vfrag For the past week, I’ve been blogging from hotel rooms (more details on this week’s fascinating travel, with incriminating photos, when I get back home), and with the completion of Zakaria’s book, I ran out of offline reading material. So I’m reduced to reading the American Airlines inflight magazine, which has yet another prediction of an imminent talent shortage:

The size of the pool gets smaller and smaller, and the demand for those skills gets bigger and bigger, so you have more companies competing for a smaller and smaller group of talented people.

Yeah, sure. These grandiose predictions fail to take into account that the elites that run most large enterprises were badly stung by the minor talent shortage of the late 1990s, and will do everything possible to ensure they don’t get stung again. They won’t allow employees to hit them up for signing bonuses, flex time, liberal dress codes and other disruptive trends that hurt ROI and weaken command and control.

There are three things they will do to ensure the talent shortage predicted by  demographic studies will not be allowed to occur:

  1. Exporting Jobs : Software development work exported by US companies last year totaled $8B, and help-desk support outsourced is probably higher than that, growing at 20% per year. Add in other sectors and that’s a ton of skilled jobs (probably at least ten million) taken from Americans. As the baby bust rolls through, expect this give-away to multiply many-fold.
  2. Increasing Retirement Age : Thanks to the elimination of the middle class in America by Bush and previous administrations hell bent on privatizing everything, curtailing social services, and allowing public infrastructure to fall into chaos and disrepair, fewer and fewer Americans can afford to retire at the age they used to. And thanks to fiscal mismanagement and corporate greed, many Americans’ retirement funds have been decimated anyway. Add fifteen years to the average retirement age and the talent shortage quickly turns into a talent glut.
  3. Tapping the Vast Pool of Under-Employed : If the above two tricks don’t do the job, companies can always start to move Americans, the majority of whom describe themselves as under-employed, out of the abysmal temporary, part-time and contract jobs they’ve been doing through the Bush recession, into more suitable jobs. So if anyone will be facing a ‘talent shortage’, it will be McDonalds and WalMart. And those jobs can always be filled by desperate moonlighters.

In combination, these three shifts will more than offset the demand increase caused by the retirement of baby boomers and the movement of the post-baby boom ‘bust’ generation into business’ senior ranks. They will ensure the perpetuation of centuries of wage slavery, the demoralization of more generations of workers in largely meaningless, underpaid jobs, and the continued subjugation of many bright and competent people by a small number of moneyed and incompetent managers, most of whom either inherited their wealth and position or bought it by virtue of enrolment in ivy league colleges and subsequent employment by companies currying favour with their privileged fathers.

In short, American economics stacks the deck against new entrepreneurs, against young people and old people with ambition and ideas, and against a more egalitarian working world. True talent, the ability to run a healthy business that puts people and the environment ahead of short term profit, will continue to be scarce in the executive suites of major corporations.The reality that America is not the land of unlimited opportunity, but rather a land where cartels of privilege prevail and consolidate their staggering wealth and power by working the political and economic engines to entrench their dynasties, will be hard for Americans to face up to. But ending this tyranny is the only way out. We can’t hope or expect a ‘talent shortage’ to do the job for us.

Postscript: Image above from VisionFragments – see right sidebar.

This entry was posted in How the World Really Works. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. O RLY YA RLY says:

    (off topic) I like the way you called my blog “Daihatsu Harald” in your Salon Blogs links section. My first real nickname! No idea what it could mean, though.

  2. Marie Foster says:

    I have been talking about these things until I am blue in the face. I am tired. I am going to bed and pull the covers up around my head. Actually, I have been looking into getting some counseling. My depression has returned. Now that I WILL NOT MEDICATE, I guess I need to look at other methods. Either that or just be accepting that I always have tears coming out of my eyes.

  3. ed nixon says:

    I’ve heard of “Post-modernism”; is there such a thing as “post-Marxism”? Is that you? But then Our Neighbours to the South (and that includes anyone, anywhere facing in that direction) have always been able to transcend the stereotypes they create of others and of themselves. And with unselfconscious aplomb.For example, check the Globe&Mail’s weekend TV supplement. Stephen Cole, the guy who occassionally writes the first page commentary made an intersting statement this morning in a delightful item comparing and contasting Dr. Phil McGraw and Hank Kingsley, aka, Jeffrey Tambor.”I would say as reality shows go, ‘Dr. Phil’ is more engaging than ‘American Idol’ because ordinary Americans are better at being ordinary Americans than they are Vegas superstars.”What’s this got to do with it? At dinner time, I was telling my wife about the plight of people heading for the top. The myth of that road is that it gets prograssively wider, the further you go. The reality of that road is that it becomes progressively narrower the further you go. Rather than speaking to and with the power that accrues to the position — a power that should and can actually get good things done — most speak a form of NewSpeak that translates into, “Do not Disturb”, no matter how hard you work at it. Check Language, Action and Power and particularly the link to an article about The Power of WordsKeep it up Dave; it’s great stuff, but please don’t make yourself unhappy.

  4. Doug Alder says:

    You can hire live support from companies in India for $1USD per support person per hour. There is a huge number of very highly skilled tech people in India, many who would love to come to this side of the pond and work and masny who have. THere is no shortage of skilled workers nor will therte be unless we close the borders and penalize companies that use those offshore facilities. In other words it is arace to the bottom.

  5. Fiona says:

    I like your definition of True Talent, here. And I think that your observation is correct — facing up to the reality that a privileged elite is running the show (and messing up badly) is very hard for most Americans to look at. I wish more people would get some guts about doing so, though, because it would be a shame for this tidal wave to overtake us just because some people want to go on living in a dream world… I am getting so disgusted with all of the people who refuse to look…And for people like Marie, (above) I have sympathy. Her eyes are clearly open but she pays a price. That’s the thing — once you’re onboard, there isn’t much relief. It’s painful to see where we’re headed. There is ample reason to cry. (And it sucks to be dependent on pharmaceuticals, sucks to be unstable without them. I’m sorry, Marie.) So though looking at the truth causes discomfort and fear, maybe something good can come of it ultimately. Out of pain and anger come determination to change things. But if you just go along all the time pretending everything is OK, no change is apt to happen.

  6. Rob Paterson says:

    I saw About Schimdt this weekend – I found it a very sad film about how if we allow ourselves to get caught up in the corporate world we risk losing who we really are and hence we risk losing all our most important relationships. I keep seeing this type of meaning in much popular culture right now – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Martrix. This message is gripping our youth and making those os us who are older more sad and uncertain. I am also encouraged that most of my kids cohort cannot work in the corporate world – they just cannot do it.It is 40 years since the mid sixties and the last revolt. Maybe it is up to those of us like me to gave up being a rebel then to come back now and to find our own way. Most of the really talented folks I know are now out of the system.What must it have been like in Poland and Russia as the wall came down. My feeling is that we, as in the Soviet System, are gripped by a idea and its regime that seems ovrwhelming – but it is also rotten to the core and the right conditions will bring it down. Our job – to set the example

  7. Dave -Insightful and thought-provoking as always. I’d add to/take issue with a few points, however.1. At a certain point, quality is irreduceable. The complexity of information work is becoming such that even ostensibly qualified people can’t keep up. Based on my observations of corporate America, the tools people have to access and manipulate data are much smarter than most of the people using them, and at a certain point, decision-making can’t be outsourced. For this reason, talented people who can rapidly and intelligently analyze, produce or otherwise execute quality work will always be in short supply compared to the number of firms who need these skills to stay competitive.2. The productivity of technology (not just IT, but all technology) is reducing the overall demand for labor beyond the point where it is beneficial to a capitalist system. This is the point made, however imperfectly, in Rifkin’s “The End of Work.” Since we are simultaneously dismantling the social services net, we are likely to see a devestating drop in demand that will pull the overbuilt infrastructure of production and delivery down like a house of cards. I think we are already in the early stages of this, and as it gets worse, it will prompt a radical re-assessment of economic policy, much as the Great Depression did.3. We’ve seen situations like this before, in the early 1900s, 1920s, 1950s, etc. It’s a give-and-take, and sooner or later the elite will realize they need to give a little (or a lot) rather than lose everything.

  8. natasha says:

    The significant portion of our tax base is ‘working stiffs.’ Stiff them, stiff the country. At some point, no one will be able to ignore this, but I hope it isn’t too late.As consumers (voters in our economy) we need to start looking for spending options that empower businesses we approve of. Supporting local, small shop companies is a good first step. It’s harder, and difficult to extend to all areas of life, but it’s something we can keep in mind when we make purchasing decisions. (If I was really fastidious about this, for example, I’d switch to open source software.) We have to realize that we have it in our power to create jobs. We can create them with businesses that ship them overseas, or we can create them with businesses that develop them right here.Marie – It may sound like a completely nutty suggestion, but look into food allergies or intolerances, and the possibility of a sugar intolerance. I swear, it really can help some people, and I’m one of them.

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Harald: Thanks for the polite way of pointing out my typo on ‘Daihatsu’; I’ll fix it. At least I spelled ‘Harald’ correctly (and from your recent comments to Rob that’s a good thing)!

  10. Dave Pollard says:

    Ed: I’m actually not that unhappy or angry these days, it’s more like I’m ashamed that in 2003, when it’s completely unnecessary, so many people are suffering physically and psychologically because business just can’t get its shit together. I’m a believer in the basic ‘goodness’ of human nature, believe it or not (I’d never make it as a catholic of any stripe). I think the problem is we’ve largely made ourselves wage slaves, by creating the corporate form of enterprise and then letting it take control of our economy, and hence of people. At the root of this is that we keep making things too big, in the view that big and centralized is somehow more efficient, when the opposite is true. There are no economies of scale. And big economic machines, like big oil tankers, are almost impossible to control, manage and manoever. And thanks for the links.

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Doug: You’re right. We need corporate charters that preclude the export of jobs, trade agreements that allow the importation only of goods and services that cannot be reasonably produced locally, and citizen campaigns that encourage people to prefer locally-produced goods. That’s not only in America’s best interest, it is, ironically, in India’s as well.

  12. Dave Pollard says:

    Marie/Fiona: I’m distressed that my posts are causing many of my readers to feel depressed and hopeless. I’ve coped with depression much of my life, and I don’t wish it on anyone else. I don’t think the situation is hopeless, and as a relatively senior business executive I think ironically big business managers and large shareholders suffer almost as much as everyone else under the tyranny of the current system: They work insane hours, become strangers to their families, and face horrendous work stress. Most of them also feel guilty about laying people off and exporting jobs, but the demand by taxpayers (us!) for competitiveness and high ROI forces them to do so. The best way to fix the system is by creating a new post-capitalist economy (as my recent posts espouse), by curtailing the power of corporations (which I’ve also written about) and by using our consumer power to take back control of the economy (as Natasha explains in her comment above). It’s not at all hopeless, and understanding the problem is the hardest part of getting it fixed.

  13. Dave Pollard says:

    Rob P: Amen, and thanks for the recommendation on About Schmidt. Next evening of insomnia in my hotel room I’ll check it out instead of blogging!Rob S: I think you’re probably right, the only danger being that, thanks to globalization, American companies may be able to sustain massive US unemployment and recession because they’ll have a billion new employees in China who are all too willing to pick up the buying slack. In short, we’ll get out of this, but globalization will make the recovery slower and more painful.Natasha: You’re not old enough to be so wise! You’re exactly right: As voters and especially as consumers we have the power to turn this around. Do you have any perspective on why the ‘Buy American’ campaign of a few years ago seemed to have petered out?

  14. Doug Alder says:

    As globalization ultimately leads workers in North America into a downward spiral – a race to the bottom – it also raises the standard of living for foreign workers. Corporate america relies on middle class workers to buy all those goods and services they produce. As foreign competition for those jobs increases and the middle class in America becomes increasingly unemployed and incapable of sustaining those industries it will fall on those current underdeveloped countries that benefitted from those new jobs to take up the slack. That is one of the primary reasons for the war on Iraq and the upcoming war on Iran – create new markets for american corporations – replace totalitarian regime with ones friendly to amrerican corporate interests, bring american culture to those countries and thereby instill the desire to buy middle class goods and services.

  15. Dave Pollard says:

    Doug: Hmm. Interesting point, if outrageously cynical. Right now the US has a monstrous trade deficit with the rest of the world. So what could happen under your scenario is (1) Most Americans can no longer afford to buy foreign goods (since they’re now unemployed as the jobs go to the third world too), so the trade deficit dips, (2) More and more ‘American’ goods are both produced and consumed offshore, so the American corporate elite no longer care about the state of the US economy, (3) America becomes Iraq, a third-world nation with grossly unequitable wealth distribution with an economy dependent on its export of oil and other raw materials to wealthier countries, since its people can no longer manufacture anything at reasonable cost and its public education system and health care system no longer work, (4) The Arab world leverages its low labour costs, egalitarian education system and oil wealth to become the major producer and consumer of commercial goods and services, and renames itself the United States of Arabia, and (5) Fearing that America has and plans to use its WMD to attack them, the United States of Arabia launches a pre-emptive strike against America, reducing it to ruins; American citizens pillage MOMA. To the bitter end, American Information Minister Rumsfeld insists that America has successfully resisted the infidels, until he is taken away in a strait-jacket. Is there a playwright in the house?

  16. natasha says:

    Dave – I suspect that maybe one of the reasons the ‘Buy American’ campaign petered out can be summed up by a discussion I had with my SO when I bought my last car a few years ago, a Toyota. He suggested the Toyota for reliability, maybe a Honda. I said that I was leaning towards buying an American car.Then it was explained to me that the suggested model of Toyota was made in the American midwest (to avoid tariffs), and that many American cars were largely manufactured offshore. So I thought, sure, Toyota, why not.And there’s the dilemma. With these multinationals, it’s hard to tell who it would be better to do business with. Foreign companies might have factories here, American companies might be exporting jobs (possibly to very badly treated workers, and then ‘assembling’ the final goods here), or skipping out on taxes via a PO Box in the Caymans. With food, do you buy from Monsanto’s agribusiness monster factory farms, or from a Fair Trade certified organic farm in South America? And I guess what I’m trying to say is that buying American is sometimes both literally and ethically ambiguous. Better to buy local when you can, and fair when you can’t. Also, there’s No Sweat Apparel, which is guaranteed to be union made. So, you can comfortably support a world without sweatshops. Which is something that I think we could all agree would be an improvement.

  17. Dave Pollard says:

    Natasha: I agree that ‘buying American’ carries with it a certain degree of ambiguity and complexity, but then so does the labelling of ingredients and nutrition on food products, and consumers have been able to figure it out, and press for more meaningful disclosures. Maybe the label (or sticker in the case of a car) should specify what percentage of the value-added was American. That, along with fair trade labelling (see my July 2nd article on La Siembra) could give impetus to a new consumer revolution, and I think you’ve even provided the perfect slogan: Buy local when you can, and fair when you can’t.And thanks for the link to No Sweat, which I’ll be sure to patronize.

  18. Richard says:

    Dave – Your post only appears analytical. However, your use of the term “elites” for management betrays your paranoia and ruins the impression of objectivity. To think that these “elites” can possibly speak with one voice and fashion to their liking the items you say “they” will impose on “us” in the future is, well, fantasy land. I suspect you grew up with too little money as a child and probably heard your father and Aunt Penny complain too frequently about how the “suits” in the nation were screwing the “working man.” Come on already, get over it! There is no vast elite conspiracy because there is no cohesive elite that could effectuate to conspire.

  19. David Melle says:

    Although you make some excellent thought out points, it seems to me you have no base to compare the “American elite capitalistic system” with anything else.As someone who was born in Brasil and lived in France and Israel, I can say that without a doubt, for a “middle class worker”, America is the closest thing to heaven.Most countries don’t have economies that allow their citizens to have food on their table every day, let alone not “work insane hours, become strangers to their families, and face horrendous work stress”.As Dinesh D’Souza, an American citizen originally born in India, said in his “10 things to celebrate, why we love America”:”As an immigrant who has chosen to become an American citizen, I feel especially qualified to say what is special about America. Having grown up in a different society — in my case, Bombay, India — I am not only able to identify aspects of America that are invisible to the natives, but I am acutely conscious of the daily blessings that I enjoy in America. Here, then, is my list of the 10 great things about America: […]”America provides an amazingly good life for the ordinary guy. Rich people live well everywhere. But what distinguishes America is that it provides an impressively high standard of living for the “common man.” We now live in a country where construction workers regularly pay $4 for a nonfat latte, where maids drive nice cars and where plumbers take their families on vacation to Europe. Indeed, newcomers to the United States are struck by the amenities enjoyed by “poor” people. This fact was dramatized in the 1980s when CBS television broadcast a documentary, “People Like Us,” intended to show the miseries of the poor during an ongoing recession. The Soviet Union also broadcast the documentary, with a view to embarrassing the Reagan administration. But by the testimony of former Soviet leaders, it had the opposite effect. Ordinary people across the Soviet Union saw that the poorest Americanshave TV sets, microwave ovens and cars. They arrived at the same perception that I witnessed in an acquaintance of mine from Bombay who has been unsuccessfully trying to move to the United States. I asked him, “Why are you so eager to come to America?” He replied, “I really want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.” <shamefulplug> The full article is at http://www.factsofisrael.com/blog/archives/000674.html#000674 </shamefulplug>That said, many of your ideas make sense, particularly if you take an egotistical approach to the faults in America. You do seem to concentrate on how to make the system better, but I’m a bit nervous when you speak of “fixing the problem”.Is violence included in this “fixing”? Does the Proletariat revolt and overthrow the “elite”? Is it 1917 all over again?Maybe if you were a bit clearer in the specific steps that we should take to improve the system (and you did list some), instead of calling for its destruction, I’d be more receptive.Great thoughts though, I’ll come back often.

Comments are closed.