Andy Kessler’s keynote at Defrag stunk

Andy Kessler

Andy Kessler just gave the opening keynote speech at Defrag '09, and I really hated it. The title was Be Solyent, Eat People, and since I'm fascinated by the topic of productivity and job replacement I was looking forward to a thoughtful analysis of a complex topic. Instead it felt like a rant by an undergraduate who'd just read Atlas Shrugged for the first time. He laid out a taxonomy of 'unproductive' jobs, which he generally classified as servers as opposed to creators, and then split those servers into 'sloppers', 'sponges', 'slimers' and 'thieves'.

What gobsmacked me was his seeming contention that basically anyone who wasn't a programmer was a parasite. He mentioned a lot of jobs that should be largely automated, from the uncontentious idea of stevedores being replaced by container ships, to the eyebrow-raising example of librarians and finally to the gob-smacking idea that teachers are on the way out!

He seemed to be taking an uncontroversial idea, that there are buggy-whip making jobs that will be replaced by new processes, and taking it to ridiculous and offensive extremes.He used doctors as an example of a 'sponge' profession where artificial barriers to entry kept the incumbents charging high fees and gouging their customers. I'm extremely sympathetic to Adam Smith's quote 'People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and
diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the
public, or in some contrivance to raise prices
', but we tried unregulated doctors for most of the nineteenth century here in the US, and it didn't work so well.

All of Andy's ideas are controversial extrapolations of accepted ideas, but he gave no evidence that any of his assertions actually hold. All it did was annoy me without offering any enlightenment, I'd love to engage with his ideas but there was nothing to hang a debate on, just pure opinion.

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