Where are all the jobs going?

by Belden Paulson

In this three-part series on “Joblessness: A Creative Response to one of America’s Great, Long-term Challenges” Belden Paulson, political scientist and resident of Town Mitchell outlines the basic problem as well as two “tracks” towards a solution.

It is the basis for a talk presented Wednesday, May 15 for the World Future Society Milwaukee chapter. Part One summarized the challenge. Part Two identified short-term responses. Part Three takes a longer view of a “transformed” society.

Keeping in mind the data we know about joblessness, let us envisage examples of Track One and Track Two strategies to confront today’s likely trends.

A general Track One starting point is the need for an in-depth bipartisan national strategy that takes into account the short run and long run.

The Track Two starting point recognizes that short-term measures such are valuable but insufficient. Noteworthy Track Two ideas and practices include:

—Guaranteed annual income as a matter of right to a minimal share in the production of society (no means test required). Proposed by economists Theobald and Heilbroner, and J. Robert Oppenheimer among others, but no action taken

—Milton Friedman’s “negative income tax” is the same idea of guaranteed income. He unsuccessfully proposed this to presidents Nixon and Reagan, given that he preferred a direct cash payment instead of bureaucratic welfare for the poor

—“Third sector support” that utilizes more fully the voluntary world. Jeremy Rifkin proposes incentives and subsidies, including “social wages” and tax write-offs for voluntary work to utilize the vast pool of labor and talent for meeting community needs. Viewing a future where the market sector leaves vast joblessness, he asks: Will government use its resources “to finance additional police protection and build more jails to incarcerate a growing criminal class or finance alternative forms of work in the third sector”?

—Support “learning and development.” Willis Harman in Creative Work notes that when production and consumption are no longer the main focus of one’s life, then the “learning society,” which includes self and community improvement, takes on added importance

—Business itself becomes an agent of transformation. Harman is convinced that people in business, not in government, are society’s real drivers. He identified numerous business leaders to establish the World Business Academy to invest their creative energy in helping to move toward a viable future

— An example of transformation in business that combines the corporate and social worlds is the Mondragon complex in Spain. Established in the 1950s, there are 102 cooperatives employing over 100,000 people; it is the seventh largest business in Spain with annual revenue in the 6 billion euro range. Each cooperative donates 10 percent of yearly profits to education and social projects, and 10 percent to a social entrepreneur pool for R & D. The highest paid workers earn no more than eight times the lowest paid workers, and despite the 20 percent unemployment and 50 percent among youth in Spain, Mondragon has no unemployment. This has happened through intelligent planning and voluntary reduction in work hours

—Develop a sustainability policy that confronts the federal deficit, creates jobs, and focuses on ominous environmental perils. Two years ago President Obama established an eighteen-member bipartisan commission to figure out how to cut the deficit. Their recommendations included deficit reduction of $4 trillion by 2020 and numerous other ideas to cut spending and raise revenue. The Obama administration has not acted on this. Today a comprehensive environment-sensitive sustainability strategy is feasible. It would create new industries to increase energy efficiency in America’s buildings and manufacturing and would provide a massive array of new jobs. At the same time costs incurred by government could be cut dramatically

—Imaginative long-term thinking on our economic and cultural future is also needed. An example is found in Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics where the role of money itself is considered. The theme here is that money seems to be destroying the efficacy of many of our human social systems and the earth itself. The original purpose of money was to connect human gifts with human needs. Financiers have become masters of the universe, and new kinds of money are needed where gratitude and trust rather than money are what motivate peoples’ actions.

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