We believe that if men have the talent to invent new machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back to work.
John F. Kennedy
Among the problems facing western economies, the lack of “jobs, jobs, jobs” is more important than consumer confidence, corporate shenanigans and shrinking lines of credit. As the 3rd Millennium gets underway, marginal and part-time jobs – or no jobs at all – have become the order of the day.
The reasons are not hard to discern. Smart technologies and global trade agreements have been encouraging corporations to ‘rationalize workforces’, automate, amalgamate and out-source needs.
The resulting micro-economic calculations have been undermining western economies and obstructing the emergence of living wages in developing nations.
In 2008, a threshold was crossed and economies began contracting, first in western nations and then around the world. Although western governments continue to focus upon corporate bailouts and stimulus packages, putting the train back on the track that got us here cannot be a solution. The real problem – the elephant in the room no one mentions - is that the global economy cannot prosper when ten per cent of human beings control ninety five per cent of the wealth – no matter how successfully debt-based lifestyles are promoted, emerging nations are exploited and future generations are mortgaged. Modern economies are good on supply side issues, but face unprecedented challenges on the demand side.
Some of these challenges are obvious:
• A global network of wealthy individuals controls national economies and governments.
• Sophisticated technologies and software programs contain more and more of the intelligence needed to either eliminate workers or integrate easily acquired skills into sophisticated productions.
• Such workers have less and less capacity to negotiate living wages.
Another factor is either already in play or will be soon.
With Al Gore and David Suzuki whispering in their ears, the wealthy surely understand that environmental and resource depletion issues demand a radical reduction of global GNP.
What is the point of being wealthy in an exhausted, toxic world? The only ‘green agenda’ they are likely to find reassuring requires enlarging the proportion of human beings on $2.00 a day life-styles from fifty to eighty per cent.
Although the industrial revolution catalyzed the middle class, the results have proven unsustainable in terms of pollution and resource consumption. More importantly, if India, China, South America … manage to pollute and consume like 1st world nations, the 'global goose' will be cooked. Clearly, the middle class has to be extinguished wherever it exists and prevented wherever it might occur.
How could such a future be contemplated? The answer is simple. The wealthy regard the rest of us the same you and I worry about the 3.5 billion poor already struggling to stay alive on $1.00 or $2.00 a day.
Fortunately, the question of whether the 2008 recession is the result of corporate malfeasance or other stratagems is not the issue. The reason western economies are in trouble is because the non-wealthy ninety per cent failed to develop countervails to technological development and globalization. ‘Progress and development’ initiatives may yield short-term paybacks and efficiencies, but they are always people displacing. New discoveries and technologies only permanently benefit most human beings if they are incorporated in projects achieving individual and community self-sufficiency. The principle has been articulated by “100 Mile Diet” advocates.
• At least twenty-five per cent of ordinary wants and needs must be produced within one hundred mile circles.
• These productions need to occur out of individual activities and community resources.
Failures to retain a healthy proportion of the local economies characteristic of the 19th and early 20th century are why 3rd world ghettos are now emerging in 1st world nations. Victims include the unemployed, the marginally employed, retirees and those unable to qualify for ‘knowledge economy’ jobs.
There is no bottom to this decline. As economies spiral down, the apparent need for further automation, more efficiency, more outsourcing … means that increasingly sophisticated individuals and once-secure occupations will be discarded.
Hundred Mile Solutions would address these difficulties. They would invigorate and stabilize central economies, reduce pollution and conserve energy.
Only three components are required:
• Interested individuals, including those who are unemployed, marginalized and homeless, would be listed in catalogues or web-based databases of skills, tools, woodworking equipment, service station-like facilities, gardening opportunities, millinery and domestic arts….
• This information would allow people to produce goods and services to meet their own needs.
• To facilitate these activities, governments could establish local currencies and exchange rates linking them with federal currencies.
Although federal dollars could be used, several advantages would result from adopting regional currencies:
• The sense of belonging to an identifiable community would nurture enterprise and camaraderie.
• Regional currencies would constrain the migration of surplus value out of communities.
• Participants would have tangible incentives to develop skills and products for local consumption.
• Regional economies could transform social programs. Employment insurance and welfare would become bridge financing between central and regional economies.
• Regional economies would encourage both private and government investments in local “means of production”. This would renew interest in value-adding skills: welding, carpentry, auto mechanics, animal husbandry, market gardening….
• Local employments would be inherently recession-proof. Recessions deepen because people curtail spending during economic downturns. If twenty five per cent of a nation’s GNP came from activities that could not be downsized, rationalized, automated or outsourced, this would stabilize main economies.
For decades, we should have been asking a simple question. Why must sophisticated nations discard individuals just because technologies and political developments have rendered them obsolete? With secondary economies in place, these individuals would no longer constitute such a moral dilemma. In addition to ‘innocent unemployment’ (unintended consequences of progress and development), governments have been controlling inflation and recession by deliberately adjusting employment levels with interest rate changes. Such measures only work when the unemployed are reduced to absolute poverty. As long as they have resources, the supply side of the supply:demand equation is reduced, while demand continues. In other words, unemployment is inflationary until its victims are destitute.
With regional economies as resources, governments could manage inflation and recession by encouraging movement into and out of community productions.
In conclusion, two futures are possible. Western nations can repair burgeoning third world ghettos by establishing local economies putting otherwise unemployable’ to work. This would also stabilize central economies and evolve economic strategies relevant to emerging nations. In addition, governments would acquire a way to manage domestic inflation and recession problems. Alternatively, western nations can continue on with business as usual.
In this case, ten per cent of human beings will soon own everything.
This may be a green plan that may will save the planet.
The cost will be the rest of us getting what we deserve.