-G E O R G E F R I E D M A N
-G E O F F C O L V I N
As humans, we crave knowing what is going on and why, as surely as we depend on the rising and setting of the sun, the tide going out and returning, and oxygen filling the air. And when universal expectations of lifelong employment and comfortable retirement seemingly vanish, challenging our known paradigm, we are emotionally unnerved—and understandably so. Yet as we struggle to discern the causes of various outlier events, we routinely reach for the simplest and singlest of answers. This search for simplicity solely to resolve some emotional anxiety misses the truth of the moment and robs us of the more complex answer. The simplistic answer, when followed to its logical conclusion, can often lead us to future behavior resulting in precisely the outcome we were trying to avoid.
Many economists would have us believe that markets (financial markets, job markets, etc.) exist in equilibrium: they behave according to rational, unremarkable, and efficient self-adjusting models. This does not take into account the irrational element of human behavior or the fact that some markets, including economic and job markets, live in a critical state of nonequilibrium. They are always on the edge of instability. Yet nonequilibrium markets generally act like equilibrium markets—until they don’t. Then--bang—things seem to spiral out of control. These events seem abnormal and chaotic but are actually quite logical and routine, albeit somewhat irregular in their frequency.
While it would be all too easy to point to one root cause as an explanation for the tough job market we find ourselves in, the truth is that it is much more complex than that. I have, however, pointed to areas that have made our career path more complex. Just remember that no one contributing factor is in and of itself the sole cause of our job woes. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a charlatan or naive, whether they prognosticate with genuinely good intentions or not. I highly recommend reading Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen, by Mark Buchanan, in order to understand the states of equilibrium and nonequilibrium and how the latter live in a constant critical state (on the edge of radical change), prone to wild swings and catastrophes that are unpredictable in timing, but virtually certain to occur at some point in time. Although our economy and job markets have reflected a seeming calm on the surface for several decades, an outsized event like the economic crisis of 2008 has served to jolt us from our slumber.