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In previous columns I have argued about what motivates people in particular and societies in general to succeed. Those societies that ignore certain basic needs of their citizens fail. Great upheavals in the population result before a different form of social order occurs.

Sometimes this takes centuries to establish. Here in the United States, we do not have centuries to adjust to the present turmoil.

The dismantling of public education via political expediency is the most dangerous sign that our society is failing.

No Child Left Behind is an absurd act of desperation by weak politicians looking to gain the trust of citizens who don’t want to pay for perhaps our most important public service.

The Race to the Top is more of the same and for the same reason: The politicians want  votes and don’t want to pay what is necessary to educate our children.

Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America called for the abolition of the Department of Education. In part, he was right. The department was/is nothing more than a conveyor belt for a few billion dollars to study groups. The studies performed end up being mostly dead ends and nothing changes in the classroom.

Indeed, the quality of public education has been falling for decades and the trend is quickening as the current administration tries to institute yet another Band-Aid for our schools. All you have to do is look up the national test scores; forget about the state-mandated high-stakes test. Those things are just a sham and a sop to the politics of our times – to the tune of $100 million per year in Texas.

Innovation by punishment is not motivating anyone to improve; it’s only exacerbating the failures of the system.

Most of the failed school closings occur in poor districts with the most at-risk children in our country. Closing them is as wrong-headed an idea as I’ve ever heard in my 68 years.

As a Democrat, I am deeply saddened and troubled by the Obama Administration’s direction on this subject.

The second part of this column touches on what supports capitalism. By definition, it is the formation of capital that drives this economic philosophy. What drives capital formation is work. It is the work done by the people who make the things that get sold that brings capital to those who operate businesses for goods and services.  Productivity, the amount of capital generated by each unit of labor, is what makes businesses successful or not. The efficient use of labor is the key to generating capital.

So, what makes the most sense? Do we squeeze our workers with low wages and poor working conditions because it’s expensive to invest that kind of money, thus hurting the cherished bottom line?

Or do we make sure our workers are happy, healthy and motivated to produce every day in order to create a highly competitive product that generates the precious capital?

If, in this highly competitive global economy, our competitors are employing universal, government-sponsored health care where all citizens contribute a little and all citizens receive very high-quality medical care, doesn’t that bode well for the capitalist who wants his/her workers to be free of health issues on the job, free of worries about the health of his/her family and free of the crushing debt that our current U.S. “system” places upon our people?

As a former industrial engineer I can say from firsthand experience that happy, healthy workers are significantly more productive than those being squeezed for every penny of profit and their welfare ignored by those profit-takers.

By cutting services for our citizens, sending jobs overseas and eliminating benefits for our workers, we are pulling on the tail of the dragon of failure as a society. Yes, this struggle has been going on for centuries. The rich and powerful are compelled to control the working classes.

But I propose that if the rich and powerful took better care of their workers, the generators of capital, the bottom line would take care of itself. When the chief executive officer of a large company has a salary exceeding eight figures, don’t you ask yourself, “How much does he/she need?”

Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company.