May 6th, 2008

Money

Reflections on employability

One of the most remarkable (and remarked-upon) events of this generation has been the "Chinese miracle" (following other East Asian miracles, but on a much larger scale) in which hundreds of millions of people have been lifted from abject poverty into some semblance of middle-class life. Depending on where you set the cutoff, you will get different numbers, but I think it is safe to say that we are talking about a group of humanity larger than the whole population of the United States, or even the European Union.

The thing is, however, that they started from an almost unimaginably low level. Most lived on tiny farms that barely gave enough rice for the families that lived there, and a little for taxes. Sometimes there was not enough for both people and taxes, and the people starved. In such a situation, you can readily improve your living by sewing shirts with a manual sewing machine, if someone organizes the sale of the shirts for you. But this won't work once you reach the kind of society we have here. In Norway, we have more jobs than people; but the jobs require not sewing machines, but things like clear thinking in C++, or an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Hyborean Age, or the ability to tell medication from placebo by a quick look at the latin names of the ingredients.