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Democracy & Technology Blog Untouchables and substitutables

Thomas L. Friedman has a particularly good editorial in today’s New York Times.

While the subprime mortgage mess involved a huge ethical breakdown on Wall Street, it coincided with an education breakdown on Main Street — precisely when technology and open borders were enabling so many more people to compete with Americans for middle-class jobs.

He cites Harvard University labor expert Lawrence Katz who explains:

If you think about the labor market today, the top half of the college market, those with the high-end analytical and problem-solving skills who can compete on the world market or game the financial system or deal with new government regulations, have done great. But the bottom half of the top, those engineers and programmers working on more routine tasks and not actively engaged in developing new ideas or recombining existing technologies or thinking about what new customers want, have done poorly. They’ve been much more exposed to global competitors that make them easily substitutable.

An untouchable is someone who can imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work. Untouchables are being retained, while substitutables are being laid off.
Friedman adds,

Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.