Saturday, December 19, 2009

Jobs: The trend line is not positive

Saltaire New Mill, part of a UNESCO World Heri...Image via Wikipedia

Robert Patterson has an interesting post on his blog about job creation and the magnitude of the problem we're facing: Krugman - Bernanke’s Unfinished Mission - And More.
He makes an important point that I think is lurking in the back of people's minds, but almost always goes unsaid. We're not going back. This is not temporary. This is a trend playing itself out in some very painful ways for far too many people:

I don’t think many people grasp just how much job creation we need to climb out of the hole we’re in. You can’t just look at the eight million jobs that America has lost since the recession began, because the nation needs to keep adding jobs — more than 100,000 a month — to keep up with a growing population. And that means that we need really big job gains, month after month, if we want to see America return to anything that feels like full employment.
It's a great post in that he talks about previous times in history where we've seen massive changes in the nature of work. He has a nice piece on the enclosure movement, but I disagreed with his cause-and-effect. His conclusion, however, I think is spot on:
There are NO JOBS TO GO BACK TO. Just as there was no village and rural work in 1840.
I commented over on Robert's blog, but decided I would copy those comments here. I'm writing (elsewhere) on this right now, and would love some discussion from my blog readers:
Very interesting post.
I take some exception to your conclusions around the cause and effect of the enclosure movement. I don't think it was advances in agricultural practices that drove people off of the land and into the cities. I think what happened was mostly economic, and that it might have been the need for labor to fuel the industrial revolution that led to the social engineering that manifested itself in enclosure.
There were two factors at play: the need for labor; and the requirement for agriculture to be more productive in order to feed the now dependent workers. Most of the advances in scientific agriculture began to happen in the later part of the 1800s. The industrial revolution was in full swing at that time. It wasn't so much scientific advances in agricultural production that happened at that time as it was changes in production practices. Many of the changes in agriculture production systems were not sustainable (e.g. soil depletion and pest issues with monoculture) and the science to inform the problems was lagging.
Which brings me back to work... The changes brought in the industrial revolution were not worker (or even people) friendly. (16 hour work days, child labor, slavery...) Not only do we need a return to more sustainable farming practices, we need a return to more sustainable and natural systems of working (pre-enclosure).
We're obviously starting into the big morph. Where the jobs of old are not being created, and we're never going to "grow" ourselves out of the current mess, we can hope that what emerges from the ashes might be more people and planet friendly. Unfortunately for many they may never make it through the transition. Others will adapt and do fine. One person's disaster becomes another's opportunity.
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Bud Gibson said...

I'm responding to your last two posts in this one. My central recommendation is to not try to keep up with the flow. Instead, treat it like a stream passing by, a torrent where occasionally you perceive a bit of useful flotsam. You only need to be aware of the flotsam and how you might find it again, you don't need to retain it fully.

As regards work, roles that become routine disappear. The problem, as you note, is that people are slow to acquire mastery. If that's the case, what should you master? I'd like to say you should master learning and adaptation, but I think that is a non-answer as both depend on context. Further, it may only be an answer for me and how I approach the world.

One thing I know, the day of expert as repository of knowledge is over. We have Google, Wikipedia, and their successors for that. Expert as retriever, adapter, and creator of knowledge is far from over.

Kevin Gamble said...

Good comments. TY!

I had some criticisms of that post pre-publishing that it needed some how-to advice. I was left scratching my head. I felt like I was trying to explain to someone how to hit a fastball. It's not something you can learn or even get started with by reading a blog post.

I like this danah boyd piece on information trafficing. Don't know if you've seen it, but I think it's something you might enjoy Bud.

Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media


Kevin Gamble said...

A taste: "Making content work in a networked era is going to be about living in the streams, consuming and producing alongside "customers." Consuming to understand, producing to be relevant. Content creators are not going to get to dictate the cultural norms just because they can make their content available; they are still accountable to those who are trafficking content."


Peg Boyles said...

Bud said "Expert as retriever, adapter, and creator of knowledge is far from over."

I like that. I'd say also there's room for experts as curators, co-creators, and collaborators.

As for mastery. Ah! So many nuances to that. Some circumstances require deep mastery; sometimes "good enough" will do; and sometimes slipshod-and-on-the-fly seems to suffice. Sometimes we become masterful on the fly...and so it goes.

Bud Gibson said...

Kevin, liked the Danah Boyd article. Not sure if I really see that much of a difference between distribution and dissemination. Given that Google estimates 82% of web traffic originates on a search engine results page, I think search engines are acting as a distribution channel in the sense of bringing content to consumers. Yes, you can quibble that the mechanics are different, as Danah does, but the end result seems to be the same. I used to pay attention to what the editors of the NY Times chose, now it's Google. One got my attention by sending me a piece of paper, the other by directing me to a web site.

Bud Gibson said...

Peg, I think the new curators will be managers of giant data centers and creators of search bots.

Suddenly Fourty said...

I think there are no jobs to go back to because most of the ones that were lost were created on the back of a layer of perceived value that coated the core of tangible value in our economy's asset base before this crisis (and to which our economies may continue to correct themselves towards in the coming years).

Compared to the past when an asset was tangible in the sense that you could see the direct connection between its value and its ability to produce tangible goods, what constitutes the asset bases of our economies today are increasingly abstract (accounted for by things like brand equity, goodwill, and complex securities).

Whereas one couldn't plow a field to produce the season's harvest without a horse, today, it is still possible to sell a cola drink even without the brand "Coca Cola".

The Coca Cola brand in the above example is booked as an asset with a nominal value in the Coca Cola Company's balance sheet. Yet factories can still physically continue to churn out the drink even if the brand disappeared tomorrow.

The value added by the Coca Cola brand is in the creation of the demand -- because the brand represents demand creation capability. However the brand itself does not represent production capability.

In short Coca Cola creates demand for cola drinks. When demand collapses, enterprises that are valued for their demand creation capability are most vulnerable to asset deflation.

We keep seeing population growth as a good thing because it keeps enterprises premised on the idea of creating demand healthy. Yet when demand goes, we are stuck with the dependence on "creating jobs".

I might do a proper blog article about this later as I think I convoluted the ideas in this hasty comment... :)

Peg Boyles said...

"There were two factors at play: the need for labor; and the requirement for agriculture to be more productive in order to feed the now dependent workers."

I'd add a third leg to that stool: the need to produce consumers with money to buy factory-produced goods and services.

Agrarian people had to be taught to value industrial products over what they and their neighbors produced from their own labor (as well as "expert" professional services of all kinds over the wisdom resident in traditional nonmarket communities).

Many social critics (e.g., Ivan Illich, John Holt, John Taylor Gatto) suggest that the modern system of compulsory, age-graded schools and the follow-on gatekeeping/credentialing systems of "higher learning" (which we now almost universally conflate with "education") was fostered by and served the needs of the barons of industry.

(In his landmark 1972 work, Deschooling Society, Illich called school "the reproductive organ of a consumer society.")

Which makes Suddenly Fourty's insightful post about creating demand for abstract, nontangible products and services all the more meaningful.

And which ties back (and forward, too) to another common High Touch theme: the rise of free-range learning.

Self-managed learning and many new forms of nonmarket, tangible, use-value production have already begun asserting themselves as the hallmarks of a sustainable post-industrial economy.