February 16, 2004

Unemployment's Dirty Little Secret

EJ Dionne's sounding a warning over free trade but unfortunately, he keeps the lid on much of unemployment's dirty little secret. Most companies are peopled by employees who look around and see the dysfunction, the waste, the abuse of resources that mark bad management. If they've paid attention any time over the last three decades they know that this means that this company is going to either:

a) go broke
b) be bought
c) have some sort of scandal which will result in a), b), or both
d) ship jobs elsewhere in an attempt to lower costs rather than change practices
e) most likely all of the above

In other words, the average american worker today has all the tools and inside knowledge necessary to figure out that he's living on a flood plain and the weather report section of the farmer's almanac doesn't look particularly good.

Some organize a new business while they're working for somebody else and move on. Others improve themselves and change careers to a well-paid service job that's in shortage, like nursing. Others arrange for their labor to no longer be sold as an employee but as a consultant. But the large majority just sit there and let the tidal wave hit them because they choose not to see the warning signs and, eventually, they have to come home and say that the factory's closing, not their fault really, as John Edwards points out in that stump speech, "they did nothing wrong."

In reality, the problem is that these workers did nothing, and that's what's wrong. If you're employed, evaluate your company as an investor would. If you wouldn't invest your money in your firm, you shouldn't invest your labor either. If you move to another money earning opportunity on your own schedule, you're going to get the best opportunity you can, quite possibly increase your family's economic position, and be much less likely to be caught in a family threatening economic jam.

People's labor investment decisions ought to be re-evaluated as often as their stock investment decisions. Such things can be made into an semi-automated process and need not consume people. After all, how did the day traders do, in the end?

The truth is that it is comfortable not to think about such things, that the company will give you a job to do for the next few decades. I wouldn't invest my money like that and I won't invest my labor like that either. And if this style of labor evaluation becomes prevalent, it will revolutionize the world (in a very good way). Companies dance to the tune of the financial analysts because they influence the company's access to life giving capital. But a company's labor force is life giving too, it's just being negotiated for the most part by a bunch of analytical incompetents. It doesn't have to be.

Posted by TMLutas at February 16, 2004 10:12 AM