Thomas Friedman needs to STOP giving career advice to our youth…

Thomas Friedman has been offering career advice for far too long.  This week he was at it again  with “The Start-Up of You” in The New York Times. Thankfully, our youth do not seem to have been listening….and woe be to those that actually would because they would find themselves choosing between corrugated cardboard and a plastic bag for their digs.

For years Friedman was crowing about S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career paths.  He loudly bemoaned the loss of American students in these fields while he beat the drums for loosening H1-B visa rules for foreign nationals so they could further crowd out the few American Nationals that had clung to their jobs.   Friedman never connected the dots between the flood of foreign scientists and the massive glut of Ph.D.’s in America.  He never paid attention the gutting of salaries – the natural result of a glut because he didn’t dig a little deeper for the facts.  I doubt the man ever stepped foot inside an actual  lab.

While Friedman was wringing his hands about how lazy Americans were unwilling to undertake arduous 8- year Ph.D. programs that prevent students from earning a living salary for the duration – academia was busy canabalizing itself by creating a glut of graduate students and post-docs from foreign countries.  This helped investigators write more grants and get more public funding through RO-1 grants and the like. But no one thought ahead to the day when these graduate students and post-docs would start applying for “real jobs.”  Thus the post-doctoral log-jam was born – aided and abetted by the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who were both constantly beseeching Congress to raise the limits on yet MORE H1-B’s.  The situation is so bad that scientists are spending 10-15 years in the limbo as post-docs. Post-docs generally earn less than $40k a year and work an average of 70 hours a week.   Indentured servitude at best,  high -tech sweat shop is closer to the mark.

Mr. Friedman – please understand the topic before making sweeping judgments.  Student’s were avoiding these fields not because they were lazy or stupid but because they weren’t STABLE.

Now Tom Friedman is at it again.…the good news is that he appears to have finally given up on Ph.D.’s as a hedge against unemployment.  Now he is suggesting…..drumroll….entrepreneurship!  OH!!! Now there’s a plan for the nearly 9.2%  of unemployed Americans! I hope Mr. Friedman doesn’t think that the Ph.D. programs he was touting in the past will be of any value in this regard – because they won’t.  He then goes on to sing the praises of Facebook and Twitter as amazing “innovations”.  There is so much wrong with this that I don’t know where to begin….

1. Education and entrepreneurship are two different things. Innovators are seldom good business people…they are too busy innovating for that – and I’m not being trite.  Put simply, they are different skill sets.  A Ph.D. is taught critical thinking  and although they obtain – through intensive training  – a vast array of technical skills  – it is the ability to disseminate information and draw valid conclusions that the most valued trait of the Ph.D. But this has little to do with starting and running your own business.  True innovation is far harder than business – but not as lucrative.

2. Entrepreneurship is RISKY!!! For every success – there are a thousand failures.  Business may be easier than innovation – but being an entrepreneur is nearly up there with being an innovator.  Its a high risk, high reward endeavor – but in this economy where VC is drum tight the chances of making it are despairingly small.

3. Facebook is not an innovation...Mr. Friedman fails to understand that things like FB and Twitter – though fun are hardly innovations.  The INTERNET itself was a major innovation – but FB and Twitter simply exploit innovation.  True innovation is rare and often comes from many false starts that go down many blind alleys.  Which is why most major innovations get their start in the public sector.  In general – private sector innovation is generally some form of exploitation- ingenious perhaps – but inventing iPhone apps is a far cry from curing cancer.

Mr. Friedman needs to stick to topics he understands…

©2011 – RMGHicks –

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2 Responses to Thomas Friedman needs to STOP giving career advice to our youth…

  1. Friedman has been wrong on almost everything he says, but the right keep quoting him. Oh well, I guess they need a patron saint of inaccurate economic theory.

  2. Cletis says:

    Very well said. Friedman often sounds like a self-help snake oil salesman to me. How many innovators does he think are on the planet at a time? “Yeah, Mildred, Terrence will grow up to be an innovator just like his old man and, if that don’t work out, he’ll be an entrepeneur for sure.”

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