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Tag Archives: labor scarcity

On A Post Labor Scarcity Economy

Traditional economies assume that everyone always has a job they could and should be doing and if that’s ever not the case, you have the government tweak a dial here or there.
However, the industrial revolution has made production so efficient that it’s no longer necessary or desirable to try to mobilize all available labor at once.  This is a good thing.

An economic system with no way to preserve surplus labor is like a worker living paycheck-to-paycheck.
It’s like a plant that gets only just enough sunlight through a thick forest canopy.
Or a bear that is still lean in the autumn months when the demands of hibernation are nigh.
Surplus is a key part of strategy throughout the natural world so a model that assumes surplus must not exist is incomplete.

We can see the silliness of total employment even in the present scope of human societies by looking at militaries. Armies go decades at a time without anyone to shoot at.  They mostly deter conflict, like nukes, by simply existing.  There’s no demand in peacetime for skilled soldiers yet every year thousands of troops are trained to fight and kill in combat they may never experience.
Surely free-market advocates have never dreamed of a greater and dumber display of waste.  If the all-knowing and all-wise market had its way, there would be no soldiers, tanks, nukes, or jet fighters in peace time because there would be no demand for them. 

We can also consider how “free-market” states like the USA have generous agricultural subsidies.  Without a state safety net, farms might start to go out of business after a few bad harvests, leaving good ground fallow, spiralling needlessly into famine.  

A die-hard laissez faire capitalist might disapprove, but no matter a state’s rhetoric, security and food supply are two things rulers can’t screw up.  Mesopotamian kings in charge of the very first states thousands of years ago still had to successfully manage the army and the granary.  Even the Soviet Union had to swallow its pride and quietly privatize just enough of its farms to get by when ideology didn’t work in the real world. 

By reducing to basics we see the obvious place of a state as the brain that dictates the survival strategy of the group.  Without a central nervous system, the group is driven abruptly extinct by the first shock it encounters.  A population of millions left to its own devices behaves like bacteria in a petri dish.  
Enlightenment thought, obsessed with the individual, forgets how the society itself loses consciousness and individual agency if no one can agree to work towards common goals. 

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