Business professors are wrong about the future of work
In a recent Wall Street Journal article ("What CEOs Are Getting Wrong about the Future of Work — and How to Make It Right"), University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business professor Adam Grant advances what he thinks will be the future of work: digital interaction. He also asserts what he thinks future CEOs must do in order to accommodate his vision: make workers "happy" and let them operate in a more personal, domesticated way. He's wrong in both assertions, because most university professors continue to misunderstand the economy and what it actually consists of. They also misunderstand what a country must do competitively.
Nearly all progressive university academics, even including many business school professors, have bought in to the "green" utopianism argument, especially as it relates to breaking down physical human movement and travel (and therefore carbon output) by working at home using digital devices and the internet. For some types of work, a distance and online format can indeed be efficient: many professional services and some retailing are examples. They make up nearly half of the world GDP economy. But they rely on the other half that is made up of manufacturing; oil, gas and coal extraction; construction; rail, air and sea shipping; and restaurants, apparel, and tourism, among others.
Moreover, the world economy is, like it or not, an oil economy — this is the "stage of growth" that the global economy is at, to use economist W.W. Rostow's model — and no amount of "future work" that consists of a transformational "digital" world is going to change that in the near term (and even computers, smartphones, and batteries are made from petroleum-based products, and earth-extracted materials and metals).
The abstract idealized world that preoccupies many college professors is characterized by various deindustrial ideologies that are removed from the inconvenient realities of modern manufacturing and manual labor. They have embraced the fantasy of "digital" life because it makes sense to them, given how they work, but they have biased the concept with their own limited perspectives, and even by their political allegiances that are overwhelmingly far left and far out of touch.
Indeed, the "vast global experiment in how work gets done" that the Wharton professor attributes to COVID "lockdowns" was more about how work doesn't get done, especially when government pays you to stay home. As Casey Mulligan, former chief economist for the Council of Economic Advisers under president Trump, states, "almost everything productive that we do, we leave the house to do." This underscores how cynically removed the intellectual class is from the physical labor class and their need to be mobile.
Future work, and future effective CEOs, will be defined not by idealism concerning worker happiness, environmental posturing, or even artificial intelligence, but by working hard, solving physical problems, and making reliable profits in a competitive framework that creates national advantage.
A recent example can be found in Israel. Most of us have completely missed how significant it is that Israel is now an oil producer: for the first time in Middle East history, an emerging competitor to OPEC is materializing. And as technically sophisticated as Israel is in science and technology, it is expanding its role in the world economy the old-fashioned way: by producing oil energy for the oil economy, including for its own energy security. It is hard physical work.
If there is future redundancy in traditional labor categories, one surely will be university professors, who are at risk of obsolescence, given their disadvantages in managing data, and especially in their corruption of that data by their political ideologies and conflicts of interest.
Matthew G. Andersson is a former CEO and author. He worked with economist and White House national security adviser W.W. Rostow at the University of Texas at Austin and received an MBA from the University of Chicago.