Jobs come and go. Today we see entire occupations come and go in the batting of an electronic eyelash. This causes us great anxiety because we have come to define our lives in terms of our jobs. Ten years ago, at the turn of the century, I was working for an EDI company. EDI is an acronym for Electronic Data Interchange which sounded pretty fancy-shmantzy in 1988 but today we just call it email. We had some very large clients who got value from our service because it was faster and cheaper than the US mail for purposes of ordering large amounts of supplies from various vendors. The internet was a place of mystery to most business people in those days and our service was gussied up for the customers’ benefit but basically it was just email. I was actually amazed by 2000 that the company still had business because its function had been completely overtaken by the internet. You could do the same thing we were selling on the net for free. Plus it was simpler and easier. What once required dedicated phone lines, free-standing software and technical support, now could be handled with an App that any temp worker could operate. The company inevitably went bankrupt because they were a one trick pony and didn’t develop along with the technology. Plus, their niche simply vanished.
My point here is that companies and jobs and occupations are quite ephemeral in today’s fast-moving business landscape. Whole industries boom and fizzle in the time it takes to design a logo. The job-for-life days are over. So are the days when we can trust the world market to define what an American job looks like. If we continue to do it this way, an American job will look exactly the same as an Indian or a Chinese job. We need a new paradigm, a new method of cutting up the pie.
Ask yourself this question. What would happen in our country, what would the streets look like, if suddenly tomorrow there were no more food stamps? Poof! the mama grizzlies get their wish and this rash socialist entitlement is eliminated. Remember that there are some 44 million Americans who depend on this bald redistribution of wealth in order to eat. Do you remember those sad, grainy newsreels of the 1930’s with soup lines stretching for blocks of hollow-eyed and bewildered and jobless hungry men? Of course you do, we all do. Now imagine 44 million people standing in those lines. Do you feel the natives getting restless? Now imagine that bread line as it stretches to the country club and spills over into the fairways while the 2%’ers in the clubhouse feast on lamb and martinis. Should they be nervous in their gated communities every time they throw a steak on the grill that the heady smoke might attract desperate human scavengers?
I can’t help but laugh every time I hear the word entitlement used as if it were a curse. We hear this from the same idiots who rail on in horror about ‘re-distributing wealth’ by means of remedial social programs like food stamps when this country has seen the greatest redistribution of wealth in history during the past 30 years with said wealth migrating upward into the accounts of the top one percent. Not since the French were rolling nine-pins with the heads of aristocrats in the streets of Paris circa 1789 have we seen such concentration of wealth at the top. I can’t recall that this situation, in the course of man’s history, ever resulted in anything but mayhem. When things get too top-heavy we often see violent adjustments. Small palliatives like food stamps are the only escape valves that keep our social boiler from exploding.
I don’t think I will be accused of being an alarmist if I suggest that our systems of jobs, employment, pensions, unions, safety nets and wealth distribution in general, are broken. The methods and institutions which were suited to the times of the Industrial Revolution just don’t work in the Information and Technology Age. The niche for these practices has simply vanished. If we dawdle in the process of adopting new methods, then our culture will slip from dominance. We live in a consumer economy and what a consumer economy requires is cash in the hands of consumers. When the cash is sequestered in the hands of a few, the whole thing quits working and we call it a depression. A depression doesn’t mean that there is suddenly less wealth, it means that the wealth isn’t moving. Motion is the difference between prosperity and depression. The closer we get to true capitalism, the faster the wealth accumulates at the top and quits moving. The inevitable end of capitalism is one person owning everything. Little pieces of socialism like food stamps, taxes and the minimum wage prevent this from happening so quickly.
Henry Ford had an instinct for this. Besides being the innovator of mass assembly-line production, he also helped give us our concept of the Middle Class. When he began paying his workers the unheard of sum of five dollars a day, it was because he knew that all of his productive prowess was for naught if the people who were making his cars could not afford to buy them. Being able to make a million widgets gets you nowhere if there aren’t a million customers with the cash to buy them. The object of a well-functioning economy is to discourage the accumulation of wealth at the top or anywhere else. We want to keep the wealth moving.
The Poet’s Eye sees that we Americans love socialism. We just hate the WORD ‘socialism.’ We don’t want to exist at the pleasure of the plutocrats; we don’t want a world split among the fabulously rich and the desperately poor. We want a middle class and we want our Medicare and our unemployment insurance. We’ll even say Social Security. We just don’t want to say ‘socialism.’ We are afraid of the word like we are afraid of snakes and spiders, an ancestral, genetic fear. Maybe we should call it something else. Something like Equity Sharing Systems or Whole World Survival Technologies, even Pragmatic Fiscal Futurism. In the same way, I suppose we could call capitalism Greed Dynamics or Every-Man-For-Himself-ism. Whatever nomenclature we choose, we are going to have to re-define the fundamental meaning of the word Job.
Satan sez to God:
“Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” — Job 1:10-11