The Times Tom Friedman Draws The Wrong Conclusions

It’s a race to the bottom. There will always be someone who has less and is willing to settle.

I read Tom Friedman’s op-ed “The Do-It-Yourself Society” in Sunday’s NY Times. His observations are correct. His conclusions are not. He sees, as I do, technology increasing productivity and competition. He misses what happens to the other two people when one person does the work of three!

No one looks upon FedEx, VOIP or the Internet in general as evil. Yet to many people they are. Technology has radically reduced the worth of many human endeavors!

Before technology shrunk the world we only competed against ourselves. We only competed with people looking for the same standard of living. No more. We’re now competing against people willing to live at a much lower standard than ours… which is still higher standard than their current one!

It’s a race to the bottom. There will always be someone who has less and is willing to settle.

Today it’s the Chinese. As their standard of living goes up and individual Chinese want more they’ll be undercut by someone else.

We have become a Walmartized world. We are driven by price and not much else.

Technology and advanced industrial processes have removed much of the advantage of craftsmanship. Until recently the best good were handmade. We now mass produce well made goods.

Our cars, our cellphones, our washing machines are better than ever while cheaper than ever. Our American labor has been priced out of the equation. If it’s made here, it’s made with fewer people. If it’s labor intensive it’s made where labor is cheap and plentiful and pliant.

I could easily do my weather job on three or four or more stations in three or four or more markets! I suspect some day I will. Technology removes the barriers.

I remember sitting in front of a TV in Bangor, Maine watching Jim Kosek doing the weather. He was in State College, PA working for AccuWeather. He was much better talent than what could normally be afforded in Bangor. Few watching knew he wasn’t local.

It’s already happened in radio. There are fewer local radio shows than ever. Many stations have no local programming or no programming produced by people who work solely for that one station.

What makes this awful is our society’s long standing tradition of valuing people based on the individual work they produce. We just don’t need as many people to produce what we need. From a goods and services standpoint we’d do just fine today with a significant portion of our society sitting on their collective hands.

Unfortunately, in our society if you’re unemployed or underemployed you are deprived!

Without jobs people have no purchasing power and no benefits. They can’t be the consumers that drive demand. And yet, in many cases, their lack of a job is the fault of our technological age and not themselves!

The Luddites were weavers, put out of work by the mechanical looms of the early industrial revolution. They protested by destroying the new mechanical looms as if destroying them would make them go way.

Recently I’ve had Luddite moments. Wouldn’t it be nice if the efficiencies driving people to the curb didn’t exist? My Luddite dreams are no more practical today than they were for the Luddites.

Our society and way of life is rapidly being dismantled. We can’t stop progress. It’s bigger than we are!

What we have to do is find a way to better distribute the gains of a world where the work of individual humans is less important. I don’t know how to do that, but I think about it constantly.

Until we rearrange things individuals have no choice but to try and be that one who does the work of three. None of us has a real choice. Slow down and you’ll be trampled.

6 thoughts on “The Times Tom Friedman Draws The Wrong Conclusions”

  1. Bravo, Geoff, Bravo. I have the same thoughts and worries every day, too. I do, however, believe that we still have choices … we just need to make them collectively and soon before it’s too late. Wall Street remains not the friend of 95% of Americans … when will people wake up? 73 de N1QVE.

  2. A very insightful blog, Geoff. Even though labor costs are higher here in the US, companies ALWAYS turned out a higher quality product than those overseas. We need to get past the mentality of “Cheaper labor makes better products”.

  3. Geoff-

    As you note, you could now easily be “the” weatherman for several, diverse cities… “I could easily do my weather job on three or four or more stations in three or four or more markets!”

    As the computer weather modelling accuracy improves – with more/better radar technology, improved satellite imaging – how long before you are replaced with a cheap $, cute young lady(ratings points) – whom merely reads those computer generated forecasts. I assume that the need for interpretation of local climatic nuances will fade, as that weather computing capability continues to improve?

    Maybe most TV weather forecasts will “soon” be presented by those whom are not meteorologists? There may be a few support meterologists, forecasting the entire United States – ala the nationwide radio programming you noted??


    PS Do YOU shop at Wal-Mart??

  4. I do not personally shop at Walmart.

    I should explain my use of Walmartization which might be misunderstood. What I meant was a system which seemingly only values the bottom line. Walmart is an example–a trailblazer. There are others empowered by Walmart’s success (or maybe just fearful of it).

    An argument can be made that laws which govern public (stock issuing) companies make this the preferred method of business. Officers have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits, not employ people.

    By the way, I am much more worried about alternative media sources than beautiful women. I’m more likely replaced by a screen than a person.

    As much as many of us enjoy looking at pretty girls (or conversely studly guys) I have never seen them motivating viewers over the long term.

  5. Amen Geoff.

    You may want to read “Dies the Fire” by S M Stirling between weather and poker. Its Sci-Fi and deals with the aftermath of what happens when technology suddenly gets turned off.

  6. It’s all about robots.

    Radio robots have all but gutted one radio station after another, the most recent I’ve noticed is WRCH at night where suddenly some woman with a rather sickening little jingle “Deeliiiiiiilah” (barf) is on when previously the same nice fellow that still, (so far anyway) does the Sunday morning WTIC-AM call-in show had been on.

    Robots now paint cars too, which is why the car in your garage or driveway right now has a paint job that’s a lot better than one you had in the 1970’s regardless of where it was built.

    Robots don’t ever have “a bad day”.

    Thus, it’s not always cheap labor, but sometimes who has the most up to date robots.

    For quite a while Japan’s automakers “employed” robots that were better than ours; not so much anymore as a glance at a JD Powers report will illustrate.

    >>Do YOU shop at Wal-Mart??

    Ah yes the obligatory “Wal-Mart” shot.

    A fashionable and quite vogue target.

    Speaking of targets, do eschew Wal-Mart while patronizing Target?

    Aside from Wal-Mart being the bigger of the two, what’s the difference?

    At least Wal-Mart doesn’t ban Salvation Army bell ringers or Girl Scout cookie sales; both of which Target does; claiming they don’t want “their guests” being bothered.

    (Or accosted by those dreadful scary little girls I guess.)

    Now that big-box retailers have largely wiped out scores of smaller local retailers, occasionally with devastating impacts on downtowns across the country; it strikes me as incumbent on them to pick up some of the slack.

    When Southington got it’s 1st (yes we have 2 of them) Home Depot, we lost a total of 12 local businesses in just under a year and along with that gone were 7 Little League sponsors alone.

    The damage caused by various big-box retailers to the civic infrastructure is beyond measure.

    However, in their collective defense said damage certainly was collateral and not intentional.

    Never-the-less the damage is self-evident and at least Wal-Mart has a superior record insofar as replacement in that regard due to their corporate policies toward local civic and charity cooperation.

    Much less red-tape, and should some group simply wish to utilize the massive customer count found at most Wal-Marts to their advantage; they’re generally allowed to do so with no trouble at all.

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