We hail the successes of the knowledge economy to improving the human livelihood, but in fact, the psychology of the typical workplace is not much different than it must have been in the middle ages. From a psychological perspective, I am comfortable claiming that we have yet to move beyond what I would call the “fear economy”.
Picture for a moment how the world’s middle class, heralded by politicians left and right as the “backbone” of any economy, live their lives.
As young adults, we make it into a job that allows us access to the niceties of the middle class status: a comfortable dwelling, a means of transportation, an occasional vacation. Soon after being pigeonholed into a narrow specialist niche, we begin to sense the limits of both upward mobility (i.e. wait your turn!), and lateral opportunity (i.e. finding a better job). To elaborate on the lateral opportunity point, the HR industry insists for example on only hiring an exact skill set and job responsibility match, so what are the chances you will find a significantly better paying job if they will only hire you for the exact same responsibilities? And so, it’s only normal that the mindset becomes “hang on to my job for dear life”, that the manager becomes more like a feudal lord than a colleague, and we all become mostly stuck in these hierarchies governed by fear which we call “enterprises”.
Add to the upward and lateral barriers the bottom-up pressure of credit installments and you can tell how most of the middle class feels boxed in, unable to take any risks in order to leapfrog their condition. Underneath the spotless veil of the typical suburb there is mostly frustration and fear, masked by the exaggerated soccer moms’ hugs and smiles. It’s as if since the middle ages we’ve managed by virtue of productivity increase based in technological innovation to move the box within which the middle class lives higher on the livelihood scale, but it’s still very much a box!
Want a thriving global economy? Liberate the middle class from the fear complex! Maybe we can’t do much about the bottom of the box represented by credit installments, and maybe human nature will forever ensure that political upward barriers exist. But how about at least reforming the HR industry so that talent can move freely between industries and even professions?
In closing, I do believe economists are over-complicating things. Shift the psychology of the working class from fear to hope and you’ll get ten times the innovation and a thousand fold increase in productivity. Not to mention you may get a happier society and less bland looking suburbs, with more colorful personalities inhabiting them!
Robert Britcher said:
Thoughful article. Two things about the box: one, it is disguised, so that no one is fully aware that he or she is in a box; second, the middle class life is the subject of tremendous marketing. In other words, from our early 20s, we are sold on something that we do not understand and, told that it feels good, we gobble it up, only to discover later that it is toxic. Once in the workforce, employees are pigeon-holed, given a number; their success depends wholly on their immediate supervisor or manager – in this sense the system is fuedal.
Bob, you always have a way paraphrasing more eloquently the essence of my message. How come I didn’t think of “feudal” – it captures just what I was trying to say!
Stefan Udrea said:
Very nicely said.
I would add that having children makes this fear complex even more constraining.