Into Thin AIR


I imagine every writer (or blogger) would love to turn a phrase, or create an idea that becomes part of the zeitgeist: a Gladwellian “Blink” or a Friedmanian “Flat World.” I am not sure who coined the acronym GRIN (genetics Robotics information-tech and nano-tech), but he too earned his moment of zeitgeist notice.

Well at last, I have my grinning, blinking, flat-world idea. Today I unveil the initialism AIR.

AIR describes the causes of the pressures felt by the average American worker. AIR describes the forces that together are making him feel less secure, less wealthy, and less happy. AIR comes from three forces of globalization (I presume the fourth horseman fell at the last jump or something). The three forces are Automation, Immigration, and Relocation.

Automation: Increasingly machines are fully capable of performing tasks that once only humans, could perform well. This is not just large scale industrial processes, but small scale processes from sweeping floors and mowing lawns, to quality control checks. It is not just brawn work but brainwork too, with creations such as e-discovery allowing machines, not para-legals, to trawl documents seeking relevant details.

Immigration: It would strange if labor (and only labor) were immune to the normal forces of supply and demand. An increasing labor pool will tend to lead to falling wages. While it is true that wages may have risen, that rise is likely less than would have accrued in the absence of the larger labor pool. During a period of economic growth the returns to labor and capital may both be increasing. However, a larger labor pool will tend to lower the bargaining power of labor versus capital. This imbalance will mean that more of the returns to growth will accrue to capital.

Relocation: Better communications and improved logistics (brought about by information technology) make it easier to move capital to where it will receive the highest return (and suffer lowest cost and regulation). Previously capital was somewhat captive to the developed countries from which it came, because of the difficulties of managing from afar and the sunk costs of previous investments. Indeed the sunk cost effect will now tend to work in the favor of the newer investments. If you have built a plant in China, you want to work that asset, and will want to send as much production as it can handle: the devil makes work for idle assets.

You have your new catchphrase. Use it freely, but always remember to credit the author, I would love my fifteen minutes of e-fame (or should that be fame – complete with web 2.0 glossy logo).


The post title is the same as my forthcoming book “Into Thin AIR: {really long, keyword laden, sub-title to be added later}.” In that book, I stretch this thin blog post into 240 pages and (I hope) many corporate speaking engagements.


I am not endorsing the ideas of Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman, merely noting that their ideas have gained currency, driven by catchy phrases.


3 Responses to “Into Thin AIR”

  1. namae nanka Says:

    “merely noting that their ideas have gained currency, driven by catchy phrases.”

    and by being PC?
    [DU: That too]

  2. A Populist Manifesto? « Default User Says:

    […] I have mentioned some of these thoughts in earlier posts: My post: Solutions. My Post: Into Thin AIR. […]

  3. chic noir Says:

    Well done Default. I will quote and link to you.
    [DU: Thank you.]

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