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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thomas Friedman, "How Did the Robot End Up With My Job?": Friedman Contradicts Himself

It was only a week ago that Tom Friedman, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "Help Wanted: Leadership" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/Friedman-help-wanted-leadership.html?_r=1), explained the measures, purportedly known to all, which are required to heal the current economic crisis:

"We know what to do — a Grand Bargain: short-term stimulus to ease us through this deleveraging process, debt restructuring in the housing market and long-term budget-cutting to put our fiscal house in order. None of this is easy and the economy will not be fixed overnight; it will take years. But there is every chance it will get healed if our two parties construct the Grand Bargain we need."

"We know what to do"? A "Grand Bargain"? As I observed this past Thursday (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/09/paul-krugman-phony-fear-factor-blame.html), remedying unemployment and curing our economic ills are anything but simple matters, owing to the effects of hi-tech:

"I believe that we have entered a new era in which computers, robotics, automation and information technology are responsible for an efficacy which has made many jobs redundant. I do not foresee future demand for unskilled labor. For that matter, I believe that even with respect to skilled labor, mediocrity will no longer suffice in the marketplace."

Lo and behold, in his New York Times op-ed of today's date, "How Did the Robot End Up With My Job?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/opinion/sunday/friedman-how-did-the-robot-end-up-with-my-job.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Tom appears to have changed his tune:

"In the last decade, we have gone from a connected world (thanks to the end of the cold war, globalization and the Internet) to a hyperconnected world (thanks to those same forces expanding even faster). And it matters. The connected world was a challenge to blue-collar workers in the industrialized West. They had to compete with a bigger pool of cheap labor. The hyperconnected world is now a challenge to white-collar workers. They have to compete with a bigger pool of cheap geniuses — some of whom are people and some are now robots, microchips and software-guided machines."

Friedman concludes:

"Indeed, there is no 'in' or 'out' anymore. In the hyperconnected world, there is only 'good' 'better' and 'best,' and managers and entrepreneurs everywhere now have greater access than ever to the better and best people, robots and software everywhere. Obviously, this makes it more vital than ever that we have schools elevating and inspiring more of our young people into that better and best category, because even good might not cut it anymore and average is definitely over."

Yup, Tom's "Grand Bargain" isn't going to cut the mustard.

Friedman and I are now in agreement? "Not entirely," he replied with a sigh of relief. Regardless of whatever "elevating and inspiring" are achieved by US institutions of higher learning, the overwhelming majority of graduates are not destined for the categories of "good," "best" or "better." Most will be "average" given that such is the nature of the curve, and the value of that bachelor's degree may no longer be worth the paper it's printed on. College an expensive gamble? You bet! Welcome to our Brave New World.

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