This New Yorker piece by Atul Gawande has buried in it the solution to our under-employment crisis: stop focusing on financial outcomes for companies, and start focusing on results that make a better world.

There are several accounts of extremely labor-intensive projects that have saved millions of lives (training in Bangladesh about how to treat cholera, given door-to-door, and a similar project in Uttar Pradesh to help counter infant mortality.)

Gawande puts these projects in historical context by talking about how hard it was for the world to embrace hospital cleanliness as a life-saver, and the costs involved:

"Reactions that I’ve heard both abroad and at home have been interestingly divided. The most common objection is that, even if it works, this kind of one-on-one, on-site mentoring “isn’t scalable.” But that’s one thing it surely is. If the intervention saves as many mothers and newborns as we’re hoping—about a thousand lives in the course of a year at the target hospitals—then all that need be done is to hire and develop similar cadres of childbirth-improvement workers for other places around the country and potentially the world. To many people, that doesn’t sound like much of a solution. It would require broad mobilization, substantial expense, and perhaps even the development of a new profession. But, to combat the many antisepsis-like problems in the world, that’s exactly what has worked. Think about the creation of anesthesiology: it meant doubling the number of doctors in every operation, and we went ahead and did so. To reduce illiteracy, countries, starting with our own, built schools, trained professional teachers, and made education free and compulsory for all children. To improve farming, governments have sent hundreds of thousands of agriculture extension agents to visit farmers across America and every corner of the world and teach them up-to-date methods for increasing their crop yields. Such programs have been extraordinarily effective. They have cut the global illiteracy rate from one in three adults in 1970 to one in six today, and helped give us a Green Revolution that saved more than a billion people from starvation."

It seems to me that rediscovering the kinds of tasks that require investing human capital to make real change are exactly the kinds of things we need to focus our economic energies on.

Money and labor should follow the things that need doing, not be an end in itself, as it is so often in our distorted economy.
Shared publiclyView activity