Just finished Economist Tyler Cowen’s latest book, “Average Is Over,” which talks about the increasing gap between rich and poor in this country, the thinning middle class, and how these trends only promise to become more pronounced.
So I suppose we can stop talking about the jobless recovery, because that implies a short time horizon and a temporary condition. Perhaps we’ll amend the phrase and simply call it the jobless century.
In that case, I should address this column to the younger folks out there who will likely see far more of this century than I will.
Cowen calls you “Generation Limbo.” Which isn’t necessarily bad. You have freedom, flexibility … and he assumes this translates into more sex, parties and fun.
But then there are the ultimately nagging issues of ambition and self-fulfillment and maybe even someday living with less than three roommates.
So … how do you get off the low-wage track? How do you get paid?
For one, you know your way around a computer. For another, you know how to integrate yourself within a team concept, and you’re conscientious. That is, you’re someone who can identify what needs to be done and do it.
He stresses conscientiousness:
“It’s an open debate how much education can boost innate aptitude or IQ, but the trait of conscientiousness does consistently predict educational and job success and also subjective happiness. Yet as access to information increases, conscientiousness will become all the more important. It will be less about whose parents could afford Harvard or who could charm the admissions officer, and more and more about who sits down and actually starts trying to master the material.”
The importance of conscientiousness, he stresses, favors women in the workplace, and the general composition of The Sheet’s staff certainly reflects this trend.
Cowen believes that in many respects, the Great Recession was overdue, at least in terms of having corporations and businesses really assess how productive their employees were and what value they brought to the company. “The financial crash was a very bad one-time event that revealed,” he writes; “rather suddenly, a more fundamental long-term structural problem, namely that a lot of workers had been overemployed relative to their skills …”
But then factor in that people are generally unwilling to make less than they did before, and that workers are increasingly expensive to hire … and you can see you’ve got a standoff. Hm … which side has more resources?
“A lot of the new jobs, especially for the less-educated workers who make up a large chunk of the unemployed, will be low-pay jobs that rely more on brute force or direct personal services, such as running errands … or taking care of an elderly person.”
Cowen envisions a world where the elite can leverage computing power to make even more money. Where “10 to 15 percent of the citizenry is extremely wealthy and has fantastically comfortable and stimulating lives … much of the rest of the country will have stagnant or maybe even falling wages in dollar terms.”
He figures that we won’t see a wholesale evisceration of the welfare state. Instead, you’ll see more and more of the cost burden for things sloughed off on the average worker.
Picture a large community of freelancers, all logging onto the healthcare exchanges versus getting health coverage through an employer.
As for the labor pool, at this point in time, Obama Sec. of Education Arne Duncan said 75% of kids aged 17-24 are unfit to serve in military.
Or the Breedlove comment in the pull quote above about manning problems, because the Air Force can’t find the right personnel to monitor the computers that fly the unmanned drones.
Education matters more than ever.
The overall market trend: “Higher pay for bosses, more focus on morale in the workplace, greater demands for conscientious and obedient workers, greater inequality at the top, big gains for the cognitive elite, a lot of freelancing in the services sector and some tough scrambles for workers without a lot of skills.”
So how do some of Cowen’s ideas make me think about Mammoth?
One thing we are seemingly doing right, according to Cowen, is investing in marketing, because as income inequality becomes starker, you’ve got to work harder to reach the people who have a dollar to spend.
But there was one section he wrote about the evolution of computers and chess (which got into the whole realm of productivity and efficiency)which made me think about the local decision-making process.
He talked about how computers make what appear to be ugly, odd, irrational, silly moves … but they are, counterintuitively to us humans, exactly what is called for.
Therefore, he said, “The biggest problem [in human decision-making] is not outright gross blunders, but rather humans spending too much time thinking about the moves that ‘look good.’ It is precisely our reasoned, considered judgments that we should be more suspicious of.”
In Mammoth, it is my observation that we spend an inordinate amount of time crafting moves that “look good” – moves that I now have the sneaking suspicion might be horribly off-target.
His takeaways about human intution: we oversimplify too much and take too much care to avoid intellectual chaos. So in Mammoth, maybe we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much about the messiness of our process. I know we all have a general fatigue in regard to local politics, but … we do have one hell of a ski mountain and we haven’t messed that up!