Friday, February 11, 2011

Post No. 158: Does Anyone in America Have a “Real” Job Anymore?

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Maybe we exaggerate, a little.

But as we watched the coverage of the slowly evolving Egyptian Revolution, we found everyone second guessing everyone else.

The President of the U.S. should do this. President Mubarak should do X. The prior administration should have done that. The monolithic student movement is doing Y, and the older citizens - this and that.

Finally, the neighboring Arab countries should do Z, T, U, M and B.

This cacophony prompted us to surf the media outlets to identify a consensus regarding what should be done and what is going to happen.

We had some difficulty.

At last count, we found 7,493 options available to the various factions and interested parties. This gives us some appreciation of the complexity of it all.

However, something else occurred to us, just with respect to the American talking heads.

First of all, with few exceptions, few of us (the Fellows of the Institute included) have even a modicum of understanding of the culture in that part of the world, and yet so many of us have become experts over night.

Second, somehow we think that we can influence the actions of President Mubarak, despite having so much difficulty just getting Osama bin Laden to answer our phone calls.

Third, the situation in Egypt is so fluid that even the great engineering firm of da Vinci, Newton, and Bernoulli would have difficulty keeping track of it.

Just a few minutes ago, we received a breaking news e-mail from the Washington Post claiming that the Obama Administration is on the defensive because of President Mubarak’s defiance, and refusal to take a permanent trip to France.

(BTW, what’s with Baby Doc returning to Haiti? Anyone having visited Grasse, France, will tell you that it is Nirvana, not to mention close to the beaches of Cannes.)

Perhaps it would be helpful for us to realize that we do not know how to solve every problem in the Universe, and that there are some issues beyond our control as a nation.

But something else bothered us last evening. When we examined the 4,678 talking heads expressing the 7,493 different options, we noted that only 3 of them had real jobs, and they weren’t talking.

Well, maybe another exaggeration. But here’s our point.

If we had more things to do (namely, real jobs) in our country, we wouldn’t have as much time to weigh in on the problems of other countries, nor would we have what seems to be a virtual, 24 hour army of talking heads.

As soon as the great prognosticators started talking about our economy transitioning into a service economy from a manufacturing economy, we began to get concerned.

Call us Neanderthals, but in our view, servicing others only lasts as long as the people or entities we service have a desire to purchase our services, and more importantly, money to pay us.

Just take a look at all the free services provided in our economy. Many of the incredibly innovative web sites on the Internet are provided at no cost, while the owners have to beg for advertising revenue.

Our food is increasingly being grown in other countries. The Chinese are no longer leasing natural resource real estate in Third World countries, but buying the property outright. And we don’t need to talk about American manufacturing prowess.

It has gotten to the point when one asks an American what he or she does for work, after they provide their job title, one has to follow up with 27 questions to really figure out what they do – on a part-time basis.

The Logistician, still working on his doctorate at a samba school in Rio, once got in trouble while running the orientation of community college students in the Southeast. He gratuitously noted that too many black folks spend their time performing landscaping and fixing other black folks’ hair.

His point was that the segment of the population needing landscaping and hair care services was not growing, and that too many people entering the field would lead to a glut of workers. He was simply encouraging the potential students to think ahead, about jobs that might be in higher demand, and require more technical expertise.

Needless to say, there was one very vocal young lady in the room who flipped on him. He later discovered that it was her life long goal to be a cosmetologist. He now realizes that he should have encouraged her to become a news commentator on Fox News, or MSNBC.

Because that’s where the opportunities are; at least in America.

Inventing stuff, finding cures for diseases, and making stuff is way too labor intensive.

We’ve somehow figured out that we should outsource that to the Chinese.


  1. Wow! This is just TOO true for most of us to understand. If we had "real" jobs we would not have time to comment on the problems we face.
    However, ultimately, I believe, words have power and commentaries often persuade people. It seems to me that the key is to become informed, and by that I mean educated. An educated populace makes the most of its voice, mostly in reasonable notions. Regardless of the 7483 talking heads on the outside, Egyptians seemed to have gotten it right. They spoke, they stayed and they won! Sure, it is not over, but it is way ahead of what most "experts" thought could happen. Watch out Middle East!

  2. First, assume my applause for your post.

    I have often been bemused by the folks who make claims about where the jobs will be for those graduating from college in 4 years. Assuming even a third paid attention and followed the advice, there would be a glut of people seeking those jobs in 4 years. Perhaps the young woman is right to follow her dream rather than risk going into something she doesn't want to do on the tenuous promise of a visiting expert?

    I am even inclined to think that studying welding and/or plumbing has a greater chance of leading to a secure future than getting an MBA. But one never knows.

    Or start a website that fills a niche and makes itself desirable to AOL who, it seems, will buy most anything.

  3. Thank you much Dan.

    What's amazing is that our politicians are not part of this discussion.

    It remains to be seen what happens in Egypt. It's getting complicated this evening, despite the departure of Mubarak. We wish the Egyptian people well.

  4. Thank you for the applause Douglas;

    We recently saw a group of economists on C-Span2 Book TV, expressing concern about the focused, directed nature of higher education in the United States. They claim that if we prepare for jobs in a particular area, we will be caught off guard when the jobs which actually materialize, are not those for which we prepared.

    They argue that a good, solid, basic, broad, liberal arts education is far more flexible in nature than one in a specific technical field. Their position is: Who knows what is going to happen?

  5. ‘Spector,

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you say, save for the notion that cosmetology and lawn maintenance are necessarily declining job markets. At the very least, they offer a path to self-employment in “niche markets”. Some people, in my experience, are simply not cut out for the proscribed professional career path – even though they possess perfectly sound, intelligent minds. Ask me how I know.

    At any rate, I do not have a “real job” – and I have been informed of that fact by everyone from my late mother to a U.S Senator’s aide. I am one of those self-employed niche marketers who works in a skilled manual trade which yields quantifiable results, but the “self-employed” part apparently condemns me to “no real job” status.

    Still, I feel better about my unreal (non-real?) job than I did before I read your post, because it now occurs to me that my job is in fact a lot realer than that of the talking heads and other assorted pundits (I can’t believe that Spell-check didn’t alert on “realer”). Of course, if I could earn a living by spouting uninformed opinions I probably would do so. Unfortunately, half-baked punditry must instead remain my hobby, or my real non-real job.

    Concerning Egypt: a junta is currently governing that nation, and the citizens who hated Mubarak will quickly become just as displeased with the new boss. They will soon overthrow the military regime and install an aggressively religious leadership which will govern by some measure of Sharia Law. You can consider the foregoing to be half-baked punditry if you wish, but as an involuntary observer of Mideast affairs over the course of decades I think that the smart money is on the foregoing scenario.

    Independent Cuss

  6. Thanks independentcuss:

    You wrote: "I agree wholeheartedly with what you say, save for the notion that cosmetology and lawn maintenance are necessarily declining job markets."

    If the local population were on the rise, or if despite the lack of increase in folks needing those services, those pursuing landscaping or cosmetology careers could somehow distinguish themselves or separate themselves from the crowd, we would not have as much as a problem with those pursuits.

    Our understanding of your chosen pursuit is that it is a specialty area, and that there are very few people doing what you do. It also arguably fills a tangible need.

    Although we picked on media commentators, in actuality, business consultants, life coaches, space coordinators, commodities brokers, investment counselors, lawyers, fitness trainers, motivational speakers, and the like more readily come to mind....

    Whatever happened to miners, farmers, truck drivers, train caboose engineers, bricklayers, and such?

    Ah, you figured us out. We're not really seriously pointing out certain vocational pursuits for criticism. Our point really is that we don't make anything anymore, and those needing services are arguably on the decline, or their incomes are on the decline.

    Regarding Egypt, we can't bet against you. Let's revisit this about 90 days from now.


  7. Didn't I just read the other day that the US is still the largest manufacturer in the world?

    And here is some confirmation:

    "The world's top manufacturing country is the United States, as has been the case since before WWII. In 2007, the United States' manufacturing output was $1.831 trillion US Dollars (USD). This is about 12% of the USA's entire GDP (Gross Domestic Product), or $12,206 USD for every person in the 150 million-strong labor force. Still, the USA's output per capita is not the world's greatest among manufacturing countries -- that honor goes to Japan. Important goods manufactured in the United States include, in order of percentage of exports in 2007: production machinery and equipment, 31.4%; industrial supplies, 27.5%; non-auto consumer goods, 12.7%; motor vehicles and parts, 10.5%; aircraft and parts, 7.6%; food, feed and beverages, and 7.3%; and other, 3.0%."


    Here's another site with similar data:

    What was it that Mark Twain once said... "The report of my death was an exaggeration."

    Perhaps we shouldn't just trust the conventional wisdom?

  8. Douglas:

    Let's say that you are a professional football team and that you have won the Super Bowl for the past 5 years.

    However, in year 1 en route to the championship, the average number of points that you beat your opponents was 20 points, and they were able to gain X yards against your defense.

    In year 2, 16 points, and X+ 50 yards;

    In year 3, 10 points, and X + 100 yards;

    In year 4, 7 points, and X + 125 yards; and

    In year 5, 3 points and X + 150 yards.

    Each year you still win the Super Bowl, and you are expected to win it again this coming year.

    Think that team is comfortable with that?

  9. Inspector, I am not arguing that. I am just stating that we are still the biggest. I am not sure the team is willing to call themselves losers just yet, even if the sportscasters think they are.

    We are not only still in the game, we are favored (or should be) rather than the underdog.

  10. Douglas:

    Just earlier today on CNN, we heard Donald Trump state that we are no longer the manufacturing leader.

    However, it depends on how one measures the activity. Just so we are clear about your position, is it your contention that the U.S. is still #1 in terms of manufacturers headquartered here, or that we manufacture more products here within our borders in terms of dollars or absolute numbers?

  11. So one day China will have the largest GDP in the world, and heaven help America if it has to produce goods as economically as China in order to compete in world markets.

    And does it matter? Is not the US internal market large enough to sustain society whether the jobs can be described as 'real' or not?

    Had not America better concentrate on trying to be the best place in the world to live if you are NOT rich, and build a nuclear deterrent large enough for it not to matter when China has more bombs and no democracy to stop leaders waving them around? Won't take long. Douglas? ic? IC? Your opinions are more important than how your jobs are classified.

  12. CorfuBob:

    I think that you are spot on with this comment: "...[H]eaven help America if it has to produce goods as economically as China to compete in world markets."

  13. What do i click to get emails of comments added to your wonderful forum? So is not America big enough to survive without supplying world markets? You lot know better than me.

    Q are the mega-rich not satisfied with what they have? A. Of course not - do i think i am stupid?

    Q. Why do i use lower-case i? A. because we is taken, and it's the only way left to appear modest.

    Q. How can you prevent the MR (mega-rich) buying the army? A. You can't. And people will be praying for Saint Bush to return when the army is deployed to control the lower class - plumbers, intellectuals etc instead of foreigners who have oil, Allah, etc.

    Confused? You will be.

  14. CorfuBob: You wrote:

    "So is not America big enough to survive without supplying world markets?"

    Once anyone or any collection of individuals shifts their daily activity from independently generating food for themselves and their family, building shelter, and clothing themselves in some fashion, to specializing in virtually any area, that person or entity becomes dependent on others and the vagaries and the uncertainties associated with others.

    For better or for worse....

  15. What i am trying to grasp is whether or not the population of America is large enough to satisfy its own needs, not just to subsist.

    American corporations buy so much from dictatorships that can produce goods at lower prices by forcing wages to the lowest levels possible. Not only does this create unemployment at home, the mega-rich owners profit by virtual slave-labour abroad. And keep the wealth off-shore.

    When we were young almost everything cost much more because people (and unions) would not tolerate near slave labour. This meant we paid more, made do with less, and could walk the streets without fear of a starving underclass. We WERE dependent on others, but society was human.

    Cheap imports came later - and look where we are now.

  16. We'd be curious as to what the talking heads have to say now that the Egyptian economy has ground to a halt.


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