This is a guest post by Michael Hendrix in response to the recent debate sparked by a provocative post on millennials and Gen Y “yuppie culture.” Michael serves as the director for emerging issues and research at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of St. Andrews and a Texas native.
By Michael Hendrix
Over the past few weeks, much has been written on GYPSY unicorns and my generation’s dashed hopes (warning: strong language). For my fellow millennials who get overly defensive on such matters, I have a request: Get over yourselves and get to work.
We are entering an era of profound economic change, and I fear that the career prospects of many in my generation have too much in common with those of the horse at the advent of the automobile. Consider these words from the economist Gregory Clark, who’s quoted at a key point in Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s Race Against the Machine:
There was a type of employee at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution whose job and livelihood largely vanished in the early 20th century. This was the horse. The population of working horses actually peaked in England long after the Industrial Revolution, in 1901, when 3.25 million were at work. … But the arrival of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century rapidly displaced workers, so that by 1924 there were fewer than 2 million. There was always a wage at which these horses could have remained employed. But that wage was so low that it did not pay for their feed.
Structural changes are coming. Information and communications technologies (ICT) are bringing about a shift equally as profound as that of the Industrial Age. Just as steam power and the internal combustion engine swept away inefficient production and labor, so too will the Information Age’s connectivity and automation advance on so many of the jobs we hold dear. What Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue — and not without controversy — is that technology is advancing on mankind’s comparative advantages in a way that previous revolutions never could. Building a steam-powered hammer to take on John Henry’s brawn is one thing; fashioning a highly cognitive robot with fine motor skills is quite another. And while this future hasn’t fully arrived yet, it’s the process of getting there that we must prepare for. (more…)