Chapter Fifteen: Conclusion
I am a child of the world, raised in many countries; I have not seen enough differences between the entities that the people around me call ‘countries’ to feel that there is anything essential that separates them. They are, it seems to me, nothing but arbitrary remnants of a primitive past, with lines that represent things that are essentially meaningless to the human race, mainly the places where armies were stopped and decided to negotiate an end to the war and create the borders. They don’t separate different races or different categories of human beings. There is only one category of human beings and we are all in the same category.
I went to many different schools and never stayed in any one long enough to believe it was better or had any more right to be cheered on in its football matches on than any other; I never had any school spirit.
I feel no pride for the city I happen to be in at a given time, whatever it is. There is a part of me that thinks of my current location as temporary, something that I am only allied with due to chance and that won’t be a part of my life as soon as chance takes me somewhere else. I feel no sense of ownership for the city, the province or state, the country, or continent where my body happens to be located at a given time.
I can’t remember my birth. I don’t feel any connection with the particular place I was born. I could have been born anywhere, really, for all it matters to me. My family moved from the place where I was born when I was only one month old. I never went back and have no reason to go back. It is simply a place where something happened to my mother; my recollection doesn’t go back nearly that far. It is just another place. Why should I have loyalty to it? Why would I believe that, because that place was in an area that had been conquered by the armies of a particular government, I have an obligation to kill to make sure that the interests of that particular government are protected? I don’t feel the pride that would make me willing to fight.
But I am extremely proud of one thing:
My race, the human race, has done truly incredible things. When I listen to Beethoven or the Beatles, I am in awe: such wonder to behold. I flip a switch and nighttime turns into day: who figured all this out and made it happen? The buildings and structures of the world are truly incredible, when I walk down the streets of Pu Dong, or Barcelona, or San Francisco, I can’t help but be amazed by the things I see.
When I see the smiling face of a child, I can’t bear the thought of it all ending.
If we can keep it from ending, we must do this. My pride gives me an obligation. I love my race, the human race. I love my planet, the planet Earth. Both of the things that I love are threatened. There are people who are working actively to wipe them out. I have an obligation to do everything I can to save the things I love. I hope I can get you to see things my way. I hope to turn you into an ally. We are all in this together. If we perish, we perish together. This doesn’t have to happen.
If you look out at the night sky, you will see more points of light than you could ever hope to count. A small portion of these light points are star systems in our own galaxy. Scientists believe that about 100 billion planets of the planets that are in this particular galaxy are in the ‘Goldilocks Zone,’ the zone potentially capable of supporting life.
The great majority of the points of light are galaxies, with, on average, about the same number of star systems as our galaxy and probably have about 100 billion Goldilocks planets in each of them, with each of these planets meeting the conditions needed to sustain life. If only a tiny fraction of the planets that can have life do have life, there are still more planets with life than the human mind could comprehend. If even a tiny fraction of these planets with life have lifeforms that have evolved—as life on Earth has evolved—to the same basic intellectual level as humans, there would still have to be more planets near our part of the galaxy with intelligent life than we could count, if we started counting at the moment of our birth and counted as fast as we could for our entire lives.
Perhaps most of them have fallen into the same trap the human race fell into. Perhaps they started out with simple natural law societies; they believed that they depended on nature and the natural world and could not own. But these societies are inherently stagnant and can remain unchanged for incredibly long periods of time, even though the people in them are quite capable of progress. Perhaps, on most of these worlds, people eventually figured out how to use the same tools that are being used on Earth now to convince people that they are members of sovereign and independent states or countries. Perhaps most of these worlds fell into the same trap that captured us, with their beliefs pushing them to do more and more horrible things until, eventually, they stood on the brink of extinction, as we do now.
Perhaps the people on most of these worlds will passively accept and never really gain enough control of their minds to come to understand there is a way out and make the change to a healthy society. If this is the case, the odds against any of these planets of intelligent beings surviving this period in their evolution are very high. The great majority of them won’t make it. We are a part of them; if the great majority of them won’t make it, the changes against us making it are very low. But I am arrogant and proud. I don’t have school spirit or national spirit, but I am proud of my race. If only one race of beings makes it, I want it to be my race, the human race.
In order to understand the need for jobs, and the reason it only exists in some societies, we need to understand that we live on a very bountiful world.
Nature produces food. Nature produced all of the resources around us. For example, farmers don’t make rice. Farmers take some seeds, throw them into the air (rice is planted by ‘broadcasting’) and wait. The seeds fall to the ground and germinate into new rice plants, which eventually go to seed. At the end of the growing season, nature will have produced enormous amounts of rice in areas where rice grows well. Humans then collect this rice. Generally speaking, collecting rice doesn’t take much labor. A single person with a harvesting machine can harvest 3.15 million pounds of rice, enough to feed 1,000 people for a year, in a single day.
Say you own a ‘natural’ rice farm that produces this amount of rice. (‘Natural’ means that you do nothing on the farm other than seed it by broadcasting the seeds in the spring and harvesting the rice in the fall; you don’t use any chemicals, alter the land, or do anything else.) You hire someone to come in and throw seeds into the air and operate the harvesting machine in the fall. You pay her at market rates for her time but, because this doesn’t take a lot of work, you don’t have to sell more than a tiny percentage of the rice that nature produces to cover these costs. This leaves you an enormous amount of rice.
You may think of this as the bounty of your particular farm. It happens to produce a lot because nature put rich soil in that area, nature made the rains fall, and nature has provided predators that keep pests from harming your crop. You get this bounty because you happen to own a very bountiful farm. (If you had owned a farm with poor soil that didn’t produce as much, your costs may have taken a much higher percentage of your total harvest. This would have left less ‘bounty’ rice. If it was a very poor farm, it may have only produced enough to pay the workers, and nothing would be left at all; the very poor farm would not have had any bounty at all. In this case, however, the farm is extremely bountiful because nature has been generous.)
We happen to live on an incredibly bountiful planet. Nature provides wonderful caches of resources and immense amounts of food. Only a small amount of labor is needed to collect these things. If the owners of productive land sell everything, and then use part of the money to pay the people who collected it, they only have to give up a tiny part of their money. This will leave them with a large pile of money at the end of the year. The farm will produce another large pile of money (after paying all workers) next year, and every year thereafter. The extra money left, after paying everyone who helps collect the things the land produces and contains, is called the ‘free cash flow’ of the land. It is a ‘flow’ of money, like a river of money. It is ‘free’ to the person who gets it because, whoever she is, she isn’t responsible for nature existing and producing value, so she is getting it for ‘free.’
Later in this book, we will look at societies built on institutions that cause the people of the world to share the bounty of the world by sharing in the free cash flows that land produces. People who do things to work, to manage properties, to improve them, or do anything, get paid for this. But the unearned wealth of the world, the free cash flow, goes into a fund that is shared by the human race in accordance with rules the human race makes in global elections. (Socratic societies work this way.) We will see that societies where the people of the world share the bounty of the world not only don’t need jobs to operate, they don’t even want their system to have a lot of jobs. Recall that the free cash flow is the money left over after paying all labor costs. What if there are NO labor costs? In other words, what if machines do everything? If this happens, all of the revenue from the sale of production is free cash. The human race has more to share and everyone’s income is higher. The more jobs we can eliminate, the higher the incomes of the people of the planet. In societies that work this way, no one would ever propose that we pay people to destroy our world just to give them jobs. We would want fewer jobs, not more of them, and to destroy our world to create something that we don’t want would be insane.
But we don’t live in societies that work in this logical way. We live in societies that divide the human race into classes, each of which has totally different rights. The largest class is called the ‘working class.’ Other classes (all classes other than the working class) get to share part of the bounty of the world by sharing the free cash flows. (If you were born with wealth you get returns automatically; just put it into an account and you will be paid ‘returns’ that depend on the current market interest rates and the amount of wealth you have. If you weren’t born with wealth, but got rich by any means, your share of this free money doesn’t come to you automatically—you need to set up accounts and invest in cash flow-generating assets—but after you go through these other steps, a share of the free cash flows of the world will begin to flow to you as ‘returns’ from then on; you will get a certain percent return, the same return per dollar of wealth as all other wealthy people get. These returns don’t come out of the sky: they come from properties like rice farms, cattle ranches, timber operations, fishing operations, and other ‘assets’ that produce ‘free cash flows.’ They represent, as we will see, the bounty of our bountiful world.)
One class of society consists of people who don’t have any wealth collecting returns; these people don’t get any free cash flows each year. They must work or get nothing. We call this class ‘the working class.’ The problem is that we live on a bountiful world. This means that it generates an enormous amount of wealth without any significant need for work. There is a split of the wealth of the world: part goes to workers (we may call this the ‘earned cash flow’) and part goes to all classes other than the working class (workers don’t get any of the free cash flows). As the need for labor falls, due to mechanization, the percentage of total production that is a ‘free cash flow’ increase and the percentage that goes to workers falls.
As a result of mechanization, the percentage of money from the sale of all production that goes to workers tends to fall over time; they get less and less, leaving more and more to go to the other classes of society (all classes other than the working class get some share of the free money). Jobs that are specifically related to the production of food and other necessities disappear. Workers get displaced. They are now ‘unemployed.’ At some point, the charity, benefits, and help from friends and family will have reached their limits and won’t come anymore. When this happens, they either work or die. They swallow their pride and do the one thing that they know can get them work: they steal jobs from people who already have them. They do this by going to the bosses and offering to work for significantly less than the people who do these jobs now. The employers accept these offers of course: they always want the lowest costs. This doesn’t create jobs, however: it simply shuffles around the unemployed. The same number of people need jobs, and, at a certain point, they also get desperate: they swallow their pride and go back to their old bosses, offering to work for even less than the people who replaced them. This causes wage rates throughout the entire system to fall.
The working class is the largest class in society. If wage rates fall everywhere, workers everywhere spend less. If the economy was in balance before, with spending matching supply, this no longer happens: the stores can’t sell their goods anymore and stop ordering. When the orders stop, the producers have to shut their production facilities. They lay off their workers, driving up the unemployment rate, at the very time that wage rates are plummeting. If the governments of the world don’t do something that creates an enormous number of jobs very quickly, the entire system can collapse catastrophically.
In the 1930’s this happened. The governments of the world couldn’t do anything about it: most taxes are paid by workers and if workers lose their jobs, the taxes stop coming in. Unemployment rates rose from a fairly low level of 5% in 1929 to over 40% in 1933. I have to say, ‘over 40%,’ and can’t give a precise number, because the government had to cut back and couldn’t afford to pay people to continue the surveys: they literally didn’t know the unemployment rate at the peak of the depression. My mother was a child during this time and told me about it. It was horrible. Her father was lucky to get a few hours of work in a week, and pay was in potatoes because no one had money. They went to sleep crying with hunger pains most nights.
Still, they were lucky: they lived in potato country and, while people didn’t have money, they did have potatoes. They ate. Hundreds of millions of people around the planet weren’t so lucky. Since governments were shut down due to a lack of revenue, we don’t know how many died. But we do know that demand for food collapsed and farmers couldn’t afford to harvest their crops anymore; the food rotted in the fields while millions starved to death each month. Eventually, the farmers got tax bills or had mortgage payments they couldn’t make. The banks or taxing authorities couldn’t leave them on the land because everyone was having trouble and, if they let anyone go without paying no one at all would pay. They had no choice but to remove these people from their land. With no one working the farms, and no natural plants to hold the soil, the farms literally blew away into the atmosphere. Giant clouds of dust filled the atmosphere from the abandoned farm. People in cities talk of the sun being blocked entirely for weeks on end.
What happened in the end? Luckily, a massive war, the largest in history, came along at this exact time. (Many claim this was not luck at all: many of the rulers ran for office promising the only thing that everyone knew would bring jobs: war.) Each worker or soldier killed in the war reduced the unemployment rate by one unit: a formerly unemployed could now have a job. Hundreds of millions got jobs in the factories producing weapons. After enough time, wages rose until workers could afford more than just enough to keep them from starving to death. They began spending and demand for consumer goods appeared and grew. Producers opened new factories to make new goods, creating more jobs and driving up wages even more. The global economy began to work again.
After the war, many prominent economists analyzed the results and determined that if it happened again, we would be in real trouble. Another global conflict wasn’t a practical way to create jobs, because of the reality of nuclear war. Current policy focuses on making sure that unemployment rates stay low, even as machines take away jobs in production. The governments have very few tools available to them to create employment that don’t cause other problems, including environmental problems. But they believe they have no real choice.
We live in systems that can’t work well unless they create immense amounts of totally unnecessary drudgery and toil. The design flaws that lead to this seemingly insane situation are quite complex and it takes some effort to understand them. But you should be able to see by this quick explanation that the problems are definitely structural. Only poorly designed societies will even want to have more unpleasant and dangerous things for people to do. Only extremely poorly designed systems will collapse entirely and cease to function at all if they aren’t able to keep hundreds of millions of people working full time doing totally unnecessary work.
We didn’t choose the conditions of our birth. We were born into poorly designed societies.
What is wrong with admitting this, and trying to build something better?