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Occasionally, even Stiglitz gets it wrong

If you can name these guys (collectively and individually), you might be a Joneser. 

In Saturday’s post, I mentioned briefly that Stiglitz was in Australia recently warning the Aussies not to import American ideas regarding privatization and capitalism.  You can watch the video here.  It’s about an hour and a half long but it’s pretty good.

He also touched on the plight of the over 50 crowd.  Actually, he says that the problems the over 50’s are facing are spreading downward to people in their 30s and 40s.  He says that the guys in charge of the country have written the over 50 crowd off in terms of the market and jobs in general.  Well, that would explain a lot, like why it is so difficult to get an interview.

But where Stiglitz gets it wrong would be when he says that we lack the technical skills to succeed in this environment.  He says that the economy thinks we are a “disposable commodity” and “technologically obsolete”.

I’d just like to set the record straight here.  I am what commenter r u reddy refers to as Generation Jones.  That is the generation that is wedged in between the baby boomers and the millenials.  Most of us were too young to be radicals.  We lived through the Civil Rights Era but were more likely to attend integrated schools.  We were the bussed generation.  We were the generation that didn’t experience the gender divide between wood shop and home ec. We were the ones who faced the first cuts to post secondary school education.  We didn’t get income averaging or interest deductions on our income taxes.  We were the generation that had to pay more for our social security in the surplus fund. (There’s a quiz to see if you belong.  Check it out here.)

And we were also the generation of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  We cut our teeth on Lotus, basic and the original Macs.  In many of our first jobs, we were expected to know how to create macros, run lab equipment with computers with tiny RAM and floppy disks to collect data.  We had to learn VMS to run the VAX, Windows to write reams and reams of reports with Microsoft Office, and Unix, followed by linux, to configure web accessed databases.  Younguns got it easy.  I remember the first days of the web when we had to use ftp at the command line to check the temperature of the cokes in a CMU vending machine, when there weren’t any search engines, and we had to write online tutorials with nothing but HTML tags and we liked it.  But when new technology came along to replace the insufficient, kludgy and tedious, we embraced it and learned it like everybody else.  We’re not the baby boomer managers who wouldn’t know linux if it bit them in the ass.

I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone sometimes when I get interviewed by someone and they say, “Do you really know how to use Microsoft Office and Email?”   I keep thinking that they must be addressing someone standing behind me.  Of course I know Microsoft Office and Email. Do I look Amish to you?  There’s not an office application, database application, web based application, email application, fill in the blank, that I haven’t used regularly, configured, played with until I got bored or haven’t been able to figure out given a few hours and a lot of questions. (never read the manual)  I imagine that the vast majority of my generation is well adapted to technology and hasn’t met a gadget they didn’t want to overpay apple to possess.

So, I’m not sure who Stiglitz is referring when he says the over 50s have a problem with technology  but it sounds like conventional wisdom, that beautiful theory destroyed by ugly facts.  I really wish Stiglitz wouldn’t perpetuate the myth that Generation Jones isn’t technically able and, therefore, have no prospects.  It is hurting us.

Here’s my beautiful theory: the wealthy do not want to be encumbered with taxes to pay for anyone’s retirement.  They’re owners of equity, not the actual owners who made arrangements or were forced into a government enforced retirement plan back in the day.  If these over 50 year olds spend a decade or more in low level jobs at subsistence wages so they end up taking less in social security payments than they might have otherwise, problem solved!

I’m still collecting data on this.  I might open up an Excel spreadsheet to keep track.

15 Responses

  1. I’m 67 and am in the same tech boat– though I’m not looking for work; my latest tech thing is 3d modeling and 3d printing. It is tedious sometimes dealing with people who think because I’m old and ugly I don’t know how to use tech. I don’t use a smart phone and I’ve never tweeted but it is sure as hell not because I can’t figure out the tech– I just have no overriding desire to be connected constantly with everyone.

    • Well, I like Twitter and messaging instead of phoning but can’t stand Facebook. To each his/her own.

  2. My SS was whacked, also. Thank you, Alan, may my fate be yours. And the periodic re-jiggering of the CPI takes more bites. We’re being stacked up like cord wood.

  3. Just because we don’t fetishize technology doesn’t mean we don’t know how to use it.

    When I was in law school in the early 1990s, the big debate was WordStar versus WordPerfect. Laptops were unheard of. The people we interned for were the ones who bragged about how they didn’t even know how to turn their computers on. I wonder if this is an idea that depends on industries too. In law, so much has been changed that you MUST know how to do things electronically.

    • Law is definitely behind the curve then. In science, we were playing with laptops back in 1988. True, they were like a block of lead and the screen was orange on black but they definitely existed. I remember having a couple of years of Unix under my belt and several apple workstations when the web blew my mind in 1993 or 94. I was an instant convert.
      We were forced to convert to Windows from the apples around 1996. By then, I had 10 years of PC experience.

      • Maybe the legal field was slower, but the point is that now in many places (specifically in federal court) you have to do everything electronically. In some states (including here in WA State) I you are an attorney, you have to file everything electronically. We don’t have the option of being technologically obtuse, even past age 50.

        • Yeah you don’t have an option. In fact, the conventional wisdom is even more stupid than that. If you are looking for a job, you HAVE to use an online form. And that means, you have to be able to switch browsers if necessary, be able to format your resume in .doc and .pdf, know which layout and font the online form prefers (usually bullet points and New Times Roman), and be able to edit and upload on the fly. It’s not complicated if you’ve been doing it for most of your adult life. It’s just painfully tedious. Not only is it painfully tedious, it’s maddening to think there is some young ditz on the other end with a preconceived notion that you don’t know how to use Word.
          How does that happen?? Oh, yeah, people like Stiglitz just say it as if it is true.

  4. I hear all of this and I’m with you!!! And I’m seriously considering putting on an interview suit and standing at the local freeway exit.

    My sign will say, “no I’m not looking for a handout. I’m looking for a freaking job.” And apparently if you’re over 50, the two are analogous….because, you know, we’re clueless.

  5. I was born in 1963. I identify with Gen X, but will accept “Late Boomer” instead of “Early X”.

    I will NOT accept being called “Generation Jones”.

    “Boomer” is a cool name. “X” is a cool name. “Jones” is a name with a temperature which would melt tungsten. :p

    • {{snort!}} I know! It wasn’t the name I would have chosen either. But I can’t think of a better one, which is part of the problem for us inbetweeners. It wasn’t a cool coming of age period. Well, there was MTV. Generation Video Killed the Radio Star? It’s kinda long.

  6. Stiglitz means well and he tries. That he believes the “lack of tech-skills” line just shows the Power of Dominant Narrative over the minds of Nobel Economists.

    Employees and prospective job-seekers have zero ability to break the power of this narrative. Only employERS can break or even crack this narrative. And the only way they can do that is by accepting applications in analog format on dead-tree paper application forms, and by including analog criteria among the “accept/reject” filters to which face-to-face interviewEES are put.

  7. Oh, I just love how your idea of countering age discrimination is to make snide remarks about Baby Boomers. You used command line ftp? Aren’t you wonderful. We wrote programs in Assembly language on card decks and debugged them with hex dumps.

    Go pat yourself on the back. You’re as bad as they are.

    • Why are you boomers so sensitive? No, seriously. You’ve got the thinnest skins.
      Everytime the late boomers try to separate ourselves from the older boomers, because we don’t really have anything in common, we can count on one of you guys to drop in and whine about being picked on. You guys should pat yourselves on the back for not being US.
      If you learned assembly, great! I wasn’t a computer science major.

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