I have some issues with Thomas Friedman’s new column, which can be found here. In it he complains that unlike “the good old days,” today no one has any privacy, and there are no more “simple,” or as he puts it “average,” things left in the world. I’m not a fan of “good old day” rhetoric to begin with. While I think some traditions and cultural norms are important to preserve, I am under no illusion that somehow life was “better” for those who lived with primitive dentistry, no cell phones, no internet and no air conditioning. But lets look at two of Friedman’s claims more closely.
First, privacy. Friedman uses the example of Donald Sterling to show lament the fact that in a society where everyone has a mini video camera, one cannot even have privacy in their own home anymore. I think this is a poorly thought out statement because I don’t think people had as much privacy in the past as Friedman claims. Before the age of suburbs, people often lived in closely packed apartment buildings or even tenements where I’m sure privacy was a rarity. If my experience in dorm apartments is any indication, if a couple is having a loud argument on the other side of the wall, it can clearly be heard. Also, especially in small towns where everyone knew everyone, I’m sure it was awfully hard to keep secrets. Anyone who remembers high school knows that rumors travel fast. Because of these points, I disagree with Friedman’s apparent contention that we “used” to have much more privacy than we do now.
Secondly, Friedman uses the example of dairy farms to basically claim that nothing is “simple” anymore. He says that in the past farm hands only had to know how to milk a cow, but nowadays they need to know how to use automated milking machines controlled by computers. I actually find his claims insulting because he is assuming that farm and other blue collar related tasks are simple. So simple, that he probably never even took the time to use his advanced brain to look into what these common-folk tasks require in terms of skill and intelligence. I don’t know much about dairy farming, but I can almost guarantee that even before the age of computers, blue collar tasks were much more complicated than Friedman thinks they were. He is insulting American workers by essentially claiming they are no longer “smart” enough to compete in the modern economy where blue collar jobs are increasingly demanding the use of technology. Their jobs were never as simple as Friedman thinks they were. And If American workers are lacking skills today, it is not because they are “stupid”. In fact, it is the fault of college “cheerleaders” who claim that every kid needs to go to college and learn Shakespeare and liberal political ideology if they want to be successful. This is actually the opposite of the truth. As the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, 48% of college grads are in jobs that DON’T require a college degree. Meanwhile, there are 600,000 blue collar manufacturing jobs unfilled in this country because our workers don’t have the proper hands-on skills. And these are not poorly paid jobs. Welders have become so short in supply that some are making $150,000 a year in Ohio. So maybe Thomas Friedman should stop assuming that blue collar work is “simple” and start preaching the truth: you don’t need college to be a success, and bring back shop class to high school.