Thursday, March 11, 2010

The New Depression, Part II

back to part one...

As it stands today, we've seen fantastic technological developments in the past decade in the way information is handled. This is something that can benefit every industry. But, it tends to effect each industry in the grunt-work positions: jobs that handle the processing of information but little responsibility to make decisions. Jobs that now can be automated. In short, entry-level jobs.

At the helm to receive these jobs is a generation that is best equipped to make them easier for themselves: they already understand the tools that make it easier. Why spend hours tabulating data from a paper form, when you can automate the whole process of data collection and calculation on a Google Document?

This knowledge, unfortunately, has not been to this generation's advantage. They are increasingly derided as lazy and "dislike[ing] the idea of work for work’s sake, and expect[ing] jobs and career to be tailored to their interests and lifestyle." The fact that this generation has been increasingly beginning their post-collegiate years living with their parents again is occasionally described as a cause of their employment woes rather than an effect.

The result is that the jobs this generation streamlines are then eliminated, self-defeatingly. And evidence supports that when you enter the job market in a recession or difficult hiring environment, the effect on your whole career is permanent, and make you disproportionately susceptible to depression.

The point of this matter, however, is that we are again in a situation in which technology has displaced human labor, and we have not yet figured out what kind of work will fill the employment gap in our economy. The path we are currently on of great inequality would lead us to a likely solution of more guarding and destructive work. But this doesn't have to be the way capitalism operates.

What if a system were devised in which the technological benefits that have made work easier were actually to the benefit of people who do the work? If people were encouraged, when technology made their work easier, to do less of it (instead of find other work to maintain a 40 hour work week to keep your health benefits)? What if labor-saving technology actually increased leisure time?

What if, as Sam Bowles suggests, there was a universal welfare system that didn't disappear if you found work, thus disincentivizing employment? His suggestion is enough to live a meager existence on if you wanted, but if you were ambitious, could be put toward going to college or starting a business?

What if such a system was funded by putting a just price on natural resources through carbon and land taxes?

What we have today in the United States doesn't have to be what capitalism is.

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