Tag Archives: unemployment

The other elephant in the room (and every room in the whole world)

Dr. John Psarouthakis, Executive Editor of www.BusinessThinker.com, Founder and former CEO, JP Industries, Inc., a Fortune 500 industrial corporation, Adjunct Professor(ret.), Ross School of Business, University of Michigan.

Gather a roomful of people with vague ideas that our millions of displaced workers can return to jobs remotely resembling what they used to do—“Let’s get America moving forward again”—and technology will be an elephant in that room. I didn’t even mention globalization, which might be an even larger elephant. Domestic competition and new technology alone would drastically alter our future society even if Americans were the only residents of the planet began Earth. But globalization alone also is a sufficient force to set our old economy and workforce paradigm on its head. With Mumbai or Tokyo or Stuttgart or Singapore virtually as nearby as an industrial park here in the U.S., nothing will ever be the same again. Elephants are the world’s most powerful work animals, and we have a pair in tandem pulling us into the 21st Century. Unlike a tractor, they can’t back up. And the sum of these two elephants, technology and globalization, is greater than their parts. Globalization is the one most commonly thought to be reversible, at least in part. The only way to beat it is to join it, and be competitive.

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Why progress always ‘puts people out of work’

Dr. John Psarouthakis, Executive Editor of www.BusinessThinker.com, Founder and former CEO, JP Industries, Inc., a Fortune 500 industrial corporation, Adjunct Professor(ret.), Ross School of Business, University of Michigan.


Let’s refine our definition of “the employment problem” by understanding that the biggest, most labor-intensive companies—the kind that absorbed all those farm laborers and created the 20th-Century middle-class—were inevitably destined to become not “centers of employment,” but centers of unemployment.

Here we begin by recounting my Grand Rapids speech and go on to explain the Vector One and Vector Two phenomenon, the entire phenomenon of ever-more-efficient companies and organizations (or entire sectors, like our friends the farmers) becoming smaller and smaller in terms of employment. Meanwhile, new technologies and new products and new market forces breed “job creation” elsewhere in the economy. A company or even an entire sector must do things better and more efficiently, or die. They eventually will die anyway unless they reinvent themselves as producers of new goods and services rather than inevitably obsolete goods and services.

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Forget planned obsolescence; it will happen, planned or not

Dr. John Psarouthakis, Executive Editor of www.BusinessThinker.com, Founder and former CEO, JP Industries, Inc., a Fortune 500 industrial corporation, Adjunct Professor(ret.), Ross School of Business, University of Michigan.

Millions of American “smokestack” jobs no longer exist. Millions of other American jobs, from nearly every sector, have been exported. Tens of millions of Americans are now sustained only by the “safety net,” or by working multiple part-time jobs at low wages with no benefits. More than one-quarter of working Americans lack enough resources to sustain themselves three months if laid off, a number that no doubt has risen since it was last compiled. This is a very, very bad time to be an unskilled worker with no prospects of being retrained in a way that will land a job. A human being whose skills are obsolete is among the saddest of stories. Some of these Americans, especially older workers, are going to be left behind. Millions more will never earn the kind of living they once did. This states one hellacious problem; but it does not define the problem in any useful way for a problem-solver.

In getting one’s arms around what might seem like an unprecedented catastrophe, it’s good to start by realizing that today’s displaced workers are not alone in the American experience. Our workforce is undergoing massive transition, a tectonic shift, really, in the way Americans earn their livelihood. But it is not unprecedented.

Continue reading Forget planned obsolescence; it will happen, planned or not