Thursday, November 30, 2006

"The New Populism and the iPod Economy" -- TCS

Some of the best, freshest thinking I find shows up at TCS Daily. In a single story, TCS Daily - The New Populism and the iPod Economy we get a good analysis of some flawed populist thinking by Senator-elect Jim Webb in his Wall Street Journal op-ed article, discussion of the future of the American workplace, and why different types of work give back different rewards, and what trends are working to change the way our children will prosper based on how they earn their living.

The take-aways: If our country does relatively less manufacturing, is it really a big disaster that fewer of our kids will grow up to work on factory floors? (Ask the parents who have worked on factory floors.) And as our economy revolves around more and more service-type businesses, what are the determinants of which services will be best-compensated? Will those who serve up one meal at a time, even a very fine meal, be less well-off than those who find a way to serve the entertainment needs of the many? How about the investment advisory needs of the many? A fine chef can only serve so many people, even with a great support staff. The writer contrasts the way that many iPods can play the music of the few most popular (and richest) musicians, leaving the multitude of musicians, even really talented ones, searching for an audience.

I wonder if there is an oversimplification here. My music may not be his music. His music may not be your music. I don't like Springsteen all that much. Sorry! The whole potential of the iPodization, if you will, of the services economy is extreme personal customization which is now possible. If everyone liked the same music, and had no real individuality, we would just be happy to listen to our old AM-FM radios. Of course, it could all just degenerate into a huge dead-end exercise in self-indulgence, but the potential exists for something better. After bingeing on each service industry's equivalent of Bruce Springsteen's music, will we evolve a broader, not a narrower taste in life? Think Chopin, and not just played by world-famous performers: How about a world where you can listen to the best student recitals of the year? Where you can choose what you want, the way you like it, to the extent you want, in a more informed way, and with the benefit of more competitive prices than ever before. Sounds pretty good, right?

If you think of the services you personally consume as all somehow residing on a sort of big iPod, I would urge that a big free market will be just as customizable as you make it with your exercise of free choices.

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