There are very few humans currently living on planet earth that would dare claim that everything is rosy with our system. Yet we’ve had a hundred years – a whole century of rapid developments in mechanization, technological advance and social tinkering which promised to deliver a better world. One of the main promises of mechanization and technological advance was to get the work done easier and faster. The result we expected was increased leisure time – futurists went so far as to speculate as to just what we might do with our time when work was no longer necessary!
But here we are a century later most of us still “working”. And according to workplace studies in Australia, we’re working even longer hours than 20 years ago! Yes, The nature of the work has changed, to be sure. Gone is much of the heavy labor thanks to machinery. And gone too are hundreds of thousands of jobs on assembly lines and factories thanks to robotics. Gone too are thousands of jobs in agriculture and other labor intensive industries.
Mechanization, robotics and computers have without question eliminated jobs.
So it begs the question: how come unemployment is low? As of late 2007, the Australian government was claiming record low unemployment and a dire skill shortage. So dire is our shortage of workers that immigration and special programs for foreign workers have been ramped up. Despite losing hundreds of thousands of jobs to mechanization we’re still all employed! We’re still all commuting to work – gobbling up oil and spitting out smog in the process. Worse, both partners, husband and wife are making the commute, often in two cars – double the trouble for the environment. In Australia, two incomes (jobs) have become “essential”.
All of a sudden we see that things are not adding up… Those futurists were obviously wrong and it’s now clear that we no longer even expect the technological advances to eliminate work. It’s also clear that as a society we still feel that all able-bodied members must have have a job or they’re somehow shirking their responsibility. Here’s proof…
Let’s say you become unemployed and need government unemployment payments (the Dole) to survive, There’s just no way you’re going to get payments without “jumping through the hoops” and documenting your concerted effort to find a job.
Just try this claim at your social security office: “Oh no, I don’t need an actual job. I’ve been displaced by machines so just give me the cash. Where do I sign?” The nice lady behind the counter will smile at your “joke” – it simply must be a joke – nobody in their right mind expects to be paid for NOT working. Clearly, the expectation is that we must have a job.
So eager are we to provide ourselves with jobs that we’ll trash the planet to achieve our goal…
The monumental problem with jobs is this; almost everyone who has a job must commute to work and that commute, whether powered by electricity (unless solar photovoltaic) or internal combustion engine, requires energy and so contributes to environmental degradation. Obviously some modes of powered transport are more planet friendly than others but the bottom line is this: moving vast numbers of people to their place of work is unsustainable.
The second problem with “jobs” is that many are totally unnecessary. There, I’ve said it. And I just know that some people are going to be offended by this but the fact is there are a number of occupations that are flat out destroying the world and a total waste of human endeavor.
Telemarketing springs to mind as the first obvious example. This particularly annoying form of marketing is intrusive, wastes time, costs the environment resources and drives rampant consumption. Telemarketing does not create food, does not build shelter or essential products. Telemarketing’s primary objective is to make sales, or more accurately, “make money” and nothing more. Telemarketing would receive a big fat zero on my “usefulness” scale. And I must add, zero intrinsic value to society.
At the other end of the spectrum, let’s take an occupation like the growing of staple foods. Imagine a very productive farmer who single-handedly grows enough grain and wholesome vegetables to feed an entire village. On my “usefulness” scale his occupation would deserve a 9.
Now let’s look at an extreme “negative usefulness” occupation by imagining, for example, a “super-telemarketing instructor”. A master salesperson who travels the world teaching telemarketers how to manipulate people’s emotions over the telephone, overcome their target’s reservations and close more sales of useless energy-sucking consumer gadgets. He’s in big demand, regularly flying across the world to train aspiring telemarketers. In doing so he’s not only promoting and perpetuating a business model (occupation) that is practically worthless to society, he is fueling rampant consumption and has an enormous personal environmental footprint in non-essential air travel. His job is an environmental disaster.
Note: our imagined “super-telemarketing instructor” is a fictional character but he is, unfortunately, based on reality. High-powered sales, marketing and advertising people regularly jet-set around our world selling themselves, “selling the sizzle” and driving consumerism. Much of the international diplomatic circus is merely state-sponsored sales, marketing and the promotion of consumerism in disguise.
The blunt, horrible truth is that mankind’s ingenuity – a century of mechanization and technological advances – has displaced workers from productive endeavor and forced us to “invent” new jobs. Growing public service. Growing bureaucracy. Growing government. Growing legal complexity stimulating ever more new specialist occupations to decipher the complexity! (Resulting in increased compliance costs and the need for ever more money). Business (busy-ness) can no longer make a profit providing for our needs – merely meeting demand is no longer enough – business must now create new needs in the minds of the consumer.
Welcome to the world of consumerism – the land of unnecessary, unproductive jobs – welcome to the grand illusion of debt-based money and artificial competition.