Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ants and grasshoppers: A comment on our economy

In  When Republicans Take Power 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 large employment boost is a common misconception. As anyone who’s watched how roads and bridges are built these days knows, 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, but manual labour of all kinds has been and is continuing to be replaced by machines. Machines that are increasinglty intelligent, able to perform more and more complicated tasks.

In fact, 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 values and business models sees people as a cost, and so seeks to eliminate them.

The malaise of a our highly technologised economy is that it produces more than we can consume, yet we operate it on the same assumptions that worked for our ancestors, that production is 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 will want to keep only a small fraction of it.

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

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