I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached.
-Bertrand Russell, In Praise Of Idleness
Unemployment rates are hovering around 10%, and the media and the masses are outraged by government for not taking enough actions to correct this. And why not, we’re entitled to our jobs!
We are entitled, aren’t we?
Let’s explore the facts: There are more people in the workforce than ever before. We have an increasing population, we have senior citizens working longer, we have longer work weeks, and we’ve had a massive in-flux of women in the workforce. Additionally, we have modern machinery increasing efficiency in everything from database management to automated assembly lines.
We have a world that is more efficient, and this is a good thing. It means more time for leisure, more time for art, more time for philosophy. It means the lower-middle class can live like kings from just a century ago. If only we knew how to handle this ever increasing efficiency to actually take advantage of it. Instead, through mismanagement of the efficiency gain we end up with unemployment.
60 years ago, when most households were beginning to get washing machine in their houses, it was a time of joy. There would be no more hand scrubbing of dirty clothes for hours every week. Now you just added some detergent and hit “go.” This is a good thing, it meant more time for leisure, the arts, or playing with your children. How many mothers (it was the 50’s, after all, so please don’t call me chauvinist) were complaining that these machines were taking their jobs? How many mothers ran out to find new work to fill their time?
And yet, this is what the American workforce is doing. They look at these new efficiencies and they panic – they are being obsoleted!
So why the different reactions? In the washing machine example, it had no effect on the distribution of wealth. The homemaker would still get all the things she had before, the work would still be done, and the only situational change was that she had more free time. But in the latter case, where an American worker is being replaced by a more efficient machine, there is a reduction in the equal distribution of wealth. The business owners will make more due to increased inefficiency, and the worker will make nothing because s/he is unemploiyed.
So here we are, the world as a whole has more wealth, but the distribution of that wealth is decreased. (The rich get richer). The reason is because jobs, in a capitalist society, are the de facto method for this distribution. But when we no longer need jobs (or far less, anyways), how else can we distribute?
Taxes are one method. But taxes are managed by bumbling idiots and self-seekers. They also fund wars and subsidize overuse of resources like oil. And for taxes to be increased, the rich would need to support it. Most won’t.
Inflation is another method. Keep printing money (often to pay for the same wars and subsidies as taxes), and the value of the dollar goes down. This means the rich get poorer, but unfortunately the poor do not get richer.
The last method is a a voluntary reduction in work by the rich. The rich have jobs, usually well paying jobs, and the more they work, the more they take from the currently unemployed. Much like the proposed Buffet Rule, this achieves a distribution of wealth, but it has three key benefits over the Buffett plan:
1. It keeps the money out of the hands of government
2. It rewards the rich with time for leisure, rather punishing them by taking away money
3. It’s voluntary. Those who find this to be a good solution where everyone wins can opt-in. Others can reject it. I am one of the people that chooses to opt-in.
As I look at my plans for an extremely early retirement, I’m content in knowing that I’ll be doing my part towards the new form of wealth distribution that this country and world needs as we embark on the end of industrial growth that fueled capitalism so well.
Now if only the President would listen to me instead of the political opinionists.