Jobs Jobs Jobs
Published on: May 22, 2013
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  • Anthony

    Professor Mead’s description of social democracy is a nasty and inaccurate caricature. He says that the Democrats want to put people on welfare for life because there are no jobs for them to do. In fact, as far as I can tell, Democrats want government programs to assist people who are working jobs that do not pay them well enough to survive without government support. For all his hosannas to Walmart, he fails to mention the fact that most of wal mart’s employees would be destitute without government support.

    • Corlyss

      “In fact, as far as I can tell, Democrats want government programs to assist people who are working jobs that do not pay them well enough to survive without government support.”
      If that’s your conclusion, Anthony, then you aren’t looking closely enough or critically enough. For Democrats, it’s all about the getting and keeping of political power. Every program has as its overt or covert goal the building of a permanent Democratic voting constituency. Programs are a less obvious form of political patronage, operating under the guise of being available to anyone who meets the (constantly expanding) criteria, when in fact they are targeted. When government robs Peter to pay Paul, it can always count on Paul’s vote.

      • Are Republicans not interested in getting and keeping political power? We hear this argument all the time. It doesn’t mean anything. And in terms of actual governing and policy making, the two parties are about as different as McDonalds and Burger King are from each other. The country is ruled by the few who still have money. Congress may as well be filled with CEOs of corporations and banks, and the city halls of every town with the local entrepreneurs and real estate developers. Then maybe we could all see the way things really are, and decide if in fact that is what we really wanted for our country.

  • Anthony

    WRM, what you are intimating is that outcomes matter and a new jobs reality shapes the future – an enigma of our times (association of progress and job loss).

    • Philopoemen

      It makes more sense if you look at it from a more “macro” (or even evolutionary) point of view. Keeping the jobs we have today implies a stagnation which is ultimately bad for us as a species. Where would be today if the citizen-farmer or city-state lobbies had won? Or the hunter-gatherers?

      • Anthony

        Macro implied, please see above.

  • wigwag

    “The educational system needs to reshape itself to teach kids to be more creative and entrepreneurial, with less emphasis on order, conformity and moving in lockstep through the
    grades.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Amen! One of the major problems with secondary and higher education today is
    that these institutions are preparing students for yesterday’s economy not tomorrow’s economy. The solution that’s usually offered, increase the number of pupils studying engineering, the computer and hard sciences and math, is really no solution at all. It’s good as far as it goes, but becoming an expert at coding or product design is not the same as
    becoming “more creative and entrepreneurial.”

    To insure that young people thrive in the new economy, here are some of the steps that high schools and colleges could take:

    1) Teach students to be audacious. A course entitled “Introduction to Audacity” would be far more valuable for most incoming freshmen than introductory courses in Psychology or sociology. Audacity is at the heart of
    genius. All entrepreneurs have it, all great artists have it and most great athletes do as well. It’s about the willingness to march right up to the line and jump over it without hesitating. It’s about the passion to pursue an idea relentlessly. It’s about the ability to tune out those who would encourage you to demur from pursuing your dreams. Some people are born with audacity; most of us aren’t. School tends to punish audacity not encourage it. Audacity can be taught and it can be learned. If schools would produce more audacious students the number of economic success stories would increase. The United States has a natural advantage over our Asian and European competitors in the audacity
    department; our culture discourages audacity far less severely than, for example, the Japanese or the French do. Teach audacity and our entire society will benefit.

    2) Teach students to think like immigrants. The American story is replete with tales of immigrants coming to the United States with nothing and succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. America’s history of welcoming immigrants has been a major reason that our economic success is greater than that of other
    countries. Immigrants face enormous challenges; they frequently arrive not knowing the language and they often have little money and few friends to greet them. Immigrants have to turn lemons into lemonade; they have to be resourceful, nimble, bold and tireless. perfecting these traits is a prerequisite for success. Obviously most Americans aren’t immigrants; they’re native born. If educational institutions taught native born Americans to think like immigrants, we would have a more entrepreneurial society and a wealthier society.

    3) Students should be taught to be fearless in the face of failure. Everyone fails; people with entrepreneurial inclinations are more likely to fail (often multiple times), than anyone. Our Government, our financial institutions and our high schools and colleges need to do everything possible to remove the stigma from
    failing; after all, failure is the best educator of all. A couple of years ago, Dan Senor and Saul Singer wrote a book entitled, “Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.” What the authors set out to
    understand is how a nation of less than 10 million, surrounded by enemies and steeped in a socialist history could, in just few decades become an economic powerhouse. By now, the story is familiar to everyone; every successful technology company in the world conducts R&D in Israel. Israel is at or near the top of new companies listed on NASAQ and Israel is one of the greatest contributors to innovation in medicine, defense and technology. Senor and Singer credit this success to three factors: the wiliness of immigrants (most Israeli Jews came from somewhere else or their parents did), the fact that students graduate from college when they are older and more mature because most do their military service first, and the fact that Israeli society does not punish failure. Everyone gets a second chance, a third chance and a fourth chance. The American Government should do what it can to ensure that our institutions don’t punish failure and our educational institutions should teach students not to be afraid to fail. Instead they should be teaching courage.

    4) Values matter and values can be taught. We need to discourage students from their natural inclination to equate wealth with the sheer amount of schlock someone owns. An American culture which revels in celebrity and the trappings of wealth is a society apt to produce less wealth than it should. If I was
    designing a college curriculum, I would chuck out all the overpriced textbooks that teach nothing and assign one book to every incoming freshman; “The
    Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy.” The authors (Stanley and Danko) provide readers with their five key rules in acquiring wealth; many if not most are counterintuitive. Perhaps the most important rule is “live below your means.” Most youngsters are inclined to live above their means and the reason that they do so is that they are addicted to owning crap. Students have learned the lessons of hyper-consumerism; schools need to help students unlearn the lessons of hyper-consumerism. If they do, those students will eventually end up wealthier and so will our entire society.

    5) Students need to be taught how to talk; not how to speak and not how to write, but how to talk. Talking is the key to success. Those who talk well are more successful at attracting mates, more successful in the world of employment and more fun to be around at parties. I’m not alluding to the ability to speak
    eloquently in front of a group; it’s a good skill to have, but it’s not a skill most people need. Universities tend to overemphasize the importance of being a good writer. Every incoming college freshman is bombarded with lectures about the importance of writing well and most are forced to take introductory courses teaching them how to do it. There are great books out there which can help,
    including one by Adam Garfinkle (that I highly recommend) but good writing is simply not as valuable a skill as good talking. Why do universities focus so relentlessly on writing while totally neglecting to teach their students how to talk? I suspect it’s because college faculty earn lifetime employment (tenure)
    for producing written works in book or journal form. The quality of their discourse, that is to say, lectures (where they actually have to talk or speak) is less consequential to
    decisions about tenure. Faculty value writing because it’s how they are judged; most of us will never be judged that way. On the other hand, the way we talk makes an impression on everyone we meet all day, every day. Job interviews are conducted orally, not in writing. Efforts to obtain financing from a bank or
    other financial institution depend on oral skills far more than written business plans. Talking can be taught. A poor talker can learn how to be a good talker.” One way that law schools use to teach aspiring lawyers to talk is by using the Socratic Method. For those unfamiliar with it, here’s how Wikipedia defines it,

    “It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another; one participant may lead another to contradict himself in some way,
    thus strengthening the inquirer’s own point.”

    Outside of law schools, this once common educational technique has been abandoned; it should be reintroduced. Teaching students to talk is a big part of teaching students to succeed.

    If these five recommendations were implemented, there would be many more successful entrepreneurs and our whole society would be richer for it.

    • Anthony

      Another outstanding post! Yikes, good stuff!

      If number three – reducing the fear of failure – is important then the way we finance education needs to change, big time! If students face the prospect of very high levels of non discharged debt, they have a strong incentive to be VERY afraid indeed. I would say that more students would attempt a STEM or pre med course of study if they weren’t afraid of the possibility that the consequences of failure – high debt, bad gpa, etc – would be unmanageable.

    • Corlyss

      Well done, Wig! I appreciate the long and thoughtful contribution, even if I don’t agree with some of your conclusions.

    • rheddles

      “Values matter and values can be taught.”

      I agree completely. And this point underlies all the other points WW makes. The problem is whose values are taught? That is why do not and can never teach values.

      When we were a nation of disparate homogeneous communities, the little red school house could teach the community’s values, whether they be Calvinist, Methodist, Baptist, or Anabaptist.

      Things started to break down as large school systems emerged in large urban multi-cultural communities. Catholic parochial schools were a response to the teaching of Protestant values in those public schools.

      That is why the education system needs to be replaced, root and branch, not reshaped. Government does not do creative and entrepreneurial, it relies on order and conformity. That is why what people need for more jobs is less government not more.

      • Robert Wordell

        not everyone has the ability or the stomach to be entrepreneurial…nor is human progress directly linked to material success. Neither government nor the private sector is inherently good or bad.

    • wigwag, two years ago about another topic on this forum I said that your comments hit the nail on the head.

      Well, my friend, you’ve done it again. You also hit the ball out of the park. Excellent! I have nothing to add.

      I thought Mead’s essay was very good in a broad sense, yet you gave red and practical meat to it. Thank you.

      By the way, on a personal note, the invitation you remembered kindly is always open.

    • salemst

      I respectfully disagree. It’s not about our educational system. It’s about our economy and parental upbringing. And most people will never be entrepreneurs as it’s not in their nature–they’re geared to be employees.

      The best economic system is one where people/businesses profiting reinvest those profits in the United States creating economic opportunities for others. Businesses profiting, expanding in the US corporate capital spending, placing their dollar spent at risk in order to make two, and creating private sector middle/upper middle class jobs here.

      The 100K earner buys a house, cars, vacations, remodels their homes, dines out, etc…all creating jobs for others.
      It’s called Trickle Down Economics–the only system that works. Worked until 2002 when massive high tech manufacturing and corporate offshore outsourcing skyrocketed. IBM made 70% of their profits and had 70% of their workforce in the US in 1990. Today it’s 30%, respectively. What will it be in 10 years?

      By the way, I believe Mead’s first scenario is the most likely. 20% of people doing economically fabulously well subsidizing 80% destitute absent marketable employable middle class waged job economic relevance.

      I am a 32 year self-employed Executive Recruiter. IMO, it’s ugly out there in Corporate America job wise. They’re making a ton of money either sitting on it or spending it overseas, no financial incentive to spend it here.

      Until our politicians make it in their interest to spend money and create jobs here—we’re “toast.”

      As for active parenting–forget it. Rampant divorce, decreasing marriages, rising illegitimacy, and we can assume soon the government will be raising our kids meaning they’ll be completely amorally and self-esteem wise lost.

  • Pete

    1. ” …but something like 80 percent or more of the population is going become superfluous to the economy. ”

    That’s why the elite will try to put a lot of them to ‘sleep’ — abortion, death panels, assisted-suicide, etc.

    2. As for make-work jobs, we are already swimming in that — the USPS, pubic education, pubic safety, and even government backed health care and research.

  • Corlyss

    Obama’s pivoted on so many things, always returning to the ol’ faithful, jobs, that he’s rapidly approaching whirling dervish status.

  • qet

    A Tale of Two Via Meadias. Again. A sound statement of the problem, followed by unsound speculations in answer to the question “What is to be done”? Again, the comment section is no place to do justice to a challenge. Perhaps Via Meadia would consider bringing on an advocatus diaboli, someone who would refute, or attempt to refute, Via Meadia’s arguments, especially the stock ones. It would not be such an easy task and no doubt a thankless one, but it would be innovative, and Via Meadia favors innovation.

    So, just a couple of thoughts. Via Meadia should consider whether his frequent reliance on 19th century land policy and settlement is apt. Certain persons like Krugman constantly invoke 1932 as “proof” that the Fed today ought to increase its deficit spending by several orders of magnitude, but cooler heads point out that today’s circumstances do not lend themselves to such an easy analogy. For one thing, policies promoting land settlement and cultivation were, dare I say, obvious? The policy of the US government in that regard was no different from the policy of ancient Rome.

    Some of Via Meadia’s statements are absurd on their faces: “More people will spend their lives enriching the lives of other people
    through social interactions. There will be fewer coal miners and more
    ballet teachers, fewer truck drivers and more blues guitarists, fewer
    farmers and more life coaches, fewer factory workers and more
    entrepreneurs.” Yes–but what do those jobs pay?? Even today, the scarcity (relative to Via Meadia’s envisioned future) of ballet teachers, blues guitarists and life coaches does not provide the happy few with “middle class income.” Or at least not stable long-term income. “The educational system needs to reshape itself to teach kids to be more creative and entrepreneurial,” This, coming from a professional educator, is almost too much to take. These qualities can be learned, perhaps, but they cannot be taught by any sort of “system.”
    Fundamentally, Via Meadia needs to consider that there are only two ways of getting middle class money to people: either the state takes it from those that have and gives it to those that haven’t, or those that haven’t discover ways to get those that have to give it to them directly. Ballet teachers and blues guitarists are not going to be able to pry much money out of their clients for these services. Is Via Meadia considering the sheer numbers” Forget the US—Spain, Greece, France, not to mention Egypt and other Middle East/North Africa nations, have astronomical unemployment. Are they all going to be contented, middle class ballet teachers, blues guitarists and entrepreneurs as well?

    • johnwerneken

      I don’t care if people are contented. I suspect a GREAT DEAL of the girders under middle class life have to go before anything positive happens – starting with education and health care incomes, job security, and low productivity.
      Just as in the transition from Arizona beach front property (the origin of everything in Europeanized America) to farms, from that to factories, from that to bureaucracies, and from that, to something else. The new lives precisely as the old is told to die quietly or be gunned down.

  • Palinurus

    “What we are looking at is the humanization of
    the economy: a shift from interaction with nature to interaction with other people as the locus of human work. Fewer people will spend their lives wresting food and raw materials from the earth or transforming those raw materials into the necessities of life. More people will spend their lives enriching the lives of other people through social interactions. There will be fewer coal miners and more ballet teachers, fewer truck drivers and more blues guitarists, fewer farmers and more life coaches, fewer factory workers and more entrepreneurs.”

    Or, possibly, what we’re looking at is its
    dehumanization. The virtue of working with nature, and laboring to meeting humble human necessity, is that it reinforces a sense of human limits and hence dependency. This sense of humanity is in turn the fertile soil for the relationships that nourish and give meaning to life – family, community, church, etc.

    Or it was. As our work drew us away from dealing with necessity and nature, and
    government stepped in to assume the supporting functions traditionally handled
    by family, community, and church, we enjoyed the blessings our greater self-sufficiency and material wealth.

    But as the professor himself has acknowledged, there was a drawback. Two of the five big problems he identified in an earlier post are a lack of virtue and shared sense
    of cohesiveness. Such are the wages of being freed from the limits of old on who and what we could be.

    Thus, the professor focuses on work (and what is left, really?), a human right, he says, because it promotes a certain human flourishing; individuals are knitted into communities or at least institutions, and their labor produces something useful, profitable, and, at times, even beautiful. But what if work II or III (I’ve lost count), as he celebrates it, does the opposite? Freed from laboring against nature and necessity, freed from the communities of professions and the bonds of institutions, tomorrow’s worker will be a free-agent, one of an army of self-entrepreneurs, with unprecedented freedom to define themselves and their job as they pursue and purvey the will-o-wisp of “self-enrichment.”

    Far from being integrated into something else,
    these workers are liable to withdraw further into themselves; their “something larger,” what passes for civil society or even social society, to be a gossamer-thin web of relationships, in a state of perpetual flux as it falls apart and is re-spun; the pursuit of happiness or virtue to degenerate aimless busyness guided by the ever shifting lodestar of “self-enrichment”; and notions of craft, trade, and profession denuded and subject to the imperatives of efficiency and profit.

    Good work if you can get it, I suppose.

  • Anthony

    “Creating an environment conducive to job creation is make or break for our society…. Today, governments and other institutions need to pivot again toward the needs of the emerging service economy and, at least at this stage, the start ups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses who are getting the ball rolling.” At bottom, WRM what you are attempting to get at in your jobs essay is the division of society into winners and everyone else and how do we address that in Democratic America (bifurcation of economic success and distributional consequences of global free market).
    The jobs transformation implied in essay has been going on for a couple of decades but has been made universally focused as a result of financial crisis. A paper by David Autor and David Dorn underscores costs and benefits of trade unevenly distributed to American middle class. WigWag’s inspirational and instructional advise (post below) for students going forward provides guidance in navigating “new economy” but could add that, though the majority may become superably skilled at their jobs or audaciously innovative exploring entrepreneurial opportunities, the free market they operate in differs from any similar epoch (feudal, agrarian, industrial, etc.). Surging income inequality is now strong aspect of global capitalism.
    There is a changing shape to the world economy and recognizing that will infuse all decisions for the better vis-a-vis future economic choices: “both globalization and technology have led to the rapid obsolescence of many jobs in the West; They’ve put Western workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in poorer countries; and they’ve had a punishing impact on those without the intellect, education, luck, or chutzpah to profit from them – median wages have stagnated, as machines and developing world workers have pudhed down the value of middle-class labor in the West.”

  • Especially given the amount of thought Dr Mead has put in to the decline of the Blue State, the rise of the Information Age economies, and the worry of future jobs, etc – and the likelihood of a massive welfare state to support citizens – especially citizens with Blue (industrial) skills in a non-industrial world, I find it intriguing that he has yet to discuss one of the more massive alterations that may well be caused by the decline of Industrialism and the rise of what is, essentially, a more autonomous citizen – and world: The fragmentation of nations. Look at the nations that developed prior to the Industrial Age: A bunch of tiny countries in europe. Look at the only nation developed – and hugely expanded – essentially after the rise of industrialization and the ability of industrial states to project power: America. It would seem that a true forward-looking set of essays would also deal with the Information-based fragmentation of not only the workplace, of industries, but of nations. If WHERE we live really matters less and less to the corporation for WHICH we work, WHy – and how – does/can the State not follow in fragmentation? And if the State shrinks as people offshore themselves for lower taxes, less crime, higher quality-of-life, how does ANY state remain large enough that a massive welfare State is even an option? There are LOTS more changes coming, I think, than even Dr Mead is seeing.

  • Cynical American Voter

    Professor Mead, I believe that you have been an advocate for increase immigration–how do you square this attitude with your article–have you finally moved into the 21st century where mechanization, automation, and associated labor saving devices are going to create an economy with massive unemployment, particulary among the low and moderately skilled workforce? We’re seeing the triumph of the unending avarice of the US plutocracy, aided and abetted by their Congressional lackeys in this “comprehensive immigration bill,” which is going to result, IMHO, in a dramatic increase in unemployment, social service costs, crime, and a host of other unintended, very negative consequences. Perhaps, Mr. Mead, you should go on a letter writing campaign to convince Congress that the future trends in technology are going to create a surfeit of labor, and that the last thing this country needs is millions more low-skilled, low-educated, non-English speaking immigrants, nor increases in H-1B visa immigrants who are going to undermine the employment opportunities of millions of US citizens who have spent time and money getting educated in the STEM professions only to see their employment opportunitys diminished if this bill passes.

  • coolfoolagain

    Fourth – Repeal Obamacare

  • dbjudd

    Mr. Mead takes globalization in its current form as a state of nature. In fact it is nothing more than a series of rules mostly crafted by multinational banks and corporations to their benefit. Simple rule changes would change the entire equation. VAT on all imports based on where the value is added (Ralph Gomory). China needs our consumer dollars much more than we need their increasingly cheap crap (as they take over more and more of a market the quality goes down and you need to replace the product much sooner by another one from China–try to get a washing machine to last more than 5 years). No small business tax. Tax bigness in capitalism. Big Capitalism has nothing to do with free markets. Strategically balance production/income with consumption/debt.

    The fantasy that just by reducing all burdens on capital you would broadcast prosperity throughout the land has been proven false. And the Information Economy of Mr. Mead’s imagination is a fantasy as pointed out by numerous people (Eamonn Fingleton, Paul Craig Roberts, Clyde Prestowitz).

    Mr. Mead needs to read “Strategic Capitalism” by Richard D’Aveni.

  • What a load of bunk!

    First of all we are not in any new era. The factories didn’t disappear. This whole concept of a post-industrial world is a Western solipsism. Didn’t anyone see what just happened in Bangladesh. We just moved the factories so that even poorer people could do the jobs for even less.
    This shifted the poverty here by lowering wages overall. Nothing fundamentally changed except that the wealthy could lower their labor costs. Workers in the Third World gained and workers here lost.
    Second of all small businesses are NOT the answer to our problems, they can never generate enough wealth to sustain modern lifestyles. The Middle Ages had lots of “small businesses” . I imagine Haiti and Somalia do as well.
    So now we are all going to design websites or deliver pizzas to each other. What a joke.

  • salemst

    Great theory by Mead, but in all his nostalgia about times of yore he forgets a couple of important facts.

    One, we’re in a globalized economy where we get crushed by intelligent low waged Indian and Chinese workers and jobs are now a zero sum game going to the cheapest global destination.

    In the past the jobs always had to be in the US–not so as of 2002 when corporate offshore outsourcing cranked up with the help of the commercial use of the Internet and fiber optics. Because of massive taxation, government regulation, government mandates, government spending, and high labor cost we’re “toast.”

    Two, our kids are now taught to ‘feel good” instead of academic content mastery. They’re being educated for low skilled labor where everyone socially gets along.

    Three, as marriages are well below 50% and illegitimacy now’s at 44% and rising kids lack of intact families and active parenting will make most adults into emotional basket cases necessitating government assistance. Our social fabric is rapidly deteriorating with increasing incivility.

    It’ll be scenario 1. 80% of people will be economically obsolete voting to take down the 20% eating caviar as they’re eating dust.

  • jeburke

    WRM makes some interesting points, but I can’t help but think that we’ve been here before. During the Progressive Era, on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, the excesses of Gilded Age wealthy, and the closing of the Frontier (lots of caps!), a lot of people bought into variations on the belief that society had reached a pinacle with lots of fantastic new stuff, so that the only remaining thing to do (to make the society “more deeply human” it might have been said) was to spread the wealth around, so that everyone had a nice piece, poverty would be past, and showy super-wealth would also be no more. As it turned out, the Industrial Revolution was only getting started. Then again, when I was a lad in 1960, I heard the always smart and persuasive American socialist, Michael Harrington, make an impressive case for the proposition that automation would soon destroy advanced economies and that only a War on Poverty would save them.

    Maybe, this time, we are really screwed. I have my doubts. I suspect that chronic unemployment, depressed wages and increasing income disparity are closely related to massive legal and illegal immigration since 1970, and that we would all be better off, Adam Smith notwithstanding, with a little less “free trade.” Take apparel, one of the first industries to disappear offshore, as an example. As of 1960, a million American garment workers earned nice livings churning out blouses, skirts, suits and shirts for 160 million Americans and to the best of my knowledge, apparel designers and manufacturers and their various production contractors were making nice profits. And Americans had good clothes (and IMO generally looked better than they do now). Call me crazy but I refuse to accept that the death of this domestic industry was inevitable and beyond the ability of US policies to affect.

  • cedarhill

    Can someone please publish their five year plan? Even the one dated 2009?


  • Bernd_Harzog

    There are only two ways that all of this can turn out.

    1) Robots end up doing 99% of the work and only the people that design and maintain the robots make a decent living.

    2) As more things get automated, we humans evolve into creating value that robots cannot create as robots cannot create new things, they can only do the same thing over and over.

    I believe in #2 above, because I believe in the adaptability of the human race. I especially believe in the adaptability of the human race in a free society where humans have the freedom to innovate and fail (and then learn to innovate to overcome the failures).

    Big government is all about trying to protect people from the negative consequences of #1. This is a strategy destined to fail.

    A strategy designed to empower people and to enable people to achieve their potential is far superior to a strategy that tries to protect people from the inevitable consequences of progress.

    Obama is all about the past. The future is all about free markets and free people unencumbered to realize their potentials.

  • Jeff W.

    A great article. De-monopolizing the government welfare state is necessary for businesses to flourish, especially in the blue states.

    The welfare state’s services can be de-monopolized, privatized, and voucherized.

    You don’t have to starve the beast or be mean to anyone. Just voucherize the welfare state, put welfare service providers into a competitive environment, and welfare services will become lean and mean on their own.

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