The return of tangible value in jobs

The building that I live in has been having renovations done over the past few months, and the folks doing the work are mostly from Central America. In fact just today a young man came by to put a second coat of paint on the front door.

In watching him work, it occurred to me that in today’s society, there is a large gap in salaries between people doing “tangible” work, like construction or farming, and people doing “abstract” work, like private equity and marketing strategy. And that a lot of the folks around here in California doing the tangible work are immigrants from Central America, who don’t make a lot of money. Twenty years from now, what will the relative value be of being able to do a discounted cashflow spreadsheet vs. being able to change out a door frame or rejuvenate soil?

John Michael Greer recently wrote about how the energy bonanza of the past hundred years has allowed the flowering of many abstract lines of work. And frankly “abstract” often means “non-essential.” While it’s true that someone can make a lot of money doing “marketing strategy,” and that in today’s society such a role may financially make sense for a company to fill, it’s not hard to see a scenario in the future where there just aren’t the resources or the business justification for these “extra” jobs.

As a matter of fact, it’s well known that in India there are globally competitive businesses like WIPRO that run with a much leaner management structure, as detailed in the book Bangalore Tiger. It makes me realize that the MBA gravy train of well-paying marketing jobs may be on the wane.

I suspect that a key to being relevant in the tightening times ahead is to get as close to the “value” as possible. If I’m doing hands on work that is critical to the end offering–uncuttable, hard to replace–that’s valuable. If I’m doing the high level work of running a company *that provides something that people absolutely need* then that’s valuable. But if I’m somewhere in the middle–I’d be concerned about how to be relevant in the job market.

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