Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Thomas Friedman is Clueless

In today's NYTimes, Average is Over, Part II by Thomas Friedman.

Why am I utterly infuriated? Let me count the ways:

1.) Friedman seems to be living in a parallel universe where parents control the school system. He quotes Jon Schnur saying that "too many kids are not coming out of K-12 prepared for [postsecondary education], and too many parents don’t get it."

Oh really? Lots of parents get that something is wrong with their local schools, and then they discover that they are powerless to effect change. Talk to the parents at kitchen table math, who certainly get that American math education is under par, and ask where their years of activism have gotten them. Talk to Chris over at A Blog About School, and see how much effect he's had on his school system's use of authoritarian discipline.

2.) Friedman seems to think we should ask CEOs what they want, and then design our society to match their needs. I think we should figure out what kind of society we want, and let the CEOs figure out how to run their companies within it. Yes, I'm a far-out lefty.

Currently, a large fraction of Americans are unemployed or underemployed. Of those who are employed, many find themselves working punishingly long hours just to keep their jobs. The top jobs are higher-pressured than ever before (see Linda Hirshmann's article, "It's About the 1%").

Automation and outsourcing first took away blue-collar assembly jobs, but increasingly they're taking away mid-level white-collar jobs as well. We're left with a few high-paid, high-education jobs that will never employ more than a small fraction of the population (e.g., college professor, doctor), and a great many low-level jobs (e.g., nursing, sanitation) that don't pay a middle-class wage. This is not the model of a functioning society.

We are past overdue for serious changes in the American workplace. We need to figure out what employment should look like in a world where more and more work is automated. We need powerful labor unions (remember them?) who will fight for worker's rights. We need shorter workweeks, or at the very least we should start enforcing the 40-hour work week for white-collar workers. Everyone who works full-time should be guaranteed decent wages.

3.) We can certainly do a much better job of educating our kids, and I'm in favor of doing so. But education doesn't create jobs. The fact that college-educated folks have, on average, lower levels of unemployment and earn more than those without college degrees doesn't imply that if we just get more kids through college, jobs will magically appear for them. The large number of unemployed and underemployed recent college graduates speaks to the futility of this plan.