What Jobs, Jobs, Jobs Really Means in the 21st Century

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By Dr. John Psarouthakis, Executive Editor

As measured by the calendar, America entered a new century and a new millennium a couple decades ago.
Delineating a new epoch is not that easy. The next few decades will reveal true, and perhaps game-changing, measurements of where the United States stands. The benchmarks
will be our global status as a developer of new technology, as
a smart manufacturer of value-added products, as an education reformer amid new workplace realities, and as a competitor in the global marketplace. Those are the four vectors of
our national future—“vector” being a better term than benchmark because a vector signals dynamic movement rather than
a mere static measurement. These four vectors—in technology, manufacturing, education, and globalization—will play
recurring roles in this narrative. They will determine whether
we enjoy further generations as a prosperous world leader,
or something less but close to that, or something you would
rather not think about—something your children and grandchildren definitely would rather not think about.
This truly is a new epoch, or era, or age (take your pick)
that we have entered, or are entering, or are about to enter.
Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, drew the American Century’s entry point not at the year 1900 but at Henry Ford’s
first assembly line. I don’t know exactly where historians and
novelists and philosophers will draw our new high-tech journey’s embarkation point, and whether it will be as starkly definitive as old Henry’s delivery of durable goods and mobility
to the masses.

–For my book on this topic please click on www.jpmcenter.com

I do know that the new world now upon us is even more
amazing, but that as someone said in show business, we “ain’t
seen nothin’ yet.” I know technology has been the driving
force of change, as is almost always the case—from the discovery of fire to the personal computer. I know America’s
standing as a technological innovator has kept us in the game
as this new era begins, but technology alone cannot keep us
there, and innovation is itself vulnerable to rapid decline. In
other words, of all the “tipping points” one hears about, this is
the big one: Will the United States prevail in this new age, or
will it merely endure? And if it merely endures, how well will
it endure? And, by the way, might we be in danger of not even
enduring, at least not in any prosperous way we have come to
expect? Most importantly, what proactive steps must we take
to give ourselves hope for sustaining a competitive edge, perhaps enough to forge another American Century?
That challenge is what The Technology Imperative in this book
this book and our nation’s future—is about. First, however,
I need to offer some thoughts about policy and politics, because all the above questions—and all the answers, mine and
yours and anyone else’s—will be irrelevant unless and until
the problems discussed in this chapter are defined, addressed,
and solved. If you find that prospect daunting, consider this:
The one institution that must solve these problems is itself the
biggest problem that must be solved. Our intransigent, dysfunctional, gridlocked, elected federal government must ride
to the rescue of itself. It is as if your town council met once a
week discussing old business in perpetuity without acting on
the problems and on the possible solutions, meanwhile ignoring vital new agenda items. Tip O’Neill,
one of the 20th Century’s consummate politicians, famously
said that all politics is local. Sorry, Tip, but any local government that bundled misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance
into such an ineffectual package would be driven from office
this very evening.
Washington’s logjam of problematical old business cannot
be addressed by mere political promises. Most of these problems in fact are political promises run amok—the multi $-trillionand-growing national debt being the perfect example. The 537 men and women we elect to national office fiddled while these problems reached critical mass. Now these politicians have the power to let 320 million Americans enter the new epoch and compete…or the power to be 537 dinosaurs dragging
us into history’s tar pit.
I want to be an optimist about which choice our elected
officials will make, but my experience watching politicians at
work—most especially groups of politicians at work—suggests all bets should be hedged. The first company I founded
was operating successfully in five countries when I divested
my interest. Earlier, as an executive for another company, I
conducted corporate business in several nations—often establishing that company’s footprint in a new global outpost. I
have been a guest lecturer at major universities in Scotland,
the Netherlands, and Germany. I have enjoyed decades of
world travel and observation, and how can one observe a
place without observing its politics? In one of the most beautiful regions on earth, my native land, I have stayed in touch
with friends and associates struggling endlessly in an effort to
forge a competitive society and economy while their political
institutions push in the opposite direction. In case you haven’t
guessed, Psarouthakis is a Greek name.
4 The Technology Impera ve
My observation has been that politicians, be they Greeks
or Germans or Michiganders, share a pre-eminent trait. No
matter what happens around them they will act to pursue their
political interest, which primarily is to get elected. And reelected. And re-elected again. If making a crucial decision
would mean constituents must feel some pain (real or imagined), then that decision gets pushed aside. If an officeholder’s
constituents are split down the middle on a crucial issue, then
that issue gets pushed aside. If it seems a crucial issue can
be kicked down the road for years until the politician retires
and someone else must deliver unwanted news to voters, then
that issue gets ignored time and time again. If a crucial issue
is one on which party leaders (and their re-election machine)
demand a lockstep vote, then that issue gets a lockstep vote.
Traditionally, the “pressing” part of “this is a pressing issue” managed to get things accomplished in Washington. The
fringes on left or right made their points, sometimes even
serving as the cutting edge of progress. But the center would
hold, common ground would be found, and the nation was
governed. In recent years the political center has been overcome by a flood of ideological purity from either side, the
eternal quest for re-election has become more time-consuming, and new media have put our politicians onstage every
moment of the day. The result? Our government has become
so dysfunctional one would think Washington is not the capital of the world’s last superpower, but a Peter Sellers comedy
set in one tiny duchy or another—except that, unlike a Peter
Sellers movie, these people are not amusing. Each election
day one hopes the lunacy has gone away and some business
will get done. Instead, the new election cycle begins the day
after the previous election cycle.
This manuscript was written in the first half of 2012, an
ar of he problem and par of he solu on 5
election year, a noisy time that only amplifies the irrationality, the refusal to take serious business seriously, to a deafening level. One day, while thinking about how best to discuss
profound challenges raised by the new technological age and
the global economy, I took a break and turned on television
news. I found one political party’s presidential contenders
bickering about birth control and the sitting president of the
United States squandering a ripe opportunity to move the nation toward energy self-sufficiency (mocking his supposedly
anti-green political foes while at the same time telling Brazil
to drill, baby, drill). No wonder the pundits often try to make
sense of this circus by asking who is the smart person in the
room–or, even more telling, who is the adult in the room?
Turning on TV news most anytime will also, within a minute or two, produce a politician chanting “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!”
In today’s climate that chant somehow passes for intelligent
discourse. It is not. It’s political pandering, albeit effective
pandering, which is why both parties loudly indulge the same
chant. Of course we all want every American to have a livelihood and the best possible job. The real test of that chant has
nothing to do with political push-me, pull-you rhetoric about
whether the economy can best be grown by raising taxes or
by lowering taxes. The real test lies in the 21st Century vectors cited in this chapter’s first paragraph—none of which can
be addressed until Congress and the White House clean up
their unfinished business. Keep in mind that image of a town
council playing and replaying “Groundhog Day.” If any smart
adults are in that room they are in a minority, and clearly none
has the capacity to lead the kids in the room toward rational
The future of American jobs, and fundamental change in
the workforce, is the ultimate subject of this book. In the end

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