The Campus Economy

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Here is an exercise that will tell you a lot about where the economy is right now.

Go by any major research university. In my hometown of Atlanta, that would be Emory University or Georgia Tech. Or, an hour away in Athens, the University of Georgia.

What are you going to find? Prosperity. New construction. Money. Because that's the beating heart of the American economy today -- new ideas, new discoveries, new technologies. Wealth is moving from the suburban arteries to the beating heart of the college campus.

This has been in process for 20 years or more, but it's only now becoming obvious because the "office economy" of the previous 40 years is fading in importance.

The last time economic truth was this obvious was in the 1970s, when factories started fading away and the office was coming into its heyday. Before that, it became plain in the 1930s, as the farm economy collapsed and the factory became the center of attention.

Offices are becoming less important for the same reason factories did 40 years ago, and the same reason farms did before that. Automation. Productivity will, with a single turn of the economic wheel, quickly turn into unemployment. The advances of the recent past are assumed to continue, so employers in that space won't hire as the economy re-starts.

Networked computers are killing office jobs, and those jobs won't be coming back. What secretaries did, what middle managers did, it can all be done with networked connectivity now. If you're not doing something a networked computer can't do, you will be devalued.

A good example of this, brought up earlier this year by Red Hat ( RHT) CEO Jim Whitehurst, lies back on the farm. John Deere ( DE), which makes the big machines that made farms into factories two generations ago, is now worth less than Monsanto ( MON), which designs seeds.

That's because the seeds Monsanto produces contain enormous amounts of information in their DNA. It's information that's the new currency, and if you're not creating new information all you can do is serve the machines.

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