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Contrarian View: The Law of Averages

Published: June 18, 2013

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No room for “ordinary people” in today’s world?

In January 1970, after being nominated for the Supreme Court, Florida Judge G. Harrold Carswell was rejected by the U.S. Senate. His mediocre record as a judge was cited by most senators who voted against him, and this inspired Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska, to exclaim in frustration: “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?”

I thought of this recently as I tried to get a simple answer from my bank on the phone only to be faced with an endless maze of voice recognition questions. If a human operator could have answered the call, the process would have taken less than a minute.
But there aren’t any operators left. Or receptionists. Or typists.

Or any number jobs once available for millions of people to earn a living. Many of these jobs have been outsourced. Many don’t exist anymore because technology has done away with them. And most of these jobs were once filled by “ordinary people” who needed to make a living wage to live the decent middle-class life that defines what makes our country great.

And without casting aspersions, I think most ordinary people, like Judge Carswell, are not outstanding talents in their fields, but basically mediocre, average folk pursuing life, liberty, and happiness. But in today’s world, too often driven by Wall Street values, there is no room for such people. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, recently wrote that bosses today have access to all kinds of amazing software, robotics, and cheap outsourced labor: “That means the old average is over. Everyone who wants a job now must demonstrate how they can add value better than the new alternatives.”

This “old average” citizen is happy to be retired from a job market that demands every worker continually show they can “add value better” than the newest robot on the block. Certainly, I’m in awe of new technology and the geniuses who create amazing wonders every day. But how are the rest of us mediocre folk going to afford them?

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