Our ability to work is often described as what separates humans from other animals.
While animals live off what they find in their environment, humans have the ability to create what they need for survival. It is a unique ability to imagine what ‘could be’ or ‘could become’, and through work make that appear. However, when we work for someone else there is a separation between the ‘doing’ and the ‘imagined’. We don’t often work to create what we actually need — a table, the clothes we wear, etc.. Instead, we make products someone else imagined to satisfy consumer needs.
Essentially we make money, the products we create are just the means – and what we are actually selling is our time.
In addition to the displacement we might feel being separated from this creative process unique to man, when modernity progresses, this way of relating labour and income becomes a problem on a very practical level. We have too much stuff and too little time; how did that happen? How did having ‘more than enough’ become such a problem for society?
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
At the core of the economic system is the mechanism of ‘labour for income’, which means the system itself is completely dependent on us working for a salary. Today it's easy to argue that this need is completely separated from products that are needed or the services required in society in any real terms (I am yet to be convinced otherwise by any believing modern capitalist).
As long as there is some kind of balance between human needs and the salaries generated in meeting those needs, this might be a fair way of living together. But this is no longer the case. The more efficient we become in producing through new technology, the less workers are needed, and the lower the salaries get. We end up in an escalating rat race trying to make the salaries needed to consume the products and services these very jobs create. But man-hours can't compete with the productivity of technology, and we crossed this tipping point decades ago.
Many economists have, at different times of economic crises, pointed out this inherent flaw in the system, but somehow we manage to forget this as soon as the economy seems to be back on it’s feet. This is just one of many videos on Youtube pointing at it today, please feel free to add more in comments below this post.
To me, it’s clear we need to separate labour from income, or at least update the relationship between the two so it doesn’t have a mathematical certainty to fail.
"Systems were made for men, and not men for systems."
C. H. Douglas (1879-1952)
Attempts to create a new system that benefits from technological progress are nothing new either. For example, in FUTURE MY LOVE I visit Technocracy Incorporated to learn about the conclusions they drew very early on from the First World War. This is their own explanation:
For a long time, there have been proposals of a basic citizen's income based on the social credit movement; new ways to trade with hours; or technology developed to a point where manual labour is eliminated while goods and services are distributed for free through a resource-based economy (as proposed by Jacque in our film). But before introducing all of that, we have to find a new way of talking about it.
It is my belief that we have to stop arguing whether consumerism is good or bad – in the situation we are in, it is both. For the economy it is much better if I work so much that I don’t have time to take care of my children, clean my house, cook my food, or do anything out of care and passion. If someone else cleans, cooks and cares for my needs, more money is generated while I have time to generate even more elsewhere.
"Economic growth may one day turn out to be a curse rather than a good, and under no conditions can it either lead into freedom or constitute a proof for its existence."
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)
It is good for me to slow down, to be an active part in my own life, keep my health and have the space to do things freely for others – but this is bad for the economy. What is good for us can be destructive in economic terms, and what is good for the economy can be destructive for us. Today we need to invent more and more services to keep everyone employed — how far can we push it? At what point did we start to live each other’s lives for money rather than freely living our own lives?
How much are we prepared to sacrifice to keep the economy healthy?