Class Warfare Blog

April 15, 2013

Rethinking This Whole Mess

All of my life I have bought into the premise that we all need to support ourselves and our loved ones by working. “Working” meaning doing things somebody else wants done and is willing to pay you to do. But is this necessarily so? Within this paradigm there are great inequities. Some people are working very, very hard but are not making enough to provide a reasonable life for themselves and their families. Other people don’t work much at all and make tremendous amounts of money.

Simultaneously I see people doing all kinds of things which are difficult, uncomfortable, even dangerous for . . . fun (?) . . . that is as a hobby or volunteering to help out someone who needs something done that they are capable of doing. Are summit mountain climbers doing it for pay? Skydivers?

So, I want to take a step back and look at this once again. Basically the question I ask: is economic work necessary or even desirable?

I start with the GDP, this is the value of goods and services produced in a calendar year. In 2011 the U.S. had a GDP of $14,991,300,000,000. (The whole world had a total GDP of only $70,201,920,000,000 so we made almost a quarter of the entire planet’s GDP. And please realize that different agencies get different numbers, but they are all quite similar. These are U.N. numbers.)

And in 2011, there were about 116 million households. If we were split this money up among them, it would come out to roughly $130,000 per household.

What kind of world would we have if we just decided to share everything equally? (No, not Socialism or Communism, a new world in which everything got shared equally.)

Stop!

Do not start with all of your objections or moral outrage over freeloaders. You must start with positives to give this a chance.

First, there would be no hunger except in those cases where someone were mentally ill or just incapable of managing a household budget. Everyone would have enough money to put nutritious food on the table, plus have enough to put a roof over that table and provide a safe and comfortable place to sleep. In essence, everyone’s basic needs would be taken care of.

Given this situation, all your basics covered, what would you do then?

 “Think about it. What would the world be like if we all got to do what we wanted?”

I expect most people would fantasize about living at the beach or taking a long lusted after vacation, but go ahead and take that until you’ve had your fill (in your imagination, of course), then what would you do? If you think about what we do with our spare time now, I expect that we would be doing much of the same: volunteering at youth centers, senior support facilities, coaching youth sports, supporting independent theatre, being docents at museums, etc. (We wouldn’t have to volunteer at food banks and indigent medical services any more!)

In other words, we would get to do what we want to instead of what we have to. There are some people who have a secret desire to be a greeter at Wal-Mart. You go, guy. See if Wal-Mart wants volunteers. Others have always wanted to be teachers, but were too busy being a lawyer, etc. Now’s your chance! Go for it.

Now, many of you will raise the obvious objection regarding all of those jobs involving drudgery that are currently needed to create the GDP. Good point. But ask yourself, if no one wants to do those jobs, why should they be done, either at all or the way they are currently done. We used to pay “clerks” to sit at desks all day and post numbers to accounts and make sums with pen and ink. Nobody does that work today because somebody invented computers and electronic record keeping.

Think about it. What would the world be like if we all got to do what we wanted?

And while you are at it, think about what politics would be like without rich people trying to game the system?

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10 Comments »

  1. I see someone has gotten involved in the Zeitgeist Movement. Very interesting

    Comment by lbwoodgate — April 15, 2013 @ 2:39 pm | Reply

    • They do have a point, but all of the futurisms aside, what would it take psychologically for us to share more and cause less pain in the world. Is it really necessary for Bill Gates to have overcharged his customers by $100 bilion over the years for no good reason?

      Comment by stephenpruis — April 15, 2013 @ 2:44 pm | Reply

  2. Steve, if everyone will do what they want to do, it will be a disaster. Nobody will want to pick up trash or wait tables at the restaurants, at least there won’t be enough volunteers for that. But there won’t be a shortage of actors, athletes, singers, and writers. I think we already have too few of former and too many of latter.

    Comment by List of X — April 15, 2013 @ 11:10 pm | Reply

    • I lived in an area where we took our own trash to the dump, nobody picked it up for us. And obviously there are less attractive jobs than waiting tables. But currently waiters work for what are basically gratuities since their minimum wage has been pegged at $2.13/hr. So, why not have them do that work for gratuities (to supplement their income) but one would have to treat those waitstaff well, because if someone pissed them off, well, they don’t need the job.

      Obviously we would have to rethink all kinds of ways we do things. Maybe all restaurants go cafeteria-style. But think about it. How any chefs would like to have a salary of $130,000 a year? Someone with a burning desire to be a chef and getting $130,000 per year might be perfectly happy doing that job for no extra remuneration.

      And we would really need to rethink jobs like coalminer, cow inseminator, sewer inspector, etc. But what would happen now if you couldn’t get anyone to do such a job? Is it a requirement that people be so desparate that they will do fillthy, dangerous jobs? If people made $130,000 per year for being a citizen, how many would volunteer to be soldiers? I am sure that you have noticed that our military personnel aren’t drawn from the most affluent sector of society.

      I am not claiming that this is doable right now, but it could be within my grandchildren’s lives.

      Comment by stephenpruis — April 16, 2013 @ 8:08 am | Reply

      • I am not as optimistic as you are. I think a large portion of people will just stop doing any work if they get 130K a year. And most of those remaining will try to pick jobs that are fun or glamorous, considering compensation will be the same, with not enough people doing the many jobs that are necessary for society to survive, but the ones that aren’t as much fun.
        There are basically 3 ways to make people behave in a way they wouldn’t naturally behave – make them with open and implied threats (e.g., slavery or military), motivate them (usually financially), or instill that behavior from childhood as the only one that’s acceptable. First two ways are out of the question here, and the last one would take much longer than two generations, because for that behavior to successfully set in children, they have to observe it in parents and in most other members of society.

        Comment by List of X — April 18, 2013 @ 11:41 pm | Reply

        • Ah, so cynical, so young. Consider any of the Scandinavian countries which provide their citizens with child care, health care, some housing, etc. Are these people becoming more and more lazy as more and more is supplied to them?

          There is a common statement made by retired people (I are one) that we have never been so busy, and it is true for a lot of people I have met. Every polling station I have voted at was staffed by senior citizen’s. Seniors are a bulwark of or volunteer efforts. Check out the senior gleaners who go back over picked crops and harvest food for food banks, for example.

          I am living on a pension and I could sit back and just read (I love to read) or watch TV. But that gets boring fairly fast. People like doing things, we just don’t like doing distasteful things and my suggestion is that if . . . if we had someway of offing those tasks to autonomous robots, we could effect such a system or one similar to it.

          And if you think people are motivated by money, consider all of the people who hate their jobs but who won’t even go looking for another job that they will like better, one that might even pay more. And I don’t think Bill Gates gets out of bed each morning in order to make money. has he become lazy and shiftless because he has made his nut? Or is he still working?

          So, this is a complex topic and rethinking it doesn’t hurt.

          Steve

          Comment by stephenpruis — April 19, 2013 @ 8:30 am | Reply

          • I prefer the Scandinavian model to what we have in the US. But even there, different jobs have different salaries, and working more hours (at least part time versus full time) would result in higher compensation.
            I judge by myself and people I know, actually. If I get paid the same amount no matter how much I work, I’d probably not quit, and would do the job I do now – but I’d definitely cut down on the hours I spend on work from 50-60 a week to about half that. And most people I work with would probably quit outright – who wants to stare at the computer all day and field occasional calls from angry people?
            My job would actually be obsolete if everyone would be paid the same, but if it were useful, there wouldn’t be enough people doing it.

            Comment by List of X — April 19, 2013 @ 11:07 pm | Reply

            • When consider any change, it is good to go “too far” to see what happens there. So, if the “new system” allows for different salaries based on differences in skills, how much difference should there be between being a brain surgeon and being a garbage man? Currently the “business class” has hijacked this metric claiming that CEOs are worth 100s of times more than their lowest paid worker. Hedge fund managers make billions per year (in an arena–investing–in which studies show that the more you know, the poorer you do!). This is ridiculous. So, what kind of range (top to bottom) should there be? 2:1 5:1? There needs to be a lock on this.

              Plus if there are jobs nobody wants to do, then they need to be retought. Instead of taken every square hole and filling it with a squishy human being, maybe we out to change that hole to a round hole that a round peg will fit into. Consider, using your example, Zappo’s. Their goal is to offer the finest customer service anywhere. They have a multi-week training program, no scripts(!), and after training occurs, trainees are offered a lump sum of I think $6000 to quit! If they take the money and run, according the Zappo’s CEO, they weren’t right for the job and Zappo’s has just dodged a bullet. Compare the Zappo’s operation with the boiler room style operations you are familiar with. If people didn’t take those boiler room jobs, there would be even more Zappo’s style jobs available in customer service or there would be completely didfferent systems in place.

              Studies of what makes people happy in their work list those things and salary is not #1. Things like being respected, having control over one’s work, etc. are at the top of the list. Lacking the important things it takes a lot of salary to salve the feelings of a worker or it takes a great deal of desparation on the part of the worker to keep them in those jobs.

              Cheers,

              Steve

              Comment by stephenpruis — April 20, 2013 @ 7:55 am | Reply

              • I think something like up to 10:1 to 15:1 ratio of top salary to median salary would be acceptable. Low ratio, like 2:1 or 3:1, practically removes any room for promotion or merit increases, but 100:1 to 300:1 ratios we have now are outrageous.
                I agree, salary is not the #1 reason why people love their jobs, but it has to be the #1 reason why people do their jobs, at least in some jobs.

                Comment by List of X — April 20, 2013 @ 12:31 pm | Reply

                • Re ” it has to be the #1 reason why people do their jobs” Well, now, yeah because if you don’t you starve.

                  Look at the people who lost their jobs and were offered back jobs at very low wages (like from $120,000 a year to $22,000). They often declined because they just didn’t make enough to make it worthwhile (lose your unemployment and still not be able to pay the rent.. But what if we all had a low but livable guaranteed income (negative income tax, whatever). Would we be willing to do shitty jobs with shitty bosses? I don’t think so and things would have to change.

                  Currently median family income is at roughly $50,000 when median family output is $130,000. If people were guaranteed say $30k per year, I’d bet a lot of crappy jobs would disapear for lack of interest.

                  Comment by stephenpruis — April 20, 2013 @ 9:47 pm | Reply


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