Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Technology, the economy and pool cleaning

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 21, 2013 22:28 UTC

One way to divide people is into foxes and hedgehogs. Another is into those who think this time is different and those who believe there is never anything new under the sun.

The latter split can be a matter of temperament, of politics or even of religion. But today it is relevant for another, more urgent reason: It describes how people think about the most critical economic problem in the industrialized world today — the dearth of well- paying middle-class jobs.

The this-time-is-different school attributes a lot of what is happening to the technology revolution. That makes them an intellectually eclectic bunch. On one hand, they include wide-eyed enthusiasts who believe in human progress and in the transformational power of technology. But they also include grim hand-wringers who fear the unprecedented changes may bring unprecedented woes.

That combination of Pollyanna and Cassandra is perfectly embodied in the multifaceted mind of Al Gore. Gore is a longtime fan of the geeks, and in his post-political life he has very nearly become one of them, with his seat on the Apple board and senior partnership with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a leading venture capital firm in Silicon Valley.

It thus comes as no surprise that in his new book, “The Future,” Gore foresees a world of “hyper-change” in which the technology revolution is “carrying us with it at a speed beyond our imagining toward ever newer technologically shaped realities that often appear, in the words of Arthur C. Clarke, ‘indistinguishable from magic.’”

Capitalism is failing the middle class

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 15, 2011 14:37 UTC

Global capitalism isn’t working for the American middle class. That isn’t a headline from the left-leaning Huffington Post, or a comment on Glenn Beck’s right-wing populist blackboard. It is, instead, the conclusion of a rigorous analysis bearing the imprimatur of the U.S. establishment: the paper’s lead author is Michael Spence, recipient of the Nobel Prize in economic sciences, and it was published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Spence and his co-author, Sandile Hlatshwayo, examined the changes in the structure of the U.S. economy, particularly employment trends, over the past 20 years. They found that value added per U.S. worker increased sharply during that period – 21 per cent for the economy as a whole, and 44 per cent in the “tradable” sector, which is geek-speak for those businesses integrated into the global economy. But even as productivity soared, wages and job opportunities stagnated.

The take-away is this: Globalization is making U.S. companies more productive, but the benefits are mostly being enjoyed by the C-suite. The middle class, meanwhile, is struggling to find work, and many of the jobs available are poorly paid.

Barton and Kleinfeld’s tips for Uncle Sam

Chrystia Freeland
Mar 1, 2011 20:21 UTC

During the depths of the financial crisis, Alcoa announced that it would lay off 13% of its global workforce, or about 13,500 people. Since then, they have built up their presence in China and Russia, finalized a new mine in Brazil, and started construction of the world’s largest aluminum facilities in Saudi Arabia. Alcoa’s rate of job creation in its home country of the United States, however, has been rather tepid in comparison.

Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld acknowledged that prospects for his business today were better abroad than they were at home, but he did note that in the past year Alcoa hired 1,500 people in the U.S. in the automotive and aerospace industries and so long as the United States retained its sense of entrepreneurship, creativity and excellence in higher education, jobs will come.

Dominic Barton was similarly sober about the current state of the U.S. labor market, saying that it’s currently undergoing an acute phase of creative destruction. However, he urged the audience to focus on long-term job growth, citing the example of Samsung in the wake of Korea’s financial crisis in 1997:

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