Lessons From The Shipyard Farmers

When the badly unprepared United States entered World War II, its navy urgently needed new ships. But with droves of young men drafted into the military, there were few able-bodied workers to build them.


When the city of Brunswick, Georgia was chosen for construction of a new shipyard, depression-weary Georgia farmers carrying burlap bags packed with wood-cutting tools flocked to the coast in hopes of finding work. Men who had never seen the ocean or any vessel larger than a rowboat joined women and the elderly to learn to weld steel and to build an enormous wartime shipyard. Then they built workhorse ships to counter Germany’s industrial might. Faced with war and presented a chance to learn and work, these people rose to meet the moment.

Fast forward to 2018. As political and business leaders gather in Davos next week, the future of work will be a hot topic. The introduction of automation and artificial intelligence into the workplace will create one of the biggest challenges of our time, because, as you may have heard, robots are coming for our jobs. Economists have done studies in recent years to determine whether this workplace tech revolution will kill more jobs than it creates. The results, not surprisingly, are inconclusive.

In short, we don’t know what long-term effect automation will have on job creation, but we do know that new jobs will demand a new kind of education and training. We can’t expect the guy driving today’s truck to simply slide to the passenger side to earn his living maintaining the software that drives tomorrow’s truck.

One likely impact: governments with money to spend on education, worker retraining, and social safety net protections for workers who can’t make the transition will have an adaptability advantage over governments that don’t have the cash.

But… as the farmers who built the warships remind us, human beings, especially those who must adapt to survive, can do extraordinary things.

On the latest episode of Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Ken Burns explores the opportunity to come out of this moment as better versions of ourselves — and reveals whether a film about this year is in the cards.

Listen to the new episode here.

The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Former Spanish King Juan Carlos I's decision to leave the country after being investigated for corruption has reignited the debate over the future of the monarchy in Spain. Opinions are divided between mostly older Spaniards who defend the institution's role as a symbol of national unity, and the younger generations and nationalist regions who want Spain to become a republic. More than three quarters of the world's countries are now republics, but 44 still have a king or queen as their head of state — among them the 16 Commonwealth countries officially ruled by British Queen Elizabeth II and 5 countries where the sovereign is all-powerful. We take a look at which countries remain monarchies today, and those that sent their royals packing in the post-World War II waves of decolonization and republicanism.

Modi riles up his base: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday set the first stone for a new Hindu temple to be built over the remains of a Mughal-era mosque in Uttar Pradesh state. The site, in the town of Ayodhya, has been disputed for decades by Hindus and Muslims, but the Supreme Court last November ruled, based on archeological findings, that construction of the temple could begin. The ruling dismayed many of India's 180 million Muslims, who worry that Modi — who was accompanied at the ceremony by Mohan Bhagwat, an ultranationalist Hindu activist whose followers helped to destroy the old mosque amid a wave of sectarian violence in 1992 — wants to replace India's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of the country's identity. Although months ago Modi saw sizable protests over a controversial new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims, he has so far proven to be extremely resilient and remains widely popular in India.

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280 million: Democratic candidate Joe Biden plans to spend $280 million on campaign ads in his battle against US President Donald Trump. Although Trump trails the former vice president by 7 points in an average of national polls, the incumbent has set aside less than half that amount for ads of his own.

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