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Thomas Friedman: Differentiate or Die!

July 15, 2011

Thomas Friedman, in his latest New York Times op-ed, presents what is undoubtedly the elite consensus vision of 21st century employment.  The article’s entitled “The Start-Up of You” and is little more than the standard expression of Friedmanian lust for globalized capitalism.  But it’s still worth a read being it’s somewhat rare to see an avid supporter provide such a clear expression of where the logic of the system is headed.  In brief, it’s a stark world of drastically reduced opportunities for decent employment coupled with ever rising exploitation.

Friedman begins by noting that the most dynamic sectors of society are not creating much employment – “They just don’t employ a lot of people, relative to their valuations, and while they’re all hiring today, they are largely looking for talented engineers.

Indeed, what is most striking when you talk to employers today is how many of them have used the pressure of the recession to become even more productive by deploying more automation technologies, software, outsourcing, robotics — anything they can use to make better products with reduced head count and health care and pension liabilities. That is not going to change. And while many of them are hiring, they are increasingly picky. They are all looking for the same kind of people — people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.

And if you’re lucky or smart enough to be more productive than a robot, you will be exploited at ever rising levels.

Today’s college grads need to be aware that the rising trend in Silicon Valley is to evaluate employees every quarter, not annually. Because the merger of globalization and the I.T. revolution means new products are being phased in and out so fast that companies cannot afford to wait until the end of the year to figure out whether a team leader is doing a good job.

Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyperconnected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria.

No career is a sure thing anymore”, and here’s what the Nietzschean Superman must do to hold a decent job:

You have to know which industries are working and what is happening inside them and then find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it’s differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us.

One can only laugh at such nonsense!  The most sophisticated investment houses in the world can’t consistently tell us which industries are working!  And what of the vast majority who, by definition, aren’t able to add value in ways no one else can?

Friedman gives us a very nice summary of the logic of capitalism and its ever grinding oppression, much of which could easily fit in Marx’s Communist Manifesto.  “Differentiate or Die” would be an apt title and no doubt most will succumb.  Friedman’s views are widely shared by the elites of the world, not least Barack Obama whose focus on spending reduction, modest infrastructure programs, and competition to “Win the Future” is fully in sync with the Friedman paradigm.

Unless we’re able to summon our resolve and completely reject the lunacy of where we’re being led, the 21st century is going to be quite dismal indeed.

From → Dynamics, Suppression

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