Disruption and the Upcoming Chaos

Ben Sasse wrote a piece in the WSJ about how the political sphere is not dealing with economic changes head on. It’s written as if a government can do something about it.

When he talks about education and retraining, the problem is worse than he describes. Companies don’t train anymore. That’s because the fundamental purpose of business has changed. Ruthlessly (potentially) optimized to provide a product or service for maximum profit at all costs. People are a liability. Not only that, the skills most people can learn here, anyone anywhere in the world can learn and do it cheaper. If the radiologist can be sitting in Malaysia reading the chart of a patient in Midtown, an accountant in India is working on taxes for Deloitte, what job exactly does Sasse think will stay in the US? He says there are many potential policy responses available. Doubtful. None of them will be sustainable. Especially none that he can get through a Republican Congress. We won’t even get into automation.

Sasse alludes to it, most of the rules/religions we have and what we expect out of our lives were designed for living on farms when the family was the economic unit. It was for a time when having a bigger family meant more money. A boy knew as much as he was going to know about farming by the age of 15. He needed to start on the baby makin’. Concepts like waiting for marriage before being intimate meant something different 2000 years ago. Protestant work ethic was great when people were traveling on a wagon trying to stake out 100 acres in California in the 1850s. Will Durrant wrote about this. In an agricultural world, you could see religion in action, the cycle of birth, death, rebirth. It does not have the same impact when most of the population lives in dense areas, commuting, and pushing around pointless (digital) paper feverishly all day indoors or staring at tiny screens in our hands.

Whatever tribe (family, church, country, etc.) protected us and gave us comfort previously doesn’t know how to deal with the current avalanche of changes. We are in the ugly middle where the old ways don’t work anymore, but we haven’t found anything new to replace them with yet.

And anyone who says they have the answers is full of shit.