We keep people motivated to work by making unemployment a fearful, desperate condition. We assume that this is what is necessary to motivate the masses because they are inherently lazy and because much work needs to be done in order to guarantee our basic collective needs.
These assumptions are wrong. People are not intrinsically lazy--only averse to the degrading treatment that employment implies. And enormous productivity gains over the last century assure that we can all be fed, clothed, and housed with a fraction of the aggregate labor that we are all performing.
The great majority of work that Americans do today is participation in a zero sum game:
And so I get excited when I see the New York Times advocating an idea that has so much good sense behind it, so much capacity to transform the structure of our society and enhance our quality of life. Making people's basic needs a human right was proposed by Eleanor Roosevelt 70 years ago when it was already possible, before the vast increases in productivity that came with the computer age.
This single proposal will free up an enormous wellspring of human creativity, while removing a burden of crime, violence, addiction and imprisonment that weighs down our commonwealth.
There's a back-story behind this situation that helps us understand the basic contradictions in the version of capitalism that we have come to accept as a condition of life. There are no shortages of goods, no shortages of people that need employment or of meaningful work that needs to be done. But there is a shortage of money--little, symbolic slips of paper that are supposed to be lubricating the economy, but instead are paralyzing it. Central banks keep money in short supply. I cannot help suspecting it is for their own benefit, but whatever the reason, there is no justification for the privatization of the money supply. Our Constitution, in fact, assigns to Congress the power to create money and regulate its flow into the economy.
Modern facts call for an economy of plenty. Nowadays, who would dare say that the world production is unable to feed, clothe and shelter all of mankind?
The world has entered into an era of plenty: an abundance that already exists or that can be made available at a moment's notice. There is a surplus of manpower required for the production of the goods needed to sustain our temporal life.
If abundance does not reign in the homes, it is because it is destroyed on purpose. It is held back. Large numbers of workers are kept unemployed. Production is impeded. It is sabotaged.
--Louis Even, 1941