Maybe All This “Knowledge Worker” Stuff is Bunk

Could be.  After all, the success stories in the global economy seem to be all about material goods, not the manipulation of abstract concepts.  That’s the assertion made by Joel Kotkin over at the New Geography blog:

Today virtually all the “material boy” states now boast unemployment well below the national average; the lowest are the Dakotas, Wyoming and Nebraska. Texas, the biggest of the U.S. material boys, boasts an unemployment rate around 6%, well below California (nearly 10%) and New York (8%). One key reason: While Texas has created over 180,000 generally well-paid energy jobs over the past decade, California, with abundant energy reserves, has generated barely one-tenth as many. New York, despite ample potential in impoverished upstate areas, largely has disdained developing its energy sector.

These realities contrast greatly with the conventional wisdom that with the rise of the informationUMW age, the application of “brains” to abstract concepts, images and media would come to trump the “brawn” of producers, a thesis advanced influentially in 1973 by Daniel Bell in The Coming of Post Industrial Society. More recently Thomas Friedman has cited the East Asian countries such as Taiwan and Japan as suggesting that a lack of natural resources actually sparks innovation and economic health, while too great a concentration generally hinders progress.

So how is it that the rubes, with their grease-stained hands, reeking of the smell of manure or chemical fertilizers, have outperformed the darlings of the information age? The answer lies largely in the forces that are reshaping the world. This includes, most portentously, rising demand for fuel, food and fiber in developing countries, notably in East Asia and Latin America.

His analysis might oversimplify things.  But if old line extraction and manufacturing states are doing well, why is inequality still rising?  What is the missing ingredient?   In any case, the full post is worth a read.

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