Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Self Reliance

We just had Stake Conference this past weekend and it was heavily focused on self reliance. The typical food storage talks were given and employment and finance, but a quote that I heard during it that is till ringing in my ears went something like this:

"Self Reliance without service leads to pride"...

And that's what it's all about. But although no one is truly completely self-reliant, neither are most of us completely helpless. We all have some capacity to help ourselves, so as we're trying hard to keep being busy being born, we should also be constantly on the lookout to give each other a little hand.

So, with that thought ringin' in your ears, I've been thinking a lot about employment. This article claims that if you take all of the officially unemployed and include them with folks who have just stopped looking and those folks who are working part time even though they would love to be working full time you get a number of 30 million Americans or 19% of the total workforce.

On my way home from work today, listening as I always do, to NPR, an economist compared this American recession with something Europe has gotten used to: double digit unemployment rates that just won't go away. The problem is that when a person is unemployed for long periods of time, they become more and more unemployable. Their skills get rusty and while other people are still actively honing their skills in the work force, they become more and more at a comparable disadvantage. And even when the economy kicks back into gear, companies don't want to hire people that are not job ready. This sort of dynamic really puts a long-term drag on the economy.

Which is why all of this gloom keeps me thinking about this blog.

Here, Seth is referencing the high unemployment rate of recent college graduate folks and suggests a much cheaper one-year version of graduate school. I loved it for all kinds of reasons. It made me wish I was an unemployed college graduate who could embark on this sort of thing. Sorry, Seth, I'll have to quote your list verbatim, it's just too good to rely on someone to actually click the link:

  • Spend twenty hours a week running a project for a non-profit.

  • Teach yourself Java, HTML, Flash, PHP and SQL. Not a little, but mastery. [Clarification: I know you can't become a master programmer of all these in a year. I used the word mastery to distinguish it from 'familiarity' which is what you get from one of those Dummies type books. I would hope you could write code that solves problems, works and is reasonably clear, not that you can program well enough to work for Joel Spolsky. Sorry if I ruffled feathers.]

  • Volunteer to coach or assistant coach a kids sports team.

  • Start, run and grow an online community.

  • Give a speech a week to local organizations.

  • Write a regular newsletter or blog about an industry you care about.

  • Learn a foreign language fluently.

  • Write three detailed business plans for projects in the industry you care about.

  • Self-publish a book.

  • Run a marathon.

  • He claims that if you got up by 6am, gave up television (and the internet I'm adding), you could accomplish everything on this list in one year, and then how would your employment prospects look?

    Now that is thinking big.

    This recessions is pretty fascinating to me for many reasons. How many folks during the boom really felt like they were working in jobs that were actually really, truly making real contributions to society? How many of the jobs that are now gone were just bubble jobs? Glorified "make-work" jobs artificially generated during bubble frenzy.

    Certainly a large percentage of the finance industry we could completely do without and nobody would know the difference. Or all of those loan officers pushing people into refinancing their houses. And there's so many more.

    And really, if you think about what we really need, those basic food, clothing, and shelter kinds of things. Throw in health care, education, a little entertainment, and transportation.... We actually don't need that many fully productive people working to feed, cloth, and house the world. Oh sure, we need marginally more people to build and maintain our cars, to educate ourselves and our children, and to care for some of us when we get sick, but we could get just by no where near full employment. Much of the work is increasingly becoming automated. Only a couple of those sectors are labor intensive - education and healthcare, and as a result both are consuming a higher percentage of our GDP. With technology, we can keep watching movies acted by the same small selection of actors or listen to music by a handful of the best musicians.

    Its not about putting people to work, its figuring out how distribute it all fairly. And if only a percentage of folks were supporting everyone else, I would think some resentment would build up, and those workers would start supporting only themselves and stop supporting the rest of us. We need to constantly come up with ways to keep people busy to justify spreading our wealth around as evenly as possible, if nothing else to prevent the riots that would ensue if we failed to do it.

    What makes economies function really, is make-work. But when we're thinking big, we can easily imagine the extra make-work that expands our lives and expands the world. And there's not enough people thinking big to do all of the work we really can and should be doing.

    Really, just imagine in some imaginary utopian world, that in good times, we (all of us) carefully squirreled away enough money and/or food to get by for a year without employment.

    And when a bubble hit, and if we found ourselves unemployed, we considered this an opportunity to acquire skills we never had time to acquire before. Imagine the feeling that when a layoff notice came in, we thought to ourselves, cool, time to re-tool.

    And we plunged into all or part of a list like the one above.

    Recessions would disappear. And instead of being laid off we would have to, after 10 or soish years of working, proactively decide to take a year off to re-tool.

    Our economy would be vibrant, our communities would thrive, we would be collectively rich beyond imagination.

    In my dream world, I would be surrounded by craftsmen (and women), artists, and musicians who surrounded my world with beautiful, inspiring things. Architects who designed beautiful neighborhoods, public gardens, houses and buildings.

    We live in a world that wants us to think small, but I'm asking you to think big.

    Today's my birthday. A while back I blogged about my birthday, about how I wanted those interested to join me in celebrating it in some symbolic way.

    This is how I want you to celebrate my birthday. Please, for me, start thinking big.


    H said...

    Oh Geez, Scott. Really? Can't I just bring you a cake and sing to you?

    I'll see what I can do...

    tempe turley said...

    Helena, I'm just asking you to think big, how you choose to do that (or even if) is completely up to you.

    But hey, whose counting, cake and singing maybe big thinking for some people :-)...