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Getting Educated

In hindsight the best education I got was driving trucks. I did it for the money and thought education was what happened at school and university.

But looking back that wasn’t true. I long ago forgot my lectures, seminars and lab work. What I learned driving trucks has stayed with me. And has proved far more valuable.

Driving trucks taught me humility. School was easy for me and I could do well with little effort.

But I was a useless truck driver. I would get lost. I couldn't fix a breakdown. I would get bogged. I would take two or three attempts to back a trailer.

The other drivers did everything effortlessly. Their skill and knowledge were breathtaking and unnerving.

I learnt to ask for help. I had to rely on drop-outs that had failed school cert to get me through the day. I learnt that experience mattered. The old guys with cratered faces, bulbous noses and no teeth were sought for the tough jobs.

I learnt that doing stuff was better than knowing stuff.

Calculus is very wonderful, and very useful, but it comes after food and keeping warm. Running farms, shearing sheep, driving trucks, building houses, all have to be done. They all require great skill, hard work and learning.

I learnt the seminar room was a luxury made possible by the work of others. It came after the basics. It was other people producing things who made possible our esoteric debate on how what they produced should be distributed.

I also realised that taking stuff from those producing must mean less for everyone. It took time-and-a-half to get the boys to give up their saturday morning -- and double-time for the afternoon. I learnt that incentives matter and taking stuff off people must reduce their incentive to produce. It’s a simple lesson but how many of the ruling class understand that?

I learned the difference between theory and practice. My father was the truck driver’s truck driver. He was very excellent and greatly admired.

He explained that it's very easy. You steer left to go left. Steer right to go right. Put the accelerator down to take off and the brake to stop. Oh, and allow a bit extra around the corners for the three-axle trailer.

That was the theory.

The practice was different. What do you do when you are up a ramp and the still laden trailer starts pulling you and your now empty truck back down the ramp? Your wheels are spinning and the trailer is at the ramp’s edge having become unsteerable.

(You tip your truck deck up to throw more weight on your back axles. And pray for some traction. Next time, don’t stop when the wharfie says stop. Pull way forward to give the trailer extra height. Then tip the truck.)

The difference between theory and practice hit me all day every day. Theory is simple. The world is complex and difficult.

I learnt to learn from experience. And to listen. And soon too I was a little experienced and not so useless.

I learned that I knew just a very small part of a much bigger operation. There were guys welding up the trailer. Someone, somewhere was making the tyres. Goodness knows how the farmer grew the wheat and barley. Or what they did to it once I had tipped it into that hopper down the alley in the shed designed for a single-axle Ford Model “O”, not a truck and trailer 22-wheeler.

But there was bread in the shop and beer in the pub.

Back at school my professors wanted to reorganise society. The ecological ones said we needed to live inside our biological limits and not be that Paramecium outgrowing the Petri dish. My economic ones wanted to dictate production and distribution to correct market failure.

To be fair, that was just those into politics rather than science.

My grizzled old ecology professor thought the greenies mentally ill and my great economics professor said, “You know, economics can prove that if we did away with marketing and a new model every year we could make a car for $2,000. The only trouble is every car would be a Trabant. Explain that.”

But my best learning was driving trucks.

There's no doubt our politicians and our bureaucrats lording over us are smart. They know an awful lot. But they clearly lack experience.

A little experience would see 97 percent of their policies not make it to cabinet let alone out the other side.

They are educated. They are smart. But they know nothing. And don't know it.

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