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
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
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.
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