The thing everyone overlooks is that Karl Marx was right. The desperation of the revolutions that are thought of as Communism were half-baked, seat-of-the-pants efforts to rectify the evils of Capitalism. There is no better example in human history of good intentions leading to a hell here on earth than the Socialist and Communist regimes that transformed into police states before the dust of overthrown palaces had settled. But that doesn’t make Marx wrong—it simply means that the struggle to recover humane principles from a Capitalist world is a complex and difficult thing.
The apoplexy that erupts whenever ‘Socialism’ is mentioned is part of this misperception. Let’s imagine we did something humane, that we paid for it with tax revenue because it is our responsibility to see to it that our country is a decent, human place to live—and we forgot to label it ‘Socialism’. Would that be so bad? We accept the rightness of keeping kids from going hungry—if our government can bring a more consistent and standardized effort to bear on the problem than local charities and churches, we are all for it. Then, as soon as someone calls it ‘Socialism’, we decide it’s better to let people suffer than to risk our great nation becoming a ‘socialist nightmare’.
I, for one, don’t give a damn about Socialist or non-Socialist—all I know is that we let our country become littered with former human beings who are now something less, something broke (in both senses of the word) and who deserve to be taken care of. This business of criticizing the unemployed for not being employed is total rot. For one thing, these people all had jobs up until the financial crash at the end of Bush’s second term. And our economy may recovery completely—with the one detail—that unemployment will remain.
This makes sense—nobody uses people in factories any more—automation is providing better precision, better quality control, and higher production capacity than sloppy humans who get tired, or sick, or have to sleep at night. Who needs’em? But with great automation comes great responsibility. If we are creating a world of robotic activity then we must deal with the other side of that coin—we have to stop judging people by how tired they get. If an average worker stays home all day because the old job has been automated, that worker has no money to participate in our consumer society.
So, owners who remove any need for human workers are, whether they realize it or not, saying No to consumerism. And without a consumer society, who’s going to buy any of the stuff that gets made at the factory? We can’t pretend that economic action has no equal, but opposite, reaction. We will only survive the robotic revolution by subsidizing unemployment. I’m sure someone can show me all the facts and figures proving that it’s impossible to subsidize the 1/10th of the human race that we simply don’t need labor from anymore. But we should anyway—billionaires don’t just keep a disproportionate amount of the fruits of prosperity, they also get off on being top dog.
But they shouldn’t think of it as something being done for others—that 1/10th of humanity will someday be ½ of humanity, 2/3rd of humanity, all of humanity! Someday in the not so distant future, even board chairmen will get the boot from our robotic AI overlords. Then won’t they be glad they started a systematic separation between employment and consumption!
We are very subjective about employment—we don’t see it objectively. We tend to discount the jobless as people who are too lazy to find work—unless we’ve been subjected to that massive degradation of ego that losing a job inflicts upon us. I have been on disability for years—but I’d do just about anything to have a job—and the sense of self-worth it bestows. And we tend to assume if the economy is healthy, then jobs are plentiful. This is a baseless assumption. It was true back in FDR’s day—a worker could be made useful digging a trench or paving a highway or building a bridge, a dam, a skyscraper. But masses of laborers are no longer the norm at construction sites. We have huge cranes, trucks bigger than houses, earthmoving vehicles and tunnel-digging machines. We still need workers to keep a hand in, but nothing like the mobs of laborers that built everything in those older times.
And what’s so ‘lazy’ about pounding the pavement every day being rejected from job after job, while the employed sit at PC keyboards, talk on phones, and decide about lunch. There are plenty of lazy people with jobs—they don’t add a whit to their employer’s business success, they do just enough to keep themselves from being fired, and in many cases are actually drags on the company’s bottom line. The owner would do better paying someone else to stay home than to support this viper at the breast of their business. What do we do when there are simply no more jobs and plenty of unemployed? Do we continue to blame them for a situation they are victims of? I think (and it’s surprising how often this is true) that charity is good business. If people are being reduced to desperate criminals or ghastly non-persons because our economy has no place for them, it is better to make a place for them.
In the sixties, Americans became aware that, after centuries of throwing trash over our shoulders, there were simply too many of us doing it now and we have to either stop littering or live in an ugly place, piled high with refuse. I believe that now is the time to stop throwing ‘useless’ people over our shoulder—they are capable, we just have no use for them right now. If we don’t take responsibility for all the people in the country we’ll see a decline of empire, and a well-deserved one, at that. If all those people become disaffected, or criminalized, then the super-wealthy will ultimately be surrounded by hungry wolves—and that’s not a very nice neighborhood.
Capitalism is sacred only because the more powerful a person is, the more that person’s security depends on the status quo. Ask a hungry person how they feel about Capitalism—I’m betting they couldn’t care less, unless Capitalism is code for ‘a hot meal’. Bill & Melinda Gates endowed the largest charity ever with half the personal fortune of the richest man in the world—but the poor abide. We have to make charity a part of business. We have to start moving away from the assumption that money must be earned. Lots of people have tons of money they didn’t earn—I hardly think it would be a crime to legitimize government support of the poor.
However, the implementation of such a change has at least as many pitfalls and risks as old-fashioned communism—we would need new perspectives and new approaches to even begin such a process. So, that won’t happen. Still, I think it is a sensible direction, compared to the alternatives.