By Karl Arnold Belser
22 September 2013
The shape-shifting of the American economy apparently is one from lifetime employment as described by William Whyte in The Organization Man to that of the free agent as described by Daniel Pink in The Free Agent Nation.
Pink points out that the paternal organizations like IBM that had high pay, lifetime employment, comprehensive family medical benefits, and a secure retirement pension are dissolving before our eyes. I know this because I am a retired IBM organization man who spent the last 5 years of my career as a free agent. My IBM pension after 30 years of service started at 30% of my final salary and it is not adjusted for cost of living. This pension is now a small percentage of my total income. My total income comes mostly from the returns on the money that I earned as a free agent. As I write these lines, IBM has just informed me that I will have to withdraw from the IBM retirement medical plan if I want to continue with Kaiser Permanente. IBM says that they are moving to automation and to off-shore workers in order to remain competitive.
Today the American workforce is about 25% free agents and that of California, where I live, is about 33%. Free agents, for the purpose of these numbers are part time people, consultants, businesses with 2 or fewer people and employees who typically change jobs every two or three years. This is a dramatic change that has occurred over the last 30 years. Free agent employment appears to be a mega-trend.
Pink suggests that women are surviving better in the free agent climate, which may explain what I describe in The End of Men. It may also explain the high male unemployment rate as I describe in Mega-Trends 2013, in the section called AUTOMATION. The routine jobs are more and more being done by automation.Hence people are going to have to figure out what jobs can only be done by humans and then to develop these new skills. Until this awareness becomes universal many people will have to accept part-time work. This is similar to what happened at the end of the 19th century when many people became domestic servants until they became better educated and developed new skills.
Pink suggests that the current national educational system if still focused on training people to fit into organizations rather than on becoming free agents with a marketable skill. The Common Core initiative is an example of central control that makes the educational system fragile, in the Nacim Taleb sense, because it undermines the teacher's abilities to adapt to the societal and economic changes that are happening. No state governor nor school board knows the answers because they have not been discovered yet. Experiments all over the nation could ferret out ways of teaching that work, just like the start-up companies in Silicon Valley have ferreted out businesses that are viable.
One example of an interesting experiment is that of the Khan Academy and the FLIP classroom., in which the student educates himself using Khan Academy videos and competency tests and the teacher helps mainly the students that have severe problems.
Los Altos California schools are trying to modernize the public school classroom using the FLIP classroom. This classroom is still structured in grades and assumes that all students at that grade level should be capable of 100% mastery of the material. The assumptions may or may not be true, and in any case. the best and brightest students are used as a resource to help the slower students learn. The teacher would be focused on the very poorest students, not on the best students. Hence, this approach holds back the potential from the brighter students to quickly advance and ultimately contribute to society.
In my opinion the nation is mismanaging its most valuable asset, the bright and motivated student, by focusing education on the bottom part of the class. Why shouldn't bright students be allowed to learn at a high rate independent of their grade level?
Pink suggests that home schooling may be the answer. He points out that free agents working at home are best situated to teach their children by example what is really important, possibly using the material an dmethods from the Khan Academy. I have heard (Hoover Institute) that in California home schooled high school students test an average of four grade levels higher than do their public school counterparts. The fact that many of the startup companies in Silicon Valley have been started by immigrants, not American educated students, is a veiled indication that our public school system is failing our brightest students. None of these factual indicators have apparently penetrated the educational bureaucracy of the nation.
Pink points out that the good news is that the free agent can afford much of the automation and means of production that he might need to do his job as well as to educate his or her children.
I know this fact first hand because I took charge of a 501C3 non-profit in 2006, the Committee to Promote Square Dancing. and I found to my pleasure that two people, my significant other and I, could run this organization with little or no outside help. We do advertising, communication by email, baking and financial reports by computer, and print our own paper flyers. We make money from hoedowns and teach our classes through the Parks and Recreation department of the city of San Jose. I do this work because I like making a contribution to society, which is another aspect of free agency. We learned what we needed to know to run our non-profit using Internet resources.
Last updated January 4, 2014
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