If you look at a macro view, there is this amazing momentum in labor. We've moved the center of innovation back into the U.S. culture. That did not eliminate the fact that we have an ebb and flow, or inhale and exhale of the economy that has acted similarly over the last five decades.
If you look at the momentum of innovation and labor together, we've gone from a manufacturing society where 75% of jobs were in agriculture and manufacturing to only 15%. Now we have 70% of jobs in service. It's a complete transition from hard goods to information. If you look at the impact that globalization of labor has had on manufacturing, it's been a 20-year transition. Between 5 and 6 million jobs have gone to China, but the U.S. economy has gracefully changed what it does — and its role — by moving to more service-oriented business.
[You have to consider] the big scale of advancement instead of getting hung up on the blindfold view, the Chicken Little [opinion]. The sky is falling! I'm respectful of the damage that this downturn has caused and the human emotion of having 9 million people out of work. Truman said "If your neighbor's out of work it's a recession, but if you're out of work, it's a depression."
I'm predicting the worst labor shortage in our lifetime by 2008. We will graduate 65 and 70 million baby boomers [out of the workforce] between now and 2020. At same time, [we need] 30-35 million entry-level workers. We've got a mathematical problem. The naysayers say all the jobs are going to India. So let's say we highly underestimated [the numbers]. Say 10 million baby boomers don't retire. Now, my simple math is that we're still 10 million people short. In 1999, we had 1.4 million IT openings and our country was in a dead panic.
A version of this article appeared in the Table of Contents - April 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.