12/09/2009 08:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Governor Mark Sanford - Temp In Chief

The employment situation in America is so bad that Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina refuses to quit despite the abject humiliation of staying in his job. True, he's literally unimpeachable, at least according to Representative James Harrison, who said, "We can't impeach for hypocrisy. We can't impeach for arrogance. We can't impeach an officeholder for his lack of leadership skills..." Nevertheless, Sanford is an object of derision masquerading as a governor; he's pretty clearly also a guy who's worried where his next job will come from. Like so many of us in America, he's really just a temp.

Here's the deal. If you're an employee, you're a temp. You've been a temp for a long-time, but when the economy was good it was easy to lull yourself into thinking that you had job security of the sort enjoyed by Tom Brokaw's 'greatest generation.' Now that things are something other than good, fooling yourself is a lot harder. (Don't take comfort from Governor Sanford: he's the exception that proves the rule.)

But as Jody Greenstone Miller, CEO of the Business Talent Group, argued in last week's Wall Street Journal, being temporary is, "...the future of the 21st labor market." She's right and that doesn't have to be bad.

America's business advantage has always been in its relative unwillingness to save bad businesses; instead, we have generally allowed capital to flow where the emerging opportunity is. As things change ever more quickly, however, that can result in a lot of 'human cost', i.e., high unemployment. That suffering is made worse by the illusion (delusion) that the good, old-fashioned static job market is returning some day soon. It's not.

Rather than fight to recreate history, we should focus on making flexible careers more enjoyable and rewarding. In effect, we need to educate and train people to thrive in the real economy that is already present and growing today. That's why it makes sense to attach healthcare, for example to individuals, not companies, but to make certain that coverage is available to everyone -- universal, you might say. Ms. Miller suggests that we can jump-start this by simply letting those of who don't work for "the man" buy the same insurance currently available to Congress.

She goes on to suggest that tax changes and stimulus subsidies that would make the labor force more flexible and easier to put to productive and paying use. Collectively, it's a good start, but ultimately we'll have to overhaul the way we regard, regulate and legislate the concept of work in a manner that recognizes that the majority of us will be temps throughout our career. And while that currently represents little more than uncertainty, there's no reason why it cannot mean more interesting and perhaps even more lucrative careers for people in the future.