Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Will We Survive in a World Without Work?

I see that life is once again trying to imitate art with an international project to alter the trajectory of any asteroid that might crash into our planet. Since anything is possible in a space of infinite possibilities, these researchers have, supposedly, done some mathematics to determine a "mean time to Armageddon" (to cite the title of the movie behind this project). We could then compare that duration with the mean time to the time when life would be unlivable on this planet through either failure to control the dangers of climate change or, worse yet, failure to provide conditions for a life worth living.

Think about that latter option. The idea of gainful employment for all was already being dismantled through the joint efforts of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Long after Regan was out of office, his former economic adviser David Stockman was declaring on National Public Radio the end of salaried employment. Everyone whole be doing piecework. Stockman did not say anything about how living from one job to the next was fraught with insecurity, not to mention the possibility of financial support when health care was involved.

Yet Stockman's prognostication seems to have been an accurate call. Today's generation of youth still believe that they will not be able to compete in the job market without a college education. Yet they cannot reconcile that proposition with the likelihood that such an education will leave them with a debt that, thanks to the changes in the world of work, may not be paid off over the course of a lifetime.

Have we really managed to create a global society in which only the rich are likely to survive? If so, will they continue to survive if their only talent is one of pushing around bits that reinforce fictions of convenience about financial worth? People do not care very much about "asteroid Armageddon," because they do not see it happening during their lifetimes. We used to say the same thing about climate control; but those chickens seem to be coming to roost on the schedule predicted by scientists whose work was dismissed as "only a theory." Add to that a global social class in which the very idea of working hard for a secure decent wage is now obsolete; and the question of whether the planet is worth saving may be more than idle academic philosophy.

1 comment:

jones said...

The neoliberal approach pushed by Thatcher & Reagan espouses an ideology that derives from Friedrich Hayek. Whatever merits his writings may have, his ideological opposition of freedom to security has left us with neither.

A lot of people talk about markets without really understanding what that means: if a competition is fair, the outcome is uncertain -- which means, most people want planning, not markets. People want the same brand of toilet paper on the same shelf at the same grocer week after week. Investors want return on investment. Corporations want monopoly control.

It's amazing to me that the lack of security for individuals is complimented by security for corporations. It's also amazing that a lot of this was foreseen quite clearly: the book-within-a-book in 1984 is titled "Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism."

We have entirely the wrong demographics in prison. Our future is being robbed. All the climate change fiasco doesn't need any technological solution, the policy solution is simple: make energy more expensive, then people will use less. This doesn't have to mean it costs more to flip on a light switch, but it can make reduce the incentive for disposable everything and would probably make meat more expensive -- reducing meat consumption from three times daily to three times weekly is probably the single most effective thing most Americans can do to reduce CO2 emissions. God save the queen, we need her now more than ever.