The Real Market With Chris Rising – Ep. 27 John Tamny
The Real Market With Chris Rising – Ep. 27 John Tamny
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00:50 CR: Well, I’m really excited about today’s conversation with John Tamny. John is an economist and an author. His newest book is called “The End of Work”, and we have a very engaging conversation about what it means to work in 2019, what jobs of the future are gonna be, and how we’re gonna interact as an economy and as a society. So it’s a very engaging conversation about the future of work.
01:20 CR: Welcome to The Real Market with Chris Rising, I’m pleased to have John Tamny, an author, an economist, and an old friend of mine, and to have on the podcast as we start the year here in 2019. John, welcome to the podcast.
01:34 John Tamny: Hey Chris, thank you very much for having me on.
01:36 CR: So John, you are the Director of the Center of Economic Freedom for FreedomWorks, and you’re also an editor for RealClearMarkets, and an author, and you’ve written several books, “Who Needs the Fed?”, “Popular Economics”, and one of my more favorite reads of 2018, “End of Work”, so I’m excited to have you on the podcast to talk about what we’re gonna see here in 2019 and what the future holds, especially as it relates to the end of work.
02:02 JT: Absolutely. I think they’re connected, I think the world is getting better and better, and with that, more and more people will experience the theme of my book.
02:13 CR: You know, what’s interesting is we’re at a time when we have unemployment rate as low as I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, we have lots of talk about how jobs are gonna be taken by artificial intelligence, and even talk in my business about whether we’re ever gonna need office as an asset class. With those kind of things in mind, can you just maybe give our audience just a little brief discussion about your background, but also how that led to where you are today and writing books like “Who Needs the Fed?” and “End of Work”?
02:49 JT: Well, my background is defined, in some ways, by this sinking feeling that I was perhaps lazy. When I worked in New York on Wall Street for several years at Goldman Sachs, I looked around, I was usually one of the first people in the office, but I saw people who were much more productive than I was, and I thought much harder workers, and I thought that it was a defect in my character, but really, what it was is I was just doing the wrong thing. When it comes to writing, I strut around; when it comes to economic policy, I’m very confident and my capacity for work is endless.
03:29 JT: And so, in many ways this book was something for me that I needed to write to understand why the approach to work had changed so much in my life, but it also got me thinking about others. Why is it that some people are seen as stupid or lazy? And I thought, “Wait a second, no one’s that way, they’re just forced to do things that have nothing to do with their skills.” And so, just getting to your question about AI and robotics, that’s the greatest advance for the workers of the world in the history of mankind, because it’s quite simply going to erase all that we despise about work so that we can focus on what we enjoy, and when we’re doing… When we enjoy, we’re much more productive.
04:12 CR: And when you’re talking about focusing on things that we enjoy, you’re not talking about a society where there’s universal basic income, or some form of communism, and we can all paint and write and do music and don’t have to worry about a thing, are you? Is that the world you envision?
04:30 JT: Certainly not the universal basic income, because I don’t think the piddling sum that the government could give out to people would ever cause them to not want to do what elevates them, what makes them happy. I do think we are headed toward a world in which people are painting and doing music and doing what they couldn’t… What they would love to do as a hobby for a real job, that’s the future I see, that’s why I love robotics so much. I think back to 150, 200 years ago. If you were born, you kinda knew your path in life. Odds were somewhat binary that you were going to, once you were capable, work dawn to dusk on a farm. Didn’t matter if you loved it or hate it, all human effort was geared toward producing enough food so that people, in only a partial sense, could avoid starvation.
05:24 JT: That was life, and then, thankfully, the tractor and fertilizer, these robots came along, somewhat primitive robots, but they freed people from the farm. And so, I look at automation as just the next stage of an unrelenting stage of basically machines taking from work all that we hate about it, so that we can focus on what we really enjoy doing, and yes, that’s going to be more and more people who are passionate about art, getting to make a career out of the love of art, people making a career out of video gaming, making a career out of sports. It’s such an exciting future, I almost hate that I’m middle-aged at this point, or near my 50s. I hate that I can’t be around 100 years from now to see what people are doing, because it’s going to be amazing.
06:12 CR: On that line of thinking, one of the things that amazes me is, when I came out of college in the early ’90s, and my first job was teaching and coaching, and I loved it, and I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t, in 1991, ’92, ’93, see a path where you could make the kind of living I wanted to make and have the influence I wanted to make, and so I went to law school and ended up hating being a lawyer, and finally, after a lot of years of trying to find things to do, I’ve found something that I am very passionate about. But today, I think that’s a different analysis for someone coming out of college, whether they wanna be a teacher, or a coach. It seems to me like there are a lot more opportunities than we used to think that there were.
06:58 JT: Oh, unquestionably more. Let’s look at coaching of football. When Bill Belichick got into coaching as an NFL assistant out of college, he was $25 a week. So imagine that, you had to have something else back then, that this just was not a career. And it wasn’t even a career for the players and coaches, they had something going on in the off-season, the league wasn’t as lucrative, didn’t pay as well, but look at where we are today in this super rich society that we live in.
07:31 JT: Boise State, hardly a major college, has an annual budget of $2 million alone just for its assistance. LSU’s defensive coordinator has a four-year, $10 million contract, just the defensive coordinator. The average pay among SEC assistants is $453,000 a year. And so people say, “Okay, that’s kind of an elite college football conference,” okay, so let’s go to the high school level. The state of Georgia alone has at least 36 high school football coaches who earn in the six figures nowadays. Texas, in the Houston Metroplex alone, and these are dated figures at this point, there are at least 14 high school coaches, that number is surely higher today.
08:16 JT: And so nowadays, someone with, yes, the genius, to understand a very difficult game like football, something that most people couldn’t do physically or mentally, can now make a career out of it, and that wasn’t true for you and me, and that’s what’s so exciting. That people of the future will get to make careers out of things that you and I never imagined making careers out of, all because of automation and the wealth that results from basically erasing what is unnecessary.
08:45 CR: Well, on that line of thinking, I know that where I sit here in Southern California and in our interaction with the Silicon Valley, there’s a strong libertarian streak coming out of the Valley, coming out of the tech world, but there’s a real push, both from those who are more libertarian and on the right or left side of the aisle, saying, “What’s the real value of education?” When I was growing up and you were growing up, you went to high school, you went to college, you probably went to graduate school, and that’s how you were successful, but I’m hearing more and more people saying they don’t want their kids to go to college, they don’t want their kids to feel like they’re not… That their only path is eight years of education. What’s your take on how education is evolving today, in this world where we see the end of work?
09:33 JT: My sense is, I’m always a contrarian, my sense is that we’ll see more and more kids going to college, and I think college campuses will become fancier and fancier. What you and I remember at college, to visit these schools today is to be blown away. Look, rich people give money to schools, and my point there is that college was never about the education. Come on, what did we possibly learn in school that has anything to do with what we do today? What college always was, it was about a network, making friends, getting to know people, maybe just having fun for four years, but it was never the education itself. And so my guess is that, as we prosper as a nation, more and more people will go to school, but the expectations from it are going to change.
10:22 JT: People say, “Well, yeah, there’s so many kids today who are art history majors and they’re doing majors that have nothing to do with the real world,” and I say, “You’ve got it exactly incorrect.” No, no, no, no. Nowadays, you can make a career out of your love of art, so why not focus on that? Why not… Some people, well, they’re too focused on sports in school. Well, guess what? You can make a career out of that. So I think college is going to, more and more evolve into what it was always supposed to be, a place where we could credential ourselves, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m not anti-school, but I’ve always been anti this notion that you need to get an education. Now, you should go to college, but if you go to college, don’t expect it to teach you how to succeed, it can’t do that.
11:05 CR: And how do you look at, since we’re on this theme of being able to do something you’re passionate about, how do you look at… We just had the National Championship Game and Trevor Lawrence, a quarterback from Clemson, is an 18, 19-year-old kid who’s 6’6″ and had a phenomenal game on the biggest stage as a true freshman, he can’t go to NFL for two more years. But how do you look at college sports and what its impact is on this same kind of concept of end of work? These are huge businesses now, these kids should be making lots of money, they’re not. How do you look at that?
11:42 JT: Well, I look at it as, I’ve never bought into… And I’ll defer to you on this, so I’d love to make this conversational. I don’t buy the notion that these athletes are being exploited. As I see it, Trevor Lawrence is the rare exception to the rule of most athletes getting a scholarship, and in many instances, probably not living up to the scholarship, but what you get, and you can see this if you visit Columbus, Ohio, or you visit Clemson, which I visited this year, is that the former players all have great jobs in the town in which they played, they’re somewhat heroic.
12:18 JT: They get to make a career out of having been a player for Clemson, or Ohio State, or USC, or UCLA, and you get this whether you star or not, so you get to carry around this degree, you don’t have student loan debt, you don’t have all the things… And added to that, you’re meeting the richest, most accomplished alums your whole four years there. So, in Trevor Lawrence’s case, even if he doesn’t make the NFL, he’s set for life. And so, do I think the players should be paid? I don’t think so, I feel like they’re getting paid in ways that most anyone else would give anything. I think of you, you played for Steve Spurrier.
13:00 CR: Yeah.
13:00 JT: I bet you that opened a ton of doors for you, much more than any kind of check would have for you while you were at Duke. I think that’s probably a conversation piece for you to this day. I don’t feel sorry for people lucky enough to get to pursue what makes them great, and I apply the same to athletes.
13:18 CR: Yeah, I guess the way I look at it, though, is when I was playing, maybe the quarterback was out there when they were advertising a football game or things like that, but it really was the university, and it’s flipped now. I mean now, Trevor Lawrence is gonna be the face of Clemson football, and he’s not gonna get anything more out of it than the degree, probably won’t even get that ’cause he’ll leave early. I look at what’s happening with Duke basketball, which was… We had a great team this year, I’m very excited about it, but guess what? Next year, all of those young men are gone.
13:51 CR: To me, I feel like you should get paid for your services, but… But nonetheless, I hear you, I hear you. There’s a lot of advantages, but there’s a lot of blood, and sweat, and tears, and injuries, and 99.9% of the people don’t get… I don’t agree with you that everybody who graduates from… Comes off the Clemson team gets a job in Greenville, but if you’re pretty good, you do have other advantages. But let’s take it back to the “End of Work”. We’ve talked a little bit about the athletic side of things, and you mentioned… What are some things and what are some examples that you can point to for professions that we never would have contemplated before?
14:34 JT: Well, I think, first of all, isn’t it interesting to imagine that back in the 1970s, the word “chef” wasn’t even viewed as a professional classification? When Danny Meyer… Shake Shack is the most famous but he’s got lots of high-end restaurants in New York. When he decided to get into restaurants in the 1980s, his friends looked at him uncomfortably, they fidgeted, they didn’t know what to say, they just wanted to basically leave the room, because, wait, you’re… You graduated from Trinity College in Hartford and now you’re getting into restaurants, that’s what failed people do.
15:12 JT: And nowadays, restaurants, to believe Wolfgang Puck, a famous Los Angeles chef, as he points out, becoming a chef is increasingly viewed as an alternative to becoming a lawyer, or a doctor, or an investment banker, and it’s a reminder of what happens when prosperity surges. All it means is the range of ways in which we can showcase our unique talents in the marketplace grows. It used to be that if you grew up with a passion for food, and certainly Danny Meyer did, that’s all he talked about growing up was food, you really didn’t have any options in life, because successful people don’t become cooks, but nowadays, they do.
15:55 JT: When you and I were growing up, remember Atari and Intellivision were big, big deals. We talked about it, we would play these games, but if you and I had said, “You know, this is really what I wanna do when I grow up is, I wanna be a competitive video game player,” people would have said, “Okay, you’ve got a substance abuse problem. What an odd kid, what did Chris and John’s parents do wrong?” If you had said, “I’m going to be a video game coach,” people would have had you committed.
16:25 JT: Well, nowadays, there’s tens of thousands of video game coaches around the country who, quite literally, are paid in, some instance, $50,000-$100,000 a year for coaching people at Fortnite and the different games. And nowadays, if you’re a good video game player, you can not only get a college scholarship and play on the college team, but it’s a seven-figure job. These people are stars, you can be drafted into video gaming leagues, and so this is what you get when you allow automation to erase all that’s superfluous about work. It doesn’t put us out of work, it’s just the equivalent of dividing up work. Robots save us from what we don’t wanna do, and we can focus more and more on what we love. And so nowadays, you see people making careers out of food, out of video gaming, out of their love of pets, and it’s a beautiful thing.
17:16 CR: And how do you see… As we evolve, what does that do to our society? How do you see our society changing when you’re not talking about a society that is a gold watch with a pension that you work at for 30 or 40 years? There’s gotta be effects socially, if people are no longer looking to big corporations to provide a livelihood that is that weekly paycheck with pensions.
17:46 JT: Well, I think there is going to be societal change, but it’s going to be a good thing. I think, for one thing, your kids, and certainly, my young daughter, the notion of retirement’s going to be redefined because I’m guessing, I think based on your description of how you’re doing what you’re passionate about, you have no intention of retiring. Why would you? Why would you stop doing what makes you great? I can’t imagine not working. Even when I’m not working, I’m working because I am so passionate about what I do, but I’m an economics writer, you think I could have done this 50 years ago? Odds are very low I could have done it, but in this modern world, I’m able to do it.
18:25 JT: And so, for other people, I think, societally, what it means is there’s just going to be a much happier society, a much more fulfilled society. I think there will be less crime, I think there will be less substance abuse, I think there will be less social maladies, there are fewer social maladies, simply because everyone’s talented, but historically, there were exceedingly few ways to showcase those talents in the marketplace, but in a growing, prosperous society, more and more people will be able to get up in the morning thinking, “I’m about to go do something that I can’t wait to do,” and you think about what that means for individuals. It’s just going to be transformative.
19:06 CR: So let me ask you, though, about how people participate in this society. I see with my parents, who are in their late 70s, who have always been somewhat involved with technology, but it feels like the technology is just passing them by at this point, that using Alexa, we can do that, but you get much further than that, it’s just overwhelming to them, and I have to imagine a lot of our society, no matter what their age is, unless they’re exposed to it, that people are gonna feel very left out and unable to compete. How do we deal with that?
19:40 JT: Well, I think society… I think the progress itself takes care of it. Now, you could argue that you and I have an elite situation and some listening to this might say that, they’d say, “Well, you guys had a lot of the advantages,” and okay, that’s certainly true. But I certainly never had any computer training growing up, yet most of what I do today is related to the computer, it’s related to the internet, just because there’s an incentive to learn this stuff simply because it’s remunerative. And so people will say, “Okay, okay, well, again, well educated and stuff like that.” Well, let’s look at the oil boom in modern times.
20:18 JT: Now, there are reasons I think that happened that are monetary that we won’t get into, but the simple truth is, the US didn’t have much of an energy industry, but it very quickly had a lot of skilled oil field workers, and why did it? Because the pay was good. And so, people with no background in it learned how to prosper in places like Williston, North Dakota. So with technology evolving, there’s going to be enormous amounts of wealth created; with that wealth creation, there are going to be jobs created that we never imagined before, and the pay in those jobs will be the incentive for people with, theoretically, no background in them to learn how to do them, and in some instances, prosper. So I think this, in many ways, takes care of itself.
21:03 JT: Yes, technology does pass people by, but that invariably redounds to the younger people. There’s a reason that each generation outperforms the next one because they understand the technology the best, because they grew up with it, it’s second nature, and so I don’t really worry about it. I’ve never worried about, in a country like this, people being left behind. We won the lottery being born in the United States, and we did simply because we’re free to move within the most prosperous collection of 50 states the world has ever seen. There’s nothing keeping you from getting up and moving to Washington state tomorrow and me moving to Minnesota tomorrow. And so, people can move to where their skills will be most rewarded. That’s not true for most people.
21:48 CR: Well, what about the fact that… It just seems to me like there’s almost two worlds going on. There’s this world that I see, I have one foot in that’s much closer to my parents’ experience, whether it’s watching cable television or writing letters back and forth, and then there’s this world that my children are living in where Fortnite, the makers of Fortnite, Epic Games, makes $3 billion a month off a game that’s supposedly free, and my parents can’t even see that world, and my son and my daughters are so immersed in it that they don’t know that there is any other world. Isn’t that dichotomy gonna lead to some sort of social issues, issues with the economy, with some breakdown or some pushback, where people feel like their jobs are being taken away by AI and have a social resistance to it?
22:41 JT: Yes and no. What I would say is, what you’re describing is a really high class problem. It’s the societies where things don’t change that we should be most worried. I think about Alan Greenspan, he talked about, in his biography about 10, 12 years ago, he first visited the Soviet Union, I think in the 1950s, and he said when he went back in the 1980s, he saw the same tractors, and he knew right then that it hadn’t really worked out for them, that they’re stuck in place. And so, the fact that the experience is so different for your parents’ grandkids is a wondrous endorsement for the economic and personal freedom that we enjoy here.
23:27 JT: What would truly be scary is if they understood technology in the same way, because that would be a sign of a society stuck in place. And so, you want this constant evolution, you want it to be where, when your kids are of age, when they’re in their 20s and 30s looking for jobs, you’re saying, “Wow, they actually pay you to do that?” Because what would be truly scary is the reverse. Now, will there be people “left behind”? Yeah, of course. One of the difficulties of a free society is that people who are really smart, in a book sense, have to witness friends whom they didn’t think were that bright, in a book sense, eclipse them, and it’s hard, and so, people look for answers, and they say, “Well, it’s this, it’s the Chinese, or it’s those Mexican people crossing the border.” No, no, no, no, no. This is just called progress.
24:19 JT: And so… I would even say that the desire to redistribute wealth, as much as I despise it as a libertarian, is in a sense, a sign of progress. You only wanna redistribute wealth if it’s actually being created. Rest assured, they’re not talking about that much in Bangladesh, and so much of the maladies we’re talking about, these are a happy trade-off for all the progress we’re getting.
24:43 CR: So how much do you think economic policy is going to play a role as technology… As we get closer to the singularity, as we get closer to this exponential growth, where do you think economic policy plays with a world where, at 17, you can make $2 million a year on YouTube?
25:07 JT: Well, it’s a great question, and my guess is that economic policy is going to mean less and less. The simple truth is, technology, and those who migrate toward it, will always be able to outrun government forces, and the desire of government to take and redistribute. You look at something like Uber. Here’s this app that’s on our phones that is basically broken taxi cartels around the country. What new technologies will make it very, very difficult for government to control how we work, and yes, also how we avoid handing however much of a percentage of our wealth over to the government.
25:48 JT: Looking into the future, my guess is that, as opposed to a US Treasury dollar or a Federal Reserve note, my guess is that, we’re more and more going to move toward a JP Morgan note, a Walmart dollar, a Target Dollar. And so with that, again, with these technological advances, it’s gonna be more and more difficult for politicians to try to control what we do from the commanding heights. Wealth is going to soar. I’ve never hid from the basic truth that what I believe, in terms of freedom, is wholly consistent with surging wealth inequality, but then again, my view is that rising inequality is the surest sign of shrinking lifestyle inequality between the rich and poor, and surging opportunity for people of all sorts of skills.
26:35 CR: Well, one of the interesting things that I was reading lately has been the thought that keyboards will go away, whether on their phone or on your computers, because the way people naturally interact is visually and verbally, and so if you start to look at how the poorest parts of India are communicating on smartphones, it’s bringing people into society who were excluded because they didn’t have a skill set in writing off a keyboard, or writing, physically writing, with a pen and paper. So it seems to me that it has the potential to bring in a lot of people who have been excluded, but at the same time, there’s gonna be this pushback from the haves. How do you see that? Because if, all of a sudden, everybody gets to compete, no matter your sex, your ethnicity, your sexual persuasion, all that because technology brings you there, it seems to me we’re gonna have some social consequences to that. People trying to keep people out.
27:33 JT: I think you’re no doubt right. Look, there’s always going to be… The more you open up an economy, there’s going to be some people who say, “Hey, wait a second, why am I no longer as big of a deal as I was, or someone’s eclipsing me?” But the positives surely outweigh the negatives in this. For me, I can’t imagine life without a keyboard, but then, look at how you and I are communicating right now. We are transmitting ideas verbally and we’re doing it, you’re in Los Angeles, I’m in Washington DC. So the fact that you’re doing this podcast is an admission of this evolution that’s occurring, and so someone like me who loves to just write things down, who loves to write op-eds, I’m gonna have to get real about this. I like writing books too. Is this a forever thing? It could change, but again, this is called progress.
28:28 JT: If things were stuck in place, if we were still getting our information today the same way we were 30 years ago, imagine what a poor country we would be, and in being a poor country, being a country stuck in place, think how microscopic the opportunities would be. We certainly wouldn’t be talking about people making money as Fortnite coaches, we wouldn’t be talking about assistant coaches in colleges making millions of dollars a year, we wouldn’t be talking about highly paid high school football coaches. What we would be talking about is what you and I grew up with, the high school football coach also being the history teacher because that’s what paid the bills.
29:07 CR: That’s right. Let me ask you this, you’ve written several books, you constantly are writing, how have you seen your profession change since you got into it because of technology?
29:21 JT: Well, luckily… That’s a great question. Luckily for me, I got into it as a result of all these changes, so it hasn’t been as unsettling for me, but probably the best way to explain it is when I went to work at Forbes as opinions editor, I was talking to a long time senior editor there, and I was… And I brought up this article he had done on McDonald’s years ago, the restaurant chain. He said, “Let me tell you how I reported on that.” And he proceeded to tell me that he flew business class around the world to Hong Kong, Mexico City, Rome, and then to Oak Brook, where McDonald’s was located at the time, to report the story, and his point was, I could no more do that reporting today, the internet has made the written word much less valuable.
30:07 JT: And so, there’s arguably no… The profession of writing has been impacted by technology more than any, but what it’s meant for me is huge opportunity. Because of the internet, I was able to get my foot in the door. I was working on Wall Street and, as I said, I didn’t think I was very good at it, I had a passion for economic policy, but no one was going to give me a column at the New York Post, certainly not the New York Times, not the Washington Post, certainly not the Wall Street Journal, but thanks to the internet, because the word became cheaper, I got my foot in the door. And so there’s been huge dislocation, but it’s given people like me a voice. Again, when we were kids, the opportunity for someone like me to do this, they were exceedingly slim, because who was going to give you that crucial space that didn’t exist?
31:00 CR: Are you finding the noise of all these different channels, whether it’s Twitter, or whether it’s things like Medium, or… There’s all these different avenues for people to get their word out that didn’t exist. You’re not just relying on, “Can I get something in the LA Times, or the New York Times, or the Washington Post?” But does that make your work more difficult?
31:22 JT: It’s ultimately gotta be more opportunity. It certainly is frustrating at times. It’s also, for me, sad in a way. Whenever I visit Los Angeles to pick up a Los Angeles Times, I feel like I’m picking up the Pasadena Star News, as in, I feel like I’m picking up a local newspaper as opposed to what was once the most profitable newspaper on Earth and a truly globalized institution. When I got to Washington DC in 2003, you used to be able to buy a Los Angeles Times print edition here in DC, that’s how… It had a huge bureau. Nowadays, I think it’s got one, but it’s maybe one or two people. And when I say two, I could be bullish on the number. And so I find that sad, it’s one of the things I love so much about the New York Times. I love picking up a paper where people, quite literally, are on the ground in Albania, on the ground in India, they have two bureaus in Africa, at least two.
32:20 JT: It’s kind of fun that they actually have people in these different places, so I miss the old way, but it’s gotta be progress, because when you consider the range of information that people have access to, it used to be that it had to be the Times, the LA Times, Washington Post. Nowadays, there’s different forms of media, and I consider myself somewhat of that alternative media, a different look at how the economy works. Someone like me 10, 20 years ago really didn’t have a voice, and I think that was much more unfortunate than what we have today.
32:54 CR: Can you talk a little bit about what your experience has been, positive or negatively, with mediums like Twitter; 140, now it’s, what is it 250 characters? To be able to say something and how that has influenced your work or how you digest news?
33:12 JT: It’s great. Think about this, for one, as a writer, Twitter forces you to get to the point. And so, that’s good, that on its own is a skill. But think about what it means for the typical person to be able to follow Hugh Grant, to be able to follow Rob Lowe. Or if you’re interested in policy, to be able to follow Barack Obama or Steve Forbes. That you get to know what interests them, or what’s on their mind, what they have access to. This doesn’t describe a society that’s more closed or that is, perhaps, more information bereft. It describes a society that is, by the day, is much smarter, is getting access to information that previously was never available.
34:00 JT: So again, people will point to, “Well, this was mis-reported or this was just a false meme,” or whatever it is that was promoted on Twitter, and it took on viral qualities and they say, “See, that’s the problem.” Well, that’s like saying, “Okay, the plane crash means that we should… That plane crash that happened a year ago means that we should get rid of airplanes.” Overall, the positive, of being able to move around the world, far outweighs the tragic negatives, and I say the same way with Twitter. What a luxury for me to be able to say, “I wanna know what’s on, I don’t know, Karl Rove’s mind,” and now I can know. That wasn’t the truth before.
34:41 CR: That’s an interesting point. How do you see your business, the business of reporting news and writing op-eds and providing opinion evolving, going forward? What are you concerned about? What do you think are opportunities?
35:00 JT: If I knew the full evolution, I’d be a billionaire and then I could retire. But no, what scares me is always the unknown. I worry that I’ve become too complacent. I worry that I’m too reliant on the written word, it’s how I enjoy doing things. I think that the act of writing itself is to pass the knowledge, and so when I write op-eds, I feel like I become much more knowledgeable about what I’m writing. And so increasingly, it’s not in print, some of mine are in print, but most of mine are online.
35:32 JT: What terrifies me is that technology is moving so fast that the written word won’t matter as much as there will have to be different ways of communicating ideas. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I think progress is always good, but for me, I must admit what makes me most comfortable is writing a 1000-word op-ed. I hope that that doesn’t go away, but I think it would be unreasonable for me to assume that the way I transmit ideas is going to be the norm forever, and I say that the same way about books and the different ways I do things. I hope this holds itself in place, but again, I think I’m being naive. The podcast that we’re doing right now, different ways of transmitting ideas might soon replace how I do it and that’s a little unsettling.
36:19 CR: So when you’re looking at the future of work as a whole, as you’ve just… You’ve got this book, which I really enjoyed, that’s out there. Highly recommend it to people, but as you’re looking at the next step, so you’ve talked about how a Fortnite coach can make a living and that there’s a variety of other things. What do you think the future of work is in certain bigger industries, or what jobs, in your view, are just not gonna be around, and do you have any tealeaves on jobs that you think will come around?
36:48 JT: Here’s how I would put it: What jobs won’t be around? My guess is, the things that suck the most. I, for instance, hate moving furniture. My sense is that things like that will gradually be automated away. It’s probably shooting fish in a barrel, but more and more the jobs of drivers will go away, truck drivers too. Bad thing? No, a beautiful thing. Now, people say, “Well, some people will lose their livelihoods.” Yeah, and some people lost their livelihoods back in the 19th century when the tractor and fertilizer and things like that erased farm jobs by the tens of… Hundreds of millions, realistically, around world. Would anyone clamor for that life? Would anyone yearn for that life? Would anyone yearn for the factory jobs of the past that disabled so many people, that some people didn’t leave alive from? Certainly not, and it’s the same idea here.
37:43 JT: Any job that can be automated away is not worth doing in the first place, and so I really think I’m envious of young people today, but boy, I’m really envious of their kids and grandkids precisely because of all this automation, all that we despise about work is gradually going to be wrung from it, and more and more people will get up like, you and I do, thinking, “Wow, I get to go do something, I can’t wait to do it.” You’re just agitated about getting there because you get to go be a superstar. More and more people will feel like we do. More and more people will feel like Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney on a daily basis, as in, “I get to go do something that I am brilliant at.” And so, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Will jobs change? Of course they do. That’s what happens in rich countries.
38:32 CR: I understand everything you’re saying, and I think, for those people who are millennials and younger, having growing up more with that’s the way the world is, I find it hard as Generation X, where we’re so influenced by our parents in the baby boomer or the silent generation, on just things that are… Maybe it’s Catholic guilt, I don’t know what it is, but I wake up in the morning and I’m on my iPhone doing things that are real business items, real interaction with people, and it’s five o’clock in the morning, and I haven’t even left my bed, and yet, I feel like, I haven’t really started working until I get into the office.
39:09 CR: And it’s a weird psychological thing that, maybe it’s just me, but I find it really odd, and I talk to other people and they’re like, “I don’t know what are you talking about. You’ve been working since five o’clock in the morning.” So I think there’s some cultural things that, at least our generation, I’m struggling with, and I find it… Since most of the decision-makers are my age or older, and when it comes to finance and things like that, that people are really missing certain things because of these things we grew up with, what it meant to get a corner office. Do you see anything or does anything I just said resonate with you?
39:42 JT: Oh, it fully does, I think you nail it. I, to this day, I am nervous if I’m driving to work at 9:00 AM, because I’m used to what… And I think I speak for you too. I never saw my dad in the morning.
39:56 CR: Yep.
39:56 JT: Even though our fathers worked downtown, I never saw my dad. Yet I see my two-year-old every morning and I get irritable about it. I enjoy it, but I’m talking to my wife and I’m saying, this is not what successful people do. But to your point, I’ve been up since 4:30 AM in the morning, working. I exercise, I read the newspaper. Because of technology, so much of what we can do doesn’t require us to be in the office. And so yeah, I’m like you, I’m stuck in my dad’s paradigm of where the baby shouldn’t see me, but technology allows me to see the baby, and it is an amazing thing, and again, this is what I think people leave out, and there’s this desire to point to all the negatives. Look at what technology has meant for you and me. It doesn’t mean that we’re less productive, it just means that it’s changed how we are productive on a daily basis, and it means that our kids get to see us more, which is just a beautiful thing.
40:51 CR: One of my first jobs as a young lawyer, passing the bar, going to work at a law firm, was that on… This is 1996 on Friday night, about eight o’clock at night. I had to be the one to be sure that all the leases that had been physically redlined with the pen and paper were copied and sent out to the attorneys, ’cause that’s right after FedEx had… You could deliver by 10:00 AM on weekends, and my job, because they didn’t wanna trust anybody else but the first year lawyer, was to make sure that happened. That’s pre-Microsoft Word, that’s… We had a big word processing department at Pillsbury when I was there. None of that stuff exists, but yet, I felt pride in the fact that, okay, that was my responsibility and I do it. And then today I do things, I redline myself legal documents and all this other kind of stuff, and I do it off my iPhone. And yet, that doesn’t feel like work. [laughter] It’s a really… Psychologically, it’s really unbelievable. And then I talk to someone who’s 15 years younger and they laugh at me like, of course that’s work. What are you talking about?
41:54 JT: It’s unnerving. But again we’re, to some degree, stuck in the past. And let’s just celebrate, I’m writing an op-ed right now with a money guy from Newport Beach who now lives in Miami, and we’re just shooting it back and forth on email. Imagine, to your point, what that was like in 1996. Well, I’ll fax it over to you, and I will write in my changes, the loss of productivity. So I hate when people say, “Well, you know, productivity growth hasn’t been much in modern times.” Are you kidding me? Look at what you just described.
42:26 CR: Yeah, yeah.
42:27 JT: Look at what people are doing, look at how much more quickly we can get things done. So to your exact point, it’s not just that we’re working, we’re working much better, we’re accomplishing exponentially more, it just doesn’t feel as much like it, and why is that? Because of the technology that people are afraid of, but that is, in fact, it just relentlessly removes all that’s inconvenient about work and life, from our lives.
42:54 CR: Well we… And on that point, our company has had some real heart-to-hearts at the senior management level, saying, “What does it mean to come into the office?” And we start with, “Do you need an office?” And we fundamentally believe you do, because a corporation is really just a reflection of its people, and just like sports teams need a place to congregate, we believe you need an office, so we hit that. But do you need to live by these old rules of saying you need to be in the office by 8:00 AM and stay till 5:00 PM or 6:00 PM, saying to somebody, “Look, you need to drive into the office or take public transportation into the office at the highest commute times.”
43:32 CR: Just seems to make no sense, and so we’ve, collectively as a company, just said, “Look, there’s certain days, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, these are the team huddle days. These are the days we absolutely expect you to be in at certain times, but these other days, we’re just gonna communicate on where people are and when they’re there.” And so I think what it does is, it says, we have less office space than you used to need, we have people doing more skilled jobs than there used to be done, by trying to accommodate the fact that you have to count those two hours from 5:00 AM and 7:00 AM in the morning where someone’s working because they are working, and in the past, you couldn’t work unless you showed up because that’s where everything was.
44:09 CR: But it’s an interesting thing, and what I always say is, “I believe offices will be around for a long time, because until I see Apple, and Google, and Facebook, and the leaders in technology stop using office space, then I believe it’s gonna be office space,” and all I see are those companies expanding office space. But what do you think? Do you think the office is going away?
44:29 JT: No, I tend to agree with you, that if Steve Jobs was on his, what was his point? That he built the newest Apple headquarters because you can’t beat the people running into each other aspect of office work. But I…
44:43 CR: The creative collisions, yeah.
44:44 JT: But I also think you’re correct, that our vision of how work is conducted has to change within this because we are… At night, what we’re able to accomplish, what we’re able to accomplish early in the morning, used to probably take a day or sometimes days in the pre-technology days. Just to your point about getting documents from one office to another. Well, now you can do it over email and everything, and so it’s gotta be some sort of combination, but I never see offices going away simply because people need to be around other people. It’s not just that it’s good for corporate culture, but it’s because they want to.
45:19 JT: And what’s going to happen is, when I look at… You describe lengthy commutes and everything, that to me is just a sign of lack of markets. I’m sorry, but with anything else, with any other business, they see a ton of customers as an opportunity and they expand or they figure out a way to serve them. Okay, well, driving from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles during rush hour is a difficult thing, and to me, that’s just a sign that markets don’t govern as much how we use our roads.
45:51 JT: And so you’d say, “Okay, crazy libertarian, he wants to privatize the roads.” Okay, in my perfect world, yes, but since that’s probably not going to happen, my guess what is going to happen is entrepreneurs, as they do, have discovered yet again an unmet need. They’re going to figure out other ways to get you from Pasadena to downtown such that you can avoid traffic, and it’s going to happen because people like being around other people. Will the look of offices change? Of course they will, but people need that, and it’s the rubbing up against people that causes innovation.
46:24 CR: Yeah, I think… On that note too, I think there’s study after study that says that remote work does not produce the efficiencies as people think, that there has to be some interaction, and I think the studies are pretty clear on that, and I also think studies are clear that people can’t all work in closed offices, just as much as they can’t all work in open spaces, that the nature of work today is, there’s some that’s isolating work, there’s some that’s collaborative work, and there’s some that’s just downtime, and so I think offices will continue to reflect that as well.
46:58 JT: Absolutely.
46:58 CR: So when you’re looking at the world where we are today, we’ve gone through… You and I have talked about this and we’ve got some ideas about where we think things are going, but we’ve gone, in my view of the world, the internet revolution, which really started in the mid-’90s, saw a boom and bust period through the 2000s, but now here we sit at 2018. Though the internet revolution, in my opinion, has played its part, and we’re onto something different that utilizes the internet as the backbone to it, but it feels to me that the stationary-ness… That the internet revolution was more a reflection of technology changing from a typewriter to a computer than to interconnected, but we’re… It feels to me like we’re on something different today, that the world is fundamentally having another revolution, and to me, it’s all around mobile, mobility. Are you seeing that the way I’m seeing it? That, for instance, the office space. In 1996, you had a computer on your desk, and your world wasn’t that much different. Today, we’re in a totally different world.
48:06 JT: Totally different world, and yes, and I think how it’s going to manifest itself is… Isn’t it interesting that we’re only now seeing Sears dying? We’ve been seeing it for decades, but it’s now… It would appear that it’s within a day, or days or weeks of its just final, “Okay, we’re gonna liquidate this all.” My guess is that it won’t take that long in the future, as in, people are all excited, and understandably so, about Amazon and Facebook and Google and the richest technology companies today. My guess is, if we’re having this conversation in 15 years, that three of those five are dead, or just kind of a joke. The technology is going to speed up the ways in which the great becomes mediocre and is replaced by something much, much better.
48:56 JT: So, yeah, the change is going to be rapid, it’s going to be amazing for workers and for consumers, just because they’re going to figure out better and better ways to meet our needs. Let’s not forget that Silicon Valley is littered with VCs that passed on Amazon, that passed on Google, that passed on all these things. Let’s not forget that, in 2006, it was assumed by the knowers in tech that Myspace was an impregnable monopoly owned by News Corp, you might as well break it up because it would never be wiped out. And then, of course, Facebook comes along and wipes it out. There’s a company today out there that’s going to wipe out Facebook, and it’s probably going to wipe out Amazon. And so yeah, it’s not just a change in how we work and the way in which we get information and get goods and services. What’s exciting to me is that it’s… The biggest change afoot is from whom we get them. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the Sears of today, which is Amazon, will die much more quickly than Sears did.
49:58 CR: You know, it’s interesting, one of the reasons that Sears survived so long is ’cause they have these hard assets, real estate, and then, when they went through the bifurcation of the real estate from the stores and the stores just had to compete, they couldn’t, and they couldn’t keep up, so, I agree with that. I think it’s interesting, I think there were some things about our economy structurally that allowed it to survive much longer than unprofitable stores should have, but then it, in the same breath, you’ve got companies like Warby Parker, and even Amazon, who’s saying, you have to have a retail presence, that retail’s not going away, it’s just the retail of 15, 20, 30, 50 years ago, people just don’t shop that way, and if you can’t keep up, you’re out of business, which is what’s happened to Kmart and to Sears.
50:45 CR: As we’re wrapping up here, John, we haven’t talked much about politics as it relates to economics, but as you look at your world through your libertarian lens and see… We’ve gone through one period of time in 2008 to ’10, where it was all about government spending and government doing a lot to, now, through our tax policy, giving lots of money to big corporations. Where do you see we are just on the pendulum of economic history? Here we are at 2019, where do you see… What is economics today?
51:23 JT: Economics is ridiculous, it’s the dumbest… I think it’s one of the weakest professions on Earth. It’s defined by people who almost monolithically believed that the killing, maiming and wealth destruction that was World War II actually caused an economic rebound in the US. I can’t think of a more horrifying view, but it’s accepted wisdom among economists that World War II revived our economy, which is so easy to discredit I just can’t believe people even think it. Economists believe that economic growth has a downside, that it causes inflation. You and I grew up in the ’70s, we know what inflation is, it’s a devaluation of the dollar, economic growth is anti-rising prices. And so I think the profession is a joke, and thankfully, technology is going to put what’s unnecessary out of business.
52:13 JT: If you were to give me a choice, because as you… Okay, crazy libertarian, I don’t think much of either political party. What frustrates me is that we’ve tried everything in the 21st century. We’ve tried, as you know, government spending, we’ve tried tax cuts, we’ve tried deregulation, we’ve tried dollar devaluation, all these different things. Some have arguably worked better than others, some were practically good things under Democrats, some good things under Republicans. What I would love, my ultimate goal, the one policy we’ve never tried is bringing money back to its original use. As Adam Smith said, “The sole use of money is to circulate consumable goods.” Money was historically a measure. I’ve got bread, you’ve got wine, I want your wine, but you don’t want my bread, you want the butcher’s meat. Money allows us to trade with one another, and when we’re trading one another, we’re obviously exponentially more productive because we can do what we love.
53:14 JT: And so my hope, and I no longer rely on the US Treasury for this, my hope is that JP Morgan, Walmart, something like that, they come out with a dollar that holds its value over time. I think the biggest barrier to economic progress by far is a dollar that no longer has a stable definition. President Clinton’s treasury was the best on this in modern time. Reagan and then Clinton were the two best dollar presidents in modern time. I don’t think it’s a surprise that economic growth was so abundant under both of them. When you have a stable dollar, people can trade more, trade improves us. When you have a stable dollar, people can invest more, because suddenly it’s not a risk to put money to work.
53:58 JT: And so, if you could give me one lever to fix this so that we could stop talking about economic policy and talk about prosperity even more, would be a dollar that holds its value throughout time. I think it’s the biggest, by far, but to be fair, economists think a stable dollar, or the notion of it, is low rent, so I’m losing that debate.
54:19 CR: Well, John, I really appreciate your time, this has been a really interesting conversation. I have to end it with one thing. So you are an adherent to the belief that technology is a good thing and it’s connecting us in ways. You’re a father, you’re a husband and you… How do you shut off? Are you able to be disciplined enough to say, “Computer’s going off and I’m gonna have down time,” or are you constantly consumed with technology and news and all of that kind of stuff?
54:50 JT: Oh hell no, why would I do that?
54:53 JT: “Shut off” is what people used to do when they were doing work because they had to do it. Come on, you and I are lucky enough to do what we enjoy, do work that we enjoy. That’s not to say that I don’t love to go see a movie or have a drink, I like all those things. I used to love smoking, I miss it terribly to this day. But overall… By that, I mean cigarettes. But overall, I’m sorry, shutting off is something in the past, and I think you’re going to most notice it with your kids, when they get into the working world and their kids. Work is going to be about expressing your unique talents. It’s gonna be… Peyton Manning, when he retired from football, he cried. Tiger Woods is fighting retirement every single day of his life.
55:36 JT: These guys have more money than they’ll ever need. They love their work uncontrollably. What a remarkable endorsement of progress, and capitalism, and economic freedom that more and more people can’t stand the idea of quitting working, and so shut down? Sure, but look, I like what I do, and I know you do too, we’re very lucky. What you and I plainly want is for more and more people to feel as we do, that they can’t wait to get up, because work is where we get to be superstars.
56:06 CR: Yeah. So John, how can the audience find you on Twitter? What’s your Twitter handle?
56:12 JT: It’s @johntamny at Twitter… So it’s @johntamny, and you can find me through that. You can find me on realclearmarkets.com, you can Google me and find lots of negative things said about me, plus a lot of my columns, and of course, you can go on Amazon and buy multiple copies of my books. So…
56:31 CR: Well, I highly recommend “End of Work.”
56:33 JT: Most useful way. [laughter]
56:34 CR: Yeah, I think “End of Work” was just an exceptional book. I enjoyed “Who Needs the Fed?” and “Popular Economics”, so to our audience, I hope everyone will pick it up, and John, really appreciate you taking the time. It was a great discussion, thanks so much.
56:48 JT: Thanks so much for having me on, Chris, this was great, I love what you’re doing.
56:50 CR: Thanks, John.
56:53 CR: Well, thanks John, that was a terrific conversation, I really appreciate it. To our audience, please subscribe to the podcast, you can do it on the Apple system, on the Apple podcast, or any of the other podcast systems, or you can go to our website, chrisrising.com, and subscribe to the podcast. And please follow me on Twitter, @ChrisRising.