The real problem is that for much of the past decade, the culture isn't listening to what the humanities have to teach. Let's just take a few examples from English, American history, rhetoric, and philosophy, shall we?
- Rhetoric. A culture that took rhetoric seriously wouldn't have fallen for the fallacious arguments (concluding with "He tried to kill my dad!") that had the U.S. searching for terrorists in Iraq instead of Afghanistan just because "Iraq had better targets." Some columnist said at the time that by that logic, you should look in the garage for the keys you lost in the driveway, because the garage has better lighting. But by stating contrary propositions on different days as though they were fact--and were reported as such with a straight face by, yes, The New York Times and other news media--enough people were duped to lead the country into an unstoppable series of events.
- Writing. An economic culture that took writing and language seriously (not to mention math) would have said that the Emperor of Derivatives had no clothes. Difficult terminology doesn't necessarily mean that you're stupid for not understanding it. It may mean that the language, as Orwell predicted, is designed to hide chicanery--and so it was.
- Literature. Speaking of Orwell, those who had read 1984 in one of those despised humanities courses would know what was being said, when, after 6 years of being told "stay the course," we were told that the president was "never about stay the course." It's the same as being told that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia in Orwell's novel, as Leonard Pitts pointed out at the time.
- Philosophy--logic and critical thinking skills. An education in critical thinking skills would have told a prospective homebuyer that paying no money down + no interest + more money than she makes in a year = massive FAIL. The figures don't add up, didn't add up at the time, and will never add up. Did the executives at Countrywide and the other mortgage lenders really not grasp this?
- History. The only glimmer of historical memory in all this is the refusal of the U.S. population to go along with the dog-and-pony show of 2004-early 2005: "Let's privatize Social Security! C'mon, it'll be fun! The brokers will make a fortune! And the stock market can never go down, so what's to worry about?" Somebody, somewhere, had a dim recollection of October 1929 and subsequent events, and enough of those people refused to go along with the hype so that the cumulative disasters mentioned above weren't compounded by this one.