The Internet was invented to create a universal and resilient means of communication between electronic devices, primarily computers. At its heart, it is a set of protocols for information exchange. There’s one protocol for the web. There is another for email. There is a third for news, and so on.
The whole point of the Internet is the free exchange of information. It was built specifically for that purpose. The old adage says “the Internet interprets anything that stops the free exchange of information (censorship) as a service outage and routes around it.”
As it turns out, we have an amendment in the Constitution dedicated to the free exchange of information. That amendment enshrines freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances, freedom of assembly and freedom to practice the religion of our choice. All of those things are entirely consistent with the founding principles of the Internet. As citizens of this nation and citizens of the Internet we helped build, those principles used to be sacrosanct.
We stand today on the precipice of a new epoch. This one won’t be limited to the web either. We have recently endured a period of time where we watched the Internet shrink. Sites we used to love went dark. Entire categories of entertainment we loved simply went away. Even if we looked for them they were nowhere to be found. We no longer “surfed” the web. We typed into search boxes and got fewer and fewer interesting results. Everything started to look the same, because everything was the same.
Then people started getting banned because they spoke out of turn. And the Internet shrank even more. Our emails started vanishing while our data was put up for sale. Eventually all opposing voices were silenced until there was only one voice left. And it demanded our obedience. Or else.
Somewhere along the way, it was discovered that over half the traffic on the Internet isn’t created by people, but bots. It’s fake. It was no longer possible to trust what you were seeing online, and since everything you believed relied on information hosted on someone else’s computer, the idea that everything you were seeing was fake became plausible. What happens to a society where there is no trust? What happens when we can’t rely on anything?
The reason this happened is because we allowed it. Instead of building, we allowed the incumbents to destroy what had already been built. They had (and still have) a very effective method too. They simply cut off whole regions of the Internet by dropping them from search engines, forbidding them on social media and persuading users they were dangerous. Foundational technologies were wiped out because they were labeled “unsafe.” Then quietly replaced with proprietary alternatives that were somehow superior. Of course nobody ever explained how or why. But then again, that didn’t matter. What did matter was herding people into narrower and narrower corridors towards smaller and smaller destinations. This continued until users were lined up single file and headed for a cage where they could be monetized for the benefit of a half dozen companies. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people and billions of other web sites were relegated to “forgotten” status.
To be fair, you couldn’t really blame the incumbents. Their biggest fear was and remains the idea that a bunch of people will go off somewhere by themselves and build something really fun and interesting and Big Tech will get left out. We still have all the tools we need to do that, incidentally. People might start having conversations with one another and get ideas. Why, they might start a business or two and start making money and not be under threat of layoff or having their content banned! Imagine! They might email each other without some company arbitrarily deciding whether to deliver that email or not, or (Heaven forbid) failing to stuff an ad in it. They might form communities built on something other than hashtags and artificially suppressed or even outright fictional analytics.
They might start seeing the Internet as a place where they can exchange information freely. The very idea!
Here’s what you need to know about the way things are and the way things should be on the Internet right now: The very last thing Big Tech wants is the free exchange of information. What Big Tech wants is the monetized exchange of information, but only if they are collecting the money.
If people are free to communicate with each other without artificial limits, Big Tech can’t control them and therefore can’t monetize those communications. This goes to the very heart of every business model on the Internet today. Think about social media. All users want is to talk to each other and occasionally exchange links to their own properties here and there on the web. Clicking those links would take people off the social media site and send them somewhere else.
Big Tech doesn’t want that. They want those people to stay on the social media site so they can be monetized. That’s the fundamental disconnect of Web 2.0. You and your favorite social media destination are working at cross purposes. They don’t want people to go to your web site. They want people to stay on THEIR web site. They are your competitors. They will always be your competitors, no matter how many “followers” you have and no matter how viral your posts are. They want to control you and your content and every conversation you have. Forever.
To persuade you that social media is the way to build a big audience they make you a preposterous promise. They promise you a big audience! All you have to do is post more and use better hashtags and create higher quality content. For them.
The only problem is you are creating high quality content in gigantic quantities and putting it ON SOMEONE ELSE’S WEB SITE WHERE IT WILL BE MONETIZED FOREVER WHILE YOU GET NOTHING.
Oh sure, someday you might go viral. Then again someday you might pull the handle on a slot machine and win a Corvette. Joining a slot machine tournament is not a business model. Neither is “going viral.” It’s lottery thinking. They’ll dazzle you with stories about the millions and billions of people who might see your post someday. Just keep pumping valuable creativity and labor into their site for free and be patient. Work those three day jobs and be patient. Someday.
Eventually, and hopefully sooner rather than later, you’ll wake up and realize you’re working a job for that social media site and not getting paid. Your projects and your site languish. They haven’t been updated in weeks or months. If you’re like me and you write stories for a living your characters sit abandoned. Meanwhile you’ve posted 68 times on someone else’s web site where you average 18 impressions, no clicks and no engagement.
But someday, you might go viral!
The fundamental flaw in this business model is it leads nowhere. Eventually all that free labor will run out of enthusiasm. Nothing of any value will actually be produced. No real money will be made because there won’t be any real customers for any real products. It is just a room full of people wearing earplugs and screaming at each other. All their creative energy is being sent directly to ground. Naturally the social media sites are delighted at this state of affairs because it effortlessly wipes out all their competition. They don’t really have to produce anything because nobody can actually get anyone else’s attention. There is nothing to distract the audience from the big empty room.
One more thing. If you show signs of waking up and start questioning the preposterous promise of social media engagement being the answer to all of humanity’s problems, random people will pop up and try to shout you down. Oh yeah? Well what do you know about it!? It’s as inevitable as mud after rain. Their favorite strategy is to turn everything around and accuse you of incompetence. It’s not the ridiculous idea that anyone seriously engages with the torrential flood of crap on social media. It’s your fault! You didn’t do it right! That’s why nobody buys your products! You are the problem!
What they definitely don’t want is someone questioning whether those “followers” actually exist or not. They don’t want anyone wondering if those numbers on the screen are real. If you want an answer to how many followers you have, go to any of your social media accounts and try to get a list of them. Go ahead. You might as well set out to find El Dorado. There’s no list of followers. If you could find that list you wouldn’t need the social media site.
You post and post and post and nobody engages. What’s more likely? Those “followers” never saw your post, or you’re just a stupidface? Just use common sense. You have six thousand followers on BibbleWibble. You post something fun and colorful and nobody notices. You do it 20 more times and nobody notices. You never get a reaction from anyone. This goes on for weeks. If you were being paid by the hour, you would have earned hundreds of dollars by now and still you get not one solid reaction from anybody.
Oh sure you get a like here and there. That’s easily explained. If you get just enough of a reaction to keep you going, then you’re working for free in exchange for nothing. Nobody ever really engages with you, because there was never anyone there in the first place.
There’s a lot more to say on this subject. While we set out in a new direction just keep this in mind. If the numbers you see in your browser are at odds with what you are experiencing everywhere else, which are you going to believe?
A friend of mine came to me with a problem last night. He was up against a deadline to send out a newsletter, and he only had one day to make it happen. The problem was, the addresses he planned to send the newsletter to were contained in more than 1700 individual e-mails. Extracting them one by one would take hours, and he just didn’t have the time. Surely there had to be a technical solution? After all, take a look around. Everyone has a computer in their pocket.
The thing is, the word “computer” has different meanings depending on your life experience. For example, when I heard the e-mails were contained in Microsoft Outlook, I groaned. Why? Because my decades of experience in these matters hath shewn that when it comes to doing something other than cutting off Netscape’s air supply, Microsoft isn’t really all that motivated. Meanwhile, their software is famous for fighting its users on the beaches and in the hills to prevent them from getting at their own data. That is if it isn’t already busy destroying that data.
Fortunately, the e-mails had been first collected by Gmail, which wouldn’t normally be much better, except that Google was practically forced not long ago to give users access to their own information so it can be exported elsewhere. This meant it was possible to download all 1700+ e-mails. So we ended up with a 7MB file crammed with raw e-mail data.
Remember my point about the word “computer” having different meanings depending on your experience? Well, I’m an old tankard-wielding grognard when it comes to computing. I do all my best work on Linux, which is a PC-compatible operating system largely inspiried by the UNIX system of the 1970s. UNIX was invented at a time when we used computers more for computing and less for posting our status on social media and browsing the web with an obsolete kludge of an application called a “browser” that for reasons passing understanding needs more than 1GB of RAM to operate correctly.
Now my friend wasn’t completely without options. He had a Visual Basic program that purported to do what he needed, but it wasn’t working properly due to errors in its variable declarations. This normally wouldn’t be a problem since I have voluminous experience with Visual Basic, except Visual Basic is a Microsoft product, and Microsoft software will not cooperate. It never has, it never will. In fact, it will fight to prevent you from getting your work done. Even if I had a way to load, debug and recompile a Visual Basic program in 2019 (oh dear), there’s no guarantee it would work. The term for this is “technical risk.” When you only have a few hours, you can’t rely on software that might work. You need software that will work.
So Linux it was.
I took a look at the e-mails. Each line with the address we needed to extract had the common label “E-mail address:” next to it. So I did the extraction job with one command. I used grep to copy all the lines from the big text file with that label in them. That gave me a file with all the addresses preceded by “E-mail address:” Then I opened the file in Emacs and replaced all the labels with a blank space. Now I had a file with a list of all the addresses. My friend needed them comma-delimited, which means all the addresses should be separated by commas instead of on their own line. So I used sed to remove the newlines and replace them with commas. The entire process took six minutes.
People often want to know “what’s the big deal about Linux? What can I do with Linux I can’t do with Windows?” Funny you should ask.
Why was it so simple on Linux and simultaneously close to impossible on Windows? It’s the same computer. It’s the same hardware. If the processor can do the work on one, it should be able to do the work on the other, right? Well, not so fast. Microsoft is in the business of making sure every PC has a copy of Windows glued to it and making sure every business on Earth is locked into Microsoft Office. They are not at all interested in solving problems with computers, so they don’t provide their users with the tools they need to get jobs like the last-minute newsletter done. Oh sure, you could try to do it with various Office applications, but it would be about the same experience as repairing a truck engine with your teeth. The first commercial versions of Windows were available more than 30 years ago. The system still doesn’t have even a mediocre text editor. The difference between Emacs and Microsoft’s Notepad are analogous to the difference between a bengal tiger and the bacteria under your refrigerator.
I will concede in advance that I have had my moments with Visual Basic and VBA. Visual Basic is one of the rare bright spots in the constellation of Microsoft products, along with DirectX and Windows 95. However, those few successes do not make up for the unholy siege of trying to get useful work done with their other products, or using the browser-that-shall-not-be-named.
But the newsletter project itself really isn’t the point. What I did yesterday afternoon wasn’t remarkable in any way when it comes to computing. Running the output of grep through a couple of pipes to remove newlines and comma-delimit a list of e-mail addresses is pretty basic stuff if you have the experience and you’ve been trained to look at problems in the Linux way. We’ve been doing things the Linux way for more than 25 years now. If you have an Android phone, so have you.
What I ultimately accomplished yesterday was to save a man a few hours of tedious error-prone hard work and deliver something important on a deadline. I used powerful tools to automate a task. I was able to do this because I’ve put a lot of years into learning how to use those powerful tools. My friend knows this, which is why my phone rang yesterday. When you need an engine, you call an engineer.
But according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.
Automating things has been the theme of my career, both as a contract programmer and in my own businesses. I wrote software that takes a plain text book manuscript and a cover image and compiles them into a validated EPUB3 electronic book that can be published on nearly any retail bookstore. Hand-coding an EPUB3 would take days, even for someone familiar with the process. You really have no idea how many apostrophes there are in a science fiction novel until you have to replace them all with HTML entities. Excel certainly isn’t going to help you. Being able to convert a manuscript to a book in a few seconds is one of the key reasons I’m able to publish so quickly and have a successful career as an author. Turns out readers appreciate a book that isn’t riddled with errors.
When I worked for a major firmware manufacturer, my team authored in-house software that automatically wrote makefiles for commercial BIOS images to install in retail PCs and laptops. The BIOS, or Basic Input-Output System used to be the first software that ran when you turn on a PC. The makefile was the list of instructions for an application called a “compiler” to build each BIOS image so it could be installed. Makefiles for such software could easily run to hundreds of lines. If there is a single mistake or typo, an hour-long build might fail. Multiply that by the hundreds and hundreds of test builds we were required to do for companies like Honeywell, Toshiba and Compaq, and a mistake could easily cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars, or millions if a faulty BIOS found its way into a production PC. Once we were done automating it, however, the errors were gone. The software we wrote perpetually saved the company millions of dollars a month.
But, according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.
I wrote an optical document processing system for a financial services company using, ironically enough, Visual Basic. Our task was to create a printer driver for each of the unique forms a car dealer might use to sell or lease a vehicle. The printer had to write name, address, mileage, etc. in various boxes on each form, and the printer driver’s job was to tell it where to move the print head so the information was actually inside the pre-printed box. When I arrived at this company, they were hand-coding the printer drivers with a ruler, a pencil and a calculator. When I left, they could scan a document, arrange the data fields visually on the screen using each unique form as a backdrop, and have my system automatically write the driver. Productivity went up more than 2000%. It took me three weeks to develop that system.
But according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.
My first job out of college was as a portfolio analyst at a boutique brokerage firm in Orange County, California. Our department’s job was to analyze a potential client’s investments and generate a snapshot based on the current prices of their holdings. When I arrived at this company, one of my colleagues was seated in front of Microsoft Excel with a calculator, adding up stock shares and prices. When I left, the VBA code I wrote in Microsoft Excel would automatically dial into a bulletin board service, download the prices and assign them to the appropriate holdings. This time, productivity went up 6000%. We took a backlog of 40 portfolios and knocked them out in an afternoon. The fees our brokerage earned with that system were staggering, to say the least, considering the impressive lists of assets our clients brought us. They easily took in an additional seven figures a year with my system. Probably more. Took me about a month to write and test the code. Plus the cost of a Compuserve subscription.
But according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.
Let’s be fair, and go back to the newsletter project. I saved a man a couple hours of work. Big deal. We saved the cost of three large pizzas. Fair enough.
What if I save 1000 people a couple hours of work? That’s a lot of pizza. How about 50000 people? What if I wrote software that saved 50000 moderately well-paid office workers four hours of work a month? Say each of those workers makes $20 an hour. That’s four million dollars a month. Can I do it? Well, I’ve been automating things my entire career, right up to yesterday afternoon. Along the way, my employers and clients have saved millions upon uncounted millions avoiding errors and even more millions selling investments with the documents and electronic components my software wrote for them. In the words of Montgomery Scott, “would that be worth something to ye?”
Apparently not, because according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.
By now we all know there’s a robot reading your resume when you apply for a job. It explains all that has confused the job seekers of the world for the last 10-20 years. Everybody knew there was something wrong. We just didn’t have the facts. When it comes to finding work in America, facts seem to be rather scarce. But now that we know, we can evaluate where we stand.
Where we stand is on the brink of societal and cultural disaster. Our entire civilization is built on the fundamental principle that a man who wants to work can find work. He may not start out at his dream job. He may not start out making much, either. But he certainly isn’t going to be confined to an Internet job board, clicking “apply instantly” buttons and being lied to until he starves.
Our civilization and future are both being destroyed in a small room containing two chairs, a desk, a hiring manager and a job candidate. What happens in that room is the foundation of our entire economy. If the candidate can’t successfully navigate what happens in that room, no homes get sold, no cars get bought, no man marries a wife and no children are raised in two-parent homes. That room is where the American Dream gestates. Without it, all that our ancestors fought for is gone.
But our problem is more fundamental. Nobody can get in to that room. There’s a robot at the door barring entry. So it no longer matters what happens in that room, because nothing happens in that room.
There are six million people in this country who not only want to work, but have, in some cases, spent decades building the skills and experience to be effective at their jobs. These are people who can start making their employers money the very moment they sit down at their new desk. If we tolerate the status quo as it stands today, these people will never work again. Six million people is the combined population of Chicago, Houston and Sacramento, all sitting idle for the rest of their lives: Their talent, knowledge and skill wasted.
The “application tracking system,” as it has come to be known, was inserted into the hiring process by so-called “employers” without notice. The traditional job seekers had no idea they had been placed on the other side of a firewall by the companies that claimed to want their “marketable skills.” It stood to reason, of course, for those of us who have witnessed the increasingly vindictive way employers began to excuse themselves from the responsibility for their former employees about 20 years ago. Layoffs following higher profits became the dominant-tonic chord progression of American business after the dot-com crash. It was almost as if executives had some kind of vendetta against technology workers. But I have about as much proof of that right now as we had for application tracking systems ten years ago. A robot reading your resume? What a crazy idea!
Exactly how is the ATS evaluating your resume? Do you really believe it’s just looking at keywords from the job ad? It’s not looking at anything else? Do you really believe employers with an agenda can’t tune an ATS to exclude applicants based on any criteria they choose? How about zip code? How about age? Want to know how quick I can program a computer to figure out your age within five years?
What if an application tracking system is capable of monitoring your applications to many different employers at once? What if it’s keeping track of how many resumes you send out in a given time interval? How hard would it be for that ATS to be provided a threshold number and then to automatically blackball you after you reach your maximum number of applications in a week? A month? Ever? The employer could justify it by saying you’re a spammer, or that you’re desperate. They don’t want desperate people. So they’ll just blackball you.
What if they set up their ATS to reject if you’ve been rejected by another ATS? How hard would it be to tag you with the job market’s version of the scarlet letter forever? What if they reject you for having a resume that’s too good? What if they start analyzing the data to see which days of the week most successful applications arrive and then reject everyone else? People who apply on weekends probably have a job. Others probably don’t. Which do you want, boss? *click* –poverty and desperation for all.
In other words, after employers turn the job application process into a numbers game, they can start punishing you for treating it like a numbers game. You’re no longer looking for a job you want. You’re just looking for a job. The higher they turn that dial, the more impenetrable their ATS becomes. It’s not a mistake it’s called an application tracking system. Of course, that’s an Orwellian euphemism. Let’s call it what it really is: a firewall.
What else could a vindictive employer do with a hostile ATS? Could they set a minimum credit score? That’s ludicrous! Employers can’t get access to your credit score without permission! They would face legal trouble if they did that! They don’t have your credit score! What a crazy idea!
How hard would it be to reject resumes based on surnames? Or based on whether you have an accent in your surname? Or based on your e-mail address? Are you using gmail? Reject. Are you not using gmail? Reject. Could an ATS be programmed to prioritize applications if a competitor is listed in a candidate’s employment history? What if it performed a public records search and pulled up your divorce? Or your personal injury case from that slip and fall at your flower store last year? Or the police report from your car accident? Or the legal dispute you had with a former employer over their repeated attempts to illegally exploit your intellectual property? Reject. Reject. Reject. Reject. Employers don’t want colorful people in cubicles. They want obedient, unremarkable drones. Obedient, unremarkable people don’t show up in public records searches. They have 35 followers on Twitter and live alone.
I’ve written eight novels. That alone is grounds to reject every application I ever file. A guy who writes novels might get ideas. Might get uppity in a meeting. And we can’t have that.
But they want rock stars also.
What if the ATS just does a Google search and rejects you if you do show up, or alternatively rejects you if you don’t? Either condition could be a red flag depending on how paranoid and resentful your recruiter is. What if you have a common name and the ATS mistakes you for someone else? Reject.
Want to make it even more sinister? What if the ATS qualifies you the way social media companies qualify ad audiences? What if it rejects all Android phone owners in favor of iPhone owners? People with iPhones are generally more affluent, and affluent people are preferable to some companies and some hiring managers. You really don’t want to know how easy it is to find out which kind of phone you own.
What if I told you I can guess your income based on what TV shows you like? What if I told you I can guess your age the same way? Favorite band? The kind of computer you own? With the right tools, a savvy advertiser can zero in on your front porch with a half-dozen pieces of seemingly unconnected information. Remember the last time you passed around one of those “list your favorites” surveys on your favorite social media platform? Ever take a poll on social media? Are you in a group? Which one? If more than one, how are they related? How long do you think it would take to connect that to your e-mail address and then to your exact identity and your credit report? About eight trillionths of a second.
Don’t overthink it. The robot doesn’t have to be right. It just has to be close enough.
Know what the best part is? You’ll never know it happened. Without a massively expensive legal siege you’ll never be able to prove the little black box blocked your job application on grounds having exactly nothing to do with your qualifications, skills or experience. It can make a snap judgement about your life based on conjecture, statistics and theory, and then it can declare you unemployable and relentlessly enforce its decision forever and there is nothing you can do about it no matter how many graduate degrees you have.
The robot does not care about your qualifications. All that matters is whether your resume is fictional enough to beat the filter. That’s what gets you the interview now.
Lest you console yourself with the notion this is as far as it will go, I am here to tell you this doesn’t even begin to demonstrate what is in store for future generations. You see, real jobs have become privileges for the favored few. That’s why everyone else has two or three pretend jobs to make ends meet, all underpaid. Anyone who has been paying attention for the last 30 years knows how rapidly someone can become “more corporate than thou” if they snuggle deeply enough into that leather chair and can hide behind a receptionist, a key card and a general counsel. Once the rabble has been quietly locked out, how long will it be before you are legally required to avert your eyes if you actually encounter someone who is salaried? You probably thought the Matrix was just entertainment, and that dressing the agents in suits was all in good fun. It was a warning, not science fiction.
Your kids will never have a real job.
I’m not going to let the universal basic income people off the hook here, either. UBI is the last echoing click of the shackles that will be eternally fastened to your wrists if we allow this to continue. If you yearn for free money in place of the opportunity that once existed in America, you yearn for a prison. The same goes for you if you think borrowing scooters, cars and places to sleep with an app are good substitutes for owning a home and independent transportation. If you own no land, you have no future.
Back in the 1980s, we were all entertained by Kyle Reese and his cryptic warning to Sarah Connor about the future. The line has been exploited for humor, parody and dramatic prescience for decades.
“That thing is out there. It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.”
That line isn’t really very funny any more, is it?
I’d like to think this long string of articles about the job market is just a phase, but the more I dig, the more articles like this one I find.
A young man posted his resume on LinkedIn and it went viral. Jackpot, right? Wrong. 1280 shares. Still no job. Fifteen in-person interviews. Still no job. How can this be?
Well, it is, and unfortunately this isn’t a rare occurrence. We’re all being told day in and day out how great the economy is and how everyone has a job except you. But what we’re being told and what several million of us are actually experiencing are two different things.
Fifteen interviews from a viral LinkedIn post should be more than enough to get past what the article calls a “lengthy and draining” job hunt. Except it’s not, and that should be distressing for everyone, especially those of you who are fortunate enough to be employed.
The article points out that according to Jobvite’s Recruiting Benchmark Report, only one in eight candidates who applied for a job in 2017 got an interview. It also notes recruiters spend an average of six seconds on each resume.
Time to wake up now. Your kids are next.
This clip is instructive. Although it was part of a fictional television series, you are deluding yourself if you think this was composed in a vacuum.
Don is trying to get his dream job. When Don tries to go through the front door, he gets “oh, you’re the fur guy,” and “I threw out your portfolio” and “I ignored them. That’s my message to you.” That’s the modern job search in three sentences. Don Draper, of course, turns out to be a legend, but so far, the boss is never going to know, because it’s far more important to stomp on people than it is to find new talent.
Keep this in mind the next time you see a job ad that asks for “passionate guru rock stars.”
Since the front door approach isn’t working, Don has to employ subterfuge. So he admits he’s skipping out on his boss, admits he was lying about being in the building for a meeting and then gets the boss drunk at ten in the morning and lies twice more in order to get a job that didn’t exist until he lied it into existence.
Keep this in mind the next time you see a job ad that asks for “passionate guru rock stars.”
You might be tempted to think the new policy of the freelancer platform Upwork is unique. Charging individuals to apply for jobs is a spectacular business model if you’re in a position to gatekeep those applications. It’s exactly like the lottery. You’re monetizing desperation. You are plugging your income potential right in to the human survival instinct. It doesn’t take much for the average person to notice the similarity “pay to apply” to the Internet’s other big business model.
Now let us all ponder a question together. If your income and growth model depends on monetizing job applications, do you have any incentive to get someone a job? Let me make it even more sinister. If your income and growth model depends on monetizing job applications, do you have any incentive to verify ads for freelancers or employees are even genuine? Once you have crossed the line between the productive incentive of earning based on success and rent-seeking, you have no incentive to do anything except make sure you collect a larger and larger share.
I once proposed that you are more valuable unemployed than employed. This would neatly explain the rise of the professionally jobless in our country. There are roughly six million of them, and they will never work again. Why? Because it is better for the rent-seekers that way. They have concluded there is more economic opportunity in keeping them out. The exact same dynamics were in play when equity firms decided to burn Toys R Us to the ground and destroy 30,000 jobs. Toys R Us was worth more dead than alive.
From an employment standpoint, so are you.
The overarching problem that we face here is that practical economic reality is not responding to market forces any more. If you have more experience, more demonstrated achievements and more skill, you should have a multiplicity of job opportunities. Firms should be competing for your talents. But they aren’t. Why? They don’t have to. Most companies have no idea how to convert your skills into anything productive, and that’s fine because they likely have a stable, entrenched business and have long since done away with their competition.
For example, what real boots-on-the-ground incentive does Google have to hire anyone, regardless of their talents? They have none. Google brings in $372 million a day. The company has been on auto-pilot for at least ten years. They make few, if any, physical products. They don’t even have a phone number. Their entire company is made up of people babysitting computers. Any hiring they do, if they do any hiring at all, is guaranteed to be for some middle manager’s hobby project. They have no competition, so there is no reason for them to compete for talent.
The same is true of nearly all the other companies in the Fortune 500. Disney, Apple, Nike, Verizon. Their revenues are on auto-pilot. Their competition is either non-existent or limited to a handful of other companies that are neither a short or long-term threat. Ultimately, the only time any of these companies experiences any real need to hire is if someone in the management hierarchy retires or moves on, and those openings can be easily filled after everyone in that branch moves up a level and the entry level desk is filled with a visit to the nearest Ivy League campus. Or the job can just be discontinued and the money pocketed by shareholders.
If you’re making $372 million a day why would you even answer your phone? You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t take even a remote chance on upsetting the status quo.
Unemployment is a growth industry. Imagine the money that can be made if we get a really big sponge and just soak up everyone’s last dollar! Resumes, new clothes for the five interviews you have to endure, books and seminars on how to improve your personal brand, premium memberships for all those online sites that promise you offers from multiple companies at once. Just think of the power you could wield with a platinum membership!
How do these “we’ll find you a job, little camper” companies stay in business if their customers are successful and cancel their monthly plans? They don’t. They have a direct, vested financial interest in keeping you unemployed.
In other words “We make $372 million a day and no, you can’t have a job.” Leaving aside the fact wages have been stagnant in this country for 46 years, if that is what we get from every major employer in the United States, we’re adrift on the ocean. Water everywhere and we still die of thirst.
And while the rent-seekers cultivate their vested financial interest, they show you a prize gallery of jobs and tell you success is only a credit card number away.
Following up on my last post, I just wanted to point out something. We’ve all experienced how– conscientious employers are about getting that absolute top candidate. They are put through four interviews and meet every level of management before a hiring decision. They get their offer in writing, to emphasize how fortunate they are to have achieved this greatest of all summits in our ultra-competitive global economy. They got the job!
And on their first day, they are issued a toy gun and invited to go play with the other employees.
Clearly the hundreds of applicants who didn’t get the job weren’t quite Ivy League enough. It neatly closes the door on any challenge to my assertion the modern workplace has no adult supervision.
Don’t you wish you could go play toy guns with all the other kids (and get paid) while six million people are trapped in that unique pride-swallowing siege that is our mental hospital job market?
By the time you finish reading this article, someone who was alive when you started will have committed suicide. There is a 20% chance they will have taken their own life because they couldn’t find a job.
We labor under a number of myths in these United States. Among them is the belief that any man who can’t find a job is either defective or has himself to blame. It’s his fault. Either he doesn’t have the skills, or failed to get an education, or isn’t likable, or has a bad attitude. There’s a reason he can’t find a job, and whatever that reason might be, it must be his fault.
It’s certainly a convenient conclusion if you stand to gain from that man’s desperation. After all, how much easier and cheaper is it to hire a man who has no confidence in his worth as an employee? Once you’ve done away with his hard-won qualifications (and their effect on his price), you can portray your reluctant offer of employment as an act of unusual generosity instead of a transaction of money for labor. In the former, the man is expected to be grateful for your benevolent forbearance. In the latter, it’s an arrangement between equals.
Well, the very last thing some people want is arrangements between equals.
To say this disease has reached a perverse and sadistic magnitude in the American job market would be kind. The fact is teenagers are now being asked if they have experience when they apply for part-time summer employment serving bagels. As we all know, training someone to serve bagels is expensive and not always successful, and Heaven help us and the stock price if Timmy or Susie forgets to upsell that second $0.75 tablespoon of cream cheese.
Some might be tempted to put this sudden scrutiny of every defect a human might possess down to malice or hostility. But it’s simpler than that. Hiring managers are not playing keepaway with your livelihood. They are avoiding their responsibility because they are paranoid and mentally stunted. The American job market is corrupt to its core because these people are never held accountable for the arbitrary decisions they make about other people and their careers.
When I apply for a job, I assume I have about 30 seconds to explain how I can use decades of intricate senior-level technology skills and achievements to provide synergy and enterprise value to deliver cross-media solutions for an ever-changing market and an expanding global supply chain. That or I can say something like “my technical talents are just like Lord of the Rings but with dinosaurs.” The truth is it doesn’t matter what I say. The person reading my resume doesn’t have the slightest clue what any of it means. All they know is I’m not qualified. For any job.
Workers of the past, like my parents, had a very powerful tool at their disposal. It was called the “benefit of the doubt.” Hiring managers didn’t assume they were liars, nor did they assume they were unable to do the job, or for that matter, any job. They weren’t treated with suspicion. They weren’t accused of being grown adults who somehow managed to accumulate a ten-year employment history and a graduate degree without a single “marketable skill.” When they sat down for a interview, the hiring manager took what they had to say at face value. That’s why they got good jobs and kept them long enough to pay off their houses. It’s why I grew up in a stable two-parent home with enough to eat and a swimming pool.
Workers of today, by contrast, are presumed to be filthy, scheming frauds. That’s one reason, among many, employers so often schedule interview tribunals that resemble confirmation hearings for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Employers are on a mission, you see, lest one of you unqualified mongrels get past them and get your grubby hands on a paycheck or two. Once you’re employed, you have legitimacy, and that simply cannot be allowed to stand. They know you’re hiding something, and by God they’re going to make you admit it if they have to schedule second and third interviews and require a security clearance as part of your background and credit check.
And while this shrill, accusatory circus drags on, nearly six million working-age people who want jobs in the United States sit idle, unable to support themselves or anyone else. That’s more than the combined populations of Chicago, Houston and Sacramento. Think of the immense volume of productivity going to waste right now in this country! What could those people be contributing if they weren’t being blocked from getting a job by childish, irresponsible “managers” who won’t accept the responsibility that comes with employing adults? Everybody thinks the gig economy is some new innovation. It isn’t. The gig economy is six million people holding the employment equivalent of a garage sale so they can feed themselves.
The paranoid American workplace is nothing if not profitable. Wages have been stagnant for 46 years. Hiring people sight unseen from 11,000 miles away to pretend to do jobs in American companies sure looks impressive on a spreadsheet. The fact that it is yet another example of the kind of magical thinking that gave us the professional disaster we are currently experiencing is never acknowledged. It’s much easier to blame the guy with no job than it is to face facts. You’ll notice the candidate from overseas doesn’t have to sit in front of a tribunal and answer questions about ping-pong balls.
The starvation and suffocation underway in our nation isn’t helped by the continual celebration of the so-called “unemployment rate.” The brilliant numbers would seem to indicate anyone who wants a job can get one, when nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask around. It won’t take long for you to find a number of people who are qualified for numerous jobs and yet have been looking for weeks, months or even years with no success. Not only have they failed to find jobs, they have very likely failed to get a response of any kind from dozens, hundreds or even thousands of applications.
Even if they do manage to get past the fortress between them and a human being who actually took the time to read their resume, they’re certain to run into the aforementioned inquisition, where they will be politely informed by the nine people interviewing them their application has been turned down in a 5-4 decision over font preference.
And even if they manage to get an offer, what do they really have in a world where companies posting record revenues turn around and fire hundreds of highly trained and established employees a few weeks later? A job is the foundation upon which grown adults build marriages, families, homes, educations and retirements. Those are lifetime achievements they expect to fund with their paycheck from a job likely to end abruptly for reasons completely beyond their control. They’d be better off building a greeting card factory in a volcano.
Since nobody wants to face the unemployment disaster, it might be instructive to move on to the people who are employed and see if they can find any joy in their work day. I’m fairly certain I don’t have to explain to you how fast that investigation will end without success.
You might be tempted to think my flippant tone is meant to be funny. It isn’t. This isn’t funny. This isn’t funny at all. It is estimated that 20% of all suicides are the result of inability to find a paying job, and suicides in the U.S. are up 30% in the last 18 years.
American hiring managers are paranoid and corrupt, and they have turned our workplaces into a psychiatric ward where half the employees are being driven insane by impossible workloads and the other half are terrified they are going to lose their jobs and homes at any moment.
This state of affairs will be the end of us if it isn’t addressed. Leaving aside the deteriorating morals of our society and the increasingly adversarial political climate, no nation can survive if its wealth and opportunity are cheap prizes won over a roulette wheel guarded by a psychotropic-addicted mental patient.
The more I consider the current state of the American job market, the more I realize that its most astonishing failures are simply the result of incompetence.
American business management doesn’t train employees. Why? Because they don’t know how. They can’t find qualified candidates for jobs? They don’t know how. They can’t build a quality product and make money with it? They don’t know how. They use layoffs as a routine cost-cutting measure? They don’t know any other way.
This is all quite strange considering the obsessive and paranoid mechanisms workplaces have established to weed out anyone who isn’t quite frankly perfect in every possible way. We’ve all been treated to stories of how employers scour social media, conduct paid background checks, perform credit checks, insist on excessive references and so on. It’s almost as if they are more interested in disqualifying candidates than hiring them.
Anyone who has looked for a job in the last five to ten years has experienced the inexplicable delays, the unresponsive hiring managers and recruiters and the cumbersome, exhausting siege job candidates are forced to endure. And even if they succeed, what do they have? They are guaranteed to be underpaid, overworked and have no job security at all.
From a social and political standpoint, America is a warehouse full of gunpowder and dynamite right now. People are angry, frustrated and scared out of their minds. And when I say people I mean a lot of people. This broken thing we call the employment market is the box of matches in that warehouse. This is the thing that will be the end of us if we don’t get it locked down in a right now hurry.
It’s a complex problem, which means there are no easy solutions, but the one thing we need to put an abrupt stop to right this second is this perfidious myth that it’s the workers who are to blame. We have the best educated and most skilled workforce in the history of the human race in this country. Tens of millions of Americans have college educations, and the overwhelming majority of the workforce is literate and capable of all kinds of creative solutions to the problems we need to solve as a country.
This alternative theory that Americans are a bunch of feckless layabouts with worthless degrees and no skills is a message designed to consume what’s left of your hope for a brighter future. It’s patent nonsense perpetrated by lazy managers and shareholders who don’t want to pay their dinner check.
Our future may be as simple as something I read in a discussion of automated hiring the other day: “In the future, nobody has a job, but they can’t find anyone to blame but themselves, so they just starve to death quietly.”
While I don’t want to encourage people to spend all their time looking for someone to blame, I will point out there are millions of people in this country who not only want work, but are qualified to do amazing things, and they are all sitting idle because there is no practical way to penetrate the fortress of confusion corporate America has erected around gainful employment. And again, even if someone manages to achieve the impossible, they have only layoffs and pay cuts to look forward to.
Is that the country you want your kids to grow up in? Me neither.