fat dumb happy

fatdumbhappy0911

I drew this cartoon this morning, while thinking about a conversation I had a couple of years ago:

I was on the phone to an old friend of mine, a guy in his late for­ties, who was born and bred in Michi­gan, and is living there now. He was telling me about his uncle, who, about four deca­des ago, got his highschool sweetheart preg­nant. So ins­tead of going off to college, he found him­self with a new wife, a child on the way, and an assembly-line job at Gene­ral Motors. But even though this situa­tion clip­ped his wings con­si­de­rably, he still ended up having a nice life in the end, with a home, a big yard, two cars, a steady paycheck, wee­kends fishing or hun­ting deer, and vaca­tions in Hawaii every year or so. “The days where a blue collar guy like my uncle could have a nice life without doing much,” my friend said, “those days are gone. Gone fore­ver.”

And in the back of my mind, I’m thin­king the same is star­ting to hap­pen to white collar guys more and more, as well. But it’s not quite out in the open yet. Society’s not quite ready to have that con­ver­sa­tion.

I also heard a statistic a couple of weeks ago that there are at least thirty million children in China currently taking piano lessons. Thirty. Million.

We live in interesting times…

[Update: ]“Thousandists”: My long-time Spanish blog buddy, Nia left an interesting comment below:

That con­ver­sa­tion about white-collar jobs is four years old in Spain.

This is the short ver­sion: The peo­ple who were in their 20-30s in the 1970s saw that a Uni­ver­sity degree made a big dif­fe­rence in your job and salary. They made their kids (anyone born 1970?–?1985) study, and that young gene­ra­tion belie­ved for a while that we could do the same trick as our parents. Get a degree. The job will follow.

We now have a word for peo­ple of my gene­ra­tion with a hand­ful of degrees: mileu­ris­tas. Thou­san­dists. As in, someone who makes around 1,000 euros a month. There’s so many of us, no one’s willing to pay us more than a (barely) living wage.

[Backs­tory: About Hugh. E-mail Hugh. Twit­ter. Limi­ted Edi­tion Prints. Car­toon Archive. News­let­ter. Book. Inter­viewEssen­tial Rea­ding:Everything You Always Wan­ted To Know About ‘Cube Gre­na­des’ But Were Afraid To Ask.”]

 

Comments

  1. Tom Peters said years ago that 90% of white collar jobs were going the way of manufacturing, due to coming advances in computers, expert software systems (low-grade AI), and outsourcing.

    • Yes Michael, I remember him saying that… and you’re right, that was a LONG TIME ago.

      It’s been a while since I’ve had to worry about “The Commodification of Hugh”, Thank God…

  2. David Schnitzer says:

    Please, let it be so.

  3. Hey Hugh… Been having this conversation about all the building crafts people we know – sheetrockers, electricians, plumbers, etc. – that learned a craft once many years ago, a craft where the skills haven’t changed much since they started 30 years ago – They all were making $60-100K, had all the toys (snowmobiles, 4-wheelers, boats, lake cabins you name it) and now the world just crashed. Those wages just aren’t coming back, they are now at half if one is lucky.
    The “fat, dumb, happy” days are indeed over.

  4. Veralynne Pepper says:

    Sad story, but so true. An uncle who worked 40 years for White Sewing Machine Co. retired (about 30+ yrs ago, now), as White and Singer merged or something; he got NO retirement money!! Life he looked forward to and worked hard for, down the drain–an early victim. I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, land of steelworkers AND autoworkers responsible for suburban upward mobilization. All gone. Japanese steel instead of homemade in cars. You know the China story on everything else. BTW, my father, a bus driver, died at 56, leaving my mother HIS pension payments, incredibly good health care coverage for life AND a paid-for house! Gone are those days, for sure.

  5. Veralynne Pepper says:

    P.S. Asian people understand link between music and math–it shows in test scores and in higher ed. In U.S., it’s taken away! How stupid are we? Also, I don’t think Chinese kids are hooked on TV and negative-themed video games but on learning and intellectual achievement.

  6. That conversation about white-collar jobs is four years old in Spain.

    This is the short version: The people who were in their 20-30s in the 1970s saw that a University degree made a big difference in your job and salary. They made their kids (anyone born 1970-1985) study, and that young generation believed for a while that we could do the same trick as our parents. Get a degree. The job will follow.

    We now have a word for people of my generation with a handful of degrees: mileuristas. Thousandists. As in, someone who makes around 1,000 euros a month. There’s so many of us, no one’s willing to pay us more than a (barely) living wage.

    (Me, I realised that I would make more money, work less, and find a job younger as a high school teacher than as a professor at University)

  7. No additions, just a tiny correction,
    this bbc says 30 million Kids in China are learning Piano:
    (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/7436434.stm)

    All Kids in China learning classical music is here claimed to be 60 Million
    (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/KD21Ad01.html)

    Still.

  8. If one in a million of those 60 million piano students is a genius = 6 geniuses.

    It could safe to assume that there are 60 million students studying physics, maths, economics, or art too, the same genius rule could apply.

    I have read that in the not to distant future China will be the biggest English speaking nation on earth.

    It gets more interesting all the time.

  9. This whole discussion reminds me of Ken Robinson’s TED talk a few years ago:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
    [ted id=66]

    In U.S.A. and other countries where education is readily accessible, an undergraduate college degree is no longer a guarantee of a job. Now a graduate degree is needed. Case in point: 20 years ago a librarian had a chance of getting a decent job with only an undergrad degree and today a master’s degree is required. The pay has remained relatively the same, tasks have become much more computer-based, and — in these “tough financial times” — their skill set is in high demand by the public yet libraries are the first for cuts by the government. Even a master’s degree holds no job security.

    What makes a difference is being totally fucking amazing in the eyes of your customers and your peers. That’s the only way to cultivate job security today.

    • Yes, I recently saw a job posting for a Grateful Dead archivist that has to have an ALA masters degree in Library Sciences…I would like to meet this person!

  10. Perhaps the “bottom line” is, if so many of us only consider the bottom line i.e. go for what’s cheapest, this is inevitable.

    I figure if I live long enough, the manufacturing jobs will come back – we’ll offshore everything, turn North America into a backwater country while Asia becomes like we once were, and then the cycle will repeat.

    Seriously though, do something that can’t be done remotely, and have realistic expectations. Or move where the action is. Or create a business where you live that services the people where the action is.

    (I say that as a Canadian nuclear engineer who will likely be off-shored in the next year or so. And I’ll survive, because I’m smart.)

    A warm dry house goes a long way. Cars and vacations can’t keep you warm in a long winter…

  11. As a young holder of [only] a bachelor’s degree and having entered the workforce in the last few years, I have experienced this problem first hand. After I graduated in 2006, it took me a little over a year to find, relocate for, and get started in a job. Even then, the job only lasted nine months – creative differences. It took me another eight months to find the next job (thanks to California’s economy), and I was attempting to start a marriage in the midst of being so unsettled.

    All that and my degree was in a field that “desperately needed workers”. There were plenty of good jobs available, but none for someone who didn’t have five years experience and a master’s degree. The only remaining jobs were at small, rural organizations and/or places with known dysfunctions.

    I was angry. The lie of job-yielding education had been foisted upon me since grade school.

    However, now I’ve settled down in a job that fits my skill sets much better – and it’s not quite what I went to school for.

    Two major things I’ve learned in the process:
    - One, degrees aren’t meaningless, but they’re not automatically meaningful either. It takes a rather spoiled and naive generation (myself included) to assume that sleeping your way through a few university classes means that someone should invest tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars in you. Getting and keeping a job requires passion, creativity, humility, and that weird old-fashioned thing – hard work. You might call this “real life 2.0″. Nobody cares if you have a website/degree anymore. People only care if you’re good and willing to work hard.
    - Two, in the end, it’s often about who you know. Three of the four jobs I’ve had since college were ones where a friend recommended me for the job (including the brief stint in retail). At first, I was kind of embarrassed by this. Now, I’m thankful that I have friends who think I’m worth recommending.

  12. Hey Raj,

    Yep. “Pas­sion, crea­ti­vity, humi­lity, and that weird old-fashioned thing — hard work”… Couldn’t have said it better myself…

  13. I don’t regret getting a degree. It was a very valuable experience – as valuable as the pricetag . . . I don’t know.

    As an educator now, I try to steer my students toward those things (passion, creativity, humility, and hard work), much to their frustration. In my humble opinion, the entire education system (university especially) needs revamped in this direction.

    My students often ask me, as if I were Google, “what’s the right answer?” when we’re having a discussion. I continually remind them that the answer will mean more to them when they reach it for themselves.

    Our blue ribbon for everything society has led students to believe that if you can memorize the answers (or develop a sufficient cheating system) for a multiple choice test, you’re qualified! This produces students who can scheme anything and create/discern nothing.

    My proof in all of this is guys like Mark Zuckerberg. Degree-seeking at an ivy league, he created one of the most valuable sites on the internet. The education didn’t hurt, but the creativity and relentless work drove it to the bank.

  14. We need to retool becasue old learning does not work and We need the skill-set and knowledge that is relevant now and in the future.

    “What Top Level Executives Think about Skills or Knowledge Needed to Succeed in 21st Century” http://bit.ly/2q1J98

  15. Lot of speculation, not a lot of hard evidence.

    Only time will tell, but it’s more complicated than chinese kids taking our jobs. When they make money, they’re going to want Viking refrigerators, iPhones and privately commissioned prints. They increase competition for jobs but simultaneously increase the number of jobs by becoming consumers themselves.

    Maybe the modern day version of a FDH american is a guy with an undergrad degree that works for a big tech company. Still F & H, just slightly less D.

  16. Hey JBow,good point. Unfortunately, by the time there’s all this lovely hard evidence you speak off, it’ll already to be too late.

    The race is to the swift…

  17. In New Zealand and Australia the impact of this problem is seen worst in property prices. The cost of a small family home compared to the average wage has steadily increased since the 1960s to a point now where home ownership is an impossible dream for most young people. 

  18. Peter, yeah, that’s true everywhere in Europe, and most of the American big cities, as well.

    I actually don’t own a home; I rent. I’m putting all my money into growing my business. But Alpine, Tx. is an easy place to rent in…

  19. Home ownership is another one of those things that we have forgotten is a DREAM and not a right. My parents were married for years before they could afford to own a home. We need to return to the attitudes that made America great in the first place. Work for what you want, and if you’re lucky, you MIGHT get it someday.

    Hugh, I like your attitude. You and I are both extremely blessed to get to do something we love for a living and have it actually pay the bills.

  20. Just read the article Javed linked to.

    I think it’s somewhat short-sighted to ask today’s CEO’s what they think are necessary skills for their companies to survive in the future.

    That assumes those companies will be part of the future. Not to mention, the number one skill “ability to manage change” only reflects the amount of difficulty they are having in trying to move into the future.

    Today’s kids don’t need to be taught how to use computers or iPhones. They don’t have difficulty programming a DVR and probably can’t even remember owning a VCR (let alone trying to set the clock). But a lot of them can’t spell, write coherently, or think more deeply than a quick Google search requires.

    I think that the need for classical education is actually higher than it has ever been, lest the upcoming generations become sheep being led to their own slaughter.

  21. Shift Happens – a fabulous presentation on a few of the implications of the growth of China & India’s populations.

    http://www.slideshare.net/jbrenman/shift-happens-33834?type=powerpoint

    Well worth a view if you haven’t seen it.

  22. While I agree with you that there will be less work for all of us in a couple of years, I don’t think the solution will be hard work.
    We may arrive at a turning point where we have to forget about the 40 hours week and just admit that we don’t need everyone working that much anymore.
    Machines and computers will do the hard work while humans will mostly be responsible for creative work and may only work 10 or 20 hours each week. Maybe some will not work in the conventional sense at all.
    A lot will spend most of their time enjoying their hobbies (which may still be useful to the community).
    This does not mean that our standard of living will deteriorate but politics will probably have to change dramatically to take over the money-distributing role which work has in our times.

  23. I really liked reading this blog. Good work man!

  24. I always cheat on my pupperonis and they know it too. When I get home they will sniff my clothes and then stay away from me haha! I have bratty dogs

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  1. [...] I found this cartoon on Hugh’s blog today, followed by this explanation: [...]

  2. [...] fat dumb happy (tags: work economics education culture life statistics healthcare highschool) [...]

  3. [...] Thanks to Hugh at Gaping Void for the illustration inspiration No TweetBacks yet. (Be the first to Tweet this [...]

  4. [...] Hugh quotes one of his old posts: “I was on the phone to an old friend of mine, a guy in his late for­ties, who was born and bred in Michi­gan, and is living there now. He was telling me about his uncle, who, about four deca­des ago, got his highschool sweetheart preg­nant. So ins­tead of going off to college, he found him­self with a new wife, a child on the way, and an assembly-line job at Gene­ral Motors. But even though this situa­tion clip­ped his wings con­si­de­rably, he still ended up having a nice life in the end, with a home, a big yard, two cars, a steady paycheck, wee­kends fishing or hun­ting deer, and vaca­tions in Hawaii every year or so. “The days where a blue collar guy like my uncle could have a nice life without doing much,” my friend said, “those days are gone. Gone forever. And in the back of my mind, I’m thin­king the same is star­ting to hap­pen to white collar guys more and more, as well. But it’s not quite out in the open yet. Society’s not quite ready to have that conversation.” [...]

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