A Small-Town Tech Program That Enables People To Make A Living

There’s been lots of talk about our transition from an industrial manufacturing economy to a digital economy. Many people have been caught in this transition, just as many young farmers were caught in the transition to the industrial era and ended up filling the slums of rapidly growing cities more than a hundred years ago. While we see low earnings growth in cities and suburbs, this has been especially a problem in small towns and rural areas.

With all the talk about the issue, there’s been very little action considering the size of the problem – particularly impactful programs to help these folks. And those that do exist usually deal with part of the one problem, say training but not placement or the other way around. That problem is in part due to silos that have been created by our laws.

Nevertheless, there are some programs worth watching, expanding and emulating. Digital Works, a non-profit organization which currently operates in Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas is a good example.

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This is not about creating more computer programming and other high-level jobs in big cities. Nor does it work on helping low-income people in areas with concentrations of traditional metropolitan city corporate employment, such as the successful Workforce Opportunity Services.

Instead, as you can tell from where they operate, Digital Works focuses on rural areas and small towns with high unemployment – the part of the economy that has been most left behind. As an example, one of their locations is Gallipolis, Ohio, about forty miles from the West Virginia border in southeastern Ohio. At its high point in 1960, almost 8,800 people lived there. The Census Bureau estimates there are fewer than 3,500 people there now.

These are also the places that require residents to travel the most to get to big (or even bigger) cities that have concentrated traditional employment in factories, offices and stores. So being able to make a living, by working digitally, in or near your home opens up all kinds of new economic opportunities.

Digital Works trains local people for contact center work that can be done anywhere there is sufficient Internet connectivity, either at home or at a work center. The goal is that the work pays better than minimum wage, with performance-based raises and promotional opportunities.

Digital Works handles the whole cycle that is necessary for the unemployed – recruitment, screening, training, placement, mentoring, development and retention. (It reminds me a bit of the transitional work programs for urban poor and ex-convicts that I helped run much earlier in my career.) They even work with their graduates to obtain the National Retail Foundation’s Customer Service Certification.

They will create remote work centers in partnership with local governments in those areas where broadband is not yet widely available. It’s worth noting that Digital Works is a subsidiary of Connected Nation, which itself is focused on increasing broadband deployment and adoption.

Digital Works is fulfilling the vision of the Internet as the foundation for expanded economic growth everywhere it can reach.

And, of course, to complete the circle, a large part of their effort is on developing relationships with companies that would pay the people to whom they are giving several weeks of training. These business relationships also ensure that the training provided is what employers are actually looking for – something that is often discussed in other training programs, but not so closely practiced as by Digital Works.

With a more global vision, one of the more interesting people to participate regularly in the Intelligent Community Forum’s activities is Stu Johnson, who directs Digital Works. He has said:

“There’s no other workforce training program that offers what we do—it’s really groundbreaking. We are able to offer employer-customized training to high-quality candidates, job-placement assistance, on-going mentorship, and even advanced training and career development. There is an excessive demand for these types of jobs, and Digital Works is connecting those employers with eager and trained job seekers.”

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It is hard to find external studies of programs like this, which operate with little overhead in areas of the country that don’t much national attention. But Diane Rekowski, Executive Director of the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments has noted that

“The best part about this program is that it is free to anyone, and the success in Ohio has shown a 97% placement rate in a paid job upon completion of the training. Whether you are a recent high school graduate or enjoying your retirement years, this is an opportunity to have a flexible career and potential for earning much more than minimum wage.”

Digital Works’ data shows that the program has an 85% graduation rate and that 91% of their placements retain employment for more than a year.

While this program won’t work for everyone, everywhere and it certainly isn’t turning its graduates into millionaires, it is the kind of thing that can make a tremendous difference in real lives as this video shows – https://vimeo.com/150681091 

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved @NormanJacknis

The Virtual Metropolis Moves Forward

The NTCA-Rural Broadband Association held its annual meeting and expo this week in San Diego with more than 2,000 people in attendance.

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I was on a panel to discuss the idea of a Virtual Metropolis, a topic I introduced to the Rural Broadband Association and have written about here.

The idea is simple. In the pre-internet days, cities — especially big cities — brought together lots of people. Because these peoople were near each other and could casually interact, these cities became hotbeds of innovation and economic production.  Along with increased agricultural productivity, this led to the shift of population from rural to urban areas that has threatened many small towns.

As a sort of last gasp, after World War II, many small outlying towns tried to substitute factories as a source of employment.  In the face on increasing automation and cheaper labor markets elsewhere, that strategy crumbled too. In the last couple of decades, the drop in small town and rural population has increased. Many bright, ambitious young people can’t wait to move away to a big city.

And, if you’re an entrepreneur with some great new product or service, it’s easier to start up in New York or Silicon Valley or some other equivalent place. Why? Because no single person has all the skills they need to succeed and it’s easier to find skilled people in those cities than in your small town.

When I write this, you may be thinking about high-tech entrepreneurs. But the historic limitations of small town life affect everyone, even artisans or those in other low-tech businesses.

This all may sound bleak and many people share that bleak outlook.  Even some of the members of the Rural Broadband Association can be overwhelmed by this picture.

But what I’ve described is about the past, not the potential for the future. In this digital age, if you’re connected by broadband you can live anywhere. If you enjoy country living and love the quality of life there, you no longer need to compromise your economic prospects by continuing to live in the country.

We’ve seen some of the positive impact that broadband can have on those rural communities who have invested in broadband, but that impact has not been widespread enough for people to take notice.

Partly this reflects the lack of reasonably priced broadband in many rural areas.   The Rural Broadband folks are working hard to fix that.

More important, there hasn’t been a digital platform devoted to the needs of people in the countryside that would provide a substitute for the casual face-to-face interactions and the breadth of the skill pool that people in big cities take for granted.

That’s where the Virtual Metropolis comes in. We are building this platform to make it easier for people in small towns and rural areas to see and talk to each other about how they can work together for mutual economic benefit.

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Broadband makes this possible because it provides the bandwidth that’s necessary for visual chat. Visual chat is especially critical in helping to establish trust, compared to email, messaging and other forms of communication that are limited to text.

The shared small town experience is also an essential basis for mutual understanding and trust.  That common experience gets drowned out in the overwhelmingly urban outlook of much larger social media and job services.

If even 10 or 15% of the people living in more rural areas join in for business purposes, they will be virtually part of a metropolis of more than five million people. In that way, they can achieve many of the same benefits of physically residing in a big city.

(While my focus is on economic opportunity, broadband will also give these folks access to great educational, cultural and medical resources.)

In addition to creating and setting up the technology for a Virtual Metropolis, we need to build a community — to get people to participate.

In part, that’s where the NTCA plays a key role.  They can reach out to the early adopters, the innovators in their regions and let them know that the days of isolation are over. Clearly, from a business viewpoint, the Virtual Metropolis provides their customers and potential customers with a strong business justification for increasing their bandwidth.

One of the panelists, Dusty Johnson of Vantage Point Solutions in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Despite Mitchell’s selection among the ICF’s Top 7 most intelligent communities in the world, he was initially skeptical as a self-described “cranky old man.”  But as he thought about others in Mitchell, particularly his own children and other young people, he realized the value of the idea.

The other panelist, Michael Burke, CEO of MTA, the local broadband provider for 10,000 square miles of Alaska is already an unusually innovative leader. MTA goes way beyond merely providing connectivity in many ways, for example providing customer training on new technology and funding coding classes in the schools.

Mr. Burke quickly championed the Virtual Metropolis. Of course, considering the distance from the lower 48 and the nature of winter in Alaska, the necessity of being part of a much larger virtual community is crystal clear.

[If you’re interested in joining and helping to build this virtual metropolis, please contact me.]

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© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/156987590937/the-virtual-metropolis-moves-forward]

A Virtual Metropolis Of The Countryside

I first wrote about this proposal two years ago. But I’m reposting it, since the idea is even more relevant now, as there has been further development of virtual communications – Skype and Google translators, more varieties of videoconferencing both in the cloud and through services like FaceTime, and even video through augmented reality devices, like Microsoft HoloLens.

If you’re interested in joining and helping to build this virtual metropolis, please contact me.

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People who live in big metropolises, like New York, London or Hong Kong, often say that they can always find someone within a few miles who has a special skill they need to complete some project or build a business. I’ve pointed out that the close proximity of millions of people with so many different skills is part of what has made cities successful economic engines during the industrial era.

When the population of your town is just a few thousand, there is a much smaller likelihood you’ll find the special skill you need nearby – and thus you’ll be less likely to achieve what you have in mind.

In the US alone, the Census Bureau has noted in its report “Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change” that 10% of Americans live in one of the 576 small urban areas (where there is at least one urban cluster of less than 50,000, but at least 10,000 people).  That’s about 32 million people.

Another 6% lived in neither major metropolitan areas nor even these small urban areas. That’s just under 20 million people.

In this century, with broadband Internet, physical proximity is no longer necessary for people to collaborate and share their skills in a common project. Yet the small towns of these more than 50 million people are mostly not connected to each other.

So here’s my wild idea for the day: why not create a virtual metropolis of millions from the people in the small towns and communities of the countryside?

Imagine if even half of those 20 million (or 52 million) people who live outside the big metropolises could work together and be combined to act as if they were physically next door – while not actually living in such crowded conditions.

Such a network or virtual aggregation of small towns would offer their residents a much higher chance of succeeding with their business ideas and making a better living. If someone, for example, had the engineering talents to design a new product, that person might more likely find the necessary marketing talent somewhere in that network of millions of people.

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Clearly, anyone connected to the Internet can try to reach out to anyone else whether that person lives in a small town or a big city.

But a network of small towns alone might encourage greater collaboration because of the shared background of country life and the perceived greater friendliness (and less wariness) of non-urban residents. In most small towns, people are used to working with each other. This would just be a virtual extension of the same idea.

Initially, of course, people would feel most comfortable with those in the same region, such as within North America. Over time, as people interact more with each other on a global basis, that comfort level will expand.

Whether on a regional or global basis, this virtual metropolis could compete on a more even playing field and even establish a unique brand for the people and companies located there. It would make it possible for rural residents to keep their quality of life and also make a decent living.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/152069321010/a-virtual-metropolis-of-the-countryside]

The Coding Craze

A computer coding craze has taken over the country. Everywhere you turn, public officials from President Obama on down in the US and around the world seem to be talking about the need to train folks in computer coding.

Governors
and Mayors are asking their school systems to teach students how to
code instead of learning other subjects. Many people who had little
previous interest in computers or software – except as blissfully
ignorant users – have signed up for, often expensive, courses on
programming.

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It’s not just in California or Seattle or Austin
(pictured), but back in traditionally less high-tech places on the East
Coast as well. Recently there were stories about coding classes in the
Borough of the Bronx in New York City and as far south as Miami.

There
may be good reasons to take these courses. A bit like the courses that
schools used to teach about how the car combustion engine worked,
learning to program may help people better understand how computers
sometimes operate.

As with any creative activity, at the start,
you can get a sense of accomplishment when witnessing your software
creation come to life — once most of the bugs are eliminated 🙂 You can
even reprise this feeling under special circumstances later on in your
career. But much of the work of coders can, in the long-run, become mind
numbing.

The opportunity to design and create a great new app is
like being invited to paint the Sistine Chapel. But the more frequent
opportunities are like being invited to paint someone’s apartment.

Don’t
get me wrong. As a long time software developer myself, I can say there
are many satisfactions for developers who have both the knack and
passion for software. But people who don’t have those attributes and
just do it like any other job will be frustrated too easily.

And, honestly, even the positive side of life as a developer is not what is primarily driving this coding craze.

Much
of the interest by public officials (like the governor of Arkansas in
the picture) as well as the people enrolled in coding classes is based
on their belief that these courses make possible employment
opportunities that will endure for decades in a world in which
traditional jobs have been automated or shipped overseas. Will it?

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Surely, some people are going into coding just for an immediate bump in short-term income. Studies
on the relatively new phenomenon of coding bootcamps seem to support
this notion – that is for the 65% of students who graduated and are
working in a programming job. Even in those cases, the best results were
for students who graduated from the more expensive and selective
programs.

Yet, on balance, count me as a skeptic. I think this
craze is, well, crazy. In the long run, I don’t think coding courses for
the millions will lead to the affluent future and lifelong careers that
many proponents envision.

First, as I’ve alluded to, these are
not jobs that everyone who is learning to code will find satisfying. We
may be too early into this craze to know how many people go into the
field and last for more than a short while, but I’d expect the dropout
rate to be high.

Second, there is the low level nature of what is being taught – how to write instructions in a currently fashionable language. While most of the coding courses focus on currently popular languages, like Ruby and Javascript, many of their students do not understand how popularity in languages can come and go quickly.

Some
languages last longer than others do, of course. Through sheer inertia
and unwillingness to invest, there are still some existing programs
written in old computer languages, like FORTRAN and COBOL. But there
aren’t that many job openings for people coding those old languages.

Wikipedia lists a variety of languages that have been created over the last three decades, approximately one a year:

1980 C++
1983 Ada
1984 Common Lisp
1984 MATLAB
1985 Eiffel
1986 Erlang
1987 Perl
1988 Tcl
1988 Mathematica
1990 Haskell
1991 Python
1991 Visual Basic
1993 Ruby
1993 Lua
1994 CLOS (part of Common Lisp)
1995 Ada 95
1995 Java
1995 Delphi (Object Pascal)
1995 JavaScript
1995 PHP
1996 WebDNA
1997 Rebol
1999 D
2000 ActionScript
2001 C#
2001 Visual Basic .NET
2003 Groovy
2003 Scala
2005 F#
2009 Go
2011 Dart
2014 Swift
2015 Rust
2016 ???

So if all they learn today is the syntax of one language and lack a
deeper education, they may find that one skill to fall out of favor.

Indeed,
many of those students aren’t even being taught about the different
kinds of programming languages – even classes of languages vary in
popularity over time.

Instead, they are usually learning imperative languages, especially with a focus on low level procedures.

It
is also not clear that the popular languages are the best ones to even
teach basic coding, never mind understand software more generally.

Even
the idea that any language is good enough to educate students about how
computers work is misleading. Different classes of languages lead to
different ways of thinking how we can represent the world and instruct
computers.

And finally, the trend in software, in fits and starts,
has been to reduce the need for low-level programming. Originally, it
was a move away from “machine instructions” to higher level languages.
Then there were various tools for rapid application development. Today,
there is the Low-Code or even No-Code movement, especially for Apps.

You’ve
heard of the App Economy, another part of the promised job future?
Putting aside the debate as to whether the app phenomenon has already
peaked, with these low-code tools, fewer coders will be needed to churn
out the same number of apps as in the past.

And then over the horizon, computer scientists have been busy “Pushing the Limits of Self-Programming Artificial Intelligence” as one article states in its title.

Finally,
with this background, pure coding itself, even in past years, was only a
small part of what made software successful. And a successful long term
career in software requires an understanding of what goes beyond
coding.

But this is enough in one post to get many people irked, so I’ll save that for a future post.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/141088761737/the-coding-craze]

The Edgy Post-Industrial Economy

Last week, I wrote about the workforce becoming more freelance and the policies that have been proposed to deal with this change.  In this post, I continue the discussion about work in general and more broadly economic trends.

According to the standard measures, the economy is doing ok.  But there are unsettling, even bizarre, trends that make people feel anxious about their economic future.

For example, much has been made about the shift of jobs to China and India – even in popular culture.  About ten years ago there was a movie, Outsourced, about an American who was sent to India to train his replacements.  

But last month, the New York Times had a story that “Chinese Textile Mills Are Now Hiring in Places Where Cotton Was King”.  As manufacturing costs in the US become relatively competitive again with China, Chinese companies are buying American plants and sending their workers here to train Americans on how to do their jobs – jobs that were once in the USA.

I’ve noted before in this blog that the nature of work life is changing in ways that are more fundamental than whether the work is in the US or China or whether you work as a freelancer or in a traditional job.  Ross Perlin pulled together a list of some of these changes in an article in Fast Company magazine.  Its title: “These Are The New Rules of Work: Forget everything you’ve always known about work. The rules have changed.”

Here’s his list:

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But it’s not just that the nature of work is changing.  Many people worry that old jobs are disappearing and new ones not being created fast enough to replace the old or that the economy is not just changing, but somehow imploding.  

For example, in the cover story of last month’s issue of the Atlantic Magazine, Derek Thompson provided a thorough analysis of these issues in an article titled “A World Without Work: For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?”

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Of course, there are other, more positive responses, to the changes that are happening.

Some workers love the changes, as Karoli Hindriks, who runs a service that identifies global job opportunities, reported in “On-Demand Employment: How Today’s Workers Are Choosing Journeys Over Jobs”.

Finally, and reminiscent of the old phrase “the King is dead; long live the King”, Robin Chase (founder of ZipCar and since then an evangelist for the sharing economy) has written “Bye, Bye Capitalism. We’re Entering the Age of Abundance.  The old model of unwieldy behemoths is giving way to a new one of collaboration. Welcome to the world of Peers.”

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© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved
[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/129214293576/the-edgy-post-industrial-economy]

Freelance Labor Day?

Yesterday was Labor Day and there were the usual parades of union members, although freelancers didn’t have their day in the sun – like this cartoon.

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There were also a few Labor Day discussions on television, mostly featuring people who have nice traditional jobs and who don’t seem to have much understanding of what is happening to the very nature of work in a post-industrial economy.

This will be the first of two posts about how the way we make a living – what used to be called “work” – is changing and how the economy is changing more broadly.  

Let’s start off with freelance work, which is estimated to involve 53 million Americans or more than a third of the workforce and looking more like the way that a majority of Americans will work in the future.  As one reporter noted:

No wonder the polite question to ask these days is not “Where do you work?” but “What are you working on?”

Current Labor Department statistics don’t show numbers as large as a third of the workforce, which may partly explain the failure of the government to focus on freelancing.  However, as a Harvard Business Review article last year explained:

“Why is this? Two reasons, mainly. One has to do with definitions — the BLS standard for self-employment isn’t the only valid one. The second is really about history. We may well be witnessing the rise of a new kind of independent worker … Free Agent Nation is out there, and parts of it are growing fast. It’s just not always easy to find”

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Not surprisingly, conventional institutions are having a hard time dealing with this trend.  

In a poignant description of her own situation, Elaine Pofeldt, a writer and exile from corporate America, reported “What I’ve Learned About Government, Big Banks And Consumerism — As a freelancer, the state made me feel like an economic outlaw”

“The moment you step outside the way people are supposed to work in the U.S. — either because that model doesn’t work for you or because you’ve lost a traditional job — you get cut off from the country’s support systems. Never mind that our culture reveres entrepreneurial heroes like Mark Zuckerberg. Depart the W-2 world, and you become a sort of economic outlaw. You don’t get access to unemployment. But you still have to pay taxes like everyone else.”

“Employment attorneys have told me government historically hasn’t wanted more people to join the 1099 economy. It is easier to siphon taxes directly from an employee’s paycheck than to get independent workers to pay the state later.”

Focusing on freelancers earning money through platforms like Uber, Joe Kennedy, senior fellow at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and the former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce, argued a few weeks ago that “Labor laws are a mismatch with the sharing economy”.  He recommends “Creating programs like these that support valuable new industries is certainly more important than trying to impose an obsolete model on a dynamic market.”

Recently, there have been some new policy proposals that start to address the issues in our new economy.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Sara Horowitz, Executive Director of the Freelancers Union, suggested a way of dealing with the episodic income of freelancers – with accounts for pretax income proportionately made by the clients.  She also asked for easier legal remedies to deal with the widespread late or failure to pay by clients.

Nick Hanauer, venture capitalist, and David Rolf, labor union leader, wrote that “by far the biggest threat to middle-class workers—and to our economy as a whole—comes from the changing nature of employment itself.”  They note that “Our changing economy has given rise to a nation of freelancers and contractors — and the need for a twenty-first-century social contract.”

Among other proposals, they suggest a “Shared Security Account as analogous to Social Security, but encompassing all of the employment benefits traditionally provided by a full-time salaried job. Shared Security benefits would be earned and accrued via automatic payroll deductions, regardless of the employment relationship, and, like Social Security, these benefits would be fully prorated, portable, and universal.”

As Sara Horowitz wrote: “Politicians have been talking about the gig economy using outdated language. They’re not talking about how we work today, and they’re certainly not talking about how we’re going to work tomorrow.”

Whether it’s a shared security account or other policies, it’s time that the nation’s public officials address the way that people have to earn a living in this century, not the last.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/128636714533/freelance-labor-day]

Does A Cluster Strategy Work?

The conventional wisdom in economic development calls for growth strategies that are based on clusters of businesses in the same sector.  Here are just a few examples of the many cluster-based economic plans that I’ve come across from one end of the country to the other:

The problem with this conventional wisdom is that it is increasingly unwise.  

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Princeton University Economics Professor Paul Krugman won the 2008 Nobel Prize for his work 20-30 years earlier in identifying the “new economic geography” (the theoretical foundation of the cluster approach).  But in his acceptance speech, he noted changes:

“[Clustering] may describe forces that are waning rather than gathering strength.”

“The data accord with common perception: many of the traditional localizations of industry have declined (think of the Akron rubber industry), and those that have arisen, such as Silicon Valley, don’t seem comparable in scale.”

A European report from 2011 found:

“Business clusters could be less relevant as drivers of innovation than has been commonly assumed. The Stavanger Centre for Innovation Research analysed 1,600 companies with more than 10 employees located in the five largest Norwegian city-regions. Rather than national clusters, international cooperation or global pipelines were identified as the main drivers of innovation.”

For his University of North Carolina Ph.D. thesis research titled, “Cluster Requiem And The Rise Of Cumulative Growth Theory”, Dr. Gary Kunkle tracked the growth and survival of a cohort of more than 300,000 establishments operating in Pennsylvania from 1997-2007.  His findings:

“Industry cluster theory has … an inability to explain economic dispersion and the presence of high-growing firms that thrive in non-clustered industries and locations.”

“Firm characteristics are 10-times more powerful than industry and cluster characteristics, and 50-times more powerful than location characteristics, in explaining and predicting establishment-level growth and survival”

“A sub-set of businesses systematically accumulate a disproportionate share of employment growth. Roughly 1% of establishments created 169% of all net new jobs added in the state over a ten-year period.”

This latter point is one of the reasons that the Economic Gardening movement, led by Chris Gibbons, has arisen as an insurgent force within the economic development world.  It concentrates on the small proportion of enterprises that create the most new jobs.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging any existing local business to grow – again an economic gardening strategy.  But it is foolish to try to build a region’s economic development strategy around a cluster where none exists.  

While many regions try to be more sophisticated in their approach, too often, I’ve heard people say that they have a few web design firms and from that they’re going to invest in building a “high tech cluster”.  Every town has someone who claims to design websites.  Really, that’s not a cluster even in the old industrial era.  And it’s not an effective strategy for economic growth in this era.

The famous economist John Maynard Keynes once said “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”  While some of the economists who developed cluster approaches are not quite defunct yet, the message is the still relevant.

We are in an economy where everyone in the world is connected by information and communications technologies.  For residents of any city or state to flourish economically, they should not be limited to a cluster of business activity which is based on purely local, physical proximity.

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© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/115120132463/does-a-cluster-strategy-work]

Managing A Global Virtual Workforce

In many of my presentations, I point out that an increasing number of people will no longer have traditional 9-5 jobs in office buildings.  Of course, I’m not the only one to observe that the labor market is potentially global and that entrepreneurs who live anywhere can connect with others who have the skills they need to make their businesses successful.

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When I say these things, people generally agree – in the abstract – but they seem not to know how they can actually do this.  They just don’t know how to start and sustain a global virtual business.

This is a particularly important problem for entrepreneurs who do not live in one of the half dozen biggest metropolitan areas in this country or their equivalent metropolitan areas elsewhere.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that last year a book was published that can set virtual entrepreneurs on their way.  It’s “Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business” by Chris Ducker, a serial entrepreneur based in the Philippines.  (He’s also responsible for the slide above.)

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Ducker starts by describing the feeling that entrepreneurs have that they must do everything themselves because they can’t find others to help them.  And, of course, those who are outside of big cities feel even lonelier.  But reminding readers of that feeling is really just the motivation for reading on.

“Virtual Freedom” is essentially a practical handbook for managing a virtual global workforce.  It goes into some detail about hiring people, compensating them, managing them, etc.  It provides case studies and references to tools that the entrepreneur can use.

It’s interesting that the advice in much of the book applies to management in general, not just management of virtual workforces. 

Perhaps managing a virtual workforce forces you to think about management more clearly than when you manage in traditional offices.  In those offices, people seem to think they know the rules and patterns of behavior – even when they don’t really know.

Some of the advice is common sense, except we all know that common sense is not so common.  

For example, he gives examples of entrepreneurs who were frustrated by the poor quality of those they depended on, until the entrepreneurs realized the problem was, in large part, on their side – a failure to communicate clearly and specifically what they were asking for and a failure to verify this was understood by workers who often came from other cultures.  But in the diverse workforce in many countries today, this is an issue even in traditional offices.

Along with communicating clearly, he emphasizes that the entrepreneur needs to think clearly about the tasks that need to be accomplished.  After all, when you can’t really look over the shoulders of the people who work for you, the only measure of effectiveness you have is what results they deliver.

Of course, such an approach in a traditional office environment is also a good idea – rather than trying to see if “people are working hard”.  It’s easy to look busy.  Not so easy to get tasks done and deliver results.

Bottom line: if you want to get a quick course in management of virtual staff, read this book.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/109394419164/managing-a-global-virtual-workforce]

A Virtual Metropolis In The Countryside?

People who live in big metropolises, like New York, London or Hong Kong, often say that they can always find someone within a few miles who has a special skill they need to complete some project or build a business.  I’ve pointed out that the close proximity of millions of people with so many different skills is part of what has made cities successful economic engines during the industrial era.

When the population of your town is just a few thousand, there is a much smaller likelihood you’ll find the special skill you need nearby – and thus you’ll be less likely to achieve what you have in mind.

In the US alone, the Census Bureau has noted in its report “Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change” that 10% of Americans live in one of the 576 small urban areas (where there is at least one urban cluster of less than 50,000, but at least 10,000 people).   That’s about 32 million people.

Another 6% lived in neither major metropolitan areas nor even these small urban areas.  That’s just under 20 million people.

In this century, with broadband Internet, physical proximity is no longer necessary for people to collaborate and share their skills in a common project.  Yet the small towns of these more than 50 million people are mostly not connected to each other. 

So here’s my wild idea for the day: why not create a virtual metropolis of millions from the people in the small towns and communities of the countryside?

Imagine if even half of those 20 million (or 52 million) people who live outside the big metropolises could work together and be combined to act as if they were physically next door – while not actually living in such crowded conditions.

Such a network or virtual aggregation of small towns would offer their residents a much higher chance of succeeding with their business ideas and making a better living.  If someone, for example, had the engineering talents to design a new product, that person might more likely find the necessary marketing talent somewhere in that network of millions of people.

Clearly, anyone connected to the Internet can try to reach out to anyone else whether that person lives in a small town or a big city.  But a network of small towns alone might encourage greater collaboration because of the shared background of country life and the perceived greater friendliness (and less wariness) of non-urban residents.  In most small towns, people are used to working with each other.  This would just be a virtual extension of the same idea.

Initially, of course, people would feel most comfortable with those in the same region, such as within North America.  Over time, as people interact more with each other on a global basis, that comfort level will expand.

Whether on a regional or global basis, this virtual metropolis could compete on a more even playing field and even establish a unique brand for the people and companies located there.  It would make it possible for rural residents to keep their quality of life and also make a decent living.

What do you think?

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© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/100663996332/a-virtual-metropolis-in-the-countryside]

Small Town, Big Story?

Can a town of 2,300 people in the countryside of Mississippi create a future for itself with broadband?  The answer is yes if you speak to the visionary leader of Quitman – its Mayor, Eddie Fulton – and about two dozen community leaders from business, education, churches, health care and other fields. 

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Quitman is not what you might think of as the likely star of a broadband story.  It has suffered de-population, economic difficulties, community tensions and all the other problems people in many small towns across America have witnessed.

Then along comes the Mississippi-based telecommunications company, C-Spire, who announced it would deploy gigabit Internet connection through fiber to the home in a small number of communities.  The key requirement was that a fairly sizable percentage of the community’s residents had to sign up for the service in advance.

Quitman was the smallest town to take on this challenge.  It would not normally be considered because of its size, but they had such a strong commitment to building on broadband that the company decided to make the investment.  Now, Quitman is ahead of the others in deployment and plans for developing their community.

Anyone who has ever been involved in a big technology project knows that the biggest obstacles to success are not technical issues, but human issues.  That’s why the chances that Quitman will succeed are good.  They have the necessary leadership, motivation and willingness to innovate.

They’ve also been helped by one of the long forgotten secrets of America’s agricultural and economic success – the extension service.  In particular, Professor Roberto Gallardo  at Mississippi State University Center For Technology Outreach has helped to educate the community and been their adviser.

And so it was that last week I was in Quitman leading what the Intelligent Community Forum calls a Master Class, as part of its community accelerator program. 

I pointed out that, rather than being an anomaly, a small city like Quitman could be the quintessential broadband success story.  I told the community leaders that a number of recent studies have shown that broadband has a much greater impact on small towns and rural areas than in cities.  As I’ve written before, this is not surprising.  Big cities provide many traditional ways that many people can interact with each other.  It is only when residents of small communities get connected to everyone else through the Internet that they can start to level the playing field.

I reviewed the historical context that is opening up new opportunities for rural communities.  I provided various examples, from elsewhere in North America and beyond, of the ways broadband can make a difference to the countryside.  The point of the examples was to give the community leaders ideas and also to see small towns, like theirs, doing great things with broadband. 

Then to bring the strategy and examples home, I asked them what they would do with broadband when it was deployed.  The community leaders separated into three groups, one each focused on education, health and economic growth.  They had a good discussion and came up with good ideas that will enable them to move fast when the connectivity is available later this year.

The signature line of the old song “New York, New York”, written at the height of that city’s industrial prominence, proclaimed: “If I can make it in New York, I’ll make it anywhere”.  This century, in the post-industrial era, the line should be: if broadband helps make Quitman a success story, then it can happen anywhere.

I’ll keep you apprised of their progress.

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© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/97730847152/small-town-big-story]

Will The Best & Brightest Return To The Countryside?

There have been recent news stories about those coming and going and possibly returning to life in the countryside. 

A couple months ago, the New York Times had a major story about older folks returning to rural life after business careers elsewhere – “A Second Career, Happily in the Weeds”.  (Among others, it featured Debra Sloane, a former Cisco colleague.

Then this past weekend, in a kind of counterpoint, the Times’ Sunday Review section had an op-ed article about a woman who tried and gave up on living in the countryside – “Giving Up My Small-Town Fantasy”.   While she returned to the city, she also wrote that she moved to a small town because:

We were betting on the fact that we wouldn’t be alone in fleeing the big city for a small town. Urban living has become unthinkably expensive for many middle-class creative types. A 2010 study from the Journal of Economic Geography found a trifecta of reasons some rural areas have grown instead of shrunk: the creative class, entrepreneurial activity and outdoor amenities. In 2012, a University of Minnesota research fellow called the influx of 30-to-40-somethings into rural Minnesota towns a “brain gain” — flipping the conventional wisdom on the exodus from the boonies to the big city.

To further the idea that the traditional brain drain from rural areas is changing, the well-respected Daily Yonder had a feature article last month summarizing research on “The Rural Student Brain Gain”.  As they note:

The common wisdom is that rural America’s “best and brightest” want to leave home. New research shows these students are no more likely to want to leave than their counterparts. And when they do go, they have a stronger desire to return.

There is no doubt that many young people who can leave will do so – which more likely means the brightest who can get into major universities.  To some extent, all young people want to see the world beyond where they grew up. 

Almost a hundred years ago, Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis wrote what became a very popular song as many young men went off to Europe in World War I.

How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm
After they’ve seen Paree’
How ya gonna keep ‘em away from Broadway
Jazzin around and paintin’ the town

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By the way, this is not just a rural question.  A generation ago or so, parents in New York City were asking the same question – would the young return after seeing California?  Feeding this concern, for instance, was an article in the New York Times on October 1, 1980 about so many New Yorkers living in Los Angeles that two of the big high schools in Brooklyn held alumni reunions there.

So while we don’t want the young to feel they are being kept captive, the question is will they return to their countryside origins or something like it?

To answer that question, there are others that need to be answered first. 

In a post-industrial, global, Internet-connected economy, can young people still feel they are part of the larger world? Can they have as many opportunities for fulfillment and success back home as in the “big city”?

The answer is yes, the potential is there.  But the young are still leaving because too few rural communities have done the things they need to do in order to open up those opportunities for their brightest young people.  These lagging leaders haven’t built up the broadband necessary to connect both young and old to the world, nor have they helped people understand what they can do with that broadband connection, nor have they focused on the larger issues of developing a community anyone would want to live in if they had a choice in the matter.

And those who have given up hope for their rural communities because they know people there can never earn the megabucks found on Wall Street?  They should be informed by other research, including a fascinating, classic study by Professor Gundars Rudzitis of the University of Idaho, in his article in Rural Development Perspectives, “Amenities Increasingly Draw People to the Rural West”:

More people are moving to rural areas for reasons that have nothing to do with employment.  … the rural West is one of the fastest growing regions in the United States. …  Surveys in the 1970’s began to show that, if given a choice, people prefer to live in small towns and even in rural areas.

Amenities such as environmental quality and pace of life were becoming important in explaining why people move. The apparent sudden preference of people for rural life shocked many academics and planners because rural areas were thought to be at a major disadvantage compared with urban areas. 

These findings also were a surprise because they conflicted with the major assumptions of migration theory, or why people move. Simply put, people were thought to move because they wanted to increase or maximize their incomes. … This approach, however, failed to explain why people moved out of cities into places like the rural West.

…  People who migrate to high-amenity counties are often assumed to be retirees, as the growth and development of States like Arizona and Florida bears out. In our survey, however, only 10 percent of the new migrants were over 65 years of age. Instead, migrants were more likely to be young, highly educated professionals.

These studies and stories about people moving from city to country and back make clear that these decisions are more complicated than the headlines indicate.  And broadband connectivity will upset these patterns even more. 

Indeed, this new picture of what is going on may tell us why the best and brightest of the countryside might want to return after they’ve seen Paris (or New York or San Francisco).

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/97138255998/will-the-best-brightest-return-to-the-countryside]

Presentation On Technology, People & Rural Prosperity

Previously, I mentioned that I gave the opening keynote presentation at the final annual conference on Rural Prosperity in Canada, held at Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario. 

Jeffrey Dixon, Associate Director of the Monieson Centre which has run the project, was very kind in his feedback:

Norm Jacknis provided an inspiring presentation at our 6th annual rural economic development conference. He helped a group of community leaders, business people, policymakers and researchers consider new opportunities for rural prosperity and to think creatively about how they can use technology to transform their economies.

A video of the presentation, including questions and discussion, is now available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7PmYBxcqgA&index=3&list=PLc4qJ1UgXeFHWsWwtzQm5TvfeNuDvfRad and also as the Tumblr post just after this. I went into a fairly deep explanation of the trends occurring in the economy and technology – and why and how these trends open up new opportunities for small towns and rural areas.  It’s about an hour long video, although the actual presentation starts about two minutes into the video and ends about forty minutes later.  (Sit back and relax – I tried to make it as entertaining as possible.)

You can see the printed handout at http://business.queensu.ca/centres/monieson/events/Economic_Revitalization_2014/Presentations/2014%20conference%20presentations/Norm%20Jacknis.pdf   Of course, if you only read the handout, you’ll miss the videos and also what I say about each slide since I don’t really read them.

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Also, in conjunction with the conference, the university staff issued a series of research papers that you can read in the Journal of Rural and Community Development at http://www.jrcd.ca/viewissue.php?id=20

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/93308163833/presentation-on-technology-people-rural-prosperity]

Mapping The Future: Technology, People & Rural Prosperity

This Tuesday, Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario held its last annual conference on Rural Prosperity in Canada.  As Senior Fellow leading the Rural Imperative for the Intelligent Community Forum, I was asked to give the opening, keynote speech. 

My overall theme was that the countryside has a new opportunity to flourish, considering developments in technology and broadband, as well as the major post-industrial trends in North America, Europe, Japan and elsewhere.  I also emphasized that broadband, while a necessary condition for community development, is not sufficient and must be integrated with other elements that build quality of life.

I won’t go into more detail here, since my presentation will be posted on their website.  Instead I’ll report on some of the items presented by others that caught my attention.

1. Research on the economic impact of broadband

The researchers at the Monieson Centre of the university’s Business School presented the results of their analysis of the impact of broadband on employment and wages.  They found that broadband deployment, from 1997-2011, had only a minor positive impact on employment in urban areas, but had a significantly more positive impact in rural areas.  However, broadband was associated with wage increases in both rural and urban regions.

Moreover, they found there was no impact on employment at firms producing physical goods, but a major positive impact on employment and wages for services (although not all services). 

Although we didn’t coordinate, it was nice to see results that tracked with the broad trends I’ve been highlighting for the last few years.  In a way, my presentation explained the research results.

2. Rural broadband network in eastern Ontario

The association of the key leaders of rural counties in eastern Ontario (called the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus), with others, have spearheaded a project called EORN that is wrapping up its initial deployment this year.  The Eastern Ontario Regional Network is building out rural areas with broadband that provides its 500,000 residents with 10 megabit connections – much more than is common even among most urban users of the Internet in North America.  EORN officials think it is the most ambitious project of its kind in the Americas or possibly the world.  They are certain it is the “most sustainable rural network” in the world.

Later in the day, Bo Beaulieu of Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development spoke about the necessity and value of regional cooperation among rural counties.  My observation was that, with broadband and regional cooperation, these areas can present themselves as the virtual equivalent of a city and be able to compete economically in many ways not otherwise possible.

3. Creative uses of the countryside

There were various presentations on how the new countryside is more than just farming.  One example was a “multi-functional” farm – yes, it grew food for sale, but also was an environmental education center, alternative energy demonstration site, publishing office, and a bed-and-breakfast set up by a “refugee” from Toronto. 

Since, especially in this area of Canada, much of that nation’s history is better preserved in the countryside than in cities, historical and cultural resources have been used as a basis for economic development.  See, for example, History Lives Here which has a variety of products, from videos and guided tours to History labelled wines from local wineries.

All in all, a very interesting day that provided strong evidence of the energy and innovation which is creating the future of rural areas in Canada and the rest of the world.

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/82290687838/mapping-the-future-technology-people-rural]

Getting A Grip On The Future Economy

I’ve been asked by several people for the link to the video of my keynote presentation at the first Intelligent Communities Institute symposium last fall, on “Seizing Our Destiny: Getting A Grip On The Future Economy”.   This was the latest version of the future-oriented strategy to succeed in the world as technology and how people will make a living both change  –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlNxLmIQ4O8.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/55085525840/getting-a-grip-on-the-future-economy-ive-been]

Does Innovation Destroy Or Create Jobs?

The Intelligent Community Forum just completed its annual summit, which celebrates the Top 7 most intelligent communities in the world.   These are the global leaders who have already made investments in broadband and in community building – and who are now looking to see how they can build on those advantages.

This year’s theme was innovation and employment, so I was asked to give the keynote presentation on the question of whether innovation destroys jobs and how sub-national governments should respond.  

This is a summary.  The video of the presentation will be available in a couple of weeks.  [Note: there was a foreshadowing of this presentation in my earlier blog post “Are Jobs Disappearing?”]

The current argument that technological innovation is killing jobs has a long tradition, going back to the Luddites.  But today we even have that herald of the Internet age, WIRED Magazine, portraying a near term future in which robots do all the work.    I pointed out that there is still a lot of work to be done whether or not robots are “on the job”, for example curing diseases.

More relevant to the question is whether the new kinds of work that innovation makes possible can be handled if people do not have the skills needed for that work.  The need for training is obvious, but my focus was on the need for life-long learning for the adults, rather than the usual investment in K-16 educational institutions.  In building a platform for lifelong learning, local governments can draw upon the numerous online resources for learning.  Indeed, the local public libraries should be given the task of organizing and making sense of all of these online learning opportunities.

Another, little discussed part of the employment picture is the relative inefficiency of the labor market itself.  I suggested that, at least for their own metro areas, these local leaders use or enhance some of the new software that better matches the talents and temperament of their residents to the needs of the economy.

Any discussion of innovation and jobs also needs to provide the big picture, the context of what is happening.  So I briefly summarized my work on the future-oriented economy, with its twin trends of (1) a more service-oriented and digital (intangible) work and (2) ever increasing high quality visual communication over the Internet that enhances collaboration among people across the globe.

Among the several implications of these trends is that the nature of work itself is changing.  People will still have lots to do, but they will not necessarily be making a living in a traditional 9-5 job at a fixed work location.

Innovation is one word with two forms.  One, that Clayton Christensen called “sustaining innovation” is the kind of innovation that does increase productivity so that fewer people are needed to do the work – in other words, jobs decrease.  The other is what he calls “disruptive innovation”, which can lead to the growth of new industries and companies providing greater income for everyone associated with that growth.  Clearly, it is this second kind of innovation that public officials need to encourage.

In an excerpt from Steven Johnson’s TED talk on “Where Good Ideas Come From”, the audience was reminded that “chance favors the connected mind” and innovation is really a network phenomenon.  This is reflected, as well, in the open innovation movement among many corporations and even the US Government.

To accelerate disruptive innovation and the economic opportunities it can generate, local governments need to connect their residents to the global economy, global flow of new ideas and new services.

Successful innovation also requires a supportive culture, including accepting the failures that are part of innovation and experiment.  Failure is something that many public officials feel comes with a high price, although the historic success of public sector innovators tells a different story.  And, of course, the best path for disruptive innovation is not huge projects that require huge investments, but many smaller experiments.  As the saying in Silicon Valley goes: “fail early and fast” to maximize learning from the experience. 

For their part, public officials can help build a local culture of innovation by using government itself as a model of innovation.  They can even use the experience of being in their city as a continual reminder and inspiration for innovation.  I gave some examples of simple, not very costly ways of taking even the less beautiful parts of a city and turning them into exciting, artistic lessons on innovation.

Finally, using the 19th century example of the reaction of different cities to the railroads, I noted that they should not just wait to see what happens with technological innovation.  Their decision to lead innovation or not to decide will have long-term consequences.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/52788966705/does-innovation-destroy-or-create-jobs]

Are Jobs Disappearing?

There have been articles and much discussion over the last year or so about how the economic recovery and more generally technological innovation have not generated many jobs.  Indeed it looks like technology is enhancing productivity to the detriment of job creation.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both of MIT, wrote a somewhat scholarly op-ed article in the NY Times several months ago that noted the traditional increases in jobs and income that have followed productivity increases no longer seem to be happening.  See “Jobs, Productivity and the Great Decoupling”.

WIRED Magazine devoted its December 2012 issue to the impact of robots on jobs and life.  It led with an article by Kevin Kelly entitled: “Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs” and a sub-head “Imagine that 7 out of 10 working Americans got fired tomorrow. What would they all do?"  The magazine even presents a two-by-two matrix about jobs that makes the same point:  many of us won’t have a job for very long.

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Despite the sensational nature of the issue, there is a lot more to this question than robots and technological advances.  One small provocative aspect has only begun to get attention – maybe the traditional, 9-5 job in an office or factory is just disappearing.

So Douglas Rushkoff on CNN’s website had an article entitled ”Are Jobs Obsolete“ in which he argued that the standard industrial-style job we’ve been used to is an historical anomaly and not likely to last in a post-industrial society.

You can find books with similar themes and some self-help advice on what to do about the trend, such as "Making A Living Without A Job: Winning Ways For Creating Work That You Love” by Barbara Winter.

This line of thought also counters the robots-will-do-all-the-work argument.  As James Lee put it in the March 2012 Futurist, “Jobs are disappearing, but there is still a future for work."  See his article ”Hard At Work In The Jobless Future“.

By the way, this is not an altogether new idea.  In 1994, William Bridges wrote "Job Shift: How To Prosper In A Workplace Without Jobs”.

So part of – certainly not all of – the explanation for the elimination of jobs is their replacement by less structured forms of making a living.  I’ll write more of the story in a future post.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/51647985601/are-jobs-disappearing]

Is The Second Economy The End Of Human Labor?

Recently, there have appeared some analyses that point to a shift from traditional human production to machine production.

In a McKinsey Quarterly article (https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Strategy/Growth/The_second_economy_2853

), W. Brian Arthur, a visiting researcher at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, focused on the “second economy”.  The subtitle of his article sums up the message: 

“Digitization is creating a second economy that’s vast, automatic, and invisible—thereby bringing the biggest change since the Industrial Revolution.”  He continues, “we can say that another economy—a second economy—of all of these digitized business processes conversing, executing, and triggering further actions is silently forming alongside the physical economy… human beings may design it but are not directly involved in running it. It is remotely executing and global, always on, and endlessly configurable.”

A recently there appeared a new book, “Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.  I suppose, as a form of testament to their thesis of an accelerating digital revolution, their book will only be available in e-book form.

The arguments in both the book and the paper are that an increasing amount of traditional human labor is being carried out by machines that are connected via the global Internet.  The idea of machines as the cause of unemployment is not new.  It goes back, at least, to the industrial revolution.  (Indeed, some of the classical Greek philosophers complained about the introduction of writing systems that they claimed diminished the capacity of people to remember – and, perhaps, led to unemployment of those who were the carriers of society’s oral tradition.  How many town criers are left these days?)

The concern about automation has been counterbalanced by the realization that this is a reflection of increasing human productivity, since after all these are our machines that we choose to create and deploy.  In the past, automation has allowed each of us to produce more and thus live better.

The question now is whether the use of technology is so great that it allows only a few people to reap the economic benefits of increased productivity.   The increasing inequality of income and wealth in the US and other advanced economies over the last four decades is often offered as evidence that the benefits will accrue to only a minority.   

However, this trend seems to have been more aligned with changes in redistributive public policies than a result of technology.  After all, even as late as the 1990s, economists (like Robert Solow) were still seeking proof of the increased productivity that was supposed to have come from the massive investment that companies had made in technology.  That productivity seems to have eventually arrived in this century.

It would not seem to make sense to ameliorate income inequality by reducing income as a whole for all of society, but instead it may be time to revisit the role of public policy in sharing the wealth.  The current political climate is not receptive to much of a debate on this.  However, as more human labor is devoted to intangible services and knowledge, which often have the feel of being more like public goods and less like private goods, the question of who gets credit for such goods will become harder to answer – and the idea of sharing the credit and the wealth generated may become more acceptable.

More important, there is an end-of-history feel to some of the arguments being put forth.  It is as if we are all headed to a life of desperate poverty or grand leisure.  Or perhaps something akin to the horrendous future envisioned in the “Time Machine.”

Such a vision, I think, is based on a limited view of what drives people to labor and a failure to recognize the how expansive human desires can be.  As Steve Jobs famously said, people often don’t know what they want until you give it to them.  

How many things that we consider today to be necessities were unknown years ago?  How much new knowledge that we are seeking was considered an unnecessary luxury or even unknowable in previous centuries?

We will not all stop seeking new things and new ideas even if a network of intelligent machines will often replace traditional human labor.  As a society, we need to start thinking about new public and private policies to create employment opportunities around those new possibilities.  At the very least, that should keep us busy for a while 😉   

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/12157832415/is-the-second-economy-the-end-of-human-labor] 

Real Jobs or Real Income?

Another part of my work on economic growth is focused on how the traditional job in the traditional large corporation is becoming a relic of the past.  It came out of an industrial era in which large corporate bureaucracies were created for reasons of efficiency.  See the economist Ronald Coase’s classic work on the theory of the firm.

The internet, however, has made it easier for people to collaborate in a more informal way and to create projects of great value – such as Linux and Wikipedia.  I describe this as a movement from Coase to Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody).

This role of the Internet has already begun to affect the economy.  So it was with interest that there was some recent publicity on CNBC and MSNBC about the success of Thumbtack and ODesk, which help people find income on the Internet, rather than finding traditional jobs.  See, for example, “Online Work Replacing Full-Time Employment: Record Unemployment, Recession Mentality Lead Companies to Alternative Hiring Strategies” at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44017638

The MSNBC interview of ODesk’s Gary Swart was frustrating to watch as he and the reporter kept talking past each other.  The reporter kept saying that these were not “real jobs”.  Mr Swart was diplomatic enough not to argue that those “real jobs” were no longer so real.  Nor did he offer the rejoinder that many of people who use his service to identify sources of income were probably quite pleased to be able to have the flexibility that Internet work provides.  These people also find they make more money than they would make at a so-called “real job” flipping burgers.

Even in an economy with traditional job unemployment measuring at anywhere from 9-18%, most Americans are concerned – perhaps not so much about “jobs”, but about the fact that their real income has gone down, even if they have a real job.  Anything that boosts their income is positive and an indicator of the strategy for the future.

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

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