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Get Place-Based or Get Better

Fortune magazine's latest issue has an interesting article by Geoff Colvin about China's rising economic influence. According to one forecaster, China is set to take the crown as the world's largest economy as early as 2015, spelling the end of the United States' 125-year run at the top. One thing I didn't realize: when we assumed that mantle in 1890, we took it from China.

According to Colvin:

China was the largest economy for centuries because everyone had the same type of economy - subsistence - and so the country with the most people would be economically biggest. Then the Industrial Revolution sent the West on a more prosperous path. Now the world is returning to a common economy, this time technology- and information-based, so once again population triumphs.
This holds potentially dire consequences for the American worker, who has about a decade to adjust. Colvin's advice:
You can avoid competition with Chinese workers by doing place-based work, which ranges in value from highly skilled (emergency-room surgery) to menial (pouring concrete). But the many people who do information-based work, which is most subject to competition, will have to get dramatically better to be worth what they cost.
The question for librarians, then, is: how do we make ourselves worth more than cheaper overseas information services, or conversely, how do we make our highly skilled work more place based?

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