Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
--Teddy Roosevelt, Labor Day, September 7, 1903
As the latest Economist points out, the billions who seek that prize are finding both feast and famine.
Why is that true in the US? The consensus is that there are two causes: globalization and technology. But Michael Spencer, the Nobel winner, argues, rightly, that globalization is the more potent cause.
Tyler Cowen, the economist and compulsive blogger, also agrees, but adds a different twist in his book, The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will Eventually Feel Better. (The title is classic Cowen.) Cowen argues that for much of our history, we enjoyed the benefits of free land, immigrant labor and powerful new technologies. Those advantages have faded, and now we need to start over again. In the meantime, there are winners and plenty of losers. And some of the problem is not fixable.
What do we do in the meantime?
The Economist answers that question with the obvious. Lowering this new natural rate of unemployment will require structural reforms, such as changing education to ensure that people enter work equipped with the sort of skills firms are willing to fight over, adjusting the tax system and modernising the welfare safety net, and more broadly creating a climate conducive to entrepreneurship and innovation. None of these reforms is easy, and all will take time to produce results, but governments around the world should press ahead with them.
[I’ll add a not-too-welcome caveat. When voting time comes this means that you’d better make certain that jobs and education (a sub-topic of jobs) are a higher priority than fixing the deficit today. The deficit needs to be fixed, but it doesn’t have to be fixed today. On that, ninety-percent of those in the know are agreed. Too often fixing the deficit is more an ideological issue of downsizing government than taking care of our own backyard.]
What do we need to do for our careers?
Education and learning are an inevitable prerequisite for success and security. Or, as Laura Pappano has argued in a summary: The Master's as the new Bachelor's. Nearly 2 in 25 people age 25 and over have a master’s degree. That’s about the same proportion that had a bachelor’s in 1960. That’s not just the MBA, but includes such degrees as the M.S. in supply chain management, the M.S. in technology and etc.
In her research she finds that the degree of the moment is the professional science master’s, or P.S.M., combining job-specific training with business skills. Where only a handful of programs existed a few years ago, there are now 239, with scores in development. Florida’s university system, for example, plans 28 by 2013, clustered in areas integral to the state’s economy, including simulation (yes, like Disney, but applied to fields like medicine and defense). And there could be many more, says Patricia J. Bishop, vice provost and dean of graduate studies at the University of Central Florida. “Who knows when we’ll be done?”
All of this means that your kids should do at least one of two things: go to an elite college where the major doesn’t matter (liberal arts, including the humanities are just as marketable from those schools), or major in one of the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and math).
Although I’ve always thought that Teddy Roosevelt was the first master of spin, I started this blog with his statement because it is just as relevant today. For fun, Mark Twain once grumbled that Teddy Roosevelt, “would go to Halifax (that century’s Timbuktu) for half a chance to show off” and “to hell for a whole one.” Still, Roosevelt’s comment couldn’t be more prescient.