Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Changes


The working man’s agreement with the authorities is already half dead. Yes, the deal is collapsing and a new wave of automation will kill it altogether. That is, unless the overseers can pull in the runaway train of advanced technology, our social and political agreement with the elites who own our jobs will become null and void.

The working man's deal goes like this:

If you obey and support the system, you’ll be able to get a decent job. If you work hard at your job, you’ll be able to buy a house, marry a cute girl, and raise a small family. After a few years of paying attention and saving, maybe you can put a pool in the backyard.

This is what our culture taught us. It’s the same deal our parents and grandparents clung to, and it’s even a fairly open deal. You can fight for the political faction of your choice and you can hold any number of religious and secular alliances, just as long as you stay loyal to the system overall.

This deal has been glamorized in many ways, such as, “Our children will be better off than we are,” “home ownership for everyone,” and of course, “the American Dream.” Except it isn’t working anymore.

Among 20- and 30-year-olds, only about half are able to grasp the deal’s promises. That half is working like crazy, putting up with malignant corporatism and trying to keep ahead of the curve. The other half is dejected and discouraged, taking student loans to chase degrees (there’s more status in that than working at McDonald’s), or else they’re pacified with government handouts and distracted by Facebook.

The deal is plainly unavailable to about half of the young generation, but as I noted above, hope dies slowly and young people raised on promises are still waiting for the deal to kick in. It’s all they know.

Regardless, the deal has abandoned them and made them superfluous. The deal is dying because two incompatible things can no longer coexist: New technology and a system geared to old technology.

New machines and methods have made so many jobs obsolete that there aren’t enough to go around anymore. Both North America and Europe are already filled with the unemployed or underemployed children of industrial workers. At the same time, we suffer no shortages; we have an abundance of stuff and a double overload of inane ads trying to sell it all. There’s something important to glean from this: Where goods abound, additional jobs are not required.

We don’t need more workers. Machines are producing plenty of stuff for us, and this becomes truer every day.

The other problem is the system itself. The system was designed to reap the incomes of industrial workers. Everything from withholding taxes to government schools was put in place to maximize the take from an industrial workforce. Whether purposely or simply by trial and error, the Western world was structured to keep industrial workers moving in a single direction and to reap from them as they went. You see, the system is a reaping machine. It always has been.

Technology, however, has advanced beyond the limits of the machine; it has eliminated too many jobs. At the same time, regulations make it nearly impossible for the superfluous class to adapt. Nearly everything requires certification and starting a business is out of the question; fail to file a form you’ve never heard of and the IRS will skin you alive.

The system, however, will not change; the big corporations paid for the current regulatory regime and they still own their congressmen.

28 states list “truck driver” as the most common job. So what happens to all these truck drivers when self-driving trucks hit the roads? Count on it that they will because automated trucks will be safer, cheaper, and will use less fuel. When self-driving trucks appear, millions of truck drivers will be dropped out of the deal, and probably fairly soon.

In addition to that, the very last refuge for the superfluous class – fast food – is experiencing its own robot invasion. Wendy’s just ordered 6,000 self-service ordering kiosks to be installed in the second half of 2016, and KFC’s first automated restaurant went live on April 25.

“The deal” is clearly failing. At the same time, the system is utterly unwilling to change because the people in charge, the people who own us, are making too much money and hold too much power. The impoverishment of a hundred million people in flyover country won’t move them to give it up. Their system, after all, funnels the wealth of a continent to Washington, DC, in a steady stream… and they’ve bought access to that steam. The system must be defended.

So, forget about orderly reform. Certainly there will be talk of reform, and plenty of it… there will be promises, plans, and a small army of state intellectuals dedicated to keeping hope alive. But the system will not reform itself. Did Rome? Did Greece?

If there is to be an answer, it will have to come from the ‘superfluous’ people.

One last point: Don’t make the mistake of blaming technology for all of this. Technology is doing precisely what we want it to do: It’s killing scarcity. And that’s a good thing. Without technology, we all go back to low-tech farming. And if that possibility doesn’t alarm you, you really should try it for a month or two.

Technology should move forward. The death of scarcity is to be welcomed. Our problem is that we’re chained to an archaic hierarchy of dominance with a deeply entrenched skimming class. Either we get past it or we go back to serfdom… or quite possibly worse.

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