Why Are We Still Working?
Australian Leftist site "New Matilda" published recently an article under the above heading that has received some attention in Leftist circles. It is a long and rambling article in a typically Leftist way. Verbosity is used to substitute for clarity of thought. So I have had to read it twice to follow what the author was getting at. But an early paragraph summarizes the inspiration of the article:
"As long ago as 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by now, people in technologically advanced societies wouldn’t need to work much at all. When Keynes said this, advances in technology were yielding extraordinary increases in productivity. The implications seemed obvious. If it took less time to produce what we needed, surely we’d work less."
And the author, basically, does not know the answer to the puzzle in that. Along the way, he comes out with nonsense like "we have also seen a vast proliferation of new jobs that only seem to exist to keep people working"
He makes some reasonably accurate generalizations such as "Instead of everyone working less, what seems to be happening is that experienced workers, in professions which are still in demand, are working more, while the young, the old, and those with skills which no longer attract investment have difficulty finding work"
And you are supposed to be outraged by that instead of seeking to understand it. The effects of credentialism, for instance, go unmentioned. See here and here as starting points on that topic.
But eventually we get to the point of the article: "Capital, like technology, is largely blind to human need. Capital goes where the profit is. If there was profit in healing minds and saving species, some of it would go there. While there is more profit in alcohol, gambling and deforestation, more of it will go there"
Which is of course a classic Leftist fallacy, a direct descendant of the Communist motto: "From each according to his ability and to each according to his need". It's "the system" that is at fault, you see. Society is not ordered in the way the Leftist wants. Leftist priorities are not the normal human priorities. So the existing human priorities must be CHANGED! And Communism certainly tried that.
OK: The fallacy that our apparently young thinker has fallen into is that capitalism does not reflect human needs. Yet it in fact does exactly that. People communicate their needs very graphically by putting their hands in their pockets and buying what they want. Capitalism is the most basic form of democracy. The individual makes his/her own choices about his/her own life.
Confronted with that, the Leftist immediately subsides into authoritarianism. People must have their choices taken away and have BETTER choices enforced! Our present writer is not explicit about that but even a little knowledge of history will tell you where that sort of thinking leads -- to brutal tyranny, not the promised Garden of Eden.
And what the Communist motto overlooks is that people's needs are infinite. So neither capitalism nor Communism will ever satisfy them fully.
An example of that which has been rather bemusing to me lately is the upsurge in cruising. People go aboard large and lavishly appointed ships and sail around in circles! You couldn't make it up! And people of quite humble background are doing it -- and doing it often. That is so much so that I have acquired the polite habit of asking friends: "When is your next cruise?".
So what is going on? What has happened is that the super-efficient ship-construction techniques of places like the Meyer Werft in Germany (Which is located INLAND!) has brought down the cost of ships -- and third-world crews have cut the cost of operating them. And the very big cruise ships of today also make good use of economies of scale. So the bottom line is that the cost of cruising is now well within the reach of average people. So it has become a "need" for quite a few people I know. They feel that their life is enhanced by it. And who am I to say it is not? A Green/Leftist would say it is not but I am a true-blue conservative.
So that is the reason we keep working. The ingenuity of the many people who create capitalism provides so many attractive things that we want them. And we have to work to fulfill those wants.
But it an individual choice. It may be apparent that I don't go cruising. I have a comfortable income in my old age but I live simply and end up giving away twice what I spend on myself. I do eat out on many occasions but usually at places where I can get a dinner for $10! You might be surprised at how good such dinners can be.
So what capitalism provides is individual CHOICE. That would seem hard to criticize but in their authoritarian way, the Green/Left do criticize it.