There are a lot of mediocre and flat bad programmers out there because we’re knocking down the barriers and letting everyone in, plus they have all sorts of crutches they can lean on now.
This is an incredibly good sign. Jeremy's statement translates to two things.
1. Factor productivity in programming is so high that even "mediocre and bad programmers" can make a net positive contribution to the economy.
2. Barriers to entry are low.
Would we want to change either of these things? Surely no one is going to argue that we should prefer lower factor productivity.
So, what about barriers to entry? If you look at industries that have '1' but not '2', you have a small set of very rich people keeping people out of the industry in order to protect their riches. This makes everyone else in the world poorer, because the service is artificially expensive, and it's especially bad for the "bad and mediocre" people who could have otherwise made it in the industry. The main benefit of creating high barriers to entry would be to make people who are already rich by the standard of the one of the richest countries in the world, in the most prosperous time in human history, even richer. Why should we want that?
It's great that some people think of programming as a craft and continually do everything they can to improve their skills; I can completely understand the attitude, since it's one I have myself. But, not everyone is like that. Some people would rather spend time doing other things. What's really amazing is that we're so rich and productive that someone can put almost no effort into learning how to program and still be a productive member of society. I love it that we live in a country where people can work 1/100th as hard as an employee in a Foxconn factory and produce more value. I hope that my kids will be able to be ten times richer than me while working one-tenth as hard. I pray that they'll choose to work harder than that, but I want it to be a choice.
It is a wondrous and amazing thing that total factor productivity is so high in the U.S. that unskilled Mexican laborers become three times more productive when they cross the border; keep in mind that Mexico is, on a global scale, one of the more productive nations in the world.
That's already true of doctors. The barriers to entry to being a GP are lower than those to being a neurosurgeon. Like building rails websites has lower barriers to entry than writing code for the Mars rovers. In fact, if you so much desire, you can set up a homoeopathy practise without a degree in medicine.
In my mind, brilliance is associated with (successful) innovation. One can innovate in two basic ways, in methods or products. For example, Rails is an innovation in method. The webapp itself (however it was written) is an innovation in product. Both kinds of innovation do occur at JPL (they've created a substantial toolset around Eclipse, actually, and are pushing into Cloud computing in a serious way), but the nature of the space-based/rover projects (years between "qa" and "production") means that those programmers are prized for their high skill and low tolerance for risk.
This isn't something to be happy about. We trust those that practice medicine have been properly trained and rely on a well established body of knowledge. Human lives and health are placed in the hands of this person. Much different than someone building a rails site.
I don't want to change the fact that barriers are low, in fact I celebrate it. The fact that kids from the poorest parts of the world can pursue programming as a career is something I celebrate and work towards.
It isn't about money, it's about the quality of stuff we're producing and how much we're polishing our skill. The overall quality of everything seems to slip over time in the name of cost savings. By being a mediocre programmer rushing through and putting out crap software you're only being a cog in a machine that's making the richest at the top very happy.