Unemployment and UNDER-employment remain stubbornly high even as the economy recovers and productivity increases. This causes many people to beg the question–why?
A lot of fingers right now point to the increasing use of robots and automation in all areas of industry. From manufacturing, to customer service, to Wall-Street Trading–there is no job that is immune from being made obsolete by technology. It is easy to see how this rise in automation could cause a decline in the number of jobs.
However, while everyone is focused on the number of jobs–or lack thereof–I raise a different question: Why should unemployment be a problem?
On the surface, the answer would appear obvious to most: Because people without jobs have no income and cannot afford the basic necessities of life…
But then I ask the following: Why should a person need a job in order to afford the basic necessities of life?
People respond with a variety of answers–some of them economic and others moral. “There will be no incentive to work” claims one. “Idle hands do the devil’s work” states another.
To these statements, I offer a three-part response:
(1) Why do you equate paid employment, or a JOB, with WORK, and is a JOB the only way for people to work?
(2) Is avoiding poverty the only reason people work? If so, then how do you explain billionaires like Warren Buffet and Donald Trump? They never have to worry about poverty, and yet they work very hard.
(3) Why do we need so much incentive to get a job when technology does so much work that jobs themselves become scarce?
The truth of the matter is that we have structured our economy based on the idea that labor is scarce and jobs plentiful–which has been true up until now. In this system people obtain money from jobs, which they then use to buy the products they make at those jobs. The money they spend is then used to pay their future wages.
Again, this system works so long as jobs are plentiful and labor is scarce. Workers can push for higher wages, ensuring that they earn enough to purchase products and keep the system going.
Unfortunately, this is no longer the case–labor is plentiful thanks to automation and outsourcing. Thus wages go down, and purchasing power declines. People take on debt just to survive, but as their credit runs out the system grinds to a halt.
Industrial capacity is greater and products are cheaper than ever before, but nobody can buy them because they have no jobs and therefore no income.
The truth is, we can no longer operate our economy on the basis of abundant jobs. We need to provide people with income regardless of their employment status in order for businesses to continue operating and generating a profit.
Unfortunately, those in power are heavily invested in the current system and have no desire to change it. Human beings are lazy in this way–If it works for ME then don’t mess with it. They would rather blame the poor for being “lazy” or grab a “quick fix” than risk their privileged position by changing to a new system.
However, as automation accelerates, “quick fixes” will cease to work–and when unemployment rises to over 20% the people at the top will no longer be able to blame those at the bottom for the problem. No, at some point they will have to address the real problem, and find a way to run the economy in a world where labor is abundant and jobs are scarce.
Unemployment is a HUMAN problem–caused by the unwillingness of our leaders to adapt to the new economic reality. Everyone needs income, but not everyone can have a job. The question now is what is it going to take for them to wake up to this reality–and how many people will have to suffer in the mean time?
Walter I Baltzley