The “Full Employment” Fallacy
What does a 1912 Baker and a 1959 Opel have in common?
In 1973, a small team of engineers took an existing production car – an Opel made in 1959 – and made some changes. The result was demonstrated at the Wood River competition: A car that did 376 miles per gallon!
40 years later, in 2013, Volkswagen unveiled an eco car that does 313 miles per gallon. Oh, wait, that’s 63mpg less than what we could do in 1973! If we could achieve 376 miles per gallon four decades ago, why is less efficient technology only just hitting the streets?
In a capitalist society, or indeed any money-based society, people need a regular income to survive – and for the vast majority of us that means getting a job. But what happens when the world population grows? In 1960, a year after the 1959 Opel car was made, there were 3 billion people on the planet. By 2010, around the time Volkswagen were designing their XL1 Eco car, the world’s population had grown to almost 7 billion, so an extra 4 billion jobs were needed if everyone was to survive.
Consumerism is the tool that capitalism uses to create more jobs. You don’t just buy a car, you invest in it. You have to keep buying fuel, and then there are the regular services and repairs. You need road tax, insurance and maybe some furry dice hanging from the rear view mirror. After a few years, just before the car becomes worthless because of planned obsolescence, you sell it (or scrap it) and buy another one.
As long as people need jobs to survive, consumption will have to keep growing. We’re locked into a death spiral that guarantees extinction of the human race, and quite possibly all life on earth. A new word was recently coined to describe this: Terracide – the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on for profit.
Based on current projections, by 2050 the world population will grow to around 9 or 10 billion people – another 2-3 billion jobs will be needed. The frantic need for consumption will need cranking up to 11 to make that happen. Factor in advances in technology, resulting in technical unemployment, and… How far can we crank up consumption before the old engine of growth explodes? And can we sustain infinite growth on a finite planet? (No, we can’t, obviously.)
What if we lived in a world where having a job was optional? Would we need to delay innovations for 40 years or more, in order to create more demand for consumption? If having a job was optional, would it not make sense to find every way possible to reduce the amount of work you need to do? If we could double the miles per gallon of a car, we’d halve the amount of work needed to make fuel. In fact, why bother with fuel at all?
In 1960, a small company took an existing production car – a 1912 Baker Electric Mode (yes, an electric car from over 100 years ago!) – and made some changes. What did they achieve? The worlds’ first solar-powered car.
For decades we’ve been suppressing technologies to avoid excessive technological unemployment. But that still didn’t create enough jobs, so we’ve had to create billions of meaningless jobs, just so people can “earn” a living. Every day vast swarms of people proudly go to work and push currency numbers around a computer screen, file paperwork and spend hours in pointless meetings, just so they can get enough money to buy things they don’t want or need in order to create yet more meaningless jobs for other people. And technology is now replacing those meaningless jobs as well!
It’s complete and utter madness. Maybe it’s time to trade in capitalism’s old engine of eternal growth for something that’s more economical to run?
It’s estimated, conservatively, that if we put all existing technology and knowledge to work that you would only need to work one day a month. And that’s assuming we retain the insanity known as consumerism – ditch that and you’d be looking at a tiresome workload of something like 1 week per year. Imagine spending the other 51 weeks hanging out with friends, or learning new skills, or anything else you can conceive (even work, if that’s what floats your boat).
But no, collectively it seems we’d prefer to commit terracide. Whenever any alternate to capitalism or money is mentioned, people dutifully protest that there would be no work and they wouldn’t be able to survive. The only course of action, therefore, is one in which we consciously destroy the planet we live on, for profit!
Bravo, humanity. Bravo.
Another video of the first solar car: Solar Powered Car 1960