Seth Godin wrote of what he calls the “forever recession” on his blog. His opening quote:
There are actually two recessions:
The first is the cyclical one, the one that inevitably comes and then inevitably goes. There’s plenty of evidence that intervention can shorten it, and also indications that overdoing a response to it is a waste or even harmful.
The other recession, though, the one with the loss of “good factory jobs” and systemic unemployment–I fear that this recession is here forever.
In it we see his thesis statement, that we are all talking about the recession when in fact we are feeling the effects of two recessions. He goes on to discuss the recession that we can’t really fix and that we should in turn embrace the coming revolution (which he mentions in the post title). In essence I agree with him, but I don’t know that everyone will be capable of embracing the coming change.
The loss of production capability in the US due to competitive failures (driven mostly by labor costs which will only fall with a great deal of pain) is putting increasing numbers of people out of work. This production is moving to facilities outside the US because, frankly, they are too cheap to compete with on price. And as Seth notes, these jobs “can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported”. You can get the same quality of goods from overseas as you can get locally in many cases, and the buyers in the US by and large look at price once quality needs are minimally met.
The problem comes in moving toward that new future where “everyone has a laptop and connection to the world” and so “everyone owns a factory”. Not everyone has a skill set that lends itself to that sort of environment. The person who works on the line at an automobile manufacturing facility (or any other manufacturing facility) is not prepared to take on the kinds of tasks one can source over the internet.
Am I being arrogant when I say this? No. Not everyone is cut out for producing content for consumption on the web. And I mean content in the broadest sense. Music, art, writing, software, these are the primary outlets on the web today. Not everyone is cut out to produce something in one of those categories. I daresay the majority are not. Even with training, many will still fail to make the standard for making a living in that world. That doesn’t make them any less of a person. These people might be very good at what they do, sharp as a tack, but not be cut out for these kinds of jobs.
My point in all of this? There isn’t a clearcut progression from point A (factory jobs which are disappearing in the US) to point B (jobs which Mr. Godin describes as part of the new way). I suppose that means I’m less pessimistic than he is. I think the way is cleared for those who are already in a computer related job to move from the more typical 9-5 style desk jockey position into the job/gig based situation Mr. Godin describes, but I don’t see much room in the new world for those coming from the production line. Not without a great deal of retraining and a great deal of pain. More, perhaps, than he sees. For my part, I hope I’m very very wrong.