The End of Labor and the New Economic Paradigm

Copyright 2013, John Manimas Medeiros


Why we must change fundamental economic rules and expectations:

We will make profound changes in our economic thinking and practices during the 21st century, but these changes may strain our capacity to see the world with new eyes and discard cherished but obsolete principles.  Here, I propose to describe how and why we will replace our traditional concept that work is the only contribution deserving of monetary payment with the principle that constructive consumption and citizenship are not only sufficient for payment, but actually payment for these is the only means for us to sustain a mechanized economy that cannot make use of all the human labor potentially available.  Because the industrial revolution has led to an electronic revolution that eliminates the need for enormous amounts of human labor previously necessary, we must find a new basis for inclusion in the wealth of the community.  What we must do is treat members of our society as persons who contribute to the health and strength of our economy by buying and consuming constructive goods and services, regardless of whether they participate in the labor necessary to provide goods and services.  This should not be such a moral strain, because we know, when we are honest, that we already include in the wealth of the community a large percentage of citizens, managers, investors, bankers, record keepers, bureaucrats, administrators, who do not really produce goods or services directly, but simply oversee – supervise – the work that is performed by others.  They are paid well, overpaid usually, because of our habit of social and economic class stratification of society.  But we want, and can have social and economic justice.  We just have to face the reality that we can no longer support the principle that only work is to be compensated.  An inability to replace that traditional rule will destroy our society.  We can no longer pretend that we need to have the unemployed be employed.  We have to face the reality that their labor is no longer needed.  But, their consumption is needed, sometimes desperately, in order for us to maintain what we have come to call our “standard of living.”


All we need to do is imagine a community of 1,000 or 10,000 people, with a specified number of working parents, or single adults.  Let’s say we have 5,000 working adults.  In reality, we have 5,000 adults who have been expected to be working as a matter of sustaining our civilization, and this expectation has been true for many centuries or several millennia.  So, why would we change that expectation now?  Because the industrial revolution, the scientific revolution, the electronic and the biological science and other associated revolutions have all changed the world so that the labor of every able-bodied member of the workforce is no longer needed.  We just have to face this reality.  The reason people are not employed is not because they are lazy or stupid or spoiled by social programs or economic assistance.  THEIR LABOR IS NOT NEEDED.  And, it makes no sense to blame them for this set of conditions.  Where did we think the constant invention of machines and robots and labor-saving devices would lead?  Can we perpetually invent new jobs for people?  Why?  How?  And what moral or scientific principle tells us that there is something dramatically wrong if people are not working? 


We are built to work, we humans, but we are also built to think and create and express ourselves.  So, to have a period of time when any one of us can work less and do more thinking, creating or self-expressing should not be a big problem.  In fact, that was supposedly the original purpose of the industrial revolution and democracy and scientific progress all along:  to create a world -- meaning an economic and social world – where all of us might be relieved from our long history of harsh labor in order to survive.  What this tells us then, is that we need to make our best effort to LET GO of the premise that a person who is not working is somehow not worthy of membership in society, or is someone cheating others, or should not have their basic needs met, simply not be eligible to receive the abundant benefits that have resulted from our industrial and scientific progress:  abundant food, clothing, shelter, health care.  And, abundant opportunities for travel, recreation, education and play. 


So, why don’t we just enjoy our accomplishments? !  If a number of members of our society are “out of work” because their labor is not needed right now, why don’t we just give them the money they need – which is in fact similar to giving a commercial loan to an entrepreneur – so that they can buy the few necessities that enables them to maintain their status as a healthy and law abiding and contributing citizen?  This is a “stimulus package” in a sense, except that the concept of “stimulating” the economy with money is a little strange.  Why think of stimulating the economy with money, when it makes so much more sense to stimulate, or support, the health of our society by supporting people?  So, we are giving to the individual who is in the “labor reserve” the relatively small amount of money he or she needs, to provide their basic necessities.  As soon as they receive their “consumer wages,” they do their consumer job to keep things going by consuming.  Having severely limited resources, they will spend their “consumer wages” immediately to buy food, clothing, shelter, utilities and necessary services, such as repairs and maintenance of their household furnishings and machines.  Thus, the economy is supported and everyone is participating in the economy because the spending of the unemployed consumer helps to maintain the flow of goods and services that IS THE ESSENCE OF ECONOMIC AND COMMERCIAL HEALTH.  Our economy is always a flowing river, and the best thing to do at all times is to keep the river flowing.  If you are bothered by some thought that the person should be working, then you just get right on it and find something useful for them to do.  But if you cannot find “gainful employment” for them, we must continue to keep them alive, and healthy, and sustain them as a contributing and cooperative member of society.  Otherwise, you will push them out of society and they will become alcoholic or addicted or criminal or emotionally disabled and impose a cost upon society far greater than the relatively small amount of support they need while we fuss around trying to figure out where their work might be needed.


So, to translate this thinking into an economic practice, we simply declare that any unemployed person, who has no legal means of self-support (needs money), is a member of the National Labor Reserve, and their state labor reserve, and their local municipality labor reserve.  They will receive financial support to meet their basic needs until we – the geniuses who understand all of the problems of the world -- identify gainful employment for them.  They receive our support until they refuse reasonable work.  All other welfare programs are discontinued.  Membership in the reserve labor force includes anyone who might be able to do anything useful – even persons who are blind or have no legs.  If they are willing to work, they are not handicapped.  Those who work with handicapped persons know, and they will tell you, if a handicapped person wants to work, nothing will prevent them from doing so.  It is emotional discouragement and shame that disables people from working.  People can and have overcome every form of physical disability that has occurred, and society should support this admirable and priceless form of human courage and persistence.  The reserve labor force is the only program needed.  It could be designed, easily, to serve as the best way to channel ambitious persons toward training and education, and could readily be used as a recruitment path for the military and civil service.     


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