Either Marx or War Ends the Crisis

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, the social arbitrageur who keeps reinventing the obvious, usually from the perspective of the elite, has authored a piece, The Start-Up of You.
Friedman uses as examples entrepreneurs who have been successful at building social networks, in financial terms for themselves and otherwise.
This is not your parents’ job market. Workers need to be able to invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day.
The NYTimes readership doesn't buy it and sees clear through Friedman's pacifying scheme.

C Wolfe
Bloomington, IN

It seems to me that what we're seeing is a change in how we determine value, and not in a good way. People enjoy using Facebook, but if it ceased to exist tomorrow, so what? It isn't as if people would starve, or we'd suddenly lack water or fuel or clothes to wear or clean air to breathe. People wouldn't stop sharing their experiences with each other, they'd just find another way to do it. And relatively few people would even be out of work. The economic value of Facebook is pure illusion. Ditto Twitter; the people who use it would miss it, but its existence doesn't solve the real problems confronting us, nor would its disappearance create new problems.

The supposed value of social networking companies, or internet companies that serve as mere conduits for what others create, is precisely what's wrong with the economy. They're valued in absurd disproportion to what they actually contribute to society. It's all perception and no substance. I'd feel much better if you told me that the fastest growing companies were developing new energy sources. We need to think strategically for the long term, and not simply react like infatuated teenagers to the sensation of the moment.
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A. B.

Day in and day out, this gentleman shows that he has the strange “let them eat cake” syndrome that is so common in the “intellectual” world. There are only so many techie wiz-kids. The rest of the common folks need to eat too. They need to build a stable life, raise children, take care of the elderly, and finally retire. They should be able to do that without having to “invent” themselves every day. Work should not consume every living minute.

All of the fanatical review by the quarter, the rule of the pimply faced boss who happened to think about what will attract the attention of other teenagers, is similar to the fashion world, where gaining of a extra pound will kill a career. Work is not limited to show biz, the runway, nor is it limited to silicon valley social network companies.

We need to eat, live, travel, and be healthy. All of this requires companies that cater to food, clothes, transport, power, housing, medicine. We need to focus how to do these well. We need to bring back manufacturing, we need to focus on better sources of power, we need to be able to balance the quality and cost of healthcare. All of the empty talk about silicon valley and social networking is teenage angst coming from a grown man. He us bring on the adults to solve the problem.
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Westmont, Ill.

The companies starring in this column – Twitter, Groupon, etc – are the froth billowing up around recent advances in electronics, computer science, and communications. While the people and businesses caught up in this froth may have career or life cycles of 3 months, they aren’t representative of people and businesses in society as a whole. Most of us couldn’t survive and raise families and keep our mental health, while struggling to keep the likes of Zynga hopping successfully from fad to fad over our entire working careers – careers which everybody says should get longer and longer.

Most of us acquire a knowledge and skill set, both through education, and over the course of our working lives. It is this knowledge and these skills, along with our personal relationships, which make us valuable. Our commitments to our professions are often life-long, and commitments to companies can be long-term. We make similar commitments to our families and our communities. We are valuable precisely because we aren’t constantly hopping from job to job, and career to career, and relationship to relationship.

Similarly, most companies can’t reinvent themselves from whole cloth every 3 months. There is long-term investment that must be repaid. There is the hard-won familiarity with a market, with a customer base, with an area of technology, that gives a company roots. Not least is a hard-won assemblage of a team of capable, motivated, and innovative employees. Successful companies are characterized by sustained effort, constant if often incremental progress, and long-term commitment to their area of excellence.

I don’t begrudge the Twitters of the world their 15 minutes of fame. But people’s lives, their families, their communities, and their civilization cannot be reinvented every 3 months. Businesses can’t start over every 3 months. We have to learn to commit, think and act long-term, without losing the capacity to innovate and renew.
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Silicon valley is not going to lead this country out of the economic funk we are in today. This article is meaningless in todays climate. Our leaders have sold this country out to the lowest bidder so the elites can get even richer. The real question is will we ever employ people in manufacturing again. Not everyone can be a software designer or engineer. We still need people to build widgets. Tariffs on all imported worthless stuff is my answer.
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I'm nearing 50, and have been fortunate enough to have had some of the professional risks I've taken over the years work out well to the positive side of the ledger. But to really insist that this way of life constitutes the minimum bar for personal success requires glossing over a few other realities of life: (a) not having kids - my path toward success didn't make room for them, and in retrospect, I was incredibly fortunate that my second wife brought three teenage kids into my life who accepted me with love and as an additional guidepost in their lives, (b) celebrating creativity and real-time adaptability over all else is really just Darwinism on steroids, and (c) this path is the surest possible way forward toward a world in which income inequality becomes even more pronounced and entrenched. Having spent a few years in Silicon Valley a long time ago, I thoroughly understand this mindset. For the best and the brightest, it must be ever thus. For the rest of the population, including some of my nieces and nephews, I genuinely fear for the social repercussions yet to come.
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Marie Burns
Fort Myers, Florida

There is a vast chasm between someone "who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day" and an average college grad who applies for a job with some fear of the complex world s/he is about to enter. What you are asking young people to do strikes me as too much, too soon. I'll warrant that there are a few who already have the drive & chutzpah to reinvent themselves daily to accommodate their demanding masters -- or to strike out on their own -- but I don't think we want or need a society that demands so much of young people just getting their bearings.

What you posit and propose are actually the best evidence I've seen for a need to institute a two-year public service requirement for young people. If the nature of the public service they performed was varied across jobs and incorporated the teaching of useful skill sets, I expect some of the "graduates" of such public service programs would be ready for bigger things.

It is really too much to ask young grads to jump from a frying pan in which they were required -- for 16 of the 21 years of their lives -- to do what the teacher/professor said, into a frying pan in which they are expected to constantly think outside the box. I say, good luck to the timid -- they might not inherit the earth, but if they have done what is required of them during their school years, they deserve a piece of it.

The Constant Weader at www.RealityChex.com
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Steve R.

Technology has simply fulfilled it's promise of relieving the human being from so many dirty, dehumanizing, mindless, physically debilitating tasks. What is outmoded is our system of distributing resources/wealth. We must rethink the concept that in order to live a comfortable life every adult must work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, every year, until age 70. If we have reached a point where it only requires 20 hours a week to produce all that society needs, then that has to become the standard for a weekly wage that pays the rent/mortgage/food/utility bills. If making room in the workforce for the next generation requires this generation to retire at 60, then beginning at 60 people have to have the resources to retire. There are more than enough resources to sustain the world's population in comfort and dignity; we just need a better system than the 40 hour a week, work til you die system of distribution.
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Tom, this is lunacy. I'm a college professor at a college in the top 1% of schools world-wide and I can tell you that few of OUR graduates are capable of what you're asking for. C'mon. Be serious. Out of 350,000,000 Americans, there are probably 100,000 tops with those kind of skills and abilities, intelligence and drive. So what about the other 99% of the workforce? Unemployment at 85%? We'll have a social and political revolution in this country long before it gets to that. I don't disagree that this is helpful for a top few percent to make the best of their opportunities, but without some basic solutions for the community college educated and even high school educated, lacking capital or contacts in high places, our country will simply disintegrate into anarchy.
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I'm not sure where you've been for the last ten years but this is the reality for just about everyone under 40 in most sectors. Corportations, flush with a huge increase in talent with women joining the workforce in numbers equal to men, increased H1B visas and totally unlimited offshoring has made labor less and less valuable.

Coupled with this huge supply is the utter destruction of labor rights in America. Overtime is all but dead, unions are rare and increasingly powerless, and the business community has abandoned any obligations to train or retrain employees who they now view as easily replacable commodities.

As a 37 year old on his seventh career in the technology sector, I can tell you that the path is daunting and most people simply aren't up for it. I decided to forgo having children since our careers wouldn't allow us to spend the time necessary to raise them and expected bouts of unemployment are simply expected in the new predator economy.

Some social engineering is the only solution I can see to the problem. Labor needs to make itself scarce to industry and the federal government is the only agency powerful enough to make it happen.

The current unlimited workweek has to go. In a time where real unemployment is at nearly 20%, it's time to roll back standard hours to 32 per week and require mandatory overtime for everyone short of a C-level executive. Our enormous productivity hasn't led to a higer standard of living and that should awaken the ire of our citizens and our government.

The promise of technology bringing freedom and leisure to our lives has been replaced with a 24 hour leash and demands on our time that were unimaginable 20 years ago.

Sure, some people will rise to the challenge presented to the modern economy but they will surely find themselves thrown to the wolves by the time they're 50 years old and no longer considered attractive to companies looking for nothing less than slaves that they don't have to car for.
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Corinth, KY

Hang on, I'm listening -

Facebook is now valued near $100 billion, Twitter at $8 billion, Groupon at $30 billion, Zynga at $20 billion and LinkedIn at $8 billion

- so we need more borderline-personality geeks to dream up ways to tap into our narcissism, self-promotion, consumerism, and sucker us into being their 'content providers' and paying for the privilege?

Those valuations are highly suspect and based on some investment banker (hah!!!!)'s opinion of their potential advertising revenue. What are they going to advertise? Each other? ('Zuckerman tries out Google+' - the Times, 2 or 3 days ago)

We have a crackhead economy based on TV ads convincing people that happiness lies in going on to the next must-have 'stuff'. It's driven by greed at the supply end and gullibility on the demand side. And now instead of tangible goods - 3-SUV-garage McMansions filled with color-coordinated housewares plus the obligatory storage unit - there's must-have membership in the next cool 'online community'.

Marx was right, altho he chose the unfortunately obscure locution 'commodity fetishism.' Now we don't even need actual goods, just a phony sense of belonging, while financial manipulators undermine truly productive work and their political puppets do their best to tax it out of existence.

No thanks. I'm going to keep raising food, and hope the indicators look good enough to let me finance a new barn roof and find someone capable of building it.
Shady Grove Fatm
Corinth, KY
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New York

This is just wrong. If you want a speculation driven economy with everyone trying to be the next Bill Gates and jumping around every quarter to maximize profits, we will end up right where we are now. the 1%'ers will be eating $100 kobe beef hamburgers while the rest of us live in compounds for the underutilized.
The markets that you describe are ephemeral, and all in them live in fear of the next google, napster, facebook etc. Like Wall Street, each of these want to grow large enough to maximize profit. If they have to steal our personal data to do so, or enslave us to their business plans, then that's ok. But, they are all selling wispy ephemera with no substance.
Left out of the column are the longer career paths that require a high degree of mastery, such as design, education, construction trades, art, justice, mental health. Do you want an entrepreneur to design your home or represent you in a legal battle? As we devalue the traditional and rewarding careers in the mindless quest for instant gratification and vast wealth, we will all lose whatever quality of life we are meant to enjoy in our limited lifespans.
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Karen Garcia
New Paltz, NY

This column reads like it came straight from the White House's "Winning the Future" propaganda machine. How many times have struggling unemployed people heard the ringing presidential words "we have to out-innovate, out-educate and out-innovate the rest of the world" instead of "Today I am announcing a multibillion jobs program and I will not leave Congress alone until I get it?"

Log on and look up entrepreneurship and you too can achieve the American Dream?This presupposes not only a computer and an internet connection, but enough working capital so that all those upstarts can launch their startups. Banks will not be lending to bright-eyed college grads any time soon -- most have no collateral and most are already carrying thousands in student debt. Too risky. Besides, all those billions of dollars in quantitative easing released by the Fed to stimulate the economy are either being hoarded, lended bank-to-bank at zero interest, or invested overseas where cheap labor for pennies an hour is there for the taking.

And, if you do happen to land an actual job, be prepared to work till you drop, because there are thousands more where you came from. Get with the program and out-perform a robot and make money for your employer by evolving your skills at the speed of light. Sounds great for the employer, downright dystopian for the employee.

This all reminds me of the Charlie Chaplin character in "Modern Times", working in a factory nonstop and just a cog in the machinery. He finally cracks, flees, revolts and walks into the sunset with Paulette Goddard.

That era is back with a vengeance. But we're told that recovery is just around the corner, and we just have to smile though our hearts are aching.

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Ike Solem
July 13th, 2011
8:56 am
The trend in Silicon Valley is to outsource labor to sweatshop nations in the name of cutting costs for the purpose of inflating corporate profits and hence, quarterly dividends to shareholders.

This is why Apple's Ipad is not made in Silicon Valley - pure greed on the part of top executives and shareholders and their many hangers-on. The consequences, other than rising unemployment in the U.S.?

"An explosion ripped through the Foxconn Chengdu plant in China, the factory where the Apple iPad 2 is made, killing three workers and injuring 15."


Now, what can be done? The goal of the politicians and their CEO masters seems to be to convert the U.S. itself to a sweatshop nation, returning working conditions to those that existed around 1900 - a race to the bottom driven by 'free trade' deals and the inexorable logic of 'globalization.'

The actual result is somewhat different, however - as China's domestic markets grow, they no longer need to export so much. As they gain manufacturing skills (freely provided by U.S. corporations), they begin to develop their own R&D centers. For example, a $1 billion solar R&D facility planned for Silicon Valley recently relocated to China - not just for the incentives, but also to be closer to manufacturing lines.

So - the brilliant geniuses gut the U.S. technological innovation system in the name of increased corporate profits, and then wonder why U.S. citizens can no longer afford to fill their pockets by buying consumer goods - and who is to blame? The champions of neoliberal free trade agreements, primarily.

The U.S. has few options now, having gone deep into debt due to steep tax cuts and multi-trillion dollar wars in the Middle East and Central Asia (aimed at seizing control of regional oil & gas production - the same philosophy that inspired Soviet moves in the region, as well as German efforts in the 1940s, right?).

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Cambridge, MA

Facebook may be valued at $100 billion but it's revenue stands only at $2 billion. Further, Facebook does not turn a profit to speak of and only employs 2000 people world-wide. Good luck with building an economy on that. Facebook is over-valued so that Goldman and Sachs can charge higher fees by selling its stock. That's all there is to it. If we continue to stake our hopes on dotcom bubbles, we are truly doomed.
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San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Tom, this is not one of your better columns and the Linkedin guy is not a good guru. Because of the hacking connected with accepting Linkedin messages I wont let it into my computer. Pure froth, fed by naive advertisers and populace.

Most of the jobs in the country are still done with dirty hands, e.g., all repair occupations, a growing area, care of the elderly, much of manufacturing, real estate, insurance and teaching at all levels. Government services that keep our roads, cities, sewers, water systems functioning and build new infrastructure. Construction and remodelling.
Working in big box stores can be a good career.

Most kids dont work as teenagers and are at sea when they are let out of the nest at the end of college, or pop back in burdening their parents. You dont start as a callow college grad who can manipulate the digital stuff but probably couldnt fix a faucet or toilet or sticking door.

You start by being mentored at the age of 9 or 10 to correctly run errands and do household jobs, then getting the most menial jobs at age 11 or 12, cut the chauffering to school and games, and then tough summer jobs with physical work, learning what the bottom feels like and what earning a lower wage is. Along with this, hard studying on the courses in high school and then college that will teach lessons of life. Going for the toughest teachers. You cant reinvent an empty, fragile, shell.

If you think the digital revolution, advertising flim flam and soft occupations will save the US, forget it. Our kids dont have the grit and desire because their parents didnt give it to them and we are being beat at every turn by the Mexicans, Asians and other groups that had to struggle. Wages have been stagnant for almost 40 years and are going down in many areas. This will accelerate as not just China, but the other hardworking emerging societies like Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and other Asian, African societies get their industries and confidence.
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Robert W.
San Diego, CA

I have read many of your opinion pieces about what we must do to compete in the job market in this new world of ours, and it seems that you have failed to address a major elephant in the room. Let’s see, we must be updating our skills all the time, gaining new ones, pitching our talents, living like entrepreneurs to maintain middle class jobs, etc. In fact, Fareed Zakaria tells us we must all learn a second language. Any linguist will tell you that fluency in a second language requires at least 10,000 hours of study.

Time to address the elephant in the room: Children are a luxury most Americans can no longer afford. Everyone knows that to have a decent shot at success a child needs two parents to spend a good amount of time with him or her. It’s quite clear from your articles that the amount of time children need is no longer available to the working or middle class American. If we are supposed to work our 10 hour days then go strait to our classes to keep our skills up to date, or develop and pitch our new ideas, or learn Chinese, when are we going to help little Jane and Johnny with their homework? Or talk to them? Or anything else? Can we have dinner with the family when we are doing all the things we are supposed to do to compete in this new world? Hardly. And what are we going to feed our children with when one job ends and we’re spending months designing our new product and pitching it to those 300 V.C.s? I know, our savings. Or rather, their savings. They can eat instead of going to college.

With “Uncertain, rapidly changing conditions,” having a child today means his future will be uncertain and his upbringing will be in a sea of rapidly changing conditions without the stability children need. And if the parents want to bring home the bacon, the children’s lives will have to be devoid of parental involvement. The only solution I see is for the wealthy to breed like rabbits. The wealthy should have all the kids they can. Donald Trump’s kids should have
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I call the employment problem "the Fourth World Economics Problem".As technology advances, and populations increase, fewer and fewer workers are necessary to perform the basic reproduction of societies, and more and more people need work to get the basics of life. It's like two trains barreling straight for each other!

The work week in the US hasn't changed in decades, but both unemployment and re-deployment to war has become a haphazard way of changing the 35-40 hour work week. The war machine replaces both the birth and expansion of the industries which would spring up from thoughtful allocations of resources, or from consumerism. This patchy approach to a systemic problem has harms those on the short end of the work week, competing globally for ever dwindling numbers of jobs. For those for whom military deployment is their only real hope of a job, the consequences entail both physical and mental burdens for their lifetimes. We see this now all over the Middle East with millions of unemployed young people rioting for the freedom to make a living and the democratic participation that follows.

Can we solve the "Fourth World Economics Problem"? Perhaps. There are really only 3 ways that humans get the stuff needed for survival. The first way is by some kind of gift or inheritance.The second is by force - one takes it. Many world dictators or common thieves come to mind; it is only a question of degree. The third method, by far the most widespread, is through work.

Without work, there is no hope to address the problem. When private industry does not do it, government MUST create jobs. So I propose my 3 point program to save our economy AND our democracy: 1.End the wars. ALL of them. 2.Tax the rich,'cause that's where the money is. 3.Take the money from 1 and 2 and invest it in infrastructure: schools, roads, healthcare, you get the idea! Unemplyment will be over in two years. And we can repay the national debt!
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M. Kraishan

This is amusing! If I am able to re-invent myself every other day and come up with the equivalent of Facebook and Twitter every other year, why would I bother seeking employment? What does adding value every day mean exactly?

Work is only part of the human endeavor. Jobs should cover the spectrum of people’s abilities and circumstances. It should not be a saga of technological adventure and invention and an entrepreneurial undertaking to get a decent salary at the end of the month. The excessive valuations of these Technology companies is only there because of “potential,” and because, I may add, of so much money in the hands of the few who do not know what else to do with it.
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