If your first instinct was to answer in terms of bank balances, stock market portfolios, real estate, investments, retirement pensions and the like, you proved how right Professor Philip Roscoe was in his book I Spend, Therefore I Am: How Economics Has Changed the Way We Think and Feel. It says a lot about the world we’ve leaving to our children and what they need to understand about it.
From Maclean’s, March 17th, 2014
WHEN THE PRICE IS RIGHT by Brian Bethune
Economics is so mainstream, we can put a value on a kidney, and even the donor’s worth
In 2006, economist Nicholas Stern made a series of alarming predictions, in a report commissioned by the British government, of the potential results of a worsening climate. Among them were the extinction of up to 40 per cent of all species, 200 million climate refugees—many of them ominously gathered on Europe’s collective lawn—and “an average reduction in global per capita consumption of at least five per cent, now and forever.” Stern has been roundly berated in the media ever since, particularly over the refugee projection, but the actual debate in the media was waged over the five per cent, and whether he exaggerated the cost of acting in the future while underestimating the cost of acting in the present.
For Philip Roscoe, professor of management at St. Andrews University in Scotland and author of the evocatively titled I Spend, Therefore I Am: How Economics Has Changed the Way We Think and Feel, the response to Stern was a perfect example of his book’s target: the triumph of the economic model. Once Stern introduced his own calculator and slide rule into his projections the argument could only be engaged on those terms: There is no market price for species extinction or massive refugee influx, so there was, in effect, no argument to be had. After a half century of measuring everything in dollars and cents and proclaiming how financial incentives control all behaviour, Roscoe says, “We lack the language to understand or even talk about issues in any other way.” What’s more, economic speech brings into existence what it postulates: “human beings as self-interested, calculative and even dishonest entrepreneurs of the self.”
Literally. Roscoe sees the reach of the economic model of humanity in the way suffering dictated by economic policy—the effect of the austerity program in Greece, say—is seen as “the wrath of God—inevitable, and in its inscrutable way, just.” But also, eight years after Stern, in the appearance of theoretical and even actual markets in human body parts.
Economic thinking—especially about private property—and notions of personal autonomy are closely intertwined, notes Roscoe. Autonomy is perhaps Western civilization’s supreme value today, the flashpoint between its prevailing secularism and its traditional religious faith. That quarrel has played out for more than half a century in a host of sexual issues, and more recently, in the growing acceptance of our right to die when we choose. Arguments against it that boil down to a gut feeling of “because it’s wrong” no longer have any traction. “Paternalism is the greatest of crimes,” says Roscoe.
And if death is an individual choice, a market in organs—a legal one, that is, for a black market already exists—may be inevitable. Roscoe suspects so, even as he marshals powerful counter-arguments. To start, he notes, there’s no reason to believe a legal market would not mimic the illegal one, in which, as he quotes an anthropologist working for the anti-trafficking organization Organwatch, kidneys flow “from south to north, from east to west, from poorer to more affluent bodies, from black and brown bodies to white ones, from female to male.” In Iran, the only country on Earth where selling organs is legal, the poverty of the sellers makes follow-up care rare for most, leaving them weak, unable to work and even more impoverished. “So what?” is the market absolutist’s response. It merely stands to reason that sellers would be poor and buyers rich—who are we to strip away the individual’s choice? Especially when the demand is so high.
Yet it’s a fallacy to think an open market would bring a supply equal to demand, Roscoe says. Consider the blood market, where paying for blood seems to have transformed rather than expanded the supply chain. “Blood sales, where legal, have tended to slow blood donations. They don’t wipe out the latter, though, so they don’t shrink supply, but blood sales don’t increase supply by as much as you’d assume, either. The California plasma market now works well, with regular sellers, but when it started it had lower-quality suppliers and higher monitoring costs.”
And that is where Roscoe feels himself falling into the very abyss he sought to avoid. Did he just make an economic argument against the monetization of human bodies? Once you’ve arrived at opposing an organ market because it would increase transplant costs, you’ve joined a continuum that includes those trying to establish a baseline price for organs. One American economist has made calculations—arbitrary, in Roscoe’s opinion— for the $15,200 price tag he believes would match up supply and demand: $7,500 for “risk of reduced quality of life,” about $3,000 for a month’s lost earnings during recovery and $5,000 for risk of death. Note particularly the income cut-off, Roscoe says—the model assumes those earning more than $36,000 a year wouldn’t be interested. The debate, he predicts, will focus on that sort of question— “how much?”—and not on “should we?”
Stories about university graduates who were meeting with limited or no success finding the work they had hoped to find were a regular feature of the print and electronic media in the first half of 2013. The idea that they might have to adjust their thinking and expectations in the face of a market that hadn’t delivered what they felt it should have delivered had never crossed their mind. There was no discussion of how they came to have their expectations in the first place or whether they had tested the assumptions behind them.
The stories were silent on the subject of the quality and relevance of their résumés and why they had targeted the employers they did. There was no mention of whether they had diversified their search portfolios in response to the 2008 financial meltdown by reconfiguring and repackaging themselves. We don’t know whether they had developed strategies to deal with abnormally long interview cycles or how they performed in those interviews. Did they recognize the law of diminishing returns or the need to cut their losses?
They may not have realized that job search is subject to the rules of the market and not the rules of the campus. The shortest distance between two people with a mutual business need is a well thought-out and conducted, business-driven conversation. They weren’t prepared.
Current and future graduates face a labour market that has a different perspective on the value and usefulness of higher education. Employers have deployed an array of obstacles designed to screen candidates out, not in. Some are software-based. Others derive from the fact that it’s a buyer’s market for labour. The number of degrees in circulation has risen as has the cost of acquiring them even as the market value of many of those degrees has plummeted.
Applicant tracking systems (ATS’s) were designed to counteract e-mail tsunamis that contain more than their share of “tire-kicker” résumés. To make matters worse, most managers have neither the time nor the inclination to look beyond or behind the filters in their ATS search engines.
For all of the science in hiring, there is still art in hiring. Superior managers are committed to the recruitment process because of how it impacts on them, on newly hired employees and on the company. They’re prepared to look for diamonds in the rough and to think outside the box. They’re in the minority but you want to seek them out and work for them. For insights into what a superior hiring manager for the times should look like, please read Bruce Stewart’s August 20th post by clicking here.
Deep labour market intelligence and labour market risk management are the drivers behind Personal Due Diligence. Both of these concepts elude most job seekers, regardless of age or experience. That includes the graduates in the stories. No one will be sought, let alone hired, to perform work that doesn’t need doing. The logic is inescapable, but people keep trying.
Then there’s the grossly misunderstood and under-appreciated résumé, arguably one of the most critically important documents we’ll ever generate about ourselves. It can easily take 10 hours to prepare one because of what has to go into it and why. Aesthetics is roughly 10% of the equation; the other 90% derives from how well the candidate understands what the employer needs and how well he or she communicates that understanding—to the person preparing the résumé and to the person receiving it. This is the point in the process when many applicants stumble badly. The 90% reject rate is proof that too many job seekers are opting for the low-price spread.
The object of the diagnostic you’ve just read is to demonstrate that the times demand a higher level of thinking about and execution of job search. Full-time work after graduation is no longer a foregone conclusion. Personal Due Diligence is here to help you understand what you’re up against and how to deal with it.
Five people in our class of 20 raised their hand in response to that question on our first day of sales training at IBM. Mine was one of them. Not coincidentally, those hands belonged to the 5 youngest IBMers in the room.
Selling, as I would learn over the next 2 weeks, had nothing to do with back-slapping hand-shakers in hound’s-tooth jackets with loud ties, porkpie hats, toothy grins and big expense accounts. This was the era of the IBM 3-piece, dark blue suit, white shirt, conservative tie and wing-tip shoes. (I may be dating myself here.) It was about asking customers and prospects the kinds of questions they wanted to be asked so that they could talk about becoming more effective, more efficient, more profitable—and more successful.
IBM had taught us what our capabilities were. Now we were being taught how to listen, how to present and how to target our solutions. The better we listened, the more relevant and more welcome our solutions, and the greater the likelihood that someone would buy them.
That was and still is consultative selling and relationship building. It worked because everybody won. IBM changed our perspective on selling permanently. It also taught us that business is a 1-to-1, face-to-face transaction and that people do business with people they like. The greater the interest we showed in what our customer needed, the more the customer liked us. And the record shows that nobody did it better than Big Blue.
For all practical purposes, job search and prospecting for business are one and the same. It takes time to build a relationship because it takes time to build credibility. Understanding what your customer needs isn’t about flattery; it’s about genuinely wanting to help make somebody’s life easier and bottom line fatter.
If you believe that you’ve accumulated enough education, knowledge and experience to do that—or will—you’re halfway there. The other half is putting that information where it will do you and your client/future employer/prospect the most good: on his or her desk or his or her screen. Researching and preparing a winning presentation and business case for hiring you will be hard work. But it’ll lay the foundation for future business whether you’re on your own payroll, someone else’s, or on his or her list of approved vendors.
A résumé is neither a proposal nor a business case. It’s a brochure. Unless you do your homework, it’s not likely that anyone is going to see themself or the solution to their problem reflected in it. That will take a carefully thought-out, customized cover letter and addendum that speaks directly to the person to whom you’re trying to peddle your wares. The same applies to your persona on LinkedIn and to any other social media you may be using.
Now for Side “B”.
You could usually count on an IBM business card to generate one audience. From that point on, the sales rep was on his or her own. IBM had competitors, those competitors had solutions, and not every IBM proposal was rewarded with an order. IBM customers had the inalienable right to not package their needs and wants to dovetail neatly with IBM’s offerings and they exercised it. IBM still has competitors.
Job seekers may not be able to find work in their “chosen field”. Customers are under no obligation to help university and other graduates pay off their student loans. The secret to finding work whether as a self-employed consultant or salaried employee is to position yourself to address the employer’s “chosen field” or some consumer or industrial need: the sooner the better. If you’re going to be starting Grade 11 in the fall, now would be an excellent time to start.
There’s been considerable discussion and anxiety about the role and place of the Arts graduate in today’s technological society. My colleague Bruce Stewart has written some excellent posts on the subject. Please read them. He’s also written excellent posts on entrepreneurialism. Please read those, too.
Technology may be at the heart of developed societies, but we can’t get the job done with technology alone. Brilliant, game-changing perspectives and the business and academic opportunities that flow from them aren’t the exclusive purview of technological disciplines. How many times have we heard about intuitive computing that isn’t as intuitive as we thought? Who are the ultimate consumers of technology if not human beings? What else do human beings consume?
Companies may be prepared to concede that seeing their internal operations and markets through the lens of the humanities as well as through the STEM lens might be in their best interest. Young people in North America have been staying away from information technology in droves. Some would like to blame the IT industry for not promoting itself well enough. But is it possible that a society that puts tablet computers, smartphones and the Internet into the hands of children who aren’t old enough to be able to reach the accelerator and brake pedals has grown blasé?
As of this writing, Googling “wearable computing” generated 9.2 million hits. There are already vacancies. Here’s what Apple’s up to right now.
There will always be a market for ideas and a need for someone to sell them. Whether the world beats a path to your door because you’re onto what the Next Big Thing will be, or you know someone who does and you’re excited at the prospect of helping them develop it, you’re going to have to let the world know.
The Next Big Thing could come from the likes of Apple or Google or a garage around the corner. Someone’s going to have to sell it, but they’ll have to sell themself first. Or would you rather not be called a sales rep?
If you have questions or comments, brickbats or bouqets, PDD would love to hear from you.