Book Review: “Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy”

Charles Hugh Smith is an economist and blogger who writes primarily on his Of Two Minds blog. He published his book “Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy” this year to help job-seekers navigate career planning in the newly emerging economy.

Today’s Emerging Economy

Charles Hugh Smith paints a picture of today’s emerging economy as one that is based on using new technologies to deliver more value at lower costs. His premise is that, since many business sectors and especially governments are grossly inefficient and expensive today, there must be a reversal of the trend to constantly spend more and consume more. Indefinite expansion of consumption is the core problem because it is unsustainable. In fact, it has not really been “sustained” for several years. The enormous consumption has been based increasingly on debt. The rising interest payment on the debt will lead to insolvency of dinosaur industries and government services that protect themselves only by political power and not by economic efficiency.

What are these new technologies that are supposed to lower costs and enable increases in production? They are referred to as DSFRA technologies (digital-software-fabrication-robotics-automation). Smith sees the opportunities both in the new sectors created by technology and also in the traditional industries that can take advantage of the DSFRA technologies to become more efficient (27). There is opportunity to improve upon the services currently performed by highly centralized bureaucracies, where labor costs are way too expensive considering their inefficiency.

Creative Destruction

Economist Joseph Schumpeter famously used the term “creative destruction” to talk about the tendency of innovation to destroy the traditional economy and its various monopolies. Capital must expand; the only way for capitalists to find productive investments is to neglect and destroy less productive investments. There is a constant battle between security and innovation. Free-market capitalism is despised by those who want to maintain the status-quo in the economy – who want to protect fat monopolies because they are on the “inside” and benefiting from them. The free-market provides opportunities for those who don’t depend on the status-quo.

Smith talks about the difference between free-market capitalism and state-cartel capitalism. These are two combating sides of capitalism. They are not even close to the same ideology. He does a good job explaining why people either love or hate free-market capitalism. “Those who see it disrupting oppressive social and economic arrangements view it as liberating, while those whose security depended on inefficient, corrupt, obsolete systems maintaining power indefinitely view it as destructive” (31). Those latter folks who love security and turn a blind eye to inefficiency are supporters of state-cartel-capitalism. Perhaps the supporters of increasing consumption and increasing debt should be labeled as the “conservatives” of today.

“The great irony of free-market capitalism,” Smith wrote, “is that the only way to establish an enduring security is to embrace innovation and adaption, the very processes that generate short-term insecurity” (36). To put it in a more Darwinian way, “Eliminating risk eliminates the possibility of successful adaptation.” The implication for the jobseeker is this: no risk, no reward.

Smith predicts that these inefficient status-quo bureaucracies will be replaced by “do-ocracies,” where an individual’s influence will be based on how much of value a person does. Influence will be earned.

Beyond Centralized Bureaucracy

Smith blames hyper-consumerism as the source of modern-day alienation in the workplace. But it’s not just the workers – it’s also the employers who are interchangeable and commoditized today. He builds on the analysis of cultural historian Christopher Lasch, who examined the alienating factors in American society in the late 1970s. Smith gave a brilliant summary of these factors discovered by Lasch: “A narcissistic personality crippled by a fragile sense of self that sought solace in consumerist identifiers and a therapeutic mindset that saw alienation not as the consequence of large-scale, centralized commoditization and financialization but as individual issues to be addressed with self-help and pop psychology” (69).

Rather than viewing ever-increasing centralization as the solution to modern-day alienation, Smith identifies it as the cause of alienation. People are less equipped with self-confidence and self-reliance because of centralization, and thus less able to take the personal responsibility necessary to overcome alienation. The therapeutic mindset sells people on the idea that their happiness and success depends on some protracted relationship with a highly-centralized organization.

Create Value That Solves Problems

Graduating from high-school or even college is no guarantee that you will have the hard or soft skills necessary to thrive in today’s economy. The skills of professionalism will not appear magically as students go through their coursework. These skills would include things like the ability to communicate clearly, to be accountable to others and to self-manage. Smith argues that these kinds of professional skills need to be learned systematically by job-seekers and students.

It is important for people to learn how to create value that solves problems. Charles Smith wrote, “The ultimate purpose of education is to learn how to acquire human and social capital, and the ultimate purpose of human and social capital is mastery of the skills needed to solve problems” (73).

If educators want to prepare students for the work-place, Smith says they should teach them two things: how to learn and the values/behaviors needed to develop human and social capital. Human capital includes personal attributes such as knowledge, abilities and personal attributes. Social capital refers to the economic benefits of social cooperation (trust, information-sharing, providing assistance to community members). In a word, human capital is personal ability or knowledge and social capital is the ability or knowledge of a social network.

Top 8 Professional Skills

  1. Career-long learning
  2. Cross-applying knowledge to different fields
  3. Adaptability to different work environments
  4. Accountability for work
  5. Effective Collaboration (online and offline)
  6. Clear communication
  7. Constantly developing human and social capital
  8. Knowledge of financial records and project management

Ethical Values Create Economic Value

In addition to these professional skills, job-seekers need strong ethical values to be productive. This is far more important than education; ethical values actually determine how much human and social capital you develop at any level of schooling. And ethical values are fashioned in the home and the community, especially during childhood. Smith identified some of the key ethical values needed for success: self-discipline, protracted focus and deferred gratification for long-term goals. Unethical people tend to have low self-discipline and gratify their appetites immediately – despite the long-term deterrents working against their decisions (jail-time, always being broke, undeveloped talents, general monotony).

Self-Accreditation

After giving an analysis of the higher education cartel’s ability to raise prices even as the value of degrees goes down, Smith offers a solution to the job-seeker who wants to avoid paying extortionist prices for the credentials that will help get him hired: accredit yourself.

Essentially, this process involves mastering the eight professional skills cited earlier, mastering new skills and then demonstrating your abilities to solve real problems for real organizations. Put these projects online and distribute them to networks so that your abilities are easy to verify by potential employers.

Conclusion

Overall, the book does a good job of showing job-seekers how to spend their time: getting busy doing projects and publicizing them online with measurable results and easy-to-demonstrate proof. Smith calls this “self-accreditation.” Smith identifies centralization as the great problem in today’s economy, especially in the top-heavy sectors that have a lot of waste, such as government, healthcare, education and security.

The most unique contribution Smith makes is at the beginning of the book with his rather sophisticated economic analysis of the emerging economy and the different forms of capitalism operating in the world today. His points on the importance of professional skills and the strategy of self-accreditation are spot-on, even if these are not completely new ideas.

Smith, Charles Hugh. “Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.” Charles Hugh Smith, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon

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