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Get a Job, Build a Real Career & Defy a Bewildering Economy

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Interviews about the book:

Interview with host Doug Miller, An Economy of One (26:08)

Entrepreneur Skills A Must for Any Job (34:43) with host Jason Burack of Wall St for Main St.

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. I am enjoying this book very much and getting much benefit from thinking through the concepts you discuss and making changes in how I go about things. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated." Laura Y.

I can’t thank you enough for your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career, Defy a Bewildering Economy. Since my 20’s (the 1980’s) I’ve always been the entrepreneurial type but recently had been having problems figuring out how to make a good income and remain “free”. Your book inspired me to leverage the two things I enjoy and excel at, simultaneously, as a freelancer. I have years experience as an IT Project Manager, certified PMP, in Financial Services but did not want to be a full time employee. I am also a New York City licensed tour guide and own a walking tour company, Patriot Tours, but haven’t been able to make enough income doing tours alone. Inspired by your book I started looking for a way to do both in a freelance manner and found it! I joined a management consulting group (RGP) and work as a project manager on a per project basis for an hourly wage and in between projects I conduct walking tours.

So thank you for reawakening my spirit at 55!

Karen Quinones, President
Patriot Tours, Inc.

Many readers ask for real-world examples of the principles I describe in Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

To honor that request, I am reprinting the experience of Kevin Mercadante, who fashioned a new hybrid work/mobile creative livelihood at the age of 51. The book's guidelines and action plans apply to all ages, from 16 on. Reading Kevin's account will help you see how the principles work in the real world. CHS

A First-Hand Account of Becoming a Mobile Creative
by Kevin Mercadante, proprietor of OutOfYourRut.com

I’m pretty certain that I’m one of the “Mobile Creatives” that Charles has described - “self-employed, free-lance, entrepreneurial, sole proprietors with adaptive skills…and mobility between sectors and ways of earning income.” For most of my life I didn’t remotely fit that description; I was forced into it as a means of survival. Charles had a lot to do with that evolution - long before he even coined the term mobile creatives.

When the Financial Meltdown was unleashed in 2007, I was at ground zero - a loan originator in the mortgage industry. In truth, the industry was already huffing and puffing well before 2007, which is why sub-prime and Alt-A loans had become so popular. But when 2007 hit, the decline accelerated. I managed to hang on through the end of 2008, mostly because there was nowhere to go sooner as the economy came unglued. 15 years in the mortgage business left me prepared to do precisely nothing.

I had come across Charles’s blog back in 2006, from a mortgage related site, and quickly became addicted to it. Charles has a way of bringing national and global events down to the personal level, and I was in dire need of inspiration at a dark time in my life. He was writing about issues that I and others knew to be true, but that the mainstream media wasn’t reporting.

I can’t say that there was an “aha moment” or even a specific idea that led to my transition from disenfranchised mortgage originator to mobile creative. It was more of a gradual evolution, in which Charles made me come to realize that my own instincts were correct, and that it was time for a complete and total career makeover.

Just before leaving the mortgage business, I had decided that I wanted to be a blogger. OfTwoMinds made me think it was possible. After all, Charles was a freelance writer and carpenter who was now running a rapidly growing blog. Though I had no blogging experience whatsoever - and no professional writing experience - I had always felt that I was a writer deep inside.

It’s ironic that when the illusion of security disappears, those personal passions that once seemed so unlikely suddenly become doable.

I started my own website, OutOfYourRut.com, in the spring of 2009. It would be months before I’d even start earning a few dollars a month from it. But I was committed to the idea. So committed in fact, that I was prepared to do what ever it took to make it work.

At the time, I was 51 years old with a wife and two teenage children. A career crash-and-burn at that point in my life was never something I imagined ever happening to me in my younger days. We cut our household expenses to the bone. I took contract work where ever I could find it and in what ever capacity I could qualify. It was just enough, but never quite enough - if that makes any sense.

It’s both surreal and inspiring that once you commit to forward motion, good things start to happen, and usually from unexpected directions. For the record, there were plenty of disappointments and inconvenient disasters along the way, but you steam ahead anyway. You do that when you have no other choice.

One of the unexpected good things that happened was that less than a year after starting my blog, I got an email from another blogger asking me to write for his site - for pay. About two months after that, another email from another blogger with the same request. A couple of months after that, a third blogger contacted me. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was money - and I desperately needed all I could get.

But it was more than money; it was a direction. I needed that even more.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of my freelance blogging business. That small income from three sites continued to grow, as I picked up more sites at higher rates. Some were sites that contacted me, others where sites I had solicited. Today, the largest slice of my income is from freelance blog writing, and I even wrote an e-book about it, that adds another cash flow to the mix.

I never set out to be a freelance blog writer, it just happened as a result of having my own blog. In the way that things work, as my freelance blog income was growing, the revenue from my blog was growing as well. For the first time in years I was beginning to feel that I suddenly had a future. Not one I ever planned on, but one that was better than anything I ever imagined.

Our parents and the education establishment trained us to go into safe, predictable careers, like banking, healthcare, and accounting. We were never prepared to make a living as entrepreneurs. That’s an education that you get from the school of hard knocks. Misfortune is often the catalyst. So are people like Charles, who tell us that it’s OK to try, and that there can be a better life on the other side of hard times.

And speaking of accounting, some unexpected good news came up on that front as well, though it didn‘t seem apparent at the time. When I was looking for contract work, I found a seasonal tax prep job in a small CPA firm at the same time I started my blog. I actually have a background in public accounting from before my mortgage days. But when you’re out of a field for 15 years, getting back in is close to impossible.

I had contacted over 100 small, local CPA firms - by direct mail if you can believe it - to see if I could get a seasonal tax job on the strength of my badly outdated accounting skills. Only one firm responded, but that’s all that mattered. More than five years later, I’m still with that firm, only it’s now a year-round, part-time gig (typically referred to as “per diem“), rather than tax season only. I now work 4-6 days a month, and it makes for an excellent second income, as well as a way to keep my employment skills sharp.

It’s the hybrid work concept that Charles wrote about in his book, Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation. I think I got one of the first copies of the book when it came out in 2009. Having been dispossessed of my career of 15 years, the idea of hybrid work resonated deeply with me. In the book, Charles described hybrid work as:

...one finger in the wage economy, one in growing food, another in creative pursuits, another in trading childcare for eldercare, another in hedging/investing to preserve purchasing power, another in helping to develop locally owned distributed energy as either a technical innovator, an investor or provider of labor/supervision and yet another in local schooling.”

Of course, I’m not doing all of the things Charles suggested in describing hybrid work, but I do balance a primary occupation in self-employment with a part-time contract situation. And I continue to earn additional income streams from my blog and e-book. Further, this experience has taught me how to be open to any reasonable opportunity that comes across my path. Everyone who adopts hybrid work has to come up with a mix that works for them - there is no script.

When Charles recently came up with mobile creatives I was immediately able to relate. It isn’t an idea that he pulled out of thin air. He’s living that lifestyle, as am I and many others.

And that’s the point - it is a lifestyle. Restructuring your “career” around a base of self-employment, with an emphasis on flexibility, creativity, a lack of certainty and most of all, tenacity, requires an entirely new way of thinking. Once you adopt the mindset, everything else in life changes in lockstep. You begin to think outside the realm of the corporate system and life looks different. You find new ways to do what you’ve always done, you discover that you can find less expensive ways to do and to buy what you need, and that the people around you become more important than you ever imagined.

Most important, you come to realize that life is defined by how you live it, and not by the amount of money that you have or earn. That alone is a liberating concept that few on the other side of the corporate divide ever grasp, or are allowed to grasp.

It’s not been a straight path going from being a “system guy” to a mobile creative. But it’s a path worth taking. Nothing in my previous life prepared me for the life I’m living now, but here I am. But it’s a better life, with more options, more control, less stress, less fear, and a lot more potential for future growth. I owe so much of that to Charles through his blog and books. If you want this kind of life, I strongly advise getting a copy of Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy and referring to it regularly. It consolidates in one publication everything Charles has taught me and so many others over the past few years.

Kevin Mercadante is the proprietor of OutOfYourRut.com and the author of The Freelance Blog Writer Side Hustle.


This book stakes out a much larger territory than conventional career counseling books, and it does so out of necessity: the economy is changing and it now takes a much broader understanding to secure a livelihood.

In the conventional view, the jobseeker needs to figure out only one thing to get a job: his interests and talents, i.e. self-knowledge. Conventional career counseling books are designed to help jobseekers gain this self-knowledge, which is presumed to be the missing ingredient in a successful job search.

But self-knowledge is only one-fourth of what’s needed to secure a livelihood in today’s economy. We must also understand the emerging economy—the parts of the economy that are expanding and offering opportunity—and the changing nature of work. Lastly, we must understand the role of lifelong learning in the emerging economy.

Just learning about yourself is no longer enough; that’s the equivalent of being tossed into a wilderness with no map, compass, GPS or supplies and being told that you’ll be fine because you know your interests and talents.

Jobseekers need to understand the economy and the world of work they’re navigating; without that knowledge, they’re flying blind and the odds are not in their favor.

This book is designed to tilt the odds in your favor, whether you are a high school or college student, a recent college graduate, someone pondering graduate school to advance their career, someone recently laid off from a job or someone re-entering the workforce after a long absence. As the title says, it’s for everyone seeking a livelihood whether they have a college degree or not. It is designed for parents, grandparents, employers and supervisors, school and career counselors and anyone else who may be helping others sort education and career choices.

As General Douglas MacArthur noted, “There is no security on this earth, there is only opportunity.” There are no guarantees; all we can do is shift the odds in our favor through our own efforts and learn to recognize opportunity.

This book gives you the knowledge and tools you need to shift the odds in your favor.

Think of this book as a compact college-level course on one of life’s most important projects: establishing and managing a livelihood.

You may wonder why we can’t just jump to a checklist of actions you can take today. The answer is simple: your advantage is knowledge. A checklist does not confer knowledge or understanding. If you want to tip the odds in your favor, you have to understand where the checklist comes from and how it works.

The deeper the knowledge, the more difficult it is to acquire. Anyone can follow a checklist, but only the person with an understanding of the situation can solve new problems and create value. These two skills are central in the emerging economy.

I will be your guide on this journey, and rest assured that I have experienced every aspect of this journey, as student, job seeker, employee, employer, mentor, and beginner. I have studied the major dynamics in our economy and society in depth so I can offer you the practical knowledge you will need to tilt the odds in your favor, whatever field you enter and whatever your present situation.

The economy is undergoing a tumultuous transformation that will last our entire lives. We can bemoan what will be lost and demand that the present remain unchanged, but technology and life do not stand still; they advance, evolve and adapt. We have a simple choice: we can cling to what is already lost and go down with the ship or we can advance and adapt along with life and technology.

Security comes not from a government guarantee but from embracing opportunity. Security is scarce, opportunity is abundant. It’s our choice: we can compete with the herd crowding around the dwindling pool of supposedly secure jobs or we can escape those poor odds and learn how to recognize opportunity, solve new problems and create value.

Joining the increasingly restive herd jostling for a place at the pool’s edge guarantees a scarcity of winners and an abundance of losers, an imbalance that insures unhappiness and frustration.

The odds favor those who look elsewhere for opportunity, and those with an ability to solve new problems and create value in a variety of circumstances. If that sounds good, this is the book for you.

Section One: The View from 30,000 Feet

To tip the odds in our favor, we need to understand these four subjects:

1. Self-knowledge: identifying our interests, talents, strengths and weakness
2. The emerging economy
3. The changing nature of work
4. The role of lifelong learning

Gaining self-knowledge is well-covered by the existing shelf of career counseling books such as What Color Is Your Parachute? and Finding Your Way to Your Authentic Career. As a result, I am setting that topic aside with the comment that it helps to distinguish between what you think you should do based on others’ expectations, and what kinds of work actually align with your personality, your sources of fulfillment and the skills that create the most value. Choosing a path based on others’ expectations is a good way to lose yourself and end up unhappy, and pursuing supposedly sure-things (such as getting a law degree or other advanced degree) are equally prone to disappointment.

I will address one aspect of self-knowledge in Section Five: getting clear about your beliefs about money and success.

We’ll begin with an overview (the view from 30,000 feet) and then cover the three subjects in depth.

Later sections will lay out a practical guide to putting this knowledge to work in getting a job, establishing a livelihood and building a career. This will include the advances in behavioral economics and psychology that provide insights into the day-to-day practicalities of building a career.

The Changing Economy

The economy is unstable for a number of structural reasons, and this instability is not going to go away any time soon. Though we have been taught that the economy cycles between growth and recession—what’s known as the business cycle—the growth of the past decade has been uneven at best. Beneath the surface, the economy is changing in fundamental ways that are confounding policy-makers mired in conventional thinking.

Some parts of the economy are shrinking because they are obsolete and fatally inefficient. Other parts are expanding because they are far more efficient than what they’re replacing. There are in effect two economies mixed together, and the first step for anyone seeking a livelihood is to realize that opportunities in the shrinking sectors will be considerably fewer than those in the expanding sectors.

To understand why some sectors are declining and others are rising, we need to understand the basic machinery of capitalism and economics. Those who expect this to be painful may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly we’ll cover these fundamentals.

As a result of technology, the nature of work is also changing rapidly. The shrinking sectors will still offer conventional jobs, but as technology leapfrogs the obsolete and inefficient, even these traditional jobs will be changing. Those who can’t adapt to the new modes of work (or choose not to) will be left behind.

In the conventional view, a college degree prepares one to enter the workforce. This is no longer true, as higher education has failed to keep pace with technology and a fast-changing economy. Anyone seeking a livelihood must also understand the new role of education in the emerging economy.

Technology is disruptive, and what it will disrupt next is not easily predictable. But we can predict one aspect of disruption: technology will disrupt the most expensive sectors of the economy because that’s where the greatest efficiencies and reductions in cost can be reaped.

In advanced economies, the costliest sectors are healthcare, education, government and national security/defense. Traditionally, these have long been considered stable sectors with guaranteed job security. Ironically, that is changing, as the soaring costs of these sectors now exceed the economy’s ability to fund them.

If an economy expands by 2% each year and healthcare costs rise by 10% each year, eventually healthcare runs out of oxygen—there isn’t enough income generated by the economy to fund its continued expansion.

In other words, the disruption of sectors with fast-rising costs is guaranteed. What this means for jobseekers is the traditional sources of job security are precisely the sectors that will be disrupted the most as costs will brought down as a matter of necessity: either costs will be controlled on the nation slips into insolvency.

How does an inefficient agency or enterprise cut costs? Since the largest expense for the vast majority of organizations is labor, the only way to make a significant impact on costs is to shed employees.

Whether we like it or not, enterprises don’t have profits, they only have expenses. This insight by management author Peter Drucker helps us understand why it’s so difficult to get a job: every employee is an expense, and the profits needed to keep the company financially viable are always uncertain.

While government agencies don’t have profits, government depends on the profitability of private enterprise for taxes. A business can only afford to pay employees if it is viable, i.e. makes a profit. Companies that don’t make a profit lose money and close their doors; unprofitable businesses vanish, along with their payroll and the taxes paid by the company and its employees.

Governments get around this dependence on profitable enterprises for tax revenues by borrowing money. The government borrows money by selling bonds: in exchange for a sum of cash, the government promises to return the buyer’s cash at a later time with interest.

Borrowing money requires paying interest, which means that some portion of income is siphoned off to pay the annual interest. The more you borrow, the larger the slice of your income that goes to pay interest on your debt. If your income doesn’t grow faster than interest payments, eventually all your income goes to pay interest and you have nothing left to live on.

This is called insolvency, and the only way out of insolvency is to declare bankruptcy and wipe out all the debt you owe.

That debt was a liability to you, but it was an asset to the lender. The buyer of the bond gave the government cash for the bond. If the government defaults and doesn’t return the cash, the bond owner’s asset is wiped out. That means the cash is no longer available to invest in something else. The default doesn’t just harm the bond owner; it harms the economy because it reduces the capital available for productive investment.

This is important because anyone seeking a job or career has to understand that there is no free lunch in the long-term. Government, enterprises and households can borrow money to fund their expenses for a while, but eventually the interest catches up with them, and they go broke as the interest soaks up so much of their revenues that there’s not enough left to pay essential bills.

Living off borrowed money is a fool’s solution to rising costs. Eventually, income and expenses must align.

The point of this brief economics lesson is simple: the problems in our economy cannot be solved by financial trickery or by borrowing more money. Everyone, from individuals to households to companies to governments must eventually live within their means. The longer one lives beyond one’s means with borrowed money, the more violent the re-alignment will be.

We have lived in an economy that depends on debt (borrowed money) and rising consumption for so long that we imagine this is always how it has been and how it will always be. Both assumptions are wrong. The shift away from debt-based consumption as the source of economic growth is inevitable, and this will have a profound impact on jobs and the nature of work.

In addition to these basic financial limits on debt and consumption, there are also limits imposed by demographics, resources and the environment. The workforce of most nations is ageing as people live longer and fewer children are born per family, placing greater financial burdens on the working age populace to fund the pensions and healthcare costs of a rapidly expanding elderly population. In response, people are working longer, but societies with costly pensions and healthcare systems are facing a widening gap between the numbers of people who are working full-time and paying taxes and those drawing retirement benefits.

Once the ratio of full-time workers to retirees drops to two workers to each retiree, it becomes financially impossible to fund the costs of retirement without taking most of the workers’ wages as taxes. This sets up a politically unresolvable generational conflict.

In the U.S., we are already at that threshold: as of 2013, there were 57 million Social Security beneficiaries and only 114 million full-time workers.

Resources are being depleted and what is being extracted is rising in cost. Global fisheries, for example, are in a steep decline as the world’s fishing fleets stripmine the seas. Even those who maintain that there is still plenty of oil and natural gas concede that the cheap, easy-to-get oil has been consumed; it now takes extraordinarily expensive measures to discover and extract deep oil. Extracting, refining and shipping hydrocarbon fuels now require more energy. The EROEI—energy return on energy invested—is declining. This means it now takes much more capital (investment of money) and energy to extract the same number of barrels of oil than it did in the past.

The environment is also under pressure as billions of people in developing economies pursue a high-consumption middle-class lifestyle. Freshwater aquifers are being drained, imperiling the sustainability of agriculture and urban centers, and soil depletion and air quality have declined precipitously in many heavily populated regions.

For all these reasons, the assumption that rapidly rising debt and consumption are sustainable is false. This realization has given rise to a new understanding of the economy called Degrowth (French: décroissance, Spanish: decrecimiento, Italian: decrescita). I will have more to say on Degrowth later, but for now we need only grasp the core concept that expansion of consumption fueled by debt is qualitatively and quantitatively different from sustainable growth.

This runs counter to the conventional wisdom that growth of debt-based consumption is not only good, but it’s the only possible path to prosperity.

From the perspective of sustainable prosperity, growth based on debt-based consumption is the road to ruin, as the foundations of fast-rising debt and ever-greater consumption are crumbling.

This shift from debt-based consumption to a more productive sustainability is bringing profound changes to the nature of work itself and social arrangements in the workplace.

The advancing capabilities of technology have replaced many kinds of jobs, and there is no end in sight for this trend of automation, robotics and software replacing human workers. This has led author Jeremy Rifkin to declare that advanced economies are approaching The End of Work.

This reduction in the need for human labor means the income side of consumption is also threatened: even if there were limitless fisheries, fresh water, energy, etc., the income needed to fund middle-class levels of consumption is being pressured by the replacement of human labor with machines and software.

The social ramifications of this erosion of conventional full-time middle-class jobs are far-reaching. Stagnation in opportunities to work and earn (i.e. a financial recession) leads to social recession, a loss of opportunities for adulthood: a rewarding career, family, and a home of one’s own. In a social recession, unemployed young people may be mired in adolescent narcissism, eschewing ambitions not just in work but in romance and marriage.

In summary, the notion that progress requires ever-higher levels of consumption, all funded by ever-rising levels of debt, has run aground on the reality of limited resources, the destructive consequences of ever-rising debt and the replacement of human labor with automation, robotics and software.

From 30,000 feet, it’s clear the current system of defining progress as ever-higher levels of debt and consumption is no longer viable for a number of structural reasons.

We need to redefine progress as something sustainable: an economy that prospers with little to no debt and declining levels of consumption. Ultimately, the emerging economy is all about doing more with less, and creating value and solving problems with fewer resources. That’s where the opportunities are expanding, and that’s where the work will be.

The idea that happiness and fulfillment required ever more consumption was always flawed; it was a marketing ploy to sell more goods and services, not an idea grounded in psychology. The more we learn about happiness and fulfillment, the more apparent it becomes that family, community, meaningful work and networks of colleagues, collaborators and friends are the sources of happiness and fulfillment , not the accumulation of stuff: more expansive homes, more shoes, etc., turn out to have little impact on happiness or fulfillment.

As a result, understanding the economy also means understanding the changing nature of work and value creation.

Let’s start with a quick overview of economics and why it matters.

Why Economics Matters to Jobseekers

What does economics have to do with my getting a job and building a career? The short answer is: everything. Every sector in the economy is described by Bob Dylan’s line: he not busy being born is busy dying. Jobseekers who are blind to the difference between sectors that are being born and those that are dying run the risk of placing all their chips on a sector that’s dying. The odds of getting a job in a shrinking sector are considerably less than getting a job in an expanding sector.

The classic example is the buggy-whip industry: at the turn of the 20th century, horse-drawn vehicles were the primary mode of personal transport. With the advent of gasoline-powered automobiles, all the industries related to horse-drawn buggies either transitioned to become part of the horseless carriage (auto) industry or they vanished.

Those entering the buggy-whip industry were entering a dying sector with no future.

It’s also critical to understand the interplay of major economic forces such as central government (called the state in political science) control, globalization and monopolies/cartels. Major economic forces are reactions to some existing economic extreme that gained outsized influence in society or that benefited the few at the expense of the many.

For example, modern capitalism can be seen as a reaction to the inequality, lack of opportunity and stagnation of the feudal economy. When large corporations established monopolies that could set prices without regard to market forces in the early 20th century, the state (government) stepped in to limit the excessive power of monopolies.

When government regulations multiplied to the point that they choked off growth, a movement arose to pare back regulations and state control of markets (neoliberalism).

When home markets no longer offered prospects for high growth, companies sought overseas markets (globalization).

The point for those seeking a career is this: what’s riding high at the moment may be poised to reverse, and what seems like a desert could be about to bloom.

Here’s an example of this dynamic. Back in the early 20th century, there were hundreds of local beer breweries. When the Federal government imposed Prohibition in 1920, these were closed down. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, alcohol was once again legal and breweries re-opened.

The competitive advantages of large companies (called economies of scale) became a dominant force in the U.S. economy starting in the war years of the 1940s, and a consolidation trend swept through the economy. Small local breweries were bought up by larger firms, and by the end of the 1970s, there were only a handful of corporate breweries in the U.S.

Anyone who wanted a career in a local micro-brewery looked out on a desert: there were no micro-breweries at all. But this extreme concentration of ownership and the limited choices that resulted (not to mention the limited quality of the product) sparked a reaction: the micro-brewery industry has flourished since the 1980s, and now hundreds of local micro-breweries are creating thousands of jobs and reinvigorating towns and urban neighborhoods.

Here’s another example: the U.S. military. Back in the Cold War era, a majority of young males completed a few years of military service, as the Armed Forces required millions of people. The pay was low but just about anyone who could pass the physical was accepted.

As technology advanced and the transition to a volunteer force took hold, military service has changed radically. The military needs far fewer people to operate, and the demands on those serving are higher—and so is the pay.

For the past decade, healthcare has been expanding rapidly in the U.S., and virtually everyone believes that healthcare will continue to offer plentiful job opportunities as this expansion will certainly continue for decades to come as the population ages and the demands for more healthcare increase.

But healthcare is now so costly, absorbing almost 20% of the nation’s GDP (gross domestic production), that it is poised to reverse course as the need to cut costs becomes paramount. As noted earlier, since labor is the largest expense, one way to cut costs is to replace labor with software and reduce the need for high-cost labor through new processes.

Since 40% of total U.S. healthcare costs are estimated to be paper-pushing—insurance claims, reviews of claims, etc.—it’s blindingly obvious that streamlining the payment process could save billions of dollars. Such a streamlining is necessary, and it will reduce the number of workers processing paper in the system.

An extraordinary percentage (as high as 40%) of Medicare expenses are fraudulent, needless or counter-productive. Clearly, the system is ripe for reforms that slash needless expenses (and jobs).

Higher education is another case in point. For decades, anyone with a PhD degree could count on a job somewhere in the college/university system, as the number of those with PhDs was small and the sector was expanding. Given that the number of PhDs was limited and the demand for instructors was rising, basic supply and demand made getting a PhD a low-risk career choice.

But all that has changed. As more people flocked to the “sure thing” of earning a PhD, the number of those with advanced degrees soared. As the cost of college tuition has skyrocketed, there are now limits on the expansion of higher education. Technology is offering new methods of teaching and learning, and there is now a surplus of PhDs and master’s degrees.

Soaring costs are causing a reaction that promises to slash costs and jobs in higher education. Add the surplus of qualified candidates and we have a much different supply-demand situation: no wonder so many PhDs are underemployed or unable to land a tenured spot in academia.

The inevitable reversal of trends is expressed in the phrase, “trees don’t grow to the moon.” This lifecycle of rapid growth, maturation and decline or collapse is a key dynamic in economics and the job market, and I use two concepts to explain it: diminishing returns and the S-Curve.

I will have more to say on those later, but for now the point is every jobseeker needs to be able to make their own assessment of which sectors are expanding and which are likely to shrink, and which ones have attracted a surplus of qualified applicants. If we understand the economy as a dynamic ecosystem where transformation, birth and death are the one constant, then we understand the importance of developing skills that can be transferred from one sector to another.

There will always be a need for nurses, dental hygienists, welders, carpenters, researchers, etc., but that doesn’t mean there will automatically be jobs for everyone who is qualified to work in these fields. Supply and demand are constantly shifting, and the odds generally favor those who seek fields with a shortage of qualified applicants, or fields that are too new to have credentialing programs, where experience counts more than degrees.

Everyone seeking a livelihood has to be aware that the pace of these changes is speeding up: what looks secure now could be insecure a few years down the road. Security comes not from betting on whatever is riding high at the moment but from developing skills that are valuable in all sectors.

Even traditional fields such as law enforcement, healthcare and government are being transformed (usually when there isn’t enough money to continue funding the old ways).

Understanding basic economic concepts helps us realistically assess the job market and make strategic decisions that improve our odds of success. For example, it’s been found that small companies that are expanding create the most new jobs; large corporations create few new jobs, and small businesses that stay small tend to lose almost as many jobs as they create as new small business jobs are offset by those that are lost when small businesses close down.

I promised to keep the economics lesson short, and we’re going to cover a lot of ground in a few pages. What I want you to understand is that capitalism and technology are both disruptive by their very nature. That mature industries shrink or disappear is not the fault of one policy or another; that process of creative destruction (a term coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter) is the heart of capitalism and technology.

Many have attempted to keep technology safely locked up so it can’t creatively destroy their regime or industry. But technology is a genie that cannot be kept in the bottle: those not busy being born are busy dying. Every nation or industry that tries to protect itself from technological transformation either stagnates or fails.

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Copyright 2014 Charles Hugh Smith all rights reserved in all media. No reproduction in any media in any format (text, audio, video/film, web) without written permission of the author.
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