We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Friday, November 4. 2011
That's the title of a piece by Kling. A quote from his fascinating essay about post-industrial work:
The people who used to be bank tellers are not the same people who design and build ATM machines. Clerical jobs are disappearing fast. Secretarial jobs have already disappeared. Sales and service jobs are entering the maw of the internet: people buy their insurance, cars, and books online. Semi-skilled jobs are disappearing. Soon, teaching jobs will shrink with digital education. Productivity (ie, fewer employees) abounds. Outsourcing of everything, including legal work, abounds. Heck, even Wall St. jobs are disappearing. (However, there will always be work for skilled labor: carpenters, painters, electricians, plumbers, gunsmiths, firemen, masons, etc)
Kling wonders what the immediate future might hold for people who want to work, but who, despite education, lack specific skills. As I have said often here, a gentleman's liberal arts education is a wonderful thing indeed and helps produce good dinner companions but it is not work-related. It was never meant to be.
As Vanderleun guotes:
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America was in an historically anomalous position for decades after WWII. The rest of the world had to rebuild. (Keep in mind that there are 19 foreigners for every 1 American.)
Now that these countries have rebuilt, often with American help and based on the American model, competition has ratcheted up to the point that Americans actually have to struggle.
Darwin had something to say about the normal economic situation: Get off your ass or die where you sit.
My father told me "go to college to get an education, go to grad school to get a job."
With my son now getting set to enter college, I've been repeating this theme. My wife disagrees, asking "would you hire anyone without a degree?"
I said "absolutely, if I could. I agree that companies put restrictions up now that limit the pool of viable candidates, but there is no reason why a high school grad couldn't do an entry level job here. That doesn't mean you go to college to get a job. It means you go to college to learn and the degree will take care of itself during the interview."
On the other hand, I often need things done that should be within the abilities of reasonably intelligent people without any very specific professional training -- but I can't find people to do them even for a generous price. Usually it's some kind of paralegal work. I used to think anyone of average intelligence could do these things, but I finally realized that's not true. And it turns out that almost everyone with sufficient smarts is either already employed, or the reason they aren't employed is that they have terrible work habits despite their smarts.
I guess I'm saying there ought to be a market for smart but non-technically specialized people with enough flexibility to jump into a project and make sense of it. The need for that kind of thing only expands as gadgets and bureaucracies and regulations get more complicated. But it seems that there are still enough good jobs for people of that description that it's not easy to hire them away.
A future of no middle class jobs and economic and technological polarized populations? Sounds like a Neal Stephenson novel..."The Diamond Age" with a bit of "Snow Crash" thrown in.
I'm sure this is a horrible attempt at paraphrasing, but I believe it's in one of those two novels where he says something along the line of, "Globalization was a great success and a true equalizer, having smeared itself across the world in a way that would made the average man about as successful as a small-town Pakistani shopkeeper." Again, I'm sure I've mangled the paraphrase...but the theme is the point.
If the middle class disappears, then what will drive the economy? I thought consumer spending was something like 70% of the economy? So who are the rich going to make all their money from?
An interesting piece, but I think he overstates the degree of discontinuity. Productivity improvements have been going on for a long, long time. Even a hand-operated Spinning Jenny, circa 1800, could reduce the number of people needed to do a given quality of spinning by at least 6:1.
He says "By that date (1980), computers and advanced communications equipment had already begun to affect telephone operations and banking." Actually, automatic dial telephone systems, which eliminated the need for operators for local calls, were introduced before 1900 and were common in large American cities by 1930 or so. And computerized systems for check sorting, which resulted in a huge reduction in clerical labor, were introduced before 1960.
"Garett Jones has pointed out that the typical worker today does not produce widgets but instead builds organizational capital. The problem is that building organizational capital in one company serves to depreciate the organizational capital somewhere else." This has always been true. The development by GE and Westinghouse of the knowledge base to build marine steam turbines devalued the organizational capital of the companies that built marine reciprocating engines. There are thousands of similar examples. Why is Netflix vs Blockbuster really any diffrent from this?
There are makers, takers and fakers. For a long time we were so wealthy that we tolerated the fakers, who are often amusing. The takers we have battled since the dawn of time.
Wealth is subjective and lately we all feel not so wealthy so we hate the fakers more than usual, so we will no longer pay them for their silly but funny con games.
Makers (engineers, builders, plumbers, accountants, etc. etc) are still doing well. How odd.
My parents and grandparents received incredibly thorough and deep educations from a big-city public school system. Both attended during the first half of the 20th century - before the leftie liberals infiltrated these school systems.
I think a lot of the doubt about workers adapting stems from what you see when you look around - a lot of very, very poorly educated young people.
This is reversible, however.
And there's nothing like a financial crash - and a final housecleaning of socialists by a newly awakened silent majority - to motivate that change.
Quite a few manufacturers have complained about prospective employees having such weak basic math skills...specifically, fractions and decimals...that they cannot easily be taught to read a ruler, much less a micrometer. I recently heard a similar comment by someone who teaches landscaping at a community college.
This problem doesn't reflect any growth in the technical complexity of the jobs. Machinists and carpenters in 1900 needed to know how to perform these same functions. Rather, as Ben David suggested above, much of the problem is due to the increasing dysfunctionality of the K-12 schools.
In fact, it could be argued that the machinist in 1900 had to know even more, since calculations were done longhand and there was no computer-controlled machinery.
So the human potential is there, but untapped.