Notes from Books About Jobs and Work

Highlights from a recent stack of books I’ve been reading.

From The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton:

Of the 7 billion people on Earth, there are 5 billion adults aged 15 and older. Of these 5 billion, 3 billion tell Gallup they work or want to work. Most of these people need a full-time formal job. The problem is that there are currently only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs in the world. This is a potentially devastating global shortfall of about 1.8 billion good jobs. It means that global unemployment for those seeking a formal good job with a paycheck and 30+ hours of steady work approaches a staggering 50%, with 10% wanting part-time work…Until rather recently in human evolution, explorers were looking for new hunting grounds, cropland, territories, passageways, and natural resources. But now, the explorers are seeking something else.

From Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford:

We are experiencing a genuine crisis of confidence in our most prestigious institutions and professions. This presents an opportunity to reconsider basic assumptions. The question of what a good job looks like — of what sort of work is both secure and worthy of being honored — is more open now than it has been for a long time. Wall Street in particular has lost its luster as a destination for smart and ambitious young people. Out of the current confusion of ideals and confounding of career hopes, a calm recognition may yet emerge that productive labor is the foundation of all prosperity.

From Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, sound advice on how to fuel job growth:

Eliminate or reduce the massive home mortgage subsidy. This costs over $130 billion per year, which would do much more for growth if allocated to research or education. While home ownership has many laudable benefits, it likely reduces labor mobility and economic flexibility, which conflicts with the economy’s increased need for flexibility.

From Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It by Don Peck

Arguably the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever-more-distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing of the middle class….

Women’s growing success in the classroom and workforce is of course a cause for celebration. But the failure of many men to adapt to a postindustrial economy is worrying. The economy appears to be evolving in a way that is ill-suited to many men—at least outside the economy’s upper echelons. Men’s struggles are hardly evident in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street. But they’re hard to miss in foundering blue-collar and low-end service communities across the country.

6 comments on “Notes from Books About Jobs and Work
  • I read an excerpt from the The Coming Jobs War on a recent flight that included the above quote. I found the writing to be of low quality and the economic arguments to be even worse. The author treats jobs as a finite commodity like gold or oil. He lumps together rich and poor and acts as though they all need the same thing: a full-time formal job. That is ridiculous. The problem is that 1.7 billion people in the world are living in absolute poverty and do not have the skills/resources to provide for themselves. The problem isn’t that they don’t have formal jobs with companies registered with the government. The Coming Jobs War is sensationalism preying on American fears about joblessness. It is not serious, thoughtful, or well-informed. Frankly, I’m surprised to see you quote the book without any criticism or qualification. Race Against The Machine is a much better discussion of the future of jobs.

    • Chris,
      I agree with you about those not skilled living in abject poverty but the point the book is making is about middle class jobs..the kind that enable a country’s economy to grow, thrive and help raise the bottom end. India would be a prime example of that. There is a huge shortage of work for the middle class skilled worker globally moving forward in this decade. Just because a book is badly written doesn’t invalidate the point it is making.

      According to Vikram Pandit, CEO of the global bank, Citigroup Inc., “The world needs 400 million new jobs between now and the end of the decade, not counting the 200 million needed just to get back to full employment, so “that should be our number one priority”.

      He said this at Davos last month. And they can’t figure out how to raise GDP to create enough jobs.

  • You’re right. I actually wouldn’t recommend the book overall – I skipped the last half for the reasons you mention. This was was just quick excerpts from four different books.

  • “The Coming Job Wars” is spot on and was echoed in the recent World Economics Forum in Davos. In fact, it is all they talked about as a problem without a solution. I just wrote a blog post entitled, ” A Right to Work? Does the 1% Owe the 99% a Job?”

    I frankly think there needs to be some kind of rethinking of the notion of earning a living when there isn’t one to be had. Aren’t we civilized enough to move past the Darwinian notion of fighting over a bone…currently labeled work? Isn’t there ample wealth worldwide to ensure that people are cared for without having to fight for a living? If we proceed down the path of warring over work then we will all lose as a consequence.

  • Matthew Crawford makes a solid argument about the nature of work and how little work with our hands is valued. How many white collar desk jobs are truly fulfilling and intellectually rewarding when we are literally pushing paper all day long or staring at the computer all day long? If future college graduates enter the workforce those lucrative or attractive jobs society emphasizes and value will challenge them mentally, they are in for a surprise.

    I think part of our economy’s decline is the shift from being a manufacturer to a consumer. There is so little product created thanks to rising costs and cheap labor from China. We continue to import useless junk yet export wines, waste product and recycling. Where’s the innovation in those commodities? Trade jobs actually help exercise our brain by forcing us to calculate, evaluate and using our sheer mental force to make decisions.

    If there was more of a balance in our society and some reward in these hands-on jobs I have a feeling our economy and society would be in a better state.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *