forever

This Third Wave economy - a new system for creating wealth - is not going to go away. The smokestacks and assembly lines of the Second Wave past are not going to reappear. They, and the jobs they supplied, are gone forever. Those old manufacturing industries that do return to profitability will do so with information-based technology, robots, and fewer unskilled workers.

Having failed to prepare for the Third Wave economy that futurists and others foresaw as early as the beginning of the 1960s, today's politicians stoop to demagogy. They demand protectionism as though that would put autoworkers back on the old-fashioned, pre-robotic assembly lines. They demand more mass welfare - as though more bureaucratic pro grams could solve the larger problem. Or they brandish free-market banners, as though the free market alone, without intelligent support and direction, would solve all the ills produced by the greatest techno-social transformation since the industrial revolution.

Politicians seem unaware (or unwilling to admit) that all their old Second Wave nostrums for unemployment are obsolete. In the old muscle-based, mass-manufacturing economy, if a country had 1 million unemployed workers, politicians could employ Keynesian or monetarist measures to stimulate the economy. This might create 1 million jobs, and the jobless workers would return to the factory or office.

Contrast this with today. In today's Third Wave economies you can create 5 million or even 10 million jobs - but the 1 million jobless workers won't be able to fill them. They lack the requisite skills. What's more, the needs keep changing so that even workers who have high skills face obsolescence unless they learn still higher ones. (Just ask the laid-off engineers in California's defense industries!)

The fact is that, in Third Wave societies, unemployment goes from quantitative to qualitative, which is why it is structural, intractable, and incurable with the remedies proposed by economists and politicians still trapped in Second Wave thinking.

Maybe education has to become distributed through all institutions of society, rather than schools alone.

The change from quantitative to qualitative unemployment is also why the upheaval in Los Angeles is likely to be repeated elsewhere again and again until political leaders recognize that the Third Wave is here to stay - that it is overhauling whole economies and the very structure of society. Finally, this kind of unemployment is why there can be no solution until a Third Wave revolution sweeps away today's Second Wave schools and replaces them with completely new learning institutions that no longer resemble the rust-belt factories of yesterday.

More money for schools without a deep re- conceptualization of education itself is to throw resources into the past, rather than the future.

More homework, more hours in the classroom, merit pay - all the usual suggestions are designed to make the factory schools run more efficiently with out attacking the fundamental incongruence between factory-style education and a society in which factories and factory jobs may no longer be there for our children, black or white.

What is needed is a daring experiment with everything from vouchers, to home education, to new relationships with parents, to the use of computers not merely for drill, but for helping children to think and create. Maybe corporations have to adopt 11-year-olds and serve as para-parents, working with the real parents, where possible and actually teaching and training the children for Third Wave work in their own organizations. Maybe education has to become holographically distributed through all the institutions of society, rather than allocated to schools alone.

Maybe teenagers, as part of their education, need to become part of community service teams working to clean up the environment, build and reconstruct neighborhood facilities, manage traffic, care for the elderly, then return to the classroom for education linked to the actual solution of community problems.

The GI Bill, which gave US veterans of World War II vouchers for education in everything from Ivy League universities to automotive repair schools, was perhaps the single best piece of social legislation in the US since the 1940s. Why not use it as a model for young people generally?

There can be no permanent peace in the black and Latino ghettos of America, the North African banlieues of France, the barrios and immigrant slums of the rest of the high-tech world until all industrial-style institutions, from health systems and justice systems to transportation systems and, yes, political systems, are redesigned for a Third Wave society congruent with the new Third Wave system for creating wealth.

It is not merely the pitiful choice between a Bush and a Clinton (or even a Perot) that depresses and frightens Americans today. It is not merely anger in the streets that is tearing the country apart.

It is the failure of any political leader ship to come to terms with a future that stares America-and all the other high tech nations in the face. Where there is no vision, clichés proliferate, people perish--and cities burn.

ALVIN AND HEIDI TOFFLER are co-authors of the global bestsellers "Powershift," "The Third Wave," and "Future Shock."


WELCOME! You are visitor number

Designed by ByteSized Productions © 2003-2006