In a New York Times op-ed in the Nov. 24th edition, the great American sociologist Herbert J. Gans made a point about the sad, possibly fatal plight of the great American job creation engine, in his essay, The Age of the Superfluous Worker. It was dead on, and recommended the obvious government job creation approaches. But for me it didn't go far enough in discussing what will happen if, instead of reasonable efforts to put money into long-term investments like infrastructure and education, we turn to so-called austerity measures. The latter pretty much wreaked FDR's efforts in the middle 1930s, and are doing a fine job cratering Britain's sputtering economy right now. Gans discussed the permanent loss of jobs, but he didn't really paint a picture of how that might play out for the society of the U.S. at large.
As it happens, I had just been chatting, over a ridiculously expensive turkey sandwich that Monday (right before Thanksgiving, what was I thinking?), about the declining fortunes of the once-great American Empire. But enough, for the moment, about me, first let's see what Columbia's University's Gans, emeritus professor of sociology there, has to say.
The currently jobless and the so-called discouraged workers, who have given up looking for work, total about 15 percent of the work force, not including the invisible discouraged workers the government cannot even find to count.
In the old days - before Social Security, welfare and Medicaid - poverty-caused illnesses killed off or incapacitated some of the people who could not find jobs. Even earlier, some nations sold their surplus workers as slaves, while the European countries could send them to the colonies.
Regrettably, these most effective, albeit unsavory, options, are not available--at present. One can always hold out hope that the warmongering chicken-hawks like Dick Cheney--Hey, don't look at me, that's what Ron Paul calls him, quite rightly--will manage to get us into a giant conflagration sufficient to thin our herd. (He's a chicken-hawk because the former Vice-President is a man who dodged the draft and then resolutely sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women into harm's way.)
Or perhaps, thanks to a lack of universal health coverage, some specially nasty and lethal plague will knock off that 15 percent--since there are about five applicants for every spot.
Unfortunately the dis-employment problem (technically call disintermediation) is just going to get worse thanks to advances in technology. Just imagine when natural language processing, like Siri in the iPhone 4s, makes it possible to do away with everyone you call to talk to for various reasons--including support for the iPhone 4s. That's a lot of people, and their jobs, just like those off-shored and robotized in heavy manufacturing, are not just got to China, they are gone, period.
Sadly, the advent of-Terminator like robotic warfare has even reduced the need for bodies to offer up to the gods of that particular charnel house. It's no secret that relatively few U.S. soldiers have died in our decade-long adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan. But those relatively few fatalities, when added to the number of severely wounded veterans, many of whom will never be able to work at full capacity again, approaches the fatality figure from our similarly long and lethal excursion in Vietnam and its surrounds.
Interestingly, Gans is offering substance to the answer I had offered to my colleague about whether America, and specifically, our economy, would be able to recover. For without that recovery, and should the decline continue to snowball, I had offered my opinion that within the next 30 or 40 years, we could well find the actual government collapsing, the Nation, splitting into separate states, the appearance of strong-man (A.K.A. warlords and oligarchs), or a takeover by the military, and along with it the formal institution of national, corporate socialism. Ridiculous, you say? History, say I. Happened just a few short years ago in Europe, when hyperinflation destroyed German democracy; could happen anyway, really, when people get hungry enough and fall permanently into a disenfranchised state, in which they have no support from, or allegiance to, the government that claims them as citizens.
And the grease on that slippery slope is the continued erosion of the working class, by which I mean nothing specially Marxist. I mean people with jobs, people able to work to survive.
Or as Gans puts it, In fact, if modern capitalism continues to eliminate as many jobs as it creates--or more jobs than it creates --future recoveries will not only add to the amount of surplus labor but will turn a growing proportion of workers into superfluous ones.
That is, and has always been, historically, the type of tinder that can burst into flames and transform any form of government into anarchy.
Ironically, at least for me, you will rarely hear this from the mainstream media...not in the occasional opinion piece, but as a guiding principle of reporting, of determining what is news. It's ironic because one of the great works by Gans dissects major media organizations (in its day, they were THE major ones) He found that self-censorship, brought about mainly by individual journalists' sense of belonging to the establishment, led media organizations in their collective thinking to pre-censor themselves. That is, they had a worldview that subscribed to the same assumptions of the rulers of society. Interesting how prescient Gans' work turned out to be. It was entitled Deciding What's News: A study of CBS evening news, NBC nightly news, Newsweek, and Time (1979). Back then, those pretty much were the national news--no cable, no internet, just the 'nets and the newsweeklies.
Even today, on the front pages of most of the main stream media, you will not find a position about the state of our economy that deviates from the ridiculous idea that the trickle-down experiment of Reaganomics and freedom from government regulation has done anything but destroy our middle class and our markets. But don't believe me. Just watch what happens, if we continue to repeat the monetary policy mistakes of the the so-called small-government conservatives (who have managed to grow the government way more than any liberal ever did). If we do, we will continue to loss jobs--permanently. We will continue to fulfill Gans' clear sociologist's prediction of what will happen to job creation.
If we do that, we'll wind up about like I opined over that turkey sandwich: Falling into eventual disunion or converting from a democracy to an imperial power, with some oligarch in charge, and corporate oligarchs permanently in ruling positions, with their palms for generations on the levers of wealth and power. Again, don't think so? How about Weimar? How about Rome?