Other Perspectives: A Global (as opposed to American) View
In one sense, my original essay on the future of the professions, as well as my commentary to the respondents, is quite parochial. My personal experience has been largely in the United States, with a smattering of knowledge of other countries and continents. Both the positive characterization of the professional landscape and the various threats that I’ve delineated may not be relevant to other parts of the world. Indeed, even the textures of pre-professional eras may be quite different; for example, it would be helpful to understand in which ways were Chinese mandarins like American professors, or shamans in traditional cultures like contemporary physicians, or leaders of ancient tribes like lawyers of today. Choose your pairings!
An associated question: what happened when the American or European versions of professions affected (or, if you prefer, invaded) other parts of the world? After the Second World War, American variants of law, medicine, and journalism became models for much of East Asia. But the transplants were not—and probably should not—have been en bloc. Indeed, when it comes to journalism, American latitudinarianism far exceeds that found in most other reportage systems. And then there is the question of co-operation across borders, which is much easier when the same norms apply between countries, but more often than not, they don’t. What journalists readily report on in the United States could lead to a legal suit or an arrest in other parts of the world.
Another consideration: when out-sourcing of jobs enters the picture, one confronts challenges of training, judging, and combining expertise from around the globe—or, more likely, the challenges that arise when those different kinds of expertise collide. For example, imagine the situation if practices that are illegal in the United States are handled by a service call station in India, Brazil, or China; if there is not a strict algorithm in place for each conceivable situation (if there were, why use human beings at all?), there is little reason to think that any arising issues will be solved in the way that they would be in the United States (or in Western European countries). And in the case of legal disputes, conclusions reached in extra-territorial centers might be considered invalid by conservative judges, who (like the late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia) argue that foreign legal systems should not even be consulted by American courts.
While acknowledging the legitimacy of the critique that I have touched upon only a part of the contemporary professional landscape, commentators from other countries have put forth more hopeful pictures. Gökhan Depo, a Turkish citizen living in Finland, points out monetary considerations are far less prevalent among professionals in Finland and that, in general, Finnish society is characterized by far less inequality. The occupational landscape is much flatter; the phrase “winner takes all” is alien to most of Finnish society. And Thijs Jansen, a scholar working in the Netherlands, reports that professionals there are mobilizing to sustain the core practices and values of their chosen vocation. Perhaps, contra Justice Scalia, we can learn from these northern European societies.
Thanks to commentators Gökhan Depo, Stephen Gardner, Thijs Jansen, and Norman Ornstein.
This is the ninth in a ten-part series in which I respond to the comments received regarding my essay “Is There a Future for the Professions? An Interim Verdict.” To follow along, click here for a general outline of the planned responses, and check back often for new posts!