The Recession is Here Forever

Seth Godin, marketing genius, has a terrific blog.  Most of his posts are short and punchy.  Occasionally, though, he goes in for a long one.  Here, for instance, he makes a distinction between recessions:

There are actually two recessions:

The first is the cyclical one, the one that inevitably comes and then inevitably goes. There’s plenty of evidence that intervention can shorten it, and also indications that overdoing a response to it is a waste or even harmful.

The other recession, though, the one with the loss of “good factory jobs” and systemic unemployment–I fear that this recession is here forever.

Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created.

I think he’s right.  And that makes the Obama administration’s weird obsession with 1950′s style Big Labor, and 1970′s style overregulation, all the more destructive.  Godin is a little vague, but I think he’s directionally correct:

The future feels a lot more like marketing–it’s impromptu, it’s based on innovation and inspiration, and it involves connections between and among people–and a lot less like factory work, in which you do what you did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.

This means we may need to change our expectations, change our training and change how we engage with the future. Still, it’s better than fighting for a status quo that is no longer. The good news is clear: every forever recession is followed by a lifetime of growth from the next thing…

Job creation is a false idol. The future is about gigs and assets and art and an ever-shifting series of partnerships and projects. It will change the fabric of our society along the way. No one is demanding that we like the change, but the sooner we see it and set out to become an irreplaceable linchpin, the faster the pain will fade, as we get down to the work that needs to be (and now can be) done.

This revolution is at least as big as the last one, and the last one changed everything.

Impromptu.  Innovative.  Inspired.  Doesn’t sound like something you’d hear talked about here or here or here, right?

And I think he’s right, too, that this idea of “job creation” is a really nasty one, and it’s going to set us further back as a country.  Governments, presidents, central bankers, unions, doesn’t matter who — none of those creates jobs.  There’s something so ossified and paleo about this president, and his party, when they refuse to acknowledge this.

  1. Yeah...ok.

    How soon, if it hasn’t already, will porn be outsourced?

  2. Nathaniel Wright

    I have always been baffled by the discussion of how we need to “make things” in the US in order for our economy to be sound. 

    First, it stinks of nationalism in a bad way.  Why is it morally superior to buy a more expensive and worse made product?  Does it really help my neighbor?  Or is it merely rhetoric?

    Second, it makes no sense economically.  We should only “make things” in which we have a comparative advantage.  What products and services we have a comparative advantage in producing is constantly in flux.  It is also possible to have a comparative advantage over other economies that can make a particular product cheaper, if they can make greater profit making other products or we make better products.

    We should stop training “automobile manufacturers” and start training an adaptable and creative workforce.

  3. Bruce in Marin

    I would like to embrace this argument.  Much of it — the diagnosis — is very persuasive.  It’s the prognosis I’m a little dubious about.  Is it really true that every “forever recession” is followed by a huge boom from the “next big thing?”  I certainly hope so; I have lots of faith in our ability to adapt and get on board.  But I have to say that the tone of surety here sounds like futurist hand-waving to me.

    And this bit in particular makes me awfully uneasy:

    The future feels a lot more like marketing

  4. Grendel
    Yeah…ok.: How soon, if it hasn’t already, will porn be outsourced? · Oct 3 at 10:00am

    Governments are taking steps to prevent it.  In Canada, I think it was reported in these pages, strippers and pole dancers are college girls, because Canadian law cut off the supply of foreign talent.

    I have thought to write a member post–if I haven’t already–on how reactionary the left is, going back to Rousseau and Marx.  The former was nostalgic for the singleton human of social contract imagining, and the latter for the unalienated life of the pre-industrial artisan, with his street-level shop and family living quarters in the upper stories.  Although Joannie Mitchell may be the only one to admit it, the Progress the left is always longing for is to “get ourselves back to the Garden”.

  5. Grendel
    Nathaniel Wright: I have always been baffled by the discussion of how we need to “make things” in the US in order for our economy to be sound. …

    We should stop training “automobile manufacturers” and start training an adaptable and creative workforce. · Oct 3 at 10:41am

    Right, but the left has spent 200 years turning our educational system into a Prussianized factory producing docile workers.

    The US has not stopped making things.  Manufacturing has stayed at 30% of the economy since the end of WWII.  We just use only 15% of our workforce to do it.  The jobs we “ship overseas” are ones that don’t generate US-level wages.  Eventually, the second and third worlds will catch up to us and the competition will get really fierce.  Is Manufacturing in the Cloud in the future?  I don’t know and I don’t care.  If I’m not dead by then it will probably kill me.

  6. Frozen Chosen

    I think what many people overlook is that the technology revolution – mainly the internet – has allowed small businesses to act like much larger enterprises.  What I mean is that small companies, including manufacturers, can leverage technology to successfully compete with larger companies.

    Much of manufacturing is not about producing widgets as cheaply as possible – it’s about producing a very specialized widget for a specialized market.  Small companies can do this much more easily now due to the global supply chain that allows them to leverage assets worldwide via the internet.

    Innovation is not about cheap labor; it’s about allowing highly educated entrepenuers the freedom to develop new products and services without excessive government interference – an area where the US has always had an edge until now.

    Get the government off our backs and we will develop successful companies with good paying jobs because many of these new companies need skilled workers rather than minimum-wage assembly drones.

    It would also help if we stopped the higher education scam which churns out far too many art history majors with worthless degrees.  Many of these students are much better going to vocational colleges to learn real skills.

  7. K T Cat

    Not a big Seth Godin fan.  I think most of his stuff is of the “Well, duhh” category.  Every technologist since the wheel has said, “This is it!  This is the time when we no longer need you workaday drones!”  Every one of them have been wrong.  Labor imaginatively flows into where it can create.  All those telephone operators and buggy whip manufacturers went somewhere and did something, all without Mr. Godin’s help, thank you very much.

  8. bourbonsoaked
    Bruce in Marin:

    And this bit in particular makes me awfully uneasy:

    The future feels a lot more like marketing

    Oct 3 at 11:12am

    Seth Godin is a “Marketing Genius”, per Rob, so to him the future would look that way. When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail.

    I think the future is a new cold war, this time with China. We will need to figure out how to beat them and how to let them fail on their own, as their bubbles burst and their people crave something better than material goods, political freedom.

  9. Palaeologus
    K T Cat:  Labor imaginatively flows into where it can create.  All those telephone operators and buggy whip manufacturers went somewhere and did something, all without Mr. Godin’s help, thank you very much. · Oct 3 at 3:07pm

    They’re busy milking purple cows.

  10. K T Cat
    Palaeologus

    K T Cat:  Labor imaginatively flows into where it can create.  All those telephone operators and buggy whip manufacturers went somewhere and did something, all without Mr. Godin’s help, thank you very much. · Oct 3 at 3:07pm

    They’re busy milking purple cows. · Oct 3 at 5:17pm

    Whoa, Seth suggests we make our company stand out from our competitors!  (forehead slap.) Why didn’t we think of that?

  11. Terrell David

    Marxism is no blue print for societal success.

    “And that makes the Obama administration’s weird obsession with 1950′s style Big Labor, and 1970′s style overregulation, all the more destructive.”

    Its not weird, its mainstream leftist belief in 2011 America.  Marxism light.

    Here to win or be defeated.

     

  12. WI Con

     I suppose I’m just old fashioned. I experience a sense of pride when I see things being manufactured here, When visiting the northern part of my State of Wisconsin, I enjoyed and was glad to see timber being loaded on trucks and the tailings from mining operations. Sorry, the cubicle workplace just doesn’t do it for me.

    Now I realize that its difficult to compete with lower labor costs countries but how much of that differential is from labor vs. : payroll, corporate, state & local taxes, regulations. There are costs other than just ‘labor’ that factor in to these decisions.

    I think we could still manufacture a lot of products in this country if those other cost drivers would be addressed. We have a top notch infrastructure: utilities, wholesalers, transportation networks, access to finance/capital markets. We’re a generation or so from totaly blowing these advantages.

    I truly believe that government is the biggest factor in the way, more so than China or India or other low-wage countries.

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