My children ask for my advice on economics and job careers. I wonder if I can give valid advice and I am reluctant to speak. As I think about the five generations I have personal knowledge of (my grandfather, my father, myself, my children and now the grandchildren and nieces/nephews), what worked for each generation did not work for the next generation. The strategies of World War 1 failed in World War 2, what worked in World War 2 failed in Vietnam. The strategy for the Gulf War failed in Afghanistan. My grandfather was a soldier and a farmer, for my Dad the best strategy was to get a good job and stay for your entire career, for me changing companies worked best. With each generation a technical education has become more important.
I certainly don’t wish for the middle ages where if the father was a shoe maker the son will be a shoemaker, if the father was a farmer the son will be a farmer, if the father was a King the son will be a King. The rapid societal changes have been driven by the industrial revolution and scientific advances. Medical advances increased lifespan, financial innovation created consumer debt, theories in quantum physics created the microchip. As a teenager I fixed our home telephone and my father was completely befuddled, today my grandchildren use a cell phone that completely befuddles me. We become obsolete before our time.
We all wish to help the next generation, passing on the wisdom of our years. As an adjunct professor my greatest pleasure is seeing a young mind light up. The fundamentals of physics are the same as when I was a student, Isaac Newton’s equation (1679 AD) can put a satellite in orbit, Maxwell’s equation (1862 AD) explain electrodynamics (why an electric motor or a light bulb works) while for history students the French King Louis XIV still died in 1715 AD. But I cannot give them useful advice on a successful career path or the secret of a good life. The advice my parents gave me was wrong and the advice I give my children is probably wrong. This doesn’t stop me from telling them what to do and they wisely ignore me. At least they are polite about it.