07 March, 2010

Supply & Demand in the Job Market

I saw a commercial on television advertising IT jobs, and one of its selling points was that those kind of jobs are in demand and on the rise (seeing as how technology is constantly becoming a more and more important, and integrated, aspect of our lives). That's all well and good, but there's something that really disturbs me about this idea that in order to be successful and land a job making good money, you have to get in where the zeitgeist is located. It's like investing, which, to me, is just glorified gambling (and I'm not particularly fond of gambling) - buy in with the right people at the right time, and you'll become rich. Otherwise, you're screwed.

I'm not saying there's anything intrinsically wrong with the concept of supply and demand - where there's demand, supply has a tendency to fill in. I'm saying the problem is associating it with market economy and the American dream - which, in this context, means the dream of getting a good job, making lots of money, and living a happy life. Because then what happens to the people who aren't suited to those industries? A really talented artist, for example, living in a very non-artistic-minded world, may be forced to lead a rotten, poverty-stricken life.

This is precisely what I dislike about the idea of capitalism and competition. Granted, in a world where resources are not abundant enough to provide for all, there has to be some degree of competition - how to decide who gets the goods and who has to starve to death. This idea fuels the whole "working for a living" model. Pay your dues to society, and you get a paycheck in return which entitles you (through money-based transactions - after all, money is essentially a promise for goods/services) to have your "fair" share of the world's (or the country's) resources. [We'll neglect the corruptions of this system, which result in many people working for a living, and then still not getting their fair share].

This is not a perfect system. Perhaps there are people out there who would argue that it is - I would have to disagree with them. Others are likely to suggest that, hey, maybe it's not perfect, but it's the best we've got. And maybe they're right. Maybe. That still doesn't mean we should stop looking for something better.

Consider a world in which resources are abundant enough to provide for all. Nobody has to compete for those resources because there is more than enough to go around - everybody can afford to get their share without leaving anybody wanting. What would be the point in working for a living? You wouldn't need to work for a living, because that living would be provided for you, free of charge.

Now this doesn't mean that nobody would work, or even that nobody would need to work. The emphasis would change from working for a living, to working to keep the system in balance. Instead of selfishly working to provide for yourself and the ones you care about, at the cost of leaving other people in the world poor and starving (as occurs in a capitalist world without sufficient resources for everyone, or where some people take more than their fair share at the cost of leaving others wanting), people would be encouraged to work for the benefit of the system, which in turn, means the benefit of all.

If you're a capitalist, you're probably thinking, this would never work. People aren't so good-natured that they'd exert effort "for the good of all mankind", or certainly not as much effort as they'd exert "for their own good", as they are encouraged to do in a competitive capitalist system. And maybe you're right. I'm not so optimistic that I think people are generally good and selfless at their core (although society has a strong ability to mold people's disposition - people raised in a competitive system, where competition is encouraged, are much more likely to become competitive, since it's required for survival - call it self-selection). But I think there are other, perhaps less obvious benefits about a resource-abundant system such as the one I've described.

If people are selfish, then imagine this. A person works for the good of the system. But instead of looking at it in terms of what the system provides for all, one could look at it in terms of the benefit the system provides for each, individually. In other words, what does the system do for me? And the answer is, the way I imagine it, a much better quality of life.

(By the way, for anyone who thinks I'm against "the Establishment" for superficial reasons - like that I don't like authority or whatever - this is evidence that I don't like the Establishment not simply because it's the Establishment, but actually because it's a bad Establishment. :p)

First of all, imagine getting everything you need without the stress of having to work for it. Okay, so there's the possibility that people will lack even the motivation to do the work necessary to keep the system running when they're not being directly awarded for it, in the form of a paycheck. But there's more.

What will people do with their lives? If they don't have to work for a living, what will they spend their life pursuing? The answer is - their dreams. Imagine a world where people have the luxury of being able to pursue their dreams. Instead of working all day at a boring dead-end job in order to put food on the table, you could work all day on something that truly inspires you.

Maybe this is still being optimistic. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and perhaps progress happens more efficiently in a cutthroat environment, where solutions are required for survival, and failures are quickly weeded out. Maybe. But think for a second about all the things that haven't been invented, or haven't been invented yet, simply because nobody has had the time to focus their efforts on it while working to stay alive, and because it simply wasn't a completely necessary invention. We don't need flying cars to survive, but couldn't things be better if we had them? Couldn't, perhaps, life be more enjoyable with a few frivolous extras? Computers are certainly not required for survival (at least not before they were invented, after which point we've begun to depend on them), but look at all the things we can do with them - and do better, and easier!

The point is, maybe my vision of a better world isn't a better vision in everyone's mind, but that doesn't stop me from thinking it's worth a try. And even if everybody else disagrees with me, I, personally, would prefer to live in that world than in this one. And I think I'd be able to live a much happier, and much more enjoyable life than this one, where all the competition and struggling, instead of making me a better person, only serves to drag me down and distract me from the creative, inspirational impulses I have.


  1. I've been trying to wrap my head around this, so bare with me if I falter. I suppose the problem I see is, even if everyone is willing to work for the sake of the system, how are we to decide who gets the "bad" jobs? For example, I am thrilled to perform the duties of a janitor, yet how many human beings like me do you suspect exist on Planet Earth? Surely not enough to keep our buildings clean. It stands to reason that virtually everybody wants to be an artist or one of a handful of "best" jobs.

    There would have to be some sort of system to decide who gets "lucky" and has a good job while who gets "unlucky" and has to do a shitty job. And is there any way to make this decision fairly? This is the genius of Brave New World (much more a utopia than a dystopia) -- people were conditioned to genuinely adore and prefer exactly whatever job society needed them to do; a poor schmuck would rather be a poor schmuck than a rich banker. To a certain degree, expanded perception and free thought could help us out here. For example, if monetary gain is not a concern, I find it hard to believe that people would rather do a stressful high-end job rather than the low-stress jobs I favor.

    So let's assume some people like the dignity of being a lawyer and others like the simplicity of being a janitor. The only problem I see, then, is the amount of work that requires to be done. To sustain society, everybody would have to work as much as they do now. We need all of these jobs to be performed, lest we divert to an Amish-style existence of asceticism. So we wouldn't really be gaining free time, we'd just be changing the way our job is chosen.

    However I've never taken any genuine political courses and lack even a basic comprehension of capitalism, communism, et al. And if the Amish were an atheistic order, I would quite likely join them.

  2. I'm not an expert, myself, I've just been inspired by things I've read elsewhere.

    You assume that the same amount of work that's done now will be needed to sustain society in this other system, but I don't think that's necessarily true. The amount of work that's actually required to keep the system running will be minimal. And everything else will be voluntary (not assigned). Imagine how much extraneous work would be eliminated in a system where "work" is something you do for fun, because you're inspired to do it, not something you have to pretend to do in order to earn your paycheck. Also, as technology advances, we can put machines to work doing any of the necessary jobs that people aren't so enthusiastic about doing.

  3. But who wants to work on the septic tanks? Who wants to do labor? Me and the skinheads enjoy some hard work for hard work's sake but I suspect we're the microscopic minority. Every tiny little thing -- all of that is somebody doing their job. Roads and food and utilities and entertainment, it's all menial jobs maintained by countless people in 40-hour work weeks. What do you consider the necessities in your society?

    I suspect the only system which could be maintained with minimal effort is an excruciatingly ascetic one, which certainly isn't a bad thing. I just think the technology has to advance before this system would become viable.

    Whether or not capitalism is the best we've got, you're right we should try to find a better option. I disapprove of competition perhaps even as much as you do. I respond to it by fail safing myself preemptively ala "It's all one song." "I don't want to be this/that/the other so I don't need to compete!"

  4. I think a certain level of maturity and personal responsibility would be required in this kind of system. Perhaps we should get over our obsession with being able to go anyplace and be served like kings (or at least until the machines catch up). Do we really need to be greeted every time we walk into a store? Anyhow, we'd have to change the way we do a lot of things, as there are a lot of things broken in this system. It's not like we can just abolish money and then tell people, "ok, now get back to work, for the good of society!"

    Actually, one of the things that "works" in consumerism, is that things break more frequently and require more maintenance than they really need. Perhaps that's one of the first things we ought to fix.

  5. And how might we go about fixing it?

  6. Well, as long as they're motivated by profit, we can't just tell manufacturers to stop making products that need to be frequently replaced. But how do you change people's ideas about the way things could be? People are set in their ways; they become attached to their chains. I think that's why revolution is always so violent. "You can't change minds, only heads."

    But since I don't support violence, perhaps a different solution would be to liberate education. Break the chain of brainwashing. If we could teach kids that the way things are isn't the only way things could be, then maybe, as they gradually replace the people running the system now, we might begin to see some change.

    Of course, the people in power under this system won't go down without a fight. They have a tight hold on education. They've been inflating the pedophile panic and taking advantage of it to increase restrictions on children, and to prevent kids from befriending strange adults who may teach them something outside of the Curriculum. To quote some satire (via Family Guy):

    "Local teacher caught molesting children... ...with crackpot theories."

    Protect your children? More like, protect your children from independent thought. (Independent thought alarm!)