Lessons of History: The “Sick Industries”

Can’t tell you how often, as a history grad student, I heard “Get a law degree, it’s safe.”

Oops.

Now we have Legalzoom. Now we have automated text search.

This is normal. It’s the way the Market works.

Aside: No, you don’t hate the market.  You’re just constantly exposed to a bullshit definition of it.  The Market isn’t Wall Street and all that crony-capitalist bullshit.

It’s just a word used as a shorthand for the results of choosing whether we want a hamburger, a taco, or a packed bag from home for lunch, multiplied by the literally trillions of said choices per day in the US alone. This is why central planning fails — nobody can keep track of all those decisions in real-time, since by definition, all reports tell you about “past things not current things.” More importantly, no science-fiction report involving the real-time aggregation of all decisions, can tell you why each choice is being made the way it is…because one would then have to report on the context of each and every decision. You need a special product for that, which nobody’s invented yet: it’s called omniscience.

                                                   I got this, Adam. Where you want the file?

So. Back to Law School.

Big Law is in deep shit.  The era in which one could bill $200/hr for Mark1-A1 eyeballs to go through text for the “Discovery” portion of a suit isn’t over yet…but it’s getting closer and closer to the era where one won’t have to pass the Bar Exam in order to do all kinds of things that require a lawyer to do today.  Those who are very good, who are “scholars of the law,” will continue to do well.  Those who are essentially functionaries, on the other hand, are screwed.

Any industry with high profits becomes vulnerable to somebody who wants to take those profits away by giving people access to those same services more cheaply. Yesterday’s safe-and-sure-thing industries become tomorrow’s dogfood, because there’s an incentive: people want the service, but they can’t afford to pay past a certain point to get it.

Very few are really interested in chasing that bony gazelle, but a big old fattened cow gets a lot of attention. And it doesn’t run very fast.

We at Chez Happycrow prefer our eyeballs, but we note that pet dogs eat better than lions, and for less work.   Great job, if you don’t mind being a pet dog.

Yesterday’s unshakeable behemoths are looking less Tyrannosaur, and more Sclerotic Gimpy Diplodocus. They just can’t maneuver quickly enough to keep their meat, and worse yet, Utah Raptors keep feeding off them just by zooming by and shaving off chunks of meat as they go.

A Utah Raptor flexing its stylish urban toe-claws.

Newspapers? Sick industry. I get my news online. Can newspapers transition successfully? Many haven’t, and more won’t.

Healthcare? Sick industry. (Sure, we need healthcare – but the woo employment side of healthcare relies upon the government effectively creating monopolies in healthcare provision. Vast amounts of the cost of healthcare have little or nothing to do with actually getting you better, and no, neither party’s dealings with the ACA were helpful or productive.)

Education?  VERY FUCKING SICK industry. It’s not merely as bad as the fact that many universities are operating according to a guild structure inherited from the 14th century. No, it’s worse than that. Many universities are essentially machines for endowing sinecures which do not even regard students as their customers. Meanwhile, much of what’s on offer actually deprioritizes the classroom. Universities are a great place to learn to think, but unless you’re engaged in a very good and very rigorous professional program, they’re a terrible place to learn how to earn a living.

Programming? Not a sick industry yet. But the era of explosive coding growth with coders being able to simply write their own ticket is over. More and more employers are looking at specialists with exceptional suites of qualifications and achievement.

Fast-Food? Sick industry. Most of your jobs can be performed, and performed better, by robots. Employers would prefer to give them to marginally-employable humans, some of whom will grow up into managerial tasks and all of whom are better for socializing than Hal9000 is…but the writing’s on the wall.

It’s not just the public bemoaning of the Rise of the Robots. Any task which can be turned into an algorithm or flowchart will be turned into an algorithm. I do it at my job every day – it’s why it takes me a third the time to produce similar work as it does some of my coworkers. There’s even a traditional phrase for it.

“A craftsman builds something by hand one time. The second time, he makes a jig.”

Jig: a machine designed to de-skill a given task and take the heavy thinking out of the process.

Craftsmen have been doing this forever.  Those beautiful muskets we used in the War of 1812? Factory-made.

The Powers That Be have bottled up a lot of these industries for a long time. But eventually the bubble will burst and technology will emancipate these sectors.

The results are going to absolutely and totally rock…so long as you’re not deeply invested in being a Diplodocus.

Yessss, my young adjunct professor, I will retire soon, and then there will be jobs for you!

Run, adjunct professor, run!

It will never get any better than it is today.

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