Anatomy Of Destruction
Chapter Six: Jobs
Imagine that an intelligent race of aliens is watching us and takes pity on us. They have plenty of crystalline silicon that can be used for solar systems. They bring it to earth along with a large supply of grid-tie inverters. They have a transporter device like the kind on the television show Star Trek. They use this transporter to beam a thin-film photoelectric coating onto all earth roofs. Our roofs look the same, they just now are capable of producing electricity. The aliens have their computers analyze all houses and determine the proper place to put the grid-tie inverters. Their transporter beams it into place and hook it up. We need some electricity at night, so let’s say they also put up neighborhood power centers that use electrolysis to split water and Bacon fuel cells to store the energy. These particular aliens are shy and don’t want thanks. They have their computer do all this beaming in a few microseconds and then head back where they came from. We now have a solar world. It has not cost us a dime. Is this a good thing?
In fact, it will be a tragedy of immense proportions. To see why, let’s move a little ahead in time.
The coal plants can’t operate if there is no demand for their products. They shut down and lay off their workers. The world now has about 50,000 coal power plants, employing roughly 1 million people. They get pink slips the first day. The coal plants no longer need coal. Even if they want to buy coal or have contracts that require them to buy coal, they can’t buy any because they no longer have any money coming in and don’t have any way to pay for it. They have to lay off their workers. Millions of coal miners lose their jobs the first week. About half of all rail traffic is now coal. The coal companies aren’t shipping and have no money coming in to pay their bills. Rail companies lay off large numbers of people. They how have twice as many locomotives as they need and cancel orders already place to buy more. The miners cancel their equipment owners and so do the power plants. Millions more hit the street. Steel companies get cancellations.
People now live n homes that produce free electricity for them. But they owe money on their homes and, without jobs, they can’t make their mortgage payments. Banks foreclose and kick them out. They live on the street. The free electricity doesn’t do them any good there. Stores get free electricity. But they have no customers. What good does free electricity do them? They close, laying off their workers. Unemployment soars. The unemployed compete for the few available jobs by offering to work for less money than the people working there. Employers see their sales collapsing and have to cut costs. They have no choice but to accept these offers and wages plummet. As this happens, soon even people who have jobs don’t have enough money to pay their bills. Their spending drops, reducing demand still more. The few remaining businesses can see the handwriting on the wall. They have to cut costs fast. They lay off workers and cut wages for those that remain. If they complain, they will join the people on the street.
Our governments tax incomes, profits, investment returns, transactions, and other things that are jointly referred to as “activity.” As activity collapses, their tax revenues collapse. They can’t afford to pay social security, unemployment compensation and other payments. If they try to print money to cover these costs, people will no longer trust government paper money and will switch to hard money such as gold, which the government can’t print. The government can’t keep paying its bills and replace the incomes of the unemployed.
In the 1920s, amazing new technologies came along. For the first time, electricity was available for businesses. They could use machines to replace their workers. Trucks could replace horses and carts. A truck could haul many times what a horse cart could carry, at much higher speed. The telephone made it unnecessary to hire couriers for business communication. At first, people had jobs building the new machines needed to replace labor. But once built, hundreds of millions of workers worldwide were redundant. Once the unemployment rate began to rise, it spiraled out of control. Soon, demand collapsed for everything. People couldn’t even buy food. With no demand, the price of farm goods fell so much that farmers couldn’t even make enough to cover shipping costs. They couldn’t justify paying costs to produce something they couldn’t sell, so they couldn’t raise anything. With no income they couldn’t afford their mortgage payments and they got evicted. The native plants were long gone and there was nothing to hold the soil in place so the winds blew it away. Giant dust clouds covered the globe. In some cases, people would not see the sun for weeks because of the dust. Millions starved to death.
I know people who lived through the depression and they tell me stories. By comparison, the war that ultimately ended the depression was a happy time. Society functioned. It didn’t function during the depression and no one knew for sure it ever would again. The library is full of books telling the horrors of the depression. They described it as a total collapse of society.
But it wasn’t really. It was just a blip compared to what could happen to this type of society if it loses a reallylarge number of jobs. The aliens may have thought they were doing us a favor. They thought we were destroying our world to get electricity. But they were wrong. We were destroying our world to make sure people had jobs. We destroy our world because our societies have a desperate need to make sure people are employed. It is better to have them working to destroy the only planet we have than to have them unemployed. Any suggestion that eliminates jobs is unacceptable. Governments know how much these societies need jobs. The people in them know this too. If a change to the world eliminates jobs, it will face massive opposition. This is clearly true in capitalist societies. They can’t function without jobs. But it is far more true in communist societies. These are “workers societies.” They are built around keeping people working. The worst suggestion you could make in a worker’s society is to suggest a change that will allow production to take place without labor. The intermediate societies, called “socialism,” are half way between the horror of capitalism and the compete horror of communism. All these societies depend on jobs to function. They absolutely most have them.
If we went to non-destructive methods of energy production, we would lose 500 million jobs right away, and many more over time.
The people who run our societies were born into systems that pay people to destroy. They have their advisors that tell them what would happen if these subsidies fell: jobs would disappear. They see that any job losses lead to horrible problems. More job losses make things worse and significant job losses lead to collapses that this society often needs a major war to deal with. The severity of the depression wasn’t nearly as bad as it can get. If you want to know how bad it can get, you need to go back to 322 AD, the year Rome collapsed and the society our current republics were modeled after fell into a thousand-year dark age. Even this is probably not the worst case possible. It is just the worst we know about so far. Perhaps a conversion to solar would cause a world catastrophe that would make the 1,000 year dark age seem like a minor event by comparison. They don’t know and they aren’t about to find out. They are going to make sure solar doesn’t succeed.
The governments could end the subsidies for destruction and destruction would disappear. Not because of concern and passion, but because of the immutable laws of economics and the invisible hand. The very idea of eliminating the largest source of employment in the world, just to allow the invisible hand to cause non-destructive processes to take over, would never even occur to them. True, they might pay lip-service to solar during the campaign. Some of them might truly mean it and create some tiny programs that offer subsidies that offset some of the government-imposed costs on solar. But when jobs start disappearing they take care of the situation. They don’t want another depression on their watch. They will do anything they have to prevent it. They have to create jobs and that means they have to back destruction.
Problems in Society
We live in societies that have a strange problem: they want less efficiency, rather than more. If we use inefficient processes, people have jobs. Jobs mean spending and demand. Demand means businesses expand and can hire more workers. More demand for workers means higher general wage levels, increasing spending for the entire working class. As they spend more, businesses expand more and hire more workers, making things better yet. Our societies don’t need or want more efficiency. They want to use processes that create jobs.
As long as we live in societies that need jobs to function, our governments will have no choice but to enact policies that work to prevent the invisible hand from working. If we want a society that does not have destruction, we have to find one that doesn’t have the structural problems that make them depend on jobs.
Not all societies need jobs to function. Consider the society of the Tainos who lived in the Carrabian when Columbus arrived, the Nez Pierce who lived on the western slopes of the Rockies when Lewis and Clark passed through in 1803 and, in fact, all the other Indian societies that Columbus, Americus Vespuci, and Lewis and Clark encountered and wrote about. These people had societies that worked differently. They didn’t think of the land as ownable and no one owned it. Although no one owned it, the land was very bountiful and produced immense quantities of good things. They shared the good things the land provided. Everyone got a personal income as their share of the good things from the land. Their society didn’t need jobs or want them. They wanted the land to be as healthy as possible so it could give them the maximum in gifts and they could have the highest personal income.
If you were to advise them that they form a government to take part of everyone’s personal income as taxes so they could create jobs destroying the world that now provides everything they needed, they would think you must have eaten the wrong kind of mushrooms and need to get to the medicine man for treatment. In fact, you can tell by the actual words of the Indians that have been recorded that they thought the whites were insane to treat the world as they did, and more insane yet to have governments that worked to encourage people to destroy it.
This book explains a range of possible societies. I will start with the simplest possible society to explain, one I call the Indian society, which is the society type that the Indians appear to have had. I will go through an endless range of possible societies until I get to a type I call “the republic,” which is the type we have. I show there are an infinite number of gradients between these two extremes, each of which is a different possible society.
The Indian society interacts with the land in a certain way that leads to certain obvious flows of value and incentives. For example, if everyone shares the bounty the land produces, everyone wants it to be as bountiful as possible so they can get the highest personal incomes. Everyone has a stake in the health of the land. Everyone benefits if society is harmonious and if people get along with each other. If we were born into a Indian society, we would have nothing to gain from war and no forces pushing us toward war.
The republic interacts with the land a different way that leads to entirely different incentives. They divide the land into parcels and assign each parcel to an individual owner, with a government claiming rights to tax and regulate owners. Almost everyone has no income from the land and the majority have no income at all unless they work. This society absolutely depends on jobs to function and the government overseers have incentives to extract whatever free value they can from the land and use it to create jobs. More destruction means more jobs so they have incentives to subsidize destruction. Because the republic does not divide the free wealth of the land evenly (which the Indian society does) it has an unfair distribution, giving some much more than an equal share and others none at all. Everyone wants to be the one that gets more and they naturally fight each other to get more. The republic is inherently full of conflicts. You can think of it this way: draw a line in the sand and say that everything on one side of the land belongs to one group and everything on the other side belongs to another group. You can expect people to fight over the location of the line. Both sides want more. Humans have a natural empathy that would normally work to prevent conflict. We know that the Indian societies were conflict-free and had a social harmony that was so profound that people from republics could barely believe it was possible. But the republic has such incredible forces pushing toward conflict that it overcomes this empathy and allows events called “wars” to exist.
Why don’t we do this? Not for the reason the coal, oil, and gas lobbies tell us. But there is a reason. To explain the reason, I have to get into some fairly complicate issues not directly related to solar. You see, the societies we live in have structural elements that make them depend on the use of processes that require a large amount of labor and a great many economic activities. Solar is 100% efficient, meaning once the photoelectric devices exist, no labor is required to produce electricity with it and no labor is needed to provide materials to it. It needs no labor and generates no economic activity at all.
To see that we use coal rather than solar because of these societal factors, not anything specifically related to solar, consider this thought experiment. Imagine that some advanced alien race sees we are destroying our world and decides to help us out. They use a start-trek style transporter system to transport 9,450 tons of silicon wafer to the earth, attached to photoelectric roofing tiles like the type several companies make now, and transport it directly onto the roofs of existing structures. Then they hook them up with grid tie inverters like the kind I use to feed my solar into the grid. When you wake up tomorrow you find you have a new roof and see your meter is turning backwards, as the electricity the roof produces supplies all your household needs and feeds a large surplus into the grid. You call your neighbors and friends on remote parts of the world and find the same is true for all of them.
Sounds like a good thing. But consider the impact it would have on the worldwide economy. Millions of people worldwide work in fuel-driven power plants. These plants can’t sell electricity because no one will buy electricity if they get it for free. They all close and lay off their workers. There are about 50,000 coal plants worldwide, most of which are enormous, and each of them employs about a thousand people in all phases of their operations. They lay off about 50 million people. Gas supplies about a half of the remaining electricity and employs perhaps 25 million people, who also lose their jobs, and about half of the remainder comes from nuclear. The nuclear plants lose all of their revenues and lay off perhaps 5 million people worldwide, with a total of about 80 million pink slips issued the first week. The coal mines have no customers so they tell their employees to hit the road, along with the miners and drillers for other fuels. It takes a lot of work to extract the roughly 12 billion tons of fuels that used to be burned and the people who used to do it are no longer needed. At least 100 million more lose their jobs. The railroad system loses half its cargo (half of all rail capacity is devoted to moving coal), most gas and oil infrastructures now sit idle, and all the companies that used to move billions of tons of fuel lose their customers, shut down, and lay off their workers. Perhaps 50 million more lose their work. The makers of dynamite, the giant coal-moving trucks and bulldozers, the sophisticated equipment used to drill for oil and gas, the immensely complicated machines needed to enrich uranium to make it usable as a fuel in nuclear plants lose their customers, worldwide, adding hundreds of millions more to the bread lines. The untold number of small businesses that make the individual parts that the large companies assemble into the giant machines that we need for destruction close and lay off their workers. The formerly self-employed people who worked in fields dependent on this activity lose their jobs. Most steel produced worldwide goes destructive industries and as the biggest destructive industry in the world collapses steel demand plummets. Between the mill workers, iron ore miners, transport system operators, fabricators, and all the businesses that had supplied them, at least 100 million more lose their jobs worldwide. Governments haven’t figured out how to tax sunshine yet. They get their revenues from wages, profits, transactions, fuel use, road use, sales, and other activities. The electricity is there, but the activity the government needs is gone. Perhaps a fourth of activity worldwide comes from the extraction and use of fuels, much of which goes to make electricity. As this activity dries up, government revenue collapse and they have to cut back dramatically on services and lay off large numbers of employees. The collapse in incomes and spending will trickle down through the system. The stores, restaurants, beauty salons, bars, pawn shops, and bordellos no longer have customers and start shuttering their doors. The people who worked at these places have no jobs and nothing to spend; as they stop spending the places they had formerly shopped at will lose their customers, and this will go on to the next level until the entire system is impacted.
We still have the production. The electricity is here and free. But electricity is about the only thing most people will be able to afford. With a third of the world’s jobs gone, and governments unable to help the unemployed, people realize they have to work or die. They have to compete for work the only way they can, by offering to work for less money. Prevailing wage rates will fall. The lower wages won’t create work, they will destroy it. As wages fall, spending falls, demand falls, more and more businesses will have to close and lay off their workers, creating still more demand that forces people to offer to work for less money still. All this because we switched (involuntarily) from a destructive power system that employs millions destroying the world to one that doesn’t destroy anything so it doesn’t need to employ people destroying for it.
The point here is that the type of society we live in needs to use labor-intensive methods of production or it will collapse. This is a very important issue and I will deal with it. But it is not directly related to solar and deals with some concepts that are quite complex, so I want to separate these discussions from solar and put them into a different book. For more information about the different ways human societies could work, see Possible Societies, available from this link.