Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are You A Sponge, Slopper or Superslopper?

I had never heard of Andy Kessler until this past week.  I read the introduction to his new book, "Eat People And Other Unapologetic Rules for Game-Changing Entrepreneurs" compliments of John Mauldin's Outside the Box newsletter.  He then turns up on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal a couple of days later with an op-ed piece, "Is Your Job an Endangered Species?".

I now know Andy Kessler and he is an excellent writer.  Kessler was a Wall Street hedge fund manager for many years who focused on finding his investors "the next big thing".  It often led him to the technology area.

His basic thesis is pretty simple.  Technology eats the jobs of people.  However, the economy is incredibly dynamic.  History shows that labor-saving machines do not decrease overall jobs even when they make some jobs obsolete.  The new economic growth creates new jobs, raises the standard of living for everyone and the lost jobs ultimately are quickly forgotten-if the policy makers let it happen.

I am old enough to remember plenty of jobs that Kessler could be describing.  Long distance operator.  Stenographer.  Gas station attendant.  I'm not quite old enough to remember the whale oil salesman.

How does Kessler define an economy?  From the introduction to his book.
There is only one definition of an economy I’ve ever been comfortable with: a system that increases the standard of living of its participants. Period. Everything else from credit to money supply to quarterly earnings releases to minimum wages is just a tool or else a meaningless characteristic of an economy.
Increasing standards of living doesn’t happen automatically. It’s not a gift from heaven. Someone has to invent the future. 
I call them Free Radicals. We’ve seen them throughout history.
Charles Curtis’s 1903 steam turbine generator electricity to the masses. Using that electricity, in 1907, James Spangler, a janitor with asthma, invented an electric suction-sweeper, today’s vacuum cleaner. William David Coolidge’s thermionic X-ray tube of 1913 changed medicine. That same year, the Walker brothers in Philadelphia invented the first electric dishwasher. In 1916, Clarence Birdseye perfected the flash-freezing process (and Birds Eye potato puffs). In 1928, Thomas Midgley, Albert Henne, and Robert McNary synthesized the first chlorofluorocarbons (trademarked as Freon in 1930), ushering in safe refrigerators and air conditioning (other coolants eventually replaced Freon). Paul M. Zoll created the cardiac pacemaker in 1952. And Percy L. Spencer in 1945 watched a magnetron melt candy, leading to the invention of microwave ovens.
Lots of housecleaners lost their jobs to vacuum cleaners. Lots of servants weren’t hired or husbands yelled at because of electric dishwashers. Freezers and Birds Eye frozen food put a lot of cooks out of work and on and on.
Free Radicals found situations to combust and destroy, but in the end, it was only to make room to build the new—disrupt the status quo, do more with less, advance society, drive progress rather than have progress drive them.
A Free Radical is someone who gets wealthy inventing the future by helping others live longer and better. Rather than be a burden on society or tax society or milk society for all it’s worth, a Free Radical improves society and is paid handsomely for doing so.

Which jobs does he see as endangered in the future?  He covers this in his WSJ article. He says forget white and blue collar.  There are only two type of workers in our economy-creators and servers.  The creators are the ones driving productivity growth.  The servers are the ones serving the creators (and other servers) by building homes, providing food, offering legal and financial advice, working in government jobs and so on.   They are also the ones at most risk.

He further breaks down the servers into further categories-Sloppers, Sponges, Supersloppers, Slimers and Thieves.  I'll let you determine where you fit in.

I probably have been a sponge, superslopper and slimer at various stages of my career.  I can only hope that BeeLine has enabled me to now be considered a creator.  Technology could no better replace me writing this blog than a computer could beat the best on Jeopardy.  Right?

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