A labor-free economy

Nothing destroys the fantastical imaginings of Marxist economics more completely than the observation of the disappearance of work:

A common topic around the web is whether automation will drastically increase unemployment. The usual scholarly answer is only a bit, and conservatives often insist that new jobs will always be found. Actually, automation has already created much joblessness. It continues to do so. We don’t notice because we have disguised the unemployment.

Consider. In 1850, everybody worked. In England, children notoriously were sweated in mines and factories and, in America, worked on their parents’ farms.

Then child labor laws took kids off the labor market, keeping them from competing with adults. Compulsory high school removed adolescents perfectly capable of doing many jobs of adults. College now keeps millions more in, usually, economically pointless idleness. We have over three million people in prisons. Large numbers live on welfare. The government factors none of these into the unemployment stats. If it did, the unemployment numbers would rise sharply.

Then there is makework. A great many governmental workers do little or nothing of use. This amounts to paid unemployment. Sometimes this unemployment is distributed: A hundred workers do useful work that thirty could do. Then there is the military. It produces nothing and, since the US has no military enemies, amounts to more paid unemployment. The arms industry uses more multitudes in building things of no use, such as ever more intercontinental nuclear bombers. For engineers, this is marginally more dignified than digging holes and filling them in. It is as much a jobs program as the Depression-era CCC.

Another phenomenon we see is the disimportantification (patent applied for) of work. In 1850, work done was genuinely important: growing food, without which we tend to be dead and not of much use in an economy. Then the farms automated and everybody went to work in factories, making cars and refrigerators. These were pretty important, but not as important as food. You can’t eat a refrigerator. Then the factories automated or went away and people became massage therapists, nail salon operators, psychologists, sociologists, consultants, or diversity counselors. Others ran massage parlors, restaurants, gymnasiums, or cutesy-wootsy boutiques selling unbearable kitsch. They were employed, but in occupations of ever-increasing triviality. We have gone from feeding people to rubbing their backs.

You know it’s getting out of hand when even the world’s oldest profession is being automated.