Blog Archive - August 2011
Writing in Huffington Post, Jeff Jarvis argues that the future will be “jobless.” Technology and efficiency will make traditional business models as extinct as dinosaurs. He cites several industries and demonstrates that fewer people are needed to do “job” work. Instead, Jarvis puts his faith in entrepreneurs in a way that is similar to Seth Godin’s arguments in Linchpin.
I’m a big fan of Godin, and I agree with most of what Jarvis says. However, my outlook is much darker when it comes to technology and employment. Even entrepreneurial models are employing fewer people. Compare Subway to McDonald’s. The sub shop runs with a much leaner crew and lower overhead than does the king of burgers. Better still, let me talk about two businesses where I live, Andersonville, one of Chicago’s great neighborhoods.
George’s Ice Cream will employ 4-6 employees at any time, and they are hustling to make cones, sundaes, and shakes. Yogurt Avenue opened a few months ago. It is located three blocks north of George’s, and its business model is self-serve. Customers pour their yogurt, top it as they wish, and put it on scale where the only employee in the store weighs it and rings up the sale. What could be more efficient? What could be more deadly for an economy in which people need to earn cash?
The story of John Henry is a great fantasy. When a human competes against the machine, put your money on the machine. Before they were laid off, several of my clients have been creators of automated systems and software that help companies be more efficient and profitable. These innovations do nothing to create work. In fact, their success can be measured in this happy image: “reduced head count.” Call it jobs or entrepreneurship, the opportunity to earn a living has become harder because of technology. In the future, it will be worse, much worse. “Soylent Green is people!”
Lila Shapiro of Huffington Post reports that big companies are starting to lay off workers. She cites several experts who are worried that a new trend is developing. Industries that hadn’t been laying off workers in great numbers are now shedding employees. There is one hopeful note. More than half the layoffs were generated by five companies, one of which was Borders. This “trend” could be nothing to worry about. On the other hand. . .
In These Times reports that American, Canadian, and Mexican steelworkers are joining to protect the rights of mine workers in Mexico. This is not pure altruism. Lower wages in Mexico lead to lower wages north of the border. American and Canadian workers are supporting their own cause while they support their Mexican brothers and sisters. A few years ago, the miners backed steelworkers who were on strike.
The wage difference in manufacturing is shocking: An American worker averages over $20 an hour while his Mexican counterpart makes less than $4. How can this problem be addressed? The unions are talking about a cross border merger, which would mean an organization with more than one million members.
It is easy to despair given the news coming out ofWashington. Stories like this one aren’t covered by the main stream corporate media. It’s good news for workers, and we need more of that.
Think Progress has a revealing post about shrinking union membership and lower pay rates for all types of jobs, union and non-union. A graph tracks the almost in-step decline of union membership and middle class income. This information should be a big deal. But in a world where fake budget crises can dominate the news, few people care about unemployment or income disparity. Of course, what should citizens think when leading news outlets hype one story and ignore the other. Again, Think Progress offers an excellent analysis of our distorted media.
One of my clients gave me a great suggestion to pass along. When you leave a telephone message, follow this model: State your name and phone number, leave your message, and then repeat your name and phone number. This method will make it easier for the person you’re calling to hear and capture your phone number, especially if they have to go back and listen to your message to take the number down. Remember, speak slowly and clearly so the person you’re calling will be able to call you back. Don’t take simple things like leaving a message for granted. It could cost you something important. . . like a job.