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Do We Really Need More Jobs?

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( Part II of "Human Economics")

The subject that dominates all domestic politics and economics today (as of 2009), aside from foreclosures, government indebtedness, Wall Street profits, health care, etc., is the matter of jobs -- jobs -- jobs. We need to create large numbers of jobs at a rapid pace to grow the economy. There is total agreement on this matter, and anyone challenging this logic would be suspected of questionable sanity. But when examined from a long-range perspective of social goals, one could come to just the opposite conclusion. Here is the reasoning:

First, we must recognize that destructive social patterns and ever-expanding man-made economic/production systems, as well as population trends, are in conflict with the natural capacities of the Earth's resources to sustain them. When we create jobs that accelerate depletion of Earth's resources or add toxins to the already overburdened environment, we are heading in the wrong direction. If all nations endeavored to emulate the level of material production and consumption of America, as China, India, and others are striving to do, that would be our undoing. The over-riding job criteria from the perspective of not just a sustainable future, but of progressively improving living conditions, must be the nature of work performed and its consequences for society -- what kinds of jobs do we need, not the quantity of jobs.

From this viewpoint, we should consider whether we really want more policemen to control crime, or better social conditions with fewer police to lessen crime? Do we really want a larger or more sophisticated military, even though it creates more jobs and profits in the armament industries, or fewer such jobs attributable to a more peaceful and cooperative political climate? With an altered perspective, we could examine every workplace for social and technological improvements requiring fewer workers. Perhaps, eventually, we would need fewer doctors, for surely, if we lived in a much cleaner, healthier, safer and peaceful environment, had much improved universal preventive health education, practices and care, healthier foods and living regimens, less poverty and associated diseases, then we would need fewer doctors and medicines, at least in this part of the world.

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Let us examine the auto industry as a good example for this type of reasoning. Manufacturing more cars may be good for business and jobs in the short run, but in the long run it is a primary cause of pollution, traffic congestion, energy waste, and depletion of resources. Under substantially improved social conditions, as we might realistically imagine, the necessity for so many cars would be reduced. A greater emphasis on quality control and upgrades for longer car life, longer redesign and car ownership cycles, smaller and more efficient cars, together with less dependence upon autos resulting from extensive improvements in public transportation and other positive social innovations such as cooperative-owned car pools, social and city planning to reduce time, distance and frequency to commute to work -- these and other innovations would eliminate many manufacturing jobs in this and related industries. (And, incidentally, the landscape of crowded freeways, parking facilities, used car and auto wreckage lots would be much improved.)

In the consumer technology industry - computers, TVs, cell phones, digital cameras and games, etc. - high intensity competition, resembling warfare, forces companies to put new products out on the market at a breakneck pace and often with trivial improvements. These products are then promoted by a blast of advertising to create demand for them. Innovation is occurring at such rapid pace that many products become obsolete within a year or two - or less, resulting in harmful and burdensome accumulations of waste products. The pharmaceutical industry would also be a prime candidate for intensive scrutiny of such excesses. It's motto might be "sick is good".

This situation may be good for industry as it now stands, but it is contrary to the goals of a more humanistic-oriented economy - "Human Economics" - as proposed here. Science and technology, which are now driven largely by profit motivation, have opened a Pandora's box of limitless production of goods and evils. They would be vital to the functioning of a "Human Economics" but their primary goal would be altered to directly and significantly benefit all of humanity and safeguard the environment. Competition is at the very heart of our economic system -- indeed, is thought of as the essential spirit of individuality and entrepreneurship imbedded in American democracy. But unbridled competition and unrestrained expansion of production results in a proliferation of products and services that flood every crevice of the markets with needless overabundance and duplication of goods and services, mostly of inconsequential differences and suspect quality, and commonly of little or negative impact towards the enhancement of living conditions. Our drawers, closets, garages, storage facilities and retail stores are over-flowing with this stuff. These practices may seemingly benefit the economy as it now stands, but the cycles of over-production and harsh job-market fluctuations are contrary to desirable long-term goals for a sustainable ecology, a stable economy, and improving living conditions.

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Commercial competition resembles sports -- or life in general - where everyone wants to get in the game and strives to come out on top. Each participant keeps an eye on the others and adjusts to the others' moves. In commerce, at least in theory, this creates an optimal self-regulated market. The main difference is that in sports there are strict rules to govern fairness which, if not observed, result in automatic penalties or expulsion from the game, whereas in commercial activity regulation is begrudged and commonly evaded by innumerable schemes.

A fundamental principle of classic economics, re-phrased, tells us that in a competitive market there will be a balance point determined by price between supply and demand, which limits production to avoid over-supply. This principle corresponds roughly to a popular notion, among those who believe best government is least government, that when all sections of the business world are left to their own devices their interactions will best serve the general welfare -- the Laissez Faire, "free trade" and "invisible hand" theories. The main fallacy in the real marketplace is that the scales are always tipped, perhaps most significantly by coercive marketing forces that permeate both our conscious and subconscious lives, tempting us to ever higher levels of materialistic indulgence -- and debt - to the extent that the individual's primary function in society is that of an addicted consumer of goods and services, rather than his or her development of human capabilities and contributions to society.

Accompanying this perpetual barrage of advertising are other related forms of overt and subliminal patriotic "messages" and misinformation prevalent in the media and inherent in our educational, political, commercial, and even in our religious cultures that re-enforce the belief (or the illusion) of the uniqueness and superiority of the American Way of Life of material wealth. These influences, together with the over-intense distractions of sports and other entertainments -- not too unlike the Coliseum "circuses" of ancient Rome - keep the general public, to a large extent, in an escapist stupor of perpetual naivety and detachment from political and worldly reality, thereby diminishing its capacity to participate in society in a more meaningful way.

All of these factors serve the purposes of those directing the economy. The net result is an economic machine running in high gear, jeopardizing our environment and health, well beyond the steady pace required to sustain normal needs and reasonable amenities. We must ask ourselves: who benefits from this accelerated "busy-ness" that closely resembles a state of warfare? Job creation is not the purpose of this existing system. From the standpoint of commercial interests, jobs are necessary only to the extent that they produce the supply and demand for goods and services, while they contribute the absolute minimum of social services. Those not needed by the machine are not of great concern to those who operate it.

When the Laizzez-faire "free-for-all" competitive spirit is projected onto the global economy, we have a condition that further compromises environmentalism and frequently breaks into turmoil and wars. Economically, we are still stuck in the survival-of-the-fittest mentality instead of a cooperative phase of social evolution appropriate to our knowledge.

In an alternative "Human Economics" setting, the pace of development and production would be restrained to avoid the waste of over-production, thereby conserving resources, protecting the environment, and allowing energies and resources to be redirected towards the general welfare. Competition would have a new meaning. With large architectural and construction projects, there commonly is a preliminary design competition from which the best design is selected for construction. This method of competition could be applied to much of technology and other fields whereby the best design, or a design incorporating the best features of the submitted proposals, is selected for production (subject to strict quality control and environmental criteria), thereby eliminating redundancy of manufacture and inefficiencies of non-standardization. This concept would be very appropriate for the pharmaceutical industry, for example, to eliminate the confusion and hazards of proliferation of drugs on the market, to the detriment of our health and health system costs.

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From a present-day perspective, one wonders what would happen to the job market if production were minimized towards reasonable needs and amenities instead of maximized, as the economy now strives to do. There are other factors to consider in the job market of the future. Certainly, in an optimistically envisioned future world, less time would be devoted to menial, redundant kinds of work other than essential services. After all, what is the primary objective of evolving technology? Is it to create more jobs, to expand the economy and inflate the income of financiers, top management and the investor class, or is it to serve the needs and improve the quality of life for mankind in general. Technological innovations that do not serve these purposes do not represent true progress of civilization, but merely add frivolous stuff to an over-burdened economy. In a stagnant or shrinking economy resulting from impending environmental limitations we now face, it is imperative that we find new ways to deal with job loss.

. From the standpoint of social needs, there is no question that many new jobs must be created in the present era to repair the neglected physical and social infrastructures of our cities, and to restore and protect the polluted and endangered environment seriously damaged by unfettered industry and adverse political and economic policies over many decades. However, if the economy proceeds under present trends, postponing the imperative changes, a day of reckoning will over-take us. A new script must be written that could fundamentally alter economics by incorporating ecological and humanistic concepts.

Underlying economic policies and practices are the prevailing ethics and morals (or lack of) by which the pursuit of money and profit proceeds. The controlling forces guiding our economy today are based on earlier models of feudalism, extending into the age of exploration, acquisition and exploitation of peoples and territory. Dukes, warlords, plantation owners, and robber barons of the past are now the financiers, CEOs and managers of today's corporate world -- and their political affiliates. Only if we defer to the most noble and progressive values of our humanistic heritage will we discover better economic policies for the world. There exists now in our educational, cultural, technological and scientific heritage a capability whereby we should no longer tolerate the pretense -- the basic hypocrisy -- of economic and social policies that are not in accordance with the highest aspirations for the future of civilization. The ultimate hypocrisy is the belief that war has any redeeming value or any place in the world of today or tomorrow. Regardless of how much wealth a nation has or how moral it imagines itself to be, it must be considered a relatively unethical, backward state if its economic and social policies do not progress towards universal well-being, rather than self-interest.

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Veteran, retired from several occupations (school teacher, technical writer, energy conservation business, etc.) long-time Sierra Club member

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