So here is a fairly prototypical Friedman column. Tom goes to meet Name You Might Recognize. Tom meets Businessman who extols neoliberalism in jargony aphorism. Tom relates anecdote about A Friend. Tom gets Ivy League Social Scientist to install sound bite. Tom says We need Education. Exit, pursued by iPhone. Along the way, Tom manages to totally misconstrue what his Harvard interlocutor is saying:
As the Harvard University labor expert Lawrence Katz explains it: “If you think about the labor market today, the top half of the college market, those with the high-end analytical and problem-solving skills who can compete on the world market or game the financial system or deal with new government regulations, have done great. But the bottom half of the top, those engineers and programmers working on more routine tasks and not actively engaged in developing new ideas or recombining existing technologies or thinking about what new customers want, have done poorly. They’ve been much more exposed to global competitors that make them easily substitutable.”This is in fact so elementary an error of interpretation that it would never have made a publication with copy editors. Katz cites the top half of the college market. A mere paragraph later, Friedman cites the bottom half: "high school grads in construction or manufacturing." Were you listening to the dude's story?
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.”
Tellingly, no one seems much interested in the fact that an industrial economy is by necessity pyramidal, that not everyone can be a inventor (or innovator, as goes the preferred neologism) or CEO. You know, even in the Imaginarium of Doctress Rand, it is taken as given that the Atlases of the world must at some point employ and direct the debased lumpenproletariat; there are no illusions that every man is a genius. Indeed, the economy whose passing Friedman perhaps mourns too soon, for from my seat it appears to be sputtering along as before, only at a more modest clip, was not simply a Housing Bubble economy or a Financial Speculation Economy; it was a middle management economy, in which productive labor, accomplished elsewhere and more cheaply, was replaced in the employment world by the bullshit white-collar pseudojobs with which so many of you, reading blogs in the middle of the workday, are surely familiar. Such people were never actually doing much, regardless of their level of educational achievement, and because their jobs were, are, and will forever be extraneous, they are easily cut without the need ever to be replaced.
Just being an average accountant, lawyer, contractor or assembly-line worker is not the ticket it used to be. As Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind,” puts it: In a world in which more and more average work can be done by a computer, robot or talented foreigner faster, cheaper “and just as well,” vanilla doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s all about what chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherry you can put on top. So our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.Friedman, ever the infelicitous metaphorist, royally fucks the goat on this one. Consider what this strange ice-cream-ism actually propounds: that when the actual substance of the thing is faulty, cover it up! The salad that is the American labor force is wilted. Just add dressing!
Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.
Entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity are lovely words, but they cannot be taught, less yet can they be taught to students who cannot read, write, or add. Nor, in any event, does it make much sense to realign our national program of attempted-indoctrinated self-esteem and civic ignorance, i.e. public education, with the impossible conviction that every single American should own his own business, which uniquely produces the sole example of its own productorservice. In the world. Forever. Because of The Children. You cannot run a society of three hundred million people by requiring that each either invent the iPod or remain broke forever. Which rather brings up a tangential but dearly held point for the whole gang here at Who Is IOZ? Namely:
You cannot run a society of three hundred million people.