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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/31/12

Work Does Not Work Anymore

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Message Carter stroud



Humans have always worked in order to survive. In the beginning, physical exertion required most of our energy. Without tools even plentiful resources were hard to reach. Invention could make the difference between life or death.

The evolution of tools has reached the point where physical exertion can no longer compete with the energy now harnessed by technology. Our new-found abundance elicits praise for technology and higher standards of living. The cost of that increase has not been measured, though the side effects may prove lethal.

Work provides the focus of our lives. How we feel about ourselves, how we relate to others, and the means of survival all turn on how we work. Natural selection has prepared us for certain tasks. The most satisfying work calls forth our genetic capacity. The mercurial rise of technology has replaced much of that capacity. Few of us were designed to spend our days staring at computer screens. We can even adapt to that but at a cost to health and sanity.

The sea change in the distribution of tasks also foresees a radical change in economic and social organization. Labor has lost so much bargaining power that it can scarcely defend itself against exploitation. A new form of slavery awaits us. Abuse of real wealth, the environment, is and will continue to reduce the standard of living. The war of all against all for the scraps has begun. It will be fought with deception and labor- saving devices, which will again reduce work and make more waste and another lower standard of living for most people. An economic downward cycle will create more pressure against social justice. Capitalism has failed to provide a future and the answer so far has been more capitalism--turning real wealth into paper wealth.

Democracy requires economic support. Shifting wealth into fewer and fewer hands eventually destroys equal opportunity and equal social justice. Loss of traditional work that most people could do and employers could not do without is creating a new feudal state--the economically powerful and the serfs who toil for them. The technology that once freed people is now making them powerless again.

Look at what is happening to work. Not so long ago, half the population worked on the farm. Less than one percent toil there now. First they left for the factories, many of which have now gone to some other country. With robot technology, fewer people work in the remaining factories. Mega stores have replaced small retailers and the internet has replaced some mega stores. Fewer people who left the factories to become sales people can find that work. Some of them worked in book stores and music stores where people asked them questions about what was new and who played or wrote best. Those jobs are gone.

More people work in finance than ever before but service industries require the production of goods that provide the wages for discretionary spending. Someone has to build the house before a mortgage is created to buy it. Occupations that once provided employment are disappearing. No amount of stimulus money from the government can stimulate growth when wages continue to stagnate or decline and more people need government help to survive. Taxes necessary to feed the helpless put a drag on the economy when businesses cannot pick up the slack, continue to avoid hiring, and cut benefits.

The trend is fewer good paying jobs, fewer people who can afford the support of the health insurance and retirement that keeps people out of bankruptcy when things go wrong. The independence that once supported democracy and free enterprise is losing to a shift in wealth to the top. Government spending has hidden the fact that the market can no longer support a middle class. Ironically, the government gets the blame, even when it provides the funds for saving those businesses. Government employment has had to take up the slack in the labor market. Without it, the crash would have occurred much sooner. The redistribution of wealth downward through taxes and benefits kept capitalism alive. Now, thanks to billions in propaganda financed by conservative think tanks, redistribution down is a communist plot and distribution up is on God's agenda.

The budget deficit that borrowing money to fight two wars instead of raising taxes created is now the conservative excuse for further tax cuts for the top. Politicians did not raise taxes because that would create an outcry against the wars so profitable to the military-industrial complex. Blaming the deficit on so called entitlements like social security that people worked all their lives contributing part of their wages excuses further desecration of labor. Conservatives do not care about the outcome. They either get their tax cuts or they allow government to fail and money takes complete control, preferably both.

On whose back will deficit reduction fall? That is the big question no one touches. Obama is trying to spread the pain. The top wants to put it on the rest of us. Liberals are at a great disadvantage. They cannot make the promises we all want to hear because the economy is not merely suffering a cyclical downturn. The problems are systemic. The constant reduction of wages and degradation of resources in a competition to be better than other people creates the war of all against all that blocks the kind of sharing and cooperation needed for future generations to survive. The big debt we are creating goes beyond numbers in a budget. Our means of adaptation are at risk.

People's short term memories have already forgotten that the problems   addressed here were accelerated under eight years of Bush and his conservative friends. Only a sea change in our ethics and morality can save our children.

Most reforms fail as a result of greed. As in George Orwell's novel, Animal Farm , it does not take long for the new leaders to take up the tricks of the old leaders. That will continue until we change peoples' relationship to resources. That requires a fundamental change in the concept of property. Basic resources must not be held as private property. Oil, steel, water, coal, natural gas, and other commodities required for manufacturing and universal support are too precious for distribution under the profit motive. Private ownership creates a divisive conflict of interest that fuels the war of all against all.

Capitalism here undermines the efficiency required by natural selection for survival of the species. Capitalism's fundamental premise turns real resources into ephemeral (paper) wealth. The more consumed, the more money generated. No incentive for conservation is possible. Competition turns on reducing the cost of extraction of the resource which in turn mitigates against labor and often other resources, like water, used in industrial processes.

Management of resources for long-term adaptations would require a panel of experts on the best use of a resource, a constitutional guarantee of equal rights to purchase the resource from the government for approved uses (making taxes unnecessary), and a political system that oversees the legitimacy of the administration, the public being the shareholders of the peoples' resources.

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I practiced law for 30 years as a city attorney. I taught elementary school before that. I became concerned with the many adaptations to our environment that I could not believe could be sustained. How could so many rational people adopt clearly (more...)
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