Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Everything Old Is New Again


Thomas Friedman brings us some amazing news from the world of legal practice:
A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.
Apparently Friedman believes that in the past law firms have underpaid and undervalued rainmakers, and have shoved them out the door the moment money gets tight.

Friedman also shares this gem about blue collar workers:
Those at the high end of the bottom half — high school grads in construction or manufacturing — have been clobbered by global competition and immigration, added Katz. “But those who have some interpersonal skills — the salesperson who can deal with customers face to face or the home contractor who can help you redesign your kitchen without going to an architect — have done well.”
So... once everybody's a salesperson, the economy will boom? Seriously, we only need so many salespersons in any given industry, and there are only so many kitchens to redesign. And, even assuming unlimited need, there's more to being a good kitchen designer or salesperson than taking a class or two (even if you get "A's").

Friedman's argument is reminiscent of Charles Murray's notion that every blue collar worker can become a "Journeyman Craftsman" and earn six figure incomes remodeling the mansions of millionaires. As for hiring architects for home remodeling? Outside of Friedman's economic circle, who hires an architect to redesign their kitchens?
Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education.
I would very much favor not only an educational system that was friendlier to nonconformity and entrepreneurship, but also a society that helped support both as major potential factors to the future success of our nation. But it's easy to say things like "we need more [high school and college graduates] with the right education" - what is the right education, and who is going to pay for it - not just for a reinvigorated K-12 education, but for transforming and updating our institutions of higher learning?

2 comments:

  1. I like the idea of a system that rewards the top 10% - of course it sounds a little tough on the other 90% . . . I wonder where Friedman sees himself . . . : )

    CWD

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  2. I'm sure he sees himself as the vanguard of the proletariat. (But not in the historical sense of the term.)

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