Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jobs for our Kids?

A couple of weeks back, I asked my 4 year old son Gun what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, "I want to be a doctor...and a cowboy."

I liked the answer. I said, "A doctor? That's great!"

Gun was silent for a moment, and then he said, "But wait...where am I going to get a white shirt?"

Doctors will always have jobs, as will dentists, plumbers, Xerox machine technicians, and government bureaucrats. I worry about everyone else, including cowboys. In the computer age, most work can be outsourced. A lot of entertainment is now online, created and consumed for free.

I recently put up a post on bigWOWO referencing David Brooks and the Economist's opinion on Tyler Cowan's recent book "The Great Stagnation." Read it here. Cowan's theory, according to Brooks and the Economist, is that big growth takes place in a society where there is low hanging fruit--when there is a something that people need--food, education, a new technology. Now that almost everyone has computers, food, education, etc., there are no more big gains to be had in the U.S. The knowledge-heavy companies like Facebook and Twitter don't create that many jobs. Compare that with China and India--that's where the growth is going to be, according to the low hanging fruit theory.

Do any of you worry about the job prospects for the next generation? If so, what are your thoughts?


Adrian said...

My name is Adrian, and I am a 5th year Architecture student at the University of Oregon. I've interned in Hong Kong, worked on projects for and with the school, and presented at a national conference in New York on sustainable and reusable insulation. I'm getting fluent in the computer aided design architectural programs, and fluent in graphic design programs.

People tell me, 'you'll be fine kid, you have a pretty good rep to work off of.'

I feel otherwise. And that concerns me even further when in 5-10 years when I have a kid of my own (I hope, I need a girlfriend first).

It isn't even the outsourcing that scares me (it does, but not as much as), but the competition that we have. Like you said, there isn't much room for growth in the US anymore, I personally will be going back to HK to look for a job after college. But what then for my kids. China is a growing power, but at this rate, will they blow out just as the states have in this last 10-20 years with the technology boom? Or is the question, will we be lucky enough to have another technology boom? Will the exponential growth rate of technology eventually zero itself out?

I'm concerned about getting a job myself, and doubles for the future of my kids.

(As for getting a white shirt, tell him not to worry, I didn't own a white dress shirt until last year, he still has 18 years to get a good one.)

bigWOWO said...

Oregon, baby! Go Ducks!

I think moving to HK is a great move, especially for an architect. There is so much land on which to build in China from a base in HK. Plus, I'm guessing your American aesthetics might be in demand. The average income of a Chinese citizen is still only a fraction of what a U.S. citizen earns, so there's plenty of room to grow there. Think also of the fact that a good portion of China is still rural and can still urbanize.

China will still be modernizing when your kids are of age--it's a huge country with a lot of people, and even with the advent of new technology, it will still take time. Plus, the Chinese are also taking a lead in modernizing Africa. Whether they can deal with the government corruption there is a hard question, but if there is potential, they will find it.

Now long term--i.e. your grandchildren--that I don't know. Past technologies improved man's ability to do physical labor; today we seem to be dealing with machines that are replacing human thought. When we get to a place where we no longer have to work, we'll also be at a place where we no longer have a means of getting paid!

My wife told Gun that she would buy him a shirt. After he gets into med school, of course. :)

Adrian said...

Haha. It should be interesting to see how it all goes down. I never thought of Africa as the next frontier. In a way I've always thought of Africa as timeless. But very true.

Anyways, keep up the writings. I hope to join the ranks of you awesome dads someday. Not too soon, but someday.