For all the talk of how it’s a waste to study American Literature or other majors with limited job prospects, even the Chairman of the Federal Reserve acknowledges a value to cultural pursuits.
Ben Bernanke ended his commencement speech at Bard College at Simon’s Rock with the following remark:
[W]hile I have emphasised technological and scientific advances today, it is important to remember that the arts and humanities facilitate new and creative thinking as well, while helping us to draw meaning that goes beyond the purely material aspects of our lives.
From his perspective, America needs more than just engineers, scientists, and doctors. It also needs actors, writers, teachers, and others who inspire creativity, which is more important to the economy than ever.
Bernanke argues that America is entering a period of slower growth. The industrial revolution is ending, while the information technology revolution is not expected to generate as much growth as we have seen in the past. Success in this new economy will require “constant adaptation and creativity.” Arts and humanities “facilitate new and creative thinking” and therefore play a fundamental role in the economy.
As for English Majors and the like helping us “to draw meaning that goes beyond the purely material aspects of our lives,” this too may be more important than ever.
After all in a period of slower economic growth, Americans will need to find meaning in more than just work. Call it learning to cope with unemployment and underemployment — or call it learning to enjoy the wonderful modern world.
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