Wednesday, January 06, 2010

We’ll have a great economy if we would all just get sick…

Health care is the number one growing industry in our country. So, if you’re looking for a career change or dealing with unemployment due to being kicked out of the auto industry, airline industry, manufacturing industries etc., you should become a nurse. The Bureau of Labor statistics shows it to be the number one job for the future economy.

And it is a great career field that is both financially and intrinsically rewarding. Helping people who are sick to get better is a wonderful thing. But of course as we employ more and more in the health care field, they’ll only be busy if there are a lot of sick people. And that’s the tricky thing about a growth sector of the economy being tied to health care—it’s got a very curious feedback loop. In order to make it a growth industry that pays for all the doctors, nurses, specialized equipment, drugs etc., it requires customers who are sick and continuing to be sick. And that creates a secondary feedback loop that we need to examine—a lot of sick people results in a country that is no longer thriving on personal or economic levels.

You can already see the early signs of this as the obesity rates of our country have sky-rocketed and with it a serious rise in diabetes and heart disease throughout the entire population. Chronically ill people work less productively and/or for those who are working, they spend more and more of their income on health care instead of housing, healthy food, technology, and other areas where people might be employed instead of the health care system. You can see over a decade or two this is going to result in a United States that isn’t thriving at all.

But there’s another option that would shift us from being a nation of sick people with an economy dependent on health care as the largest employment sector. Let’s shift the dollars out of the health care system and into the household enterprise system.

Now, bear with me because I’m going to suggest a whole new way of building our economy from the ground up. It starts at home by finally recognizing that the work done in our homes provides the cornerstone setting for a new, vibrant economy. From the raising of our children through to the caring of our elderly, the inclusion of the household as a business enterprise and employment sector that is part of the measured and monetized economy will enable us to build a much stronger economy overall.

I’m not talking about welfare or paying people to stay home and do nothing, I’m suggesting that we need to ‘professionalize’ the work done in our homes to the level that we expect of other industries like health care, business, law, education, or technology. And in doing so, we include it into our economic measurements and monetize it. This would provide a massive new employment sector for our economy. It would also produce far greater outcomes for so many children and families—which ultimately produces far better outcomes for the entire country. As you’ll see, to continue to exclude this work as part of the measured and monetized economy is literally to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Here’s why—the future belongs to the highly educated and that means we will need humans who are operating at full human capacity. How do we best achieve this? It starts with recognizing that ‘human development’ doesn’t just happen—it has to be fostered from pre-natal care through birth and early childhood years to its highest levels. Humans are an interesting species in that they have the longest childhoods of any species on the planet and to be fully capable of being on their own and building optimal lives—they must be taught how to do this. In the 21st century, our childhoods have extended out to almost 24 years because the sheer volume of data and skills that one must learn in order to negotiate life to its utmost. Five thousand years ago the time and energy spent to raise a child to adulthood required significantly less accumulation of data and skill sets by the caregiver to complete the work necessary to enable that child to walk into adulthood ready to take on the world. But today, the knowledge and skills sets that a child must acquire in order to be fully functioning into adulthood requires the adult who is raising the child to have a much higher level of accumulated data and skill sets too. In fact, to achieve this level of data and skill accumulation—we must provide training, schooling etc., equivalent to that which we expect of other professions such as technology, health care and/or financial management.

Because we have not recognized this and raised the bar for the household enterprise to be viewed as a ‘profession’ we’ve missed out on one of the most important employment sectors available to us to build a thriving economy. To continue to perpetuate this travesty results in a lose-lose for us all and at its worst, it results in the sicker and sicker population that now fuels the ever-growing health care sector of our economy.

We can get sick…or we can get well—it’s a choice.

If we reframed the economy to include the household sector, we could employ millions of people—though not only in the household enterprise itself. Even more importantly, it would foster a B2B ripple effect out into the greater economy. The market sectors of technology, education, home building, and entertainment to name just a few would all be direct beneficiaries. Dollars will circulate through the household enterprises and spread out into these other areas that are needed in order for the household enterprises to achieve the high level outcomes expected through this new professional sector.

It isn’t that difficult for us to come to the conclusion that we need to raise the bar and add the household enterprise to the professional ranks and pay for high quality output. Why is the raising of our children any less a profession than an engineer? We expect an engineer to have advanced training and skill development in order to be capable to produce a set of drawings for a bridge that are engineered correctly and that we would feel confident to drive over. If we want the same level of confidence that our children will achieve full human capacity and be ready to be a part of our economy as they reach adulthood, the household enterprise needs to be given the equivalent professional respect and that will only happen if it is included in our economic measurements and monetization.

As we enter the 21st century’s second decade, it is clearly a very different world. We know education is a vital part of every child’s potential success and yet we only professionalize this when they leave the home and go to day care and/or enter the school system. As a result, millions of children receive less than optimal care-giving simply because the adult(parent) is either not trained in this work as a professional and/ or forced to be outside the home seeking employment in another area in order to have the funds necessary to live life.

Going to work in the household enterprise sector could be the equivalent of going to work for Hewlett Packard or the Red Cross. Imagine the rise of thousands of small, medium and large non-profit businesses who will be the centers for hiring, training and managing teams of employees who work in this new professional field. Just as a professional at Hewlett Packard works out of their home office yet has virtual connection with team members in their community or across the world, so too could going to work for a Household enterprise business result in an employee who works at home but has connections to a team of other equivalent household professionals. What a great career field—and the outcomes—vibrant children who have, from day one, had the opportunity to engage with a professional whose knowledge and skills ensure optimal human development for this child.

Once you begin to wrap your head around this new way of seeing the work done in the home from the perspective of the household enterprise, it is easy to see how many terrific benefits are created for our children, our communities, our economy and the world. Taking this step now provides the opportunity for a new employment sector to arise just as many of the consumer industries of the past begin to retract. The future looks bright in this employment sector as we redirect the economy to pay for this now vital work.

We will of course, always need health care. But there’s a difference between needing health care as a small portion of an economy that supports a generally thriving population of healthy people vs. it being the major sector of the economy that supports a generally marginal population of sick people. We know already that we are on this sick path, but we could turn this around in one generation by adding the household enterprise sector into the measured and monetized professional economy.

Immediately people will ask how this can be funded but this is less an issue of money than an issue of where we want to put our money. Briefly addressing this issue (a subsequent article will go into more detail) some funds will come as we redirect out of health care into household enterprises. Current grant funders may direct their funding for this new sector—seeing that it produces far better outcomes and higher employment than even the current social service system. The rise of local currencies would enable another source of funding since obviously household enterprise businesses are locally centered (finally an employment sector you can’t outsource to China!). Another option would be a State bank as a source for long term funding. The money is there—we need only to determine that we want the household enterprise to be included in the economic measurement system—once that happens, the money can flow in, out and around the economy just as it does in any other sector such as health care, engineering or buying a new Smart phone!