Tastes like chicken

Posted on Nov 11 2011

Ed Stephens Jr.

 By Ed Stephens Jr.
Special to the Saipan Tribune

There’s a lot of worry arriving on the economic express. I’m going to boil that down to the job context, specifically for the youngsters. The cool thing here is that I have no advice to give. So what can I do? Well, I do have an idea.

But let’s set the table first. A dozen years after fumbling away its only innately viable industry, package tourism, the Commonwealth is finally coming to grips with economic scarcity. Of course, the results of the problem are being faced with the same mentality that caused the problem to begin with. Namely, emotionalism. So there is more pain on the way.

I’m not trying to talk the CNMI out of its emotional approach to economics. But the jobless youth, well, they’re hosed by a situation not of their own making. That’s just the beginning, not the end, of the dynamic, because of the various constraints the Commonwealth faces.

For example, geography. When I was a teenager the place we lived in was unpromising. So we loaded up the car and drove 2,000 miles to a place that was better. That was one happy road trip. But it’s not a trip you can take on Saipan.

The airport still operates. Well, usually. But, with the exception of Guam, any viable job market you can fly to is a distant or foreign proposition. So where could a kid fresh out of school go?

The mainland, of course. But jobs are hard to find these days. Unskilled work for a new entrant to the job market? Get in line. So the revenue side of things is sort of dicey.

And on the expense side of things it takes a pretty large grubstake to get started in the U.S. If you add up airfare, rent, security deposit, car, car insurance, and some contingency cash, you could easily allocate $10,000 to make a run of it. If you don’t like that number, pick your own. Whatever you pick, I’ll stick to my point that many families in the Commonwealth don’t have enough cash to send a kid to the mainland to roll the job dice.

Faced with this situation a lot of people are starting to cast about for career advice. But, in my corner, the only such advice I can give is not to take anyone’s advice, including mine.

I’m not being coy. I’m being realistic. Everyone’s career and life-yours, mine, everyone’s-is largely a function of randomness. People don’t like randomness. It violates their sense of order and justice. But, well, there it is anyway. So anything that I think I know from my experience is largely derived from random circumstances that will probably be different than someone else’s random circumstances.

Here’s an example: I know a guy who was a total goof-off in high school, and was chided by everyone when he took a job washing cars at a dealer instead of going to the local junior college. Based on a series of random events, he wound up becoming a top mechanic at that dealer, not just any dealer, by the way, but a Mercedes dealer. From his job and his side jobs, he eventually topped out at $110,000 a year a decade ago. So he started his own garage. It has nine service bays and is always busy. You’d have to be a successful surgeon to make the kind of coin this guy probably pulls in now. He’s not smug about things, but he told me he’s glad that he ignored all the advice he was offered in high school.

Meanwhile, and this applies more in the mainland than Saipan, there is a vast population of chronic advice-seekers. Visit any American city and you’ll notice them, ranging from lonely souls browsing the self-help areas of bookstores to seekers of help from various pundits on radio stations. It’s a huge industry. I’ll take a guess here, and offer that the demise of the family structure has resulted in a lot of adults craving the wisdom of elders who aren’t in the picture for them. And above all else, people want to be told that things will be OK and that they are adequate. Fair enough, but, well, no comment.

As for the “idea” I promised, here it is: I will try to write about two books that, for me, seemed useful in the career realm. Both are “old school,” not new snake oil.

Meanwhile, yes, the worry express is on the way. In fact, it ran over the happy-slogan unicorn a mile ago. So I guess I better get cranking on my write-up about those two books because I see the vultures circling overhead.

Vultures like unicorn. Tastes like chicken.

Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at TropicalEd.com. Ed is a pilot, economist, and writer. He holds a degree in economics from UCLA and is a former U.S. naval officer. His column runs every Friday.

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