The Counterlife, published in 1986, is the fourth in
the series of Philip Roth’s novels that focus on the novelist Nathan Zuckerman.
The book includes a number of the familiar Roth themes: midlife doubts and
reconsiderations, marital fidelity and infidelity, Jewish identity in America
and Israel. It differs from other Zuckerman books (and most novels) in its use
of counter-narratives; sections of the book jump across time, across
characters, across chronologies, across facts, so that by the end of the book
there are no clear storylines.

We’ve reached that point of multiple, sometimes
contradictory, storylines in the matter of California’s job creation and
structure. The most recent California monthly employment numbers, released last
Friday, show an economy that continues to struggle to generate jobs. The state
unemployment rate fell from 11.8% to 11.7%, but as most commentators pointed
out, this was due to a drop in the civilian labor force, from 18,028,000 in
April to 17,993,000 in May. The state lost a net of 29,200 payroll jobs.

The main employment narrative for California is that the
state continues to struggle in job creation due to slow national recovery,
exacerbated by a housing bust, larger in this state than elsewhere. The latest Anderson School forecast, released on
June 15, is that the state will continue to have slow net employment growth
through 2012, as the housing market, especially in Inland California, is flat.

A second employment narrative that has gained force in the
past few months comes primarily from the state’s manufacturing and business groups.
This narrative is that of a skills mismatch. California employers have jobs,
but cannot find skilled applicants. The narrative also has been taken up
nationally, including this commentary, "The
Great Jobs Mismatch",
on Monday by Robert Samuelson.

There is third employment narrative or counter-narrative
that we need to keep an eye on. This employment narrative is that the
technology and globalization are creating a California economy that needs fewer
workers in sectors, such as retail, finance, and business services. Of course,
the pattern in California since World War II is one of jobs being eliminated
through automation/technology or trade, and fears of permanent high
unemployment. This job elimination is then followed by new types of jobs
arising through the same forces of technology and trade.

So in the 1980s recession, we had the heavy manufacturing
jobs lost in the state, due to automation and to international competition, in
the 1990s recession we lost a good part of our aerospace and defense base, and
in the early 2000s, we had the bust. In all cases, new occupations
arose, including jobs in internet commerce, education, and information
technology not even envisioned a few years earlier.

The history of the past 50 years in California suggests that
in 2011 again technology and globalization will create jobs, that don’t exist
today. However, the past is not always prologue, and last Friday’s job numbers
suggest that the job replacement we’ve seen in the past is no sure thing in
California’s future.