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.