Issue 3 - Fall 1995

Getting Beyond Scarcity: Strategy and Vision in the Information Age (page 1 of 2)
By Carl Davidson / cy.Rev Managing Editor

The organizers of this conference have challenged us to present a strategic vision of how we might engage the crisis around jobs and technology and to put it before you in about 15 minutes! I'll give it my best shot. To me, thinking strategically is looking at the situation as a whole and examining all sides of the question. So I'd like to start off by just reviewing a few facts and projections about the situation as a whole regarding our topic today. We all know that the new technology in this country is doing away with jobs faster than that same technology is able to create new jobs. We are faced with a growing deficit of jobs. In addition, the third wave, the third industrial revolution, or whatever term you want to use for it, is also something that is happening globally. Of course there is a lot of second wave industrialization of the old type going on in the third world. But even a portion of that industrialization is experiencing advanced technology and downsizing. It's often being s factories that are smaller but far more efficient and productive than the factories typical of our industrialization.

So how many jobs are going to be needed? In 1992 the size of the world labor force was something like 1.76 billion people; by 2025, if current trends stay more or less what they are, the world labor force is going to be 3.1 billion people. That means every year for the next thirty years the world economy needs to create 38 to 40 million new jobs. And it's got to do that at a time when the main technological trend is going in the opposite direction of net job liquidation.

This means we have a very explosive situation in the global economy. We've already seen what it means in terms of the tremendous dislocation and disruption in many third world urban centers. There you find huge concentrations of population places like Mexico City with its thirty million inhabitants, expanded by massive numbers of uprooted peasants, a "surplus population" that's had their jobs and their work eliminated by the global market, especially by American agribusiness. Most of you have probably been in New York City, and you probably think it's somewhat crowded. Actually, New York City's population density is 11,400 per square mile. If you go to Lagos in Nigeria or Djakarta in Indonesia, the population density is 143,000 or 130,000 per square mile more than 10 times as much.

Within the next twenty-five years, we are going to have twenty megacities with populations over twenty million caused by this massive change and its accompanying disruption and dislocation.
It's not just a question of urban size, growth and a lack of jobs. There are also drastic inequalities in terms of the possession, distribution and use of the earth's resources. One way to look at this inequality was recently put forth by some environmentalists. They projected the figures of what an average American baby will consume from the time it's born to the time it dies, and compared the result with what the average new baby in other societies would consume. The average American baby over its life span will consume 3 times as much as the average Italian baby, 13 times as much as the average Brazilian, 35 times as much as an Indian, and 280 times as much as a child from Chad or Haiti.

Most of us here probably believe in the idea that all nations should be equal. It's a basic principal of our political creed. The problem is that if every nation became equal in consumption to where we are right now, we would probably cause the biosphere to collapse. That's because the kinds of wasteful consumption and wasteful use of energy resources in the advanced countries of the North individual automobiles, traffic jams, unnecessary packaging, bloated military budgets, all those sorts of things would make it impossible for the biosphere to sustain a world where everybody was equal by today's standards.

If we're going to have equality, it also means people in this country in particular are going to have to change their ways. I'm not saying that everybody has to deteriorate their living conditions, but we will have to change our ways. I think we can do things better and be less wasteful, but it will require tremendous changes if we're going to be able to build a future that's sustainable and equitable.

So these are the questions that arise when we're talking about thinking strategically. The main conflict becomes one between the power and growth of technology on the one hand, and the power and growth of the population on the other. In his book The End of Work and in his speech last night, Jeremy Rifkin laid out a revolutionary analysis of the kind of hard and explosive contradictions that this country faces. What kind of future will we have when we do away with the traditional means by which people have been able to survive? Rifkin clearly describes how the economic trends are going one way, while the people in power in this country are telling us the opposite.

What message are we getting from the people in charge today? They are telling us that we have a persistent and growing underclass because the poor are too comfortable to seek work. That's why we have to have all of these changes in "welfare as we know it." Now, I'm no big fan of "welfare as we know it," but the underlying assumption that the poor are too comfortable is morally degenerate. I read a similar thesis in a recent issue of Business Week. A well-known, Nobel Prize-winning economist from the University of Chicago wrote a column against raising the minimum wage. He made a number of good points against the minimum wage, some of which I agree with, some of which I don't. But his main point was that we don't have enough jobs, we don't have enough of all sorts of necessary resources, because the workers in this country have it too good. We need lower wages for workers. We need fewer unions. We need poorer working conditions. That's what these elites are saying is wron country today.

Unfortunately these are the people with power and influence today. How do they come to these kinds of conclusions? They get tangled up in absurdities because their economic reasoning is based on scarcity. Up until now, all economic theories classical liberal, Keynesian or whatever have been based on the underlying assumption of scarcity. That means there are always "haves" and "have-nots," and that it's normal to die early, and it's abnormal to be successful. That's the underlying assumption of the economic theories we've had until now. More >>


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