16 June 2011

Wanted: Post-Industrial Economy

A few years ago I conversed with a conservative friend of mine whose chief interest in life is business.  We hit on the topic of all the manufacturing jobs that have gone overseas and eventually he dismissed it by saying, "Let them do those jobs; we've got bigger fish to fry."  I asked him what those fish were, and he couldn't answer me.

For most people, the principle objective of any crisis is to reestablish the previous status quo as quickly and as closely as possible.  Sometimes that's reasonable, but largely I believe we make the mistake of believing we can go back to the past.  Looking forward, we must accept that our post-WWII economic model is gone and it's never coming back.

Just because it keeps its Home Office in
Bentonville doesn't make it one of us.
We can no longer regard ourselves as an alpha dog competitor in a global market.  Our largest corporations may have originated in America, their leaders may have their mansions and summer homes here, but their operations are everywhere.  We must cease to view these global corporations as American.  Walmart is as American as Superman.  We accept him as such because we keep thinking of him as Clark Kent, but we are remiss to think of a being that powerful who operates around the world as one of ours just because he keeps an apartment in Metropolis.  We no longer see American laborers making goods for American businesses to sell to Americans.  Rather, we're now seeing Asian laborers making goods for global businesses to sell to Americans.  We're now merely consumers in the formula, unless we're fortunate enough to be part of the ownership class.

The jobs that once drove the American economy are gone and they're gone for good.  For years we've used the term, "post-industrial" to describe our economic period but no one has really defined what that means.  We've been told we live in the "information age," and that ours is now an economy of service rather than creation.  The problem is that there is very little monetary value assigned to information or service.  We flock to websites today not to be informed by a knowledgeable expert, but to have a forum for espousing our own views and engage others, whether to have like-minded people stroke our egos, or to enjoy debating others.

Consider the professional film critic, once responsible for shaming and praising movies, is now little more than an elitist in the era of the Internet where anyone with the time and interest can become a critic.  Before the Internet, we shared our thoughts with our friends, neighbors and coworkers but only the professional critic's words were put in print or given the credibility of being shared on TV.  Now, even I have a blog full of reviews, read by a few people from around the world.

Would I equate myself with Roger Ebert?  Of course not; he's hated more movies than I've ever seen.  He knows the ins and outs of cinema in a way I'm unlikely to ever master any given subject.  And yet, for all intents and purposes, I have just as much access to distributing my thoughts as he does now; the only difference is that he has a widely recognized and respected reputation and I, to date, do not.

Anyone who believed they would become the next Ebert is sadly mistaken; when he and his ilk leave us, we'll not see again that kind of professional film critic.  Going forward, we can expect film reviews to be posted by movie enthusiasts on popular websites.  You'll go to the Flickchart blog, not particularly knowing or caring who reviewed the movie; being published on Flickchart is sufficient to legitimize the review for you.  Film aficionados will take the time to learn the names of their favorite (or least favorite) reviewers, but Flickchart will be the equivalent in brand recognition to Ebert for the next generation.

[Full disclosure: I have had several blog posts published on the Flickchart blog.  I have received no compensation for any of them, and I contributed those pieces knowing there would be none.]

Look at your TV commercials.  We're selling movies, video games, cars, fast food, cell phones, medications and lawsuits when medications shouldn't have been approved but were.  If you can't act or program, and don't have the money or aptitude for medical or law school, guess what?  That leaves you flipping burgers or selling cell phones.  That's it.  That's our entire economy in 2011.  If we're not going to be making goods anymore, and the information economy rewards organizations rather than individual contributors, then what are the jobs of the 21st Century?  What are those bigger fish we're supposed to be frying?  I still don't know.
Two of the six career paths left in America represented here.

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