Get An Occupation!

What if they held a demonstration about notohing and Everybody came? This appears to be happening all over the world. TV and radio pundits and bloggers across the WWW are scratching their heads trying to explain or figure out the meaning of the “Occupation” Movement.

Since the ragtaggle crowds began to gather about a month ago saying something about Occupying Wall Street, people have been asking, ‘What do these nuts want?” For every demonstrator there seems to be a different answer. We hear refrains of ‘distribution of wealth’ and ‘economic disparity.’ Some grumble about the banks and others rag on about rich people in general. Many of them are talking about jobs. Depending upon whether you are listening to Ed Schultz or Bill O’Reilly the demonstrators are heralds of a class uprising for justice and fairness or a rabble of lost, misguided souls who would show up to any demonstration no matter what its stated or unstated cause. The Poet’s Eye observes that these demonstrators have taken to the streets for the same reason demonstrators have always taken to the streets…..they are not satisfied. They are not satisfied because they think that something is wrong or unjust. Maybe they don’t even think it. Maybe they just sense it.

One common factor that we find in the Occupation Movement and the Arab Spring demonstrations is an attention to jobs. Like their counterparts in Egypt and Libya, most Occupation demonstrators are Young and Educated and Unemployed. The words ‘Occupation’ and ‘Job’ are synonyms after all. We would expect jobs and employment to be subjects of protest given that we live in a world of pervasive unemployment. Everyone has their favorite villain to blame for the fact of worldwide massive unemployment. Too much spending, not enough spending, not enough regulation, too much regulation. But those arguments are all couched in terms of an economic world that no longer exists. The recession of 2008 is not the same beast as all previous economic down-turns. It’s not a question of jobs going away to adapt to a temporary contraction which will at some point run its course at which time the jobs will come back. Not this time. You will more likely see the return of the rotary dial telephone than the return of the jobs which have recently vanished from our economy.

Largely because of the computer, this is not the same economic landscape as we observed just two decades ago. The old notion of a ‘job’ is fast becoming obsolete. A vast number of jobs and occupations have been rendered unnecessary by the technology. With the revolutions in computerization, miniaturization, robotics and telecommunications, we can get much more done with the help of many fewer people. The needs of our civilization can be satisfied by the work of far fewer people. At the same time we have more and more people. This means that worldwide we have a vast and permanent oversupply of labor. Naturally this means Summertime for capitalists. When human labor is in oversupply, it becomes cheap. Only a worldwide pandemic that kills eighty percent of all the worker bees could prevent the inevitable fact of a permanent labor surplus.

What we refer to in Main Street language as Middle Class is actually a misnomer. What we have called Middle Class for the past several generations really means Working Class but you Own a House. People who we define as Middle Class are most often laborers with a good job (union job). Anybody who sells his effort or talents on a salaried or an hourly basis is a member of the Working Class, not the Middle Class which is occupied by entrepreneurs, capitalists, merchants and investors. Our entire idea of Middle Class life was created from whole cloth after WWII when there was a robust union presence in American labor. The idea was that if you put in an honest day”s work, you were entitled to a certain dignity of life which included being able to own a home and educate your kids and have proper healthcare. It was a pretty good idea. It was such a good idea that the whole world has fallen in love with it. Almost everybody in the world wants a Middle Class life.

The small problem that we run into here is that there are seven billion people in this world and they all want to be Middle Class. To be Middle Class, you need a Middle Class Job. Because of some Malthusian joke we find ourselves in a world where we can actually feed seven billion people because of our technologies. in fact it takes only a fraction of that number to do it. In other words there are many fewer useful, productive jobs available and many more people to fill them. Human labor becomes a cheap commodity. These are the jobs which form the basis of our notion of a Middle Class.

This is what is not going to change. This is what no bold leadership by a president or no Act of Congress can change. There will continue to be more people and fewer Middle Class Jobs. Judged by the traditional paradigm there will be a permanent glut in the labor market. If we are all going to enjoy the benefits of a Middle Class Life, then we are going to have to find a different way to distribute the wealth than through Jobs.
Already a great number of our jobs are ceremonial. By this I mean that the work done by the jobholder bears no particular relationship to his status or payscale. Have you ever asked yourself why a baseball player gets paid a hundred times as much as a school teacher or a nurse? Does a business executive work harder than the immigrant lady who cleans his bathroom? I doubt it.

Thanks to modern agriculture and science and medicine, we can feed and support our seven billion fellow humans. There is no question of this. We are doing it now, only poorly. We need to be doing it better and with more equity. If we do things in a smart and fair way, there can be plenty for everyone. If do things in the same haphazard ways and allow the ‘free market’ to have its way then we can expect more of what we are seeing now, a small percentage of the population will prosper in a grand way and the vast majority of the rest of us will fight for the leftovers.

The Poet’s Eye envisions a world where every person has a job at birth. OK, call me a commie, but in my ideal world everybody has a job. You’re born, you’re hired. This Job of Citizenship would have duties and responsibilities like any other job and like any job you will get a paycheck. The Job of Citizenship would come with educational and medical benefits. At some point in their lives every citizen would be expected to serve X number of years in a National Service organization. The rest of the time they would receive their paycheck and also be able to work in other occupations for additional pay or simply for social fulfillment. You could even write poetry if you wanted to.

Why what have you thought of yourself?
Is it you then that thought yourself less?
Is it you that thought the President greater than you?
Or the rich better off than you? or the educated wiser than you? — Walt Whitman, Song for Occupations

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