The Economy of Abundance #4

The Missing Formula: A - Everyone Needs Money to Live

+ B - Everyone Needs to Work for Money

= C - Everyone Needs to Be Employed

Or: All of the employers employ all of the people all of the time.

Copyright 2012, John Manimas Medeiros


This important principle that applies to the economy of abundance can be stated briefly, and then explained and defended briefly with a simple and straightforward narrative of economic history. Have you ever wondered what life would be like for you if you lived in a tribal society or in an agricultural society with no modern industry? There would be problems, or course, such as limitations on medical care and emergency services and the capacity for self-defense or warfare. However, no one would be unemployed. There is no such thing as unemployment in an agrarian or tribal society. It would be ridiculous for anyone to make the claim that the labor of an individual, their contribution to the work of the tribe or community, were not needed. Everyone participates in the work of the community and in the wealth of the community in accordance with a recognized standard of "fair share."

So why is "unemployment" such a big problem, economically, and a major problem politically in modern industrial society? The answer is really simple: people are separated from the land in an industrial society. This does not mean that industrial society is bad, or we need to jump to the conclusion that industrial society is destructive or contrary to nature or to natural environmental health. We just have to recognize that we create unemployment, meaning the entire society creates unemployment through the process that we elect to become an industrial society. Industrial development, or industrial evolution if you will, or if we prefer to use the phrase "industrial revolution," removes people from the pattern of an agrarian society and places them in the situation where they do not own land or have access to land. When people do have access to land they have access to the food that they can grow and the fish that they can catch, and to the meat they can obtain from hunting or to the meat and diary products they can obtain from the domestication of animals. All of this kind of self-sufficiency becomes impossible for industrial employees, people who only rent an apartment or own a home on only a small plot of land that is not farmland.

Further, in an agrarian society people are not as dependent upon money to live. They make their own clothing and make many of their own tools, or they pay to have tools made locally by a blacksmith or other crafts person. Most of what people need, most of the time, can be obtained through trading or labor or what we call "barter." It is only with the development of an industrial society that we all become very strongly dependent upon money to live. Of course, the industrial society creates an abundance of goods. Manufacturing makes much of what we need, and what we want, cheaper. This includes clothing, tools, building materials, guns, machines, vehicles and just about everything becomes available for sale at a store nearby or at a store that can ship what we need to us, by train or by truck. It all seems to be just fine, and gets even better when there are department stores and supermarkets. Better in terms of abundance and quality but not better in terms of money, because someone who does not have money cannot enjoy the wealth and abundance of the community at all. As we saw in installment #3, no money means no life. Anyone who does not have money is excluded from the products and wealth of the community.

The core problem is that the traditional moral and philosophical and even religious concept that one must work in order to participate in the economy of the community causes people to be expelled from the economic life of the tribe or community. If an industrial employee who has no farm land is dismissed from their industrial employment, fired or laid off or discharged due to an illness or injury, they become a person who is "not working" and we say that they are "unemployed." Because they are not working, they no longer have money to buy what they need, not even food. That is obviously a major problem, and actually means that a person who is unemployed, and their children, could starve to death. The problem that arises, because of the irrational nature of human beings, is that because the "unemployed" industrial worker is "not working," someone says they have chosen to stop contributing to the labor of the community, and therefore they are no longer entitled to a "fair share" of the wealth of the community. If we were still in a tribal society, and the men had just brought in some deer, and the women had just brought in a ton of fresh berries, the chief would announce to you that you are getting nothing. Your fair share is zero. You can starve, because you are "laid off" and are unemployed. This could not happen in a tribal or agrarian society, or a hunter-gatherer society, because no one would be in the impossible category of "unemployed." If you did not participate in the hunt, or in the berry picking, you would have participated in making pottery, or making arrows, or making bows, or foraging or scouting or attending to goats or sheep or horses. The concept of a person being unemployed, or having no contribution to make to the work of the community arises ONLY from the ridiculous idea that when a person works in a factory, the factory owner can dismiss them from work at the factory, and when that person is dismissed from their industrial employment at the factory, the effect is the same as if they had been dismissed from the society itself, dismissed from the tribe, dismissed from existence or from membership in the society. The real source of the modern problem of unemployment is the totally irrational idea that the society is itself a factory made up of many sub-factories, and if you are laid off from the work of your sub-factory you are no longer a member of society. Or, you are in some macabre way still a member of the society but no longer participating in the economy of the society, meaning you no longer contribute a fair share of work, and therefore you no longer are paid a fair share of money, and having no money, you are no longer able to buy anything you need. Too bad for you. Find a place to die quietly and try not to stink.

This is the real impact of being "unemployed" in an industrial society. It breaks one's spirit because it is like being accused of a vile crime -- which you did not commit -- and banished from the community. You are no longer a good neighbor. You are now a lazy good-for-nothing neighbor. You cannot pay for any tickets for the Greatest-Show-on-Earth, the economy of the community and the nation. No rides for you, no acrobats and clowns, no cotton candy or fried dough, no tunnel of love or fun house full of wonders to behold. You are out until you repent of your great sin of being arrogant enough to believe that you had a right, by birth, to be a member of society. But you are on the outside looking in, and most of those who are in and have what they need, most of those who are employed and have money, act like there is no meaningful connection between you and them. It is as though unemployment is a game as violent as war, and if you lose you are dead, or are expected to act like you are dead.

Many men and women who are unemployed soon begin to act like they are dead. They feel ashamed and walk like they have chains around their ankles. They look downward. They stay home and drink and feel sorry for themselves and wonder how the nation could think this is fair. It is not fair for anyone. It is not just. It is not good for society. No one benefits from unemployment. And this is the key to this strange social and economic problem, because some people, even some economists, really do believe that we benefit from unemployment. Employers, that's right, employers and simple-minded conforming economists believe that society benefits from unemployment. They have some mildly sophisticated arguments suggesting that if a person is unemployed the reason is that he or she was not efficient, or was among the least effective of the employees in the factory, or in the office, or in the entire economy. Or, the corporation that employed that employee was itself the defective operation, a badly run business, and it is good for businesses that are badly run to be closed. All this sounds hard-headed and scientific, but it is also mostly nonsense. The real reason that employers and some infantile economists defend unemployment as a positive process is because they believe that unemployment occurs when labor has become expensive and unemployment will have the effect of driving down the price of labor, driving down wages and salaries. And that effect, to employers, is like a gift from God. It is the Golden Treasure of business and economics to a large percentage of industrialists and rinky-dink economists. People are unemployed because they are in the business of selling labor on the open market and they are charging too much. So, they get laid off because they need to make a change in their business of selling labor. The unemployed employees need to change their business practices, lower the price of their labor and work for less money. That is why unemployment is natural, a logical function in the economic process, and beneficial for society according to this economic theory. But this is mostly nonsense, because the economic concept that an employee, or any laborer in the economy who sells their labor, is like a business person in the business of selling their labor is fundamentally defective and a distortion of the meaning of employment in society. Society is not a factory; an employee is not in business; and there are other less destructive means to exercise reasonable control over wages and salaries -- the costs of labor. This economic problem arises again and again in American society because it is essentially an unresolved issue among most of those who are deemed to be economists and those who wield economic power. Corporate employers in particular, as well as small and local business employers, have a brain tumor that tells them their biggest business problem, the challenge that keeps them awake at nights, is the cost of labor. Most people in any business that is labor intensive, that requires a lot of employees, are terrified of the possibility that their employees will slack off or work less for their wages or somehow be able to demand more pay for the work that they do -- nearly always inadequate in the eyes of the employer. Either there will be a shortage of good workers and I will have to pay more to keep a good worker, or the government will do something that raises the price of labor.

Public benefits, also known as "welfare" or "socialism" including unemployment insurance benefits, are all seen as government programs that artificially keep the costs of labor higher, because people are not as desperate to work for money as they would be otherwise. If they get food and help paying the rent from some government program, or from any source, such as working "under-the-table" or working in a government-subsidized program, they will not agree to go back to work for a factory at lower wages. This is the endless argument among the conforming economists, those with no imagination, that ties up our political process and debilitates our society. And it all could be easily avoided if we would just let go of this irrational fear based upon the ridiculous idea that an employee is a person in business. An employee is a member of society who wants to do what is totally logical and justifiable: participate in the work of the community and receive a fair share of the harvest. That's it. That's all. An employee is not a person in the business of selling labor to buyer's in a stock market. An employee is a member of society who has a right, by birth, to be included in the work of the community and in a fair share of the wealth of the community. Getting the work done and getting the share that one desires -- in our open market and economy of abundance -- can be done and is usually done by means of the wonderful tool we call "money." But the tool of money does not work its magic when we treat people like they can be dismissed from society. Anyone can be dismissed from a job, but in a rational society no one can be dismissed from society.

The resolution of this endless political turmoil is: All employers employ all of the employees all of the time.

This may appear to be the "right to work" viewpoint, which is essentially the thinly veiled anti-democratic anti-union viewpoint. However my position is the opposite, strongly pro-union position. The right to join a labor union is the equivalent, in practice, of the fundamental right to freely assemble and present grievances. Those who use the concept of a "right to work" to blame labor unions for high labor costs are just manipulating words and manipulating people. What I am arguing is that everyone must have a fair share in the wealth of the community (and nation) regardless of whether they are currently employed by a private, industrial employer. Private industrial employers want the power -- and right -- to dismiss an employee they do not wish to pay. That is a reasonable expectation and all private employers should have that power. Every private employer should be able, by law, to dismiss any employee without being required to provide any elaborate or prescribed explanations. It should be adequate for the employer to state as the reason simply "do not need this employee's labor at this time."

How, then, can we have all employees employed all of the time if private employers can dismiss employees at will? Easy, an employee who is ready and willing to work can be dismissed from a job, but not from the economy. Someone has to employ them, immediately. How can we do that? If they are employed by the local community, or a city, or the state government, or the federal government, does that not mean that the taxpayers are employing them? Would that not entail great expense? The correct answer is "No, such an economic practice would not entail great expense." The cost of making the dismissed worker a member of a "national reserve labor force" or state reserve or local reserve would be the same or less than what the taxpayers pay for now through several other programs: unemployment insurance, disability benefits, workers compensation, employee re-training programs and family support or welfare programs. Any adult who is not employed and wants work is in fact a participant in the "national reserve labor force." I am just giving a name to an existing reality. The nation and the community have work to do, plenty of work. There is always work that needs to be done, and much of the work that needs to be done involves creating or maintaining the public capital: roads, bike paths and foot paths, bridges, tunnels, canals, public parks and other public property, including energy and communications systems that are privately owned on paper but in reality are subject to public control because they must be for the public good. A system of immediate employment in the reserve work force (national, state, local) for less than the average work week of hours, for only slightly more than minimum wage, with health care not being interrupted, is the most efficient and effective means to minimize the disruption of the marketplace economy while the displaced worker engages in a temporary search for their new position in a privately owned business enterprise. The temporary low income is money pumped immediately into the marketplace because it is used to pay for basic needs. There is no time and energy wasted debating whether the employee is lazy or does not want to work. The employee has to show up at a reserve work station and be present and participate in order to be paid. The turmoil in the family and community that is caused by a total lack of income is avoided, and the displaced employee is immediately eligible for every re-employment program that our society can invent and maintain, including military service.

The key concept here is that we are not just putting people in the reserve work force on paper. This is a real program, and it involves a lot of activity. Every community that participates needs to have a village green or town square or city center, or centers, where reserve workers go each day of active participation. They can participate in a public works program or in a re-training program, or team building with other labor reserve participants. They can even be given time to hold meetings among themselves to discuss possible work projects or business ventures. They can form sports teams and engage in sports competitions just to keep themselves physically fit and to get acquainted with one another and their skills and strengths. They can participate as educators and demonstrators of their work skills in public schools and vocational programs.

The effectiveness of this principle and labor reserve program is that it eliminates several other programs that are all designed to give "relief" to unemployed workers and their families for various reasons. Elimination of such bureaucratic programs, or incorporation of their systems into a single reserve work force program would serve as a single comprehensive economic tool to keep everyone included in the economy, enable everyone to have money, which is the basic necessity in the economy of abundance, and minimize the disruption of the market by avoiding large numbers of consumers disappearing from the marketplace with no where to go to meet their needs and be fairly included in the work and the harvest. Unemployment compensation is the worst offender of all. Most people who are covered by unemployment insurance are working without reporting their income, or they are just taking a vacation. Both such personal paths are a way of being resourceful, but at public expense. Let the public expense be used more efficiently, to keep the worker occupied continuously in the process of finding their best available contribution to the work of the community and nation.

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