Sunday, November 13, 2016

the Ant and the Grasshopper

In  When Republicans Take Power (Nov. 12, 2016),  Geoffrey Kabaservice writes:

“Mr. Trump will not be able to bring back the manufacturing jobs he promised, but he could put his supporters to work building roads and bridges instead.”

The notion that building roads and bridges will provide a nice large employment boost is a common misconception. Anyone who’s watched how roads and bridges are built these days knows that there are more machines and fewer people. Even the flagmen and -women who control traffic through a road-construction zone are being replaced by traffic lights powered by solar panels.

Sure, we need to repair roads and bridges, and some increases in employment will be a nice side-effect. But manual labour of all kinds has been and is continuing to be replaced by machines, machines that are increasingly intelligent, able to perform more and more complicated tasks.

What’s more, computers are replacing the professions. White-collar jobs are fading away just as blue-collar jobs did, and for the same reason: Our profit-focused economic theory and business model sees people as a cost, and so seeks to eliminate them.

The malaise of our highly technologised economy is that it produces more than we can consume, yet we operate it on the same assumptions of scarcity that worked for our ancestors, assumptions which make production morally superior to consumption. Worse, too many players of the economic game believe that accumulating stuff is what it’s all about. “He who dies with the most toys wins” is taken at face value by a surprising number of people, if we take their behaviour as evidence of what values drive their choices.

But as older people will tell you, when you’re faced with getting rid of the stuff accumulated over a lifetime, you realise what a mug’s game that was. Nobody wants the stuff that you piled up. It’s obsolete, it has at most sentimental value, but even your children want only a few pieces.

We praise the ant, not the grasshopper. We haven’t noticed that the ant is now a machine directed by a microchip.

1 comment:

pferk said...

Accumulated junk and treasured objects become the wealth of future archaeology. Let us not despise the accumulators, just their misguided ideal of society.