Jobless America

From inefficiencies arise opportunities. New York City (and probably the rest of America) circa the late 80’s had more crime but also more opportunity for everyone. Borrowing, real estate, and stock prices were dirt-cheap and entrepreneurial opportunities were abound. You could get a job in your early 20’s, borrow money to buy real estate and or start a business, and be rich a decade later. Contrast that with post-2008 society, which is more sterile, polished and efficient, but there are fewer opportunities for average people (with the exception of web 2.0). The ‘spontaneity’ of pre-2008 America is gone, taken over by financialization and a winner-takes-all economic system that is the new and likely permanent ‘status quo’. This means that the mathematical rigor and efficiency that characterizes financial markets now applies to all aspects of the economy, and even life itself. Our economy has become so efficient and pre-planned that life for most individuals is like an assembly line, as people are just shuffled through the system, with minimal input of their own. Trump as president, unfortunately, will not change this.

The next step, which is already underway, is the transition from a post-entrepreneur society to a post-labor society. And the ‘ownership society’ being superseded by a ‘paternalist order’. That doesn’t mean the abolition of personal property, not by any stretch of the imagination (this is not Marxism), but rather there will be two extremes: wealth and ‘ownership’ for some and paternalism for most, and with some in the middle. Generations from now, in a post-labor society, the majority of people will live in large taxpayer-funded housing projects and communities where everything is provided (food, shelter, medical care, entertainment, etc.) but no one actually ‘owns’ anything, as a way to humanely warehouse millions of people that have been rendered economically unnecessary. This is similar to post-scarcity society in Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel The Diamond Age. Or Vonnegut’s Player Piano, presciently published in 1952, about how technological unemployment creates a permanent underclass. Average is Over, published in 2014 by Tyler Cowen, describes how technology and economic forces will make society increasingly bifurcated, with the majority of people living in shanty towns:

Cowen forecasts that modern economies are delaminating into two groups: a small minority of highly educated and capable of working collaboratively with automated systems will become a wealthy aristocracy; the vast majority will earn little or nothing, surviving on low-priced goods created by the first group, living in shantytowns working with highly automated production systems.[2] About 60% of the jobs lost during the 2008 recession were in mid-wage occupations. US Median male wages declined by about 28% between 1969 and 2009, with no obvious disaster to blame.[3]

Perhaps it’s cheaper and or more efficient for both companies and governments to warehouse people than to try to find work for them. This also calls into question whether education is necessary, as role of public education was to teach young people the requisite skills to be employable and functioning members of a civil society. If labor and society breaks down or becomes radically altered, so too will the institutions people take for granted.