Monday, September 2, 2013
Labor Day 2013
It is Labor Day 2013. Very little has changed since last year. The average American worker is confronted with a triple challenge from low wage foreign competition, automation, and regulation, particularly environmental regulations. The jobs that have been created are typically low paying part time positions, not the secure fulltime jobs with benefits that pay more than a living wage. That is what we all desire. Looking to the state for salvation is not the answer. The savior state is reaching its limits. Sustaining its existing expenditures necessitates $1.0-$1.5 trillion in new borrowed money every year. Our nation is simply not generating enough surplus wealth to continue on this path, let alone increase unemployment benefits or educational opportunities. Expecting corporations to do anything other than act in their own rational self interest is a pipe dream. In order to hire an employee at $40,000 a year that employee must generate about $70,000 in profit to cover wages, benefits, and overhead. Otherwise the company will lose money with every new hire. A new generation of low cost programmable robots is gradually replacing stoop labor in agriculture, entry level jobs in industry, and even fast food preparation. A new robot prepares perfect gourmet hamburgers at rates up to 360 burgers per hour. If an entry level fry cook earns $10.00 per hour that works out to roughly $20,000 a year. Cost for the new technologies are dropping to the point where she will soon find herself in competition with a robot that can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without any breaks or time off. Even if the state could afford to double the number of college graduates, would that double the number of new jobs? Education is a service industry that ultimately, at least in the macroeconomic terms, provides raw material for the wealth producing sector of the economy. Beyond careers in engineering, computer science, and medicine our economy simply can’t provide jobs for existing graduates, let alone any additional personnel. Even if those jobs were available not everyone has the IQ to graduate from engineering college or medical school. I thought I was a pretty smart guy until I hit the second semester of calculus. That was a humbling experience. I wish I had a plan that would realistically return our country to the 1960’s with structural unemployment rates around 3.0% and jobs that would allow a man with an average IQ and a high school diploma the reasonable expectation of supporting a wife and a couple of kids with 40-50 hours a week spent in a smelly noisy factory. I don’t have that answer. What then can this man do? I believe that I need to wake up every morning, look in the mirror and ask the following questions. What can I do just for today to make myself a better person? It starts in our heart. Can I extend forgiveness and love to myself? That is a very difficult task. Yet it is the beginning of becoming a better person. What can I do just for today to make myself a better husband or wife, mother or father? As we extend love and forgiveness beyond ourselves to embrace our immediate family, the social fabric of the nation will begin to strengthen. Maybe the number of single parent families and rates of births outside of wedlock would begin to decline. The disintegration of the nuclear family is the mistress of a multitude of social problems. What can I do just for today to make myself a better member of my extended family, a better friend to my friends? Can I extend love and forgiveness to my parents? For some of us that is a challenge. Can the knowledge and wisdom that I possess be shared with my friends? Unlike money you can give away knowledge and still possess it. If I have a skill or tools, can I provide a service to a member of my “tribe” that will someday be returned when I am need of a favor? Do I have a connection that can help a friend or family member find a job? What can I do just for today to make myself a better citizen of my nation and the world? Can I extend love and forgiveness even to my enemies? I think the honest answer for most of us, “Not very often,” but we have all experienced the blessings of forgiveness. Even those of us with hard hearts have managed to forgive an enemy or two in course of a lifetime. I think the best hope of extricating our nation from what economists have termed a “controlled depression” is a serious and consistent attempt to take individual responsibility to make our world a better place. Begin with yourself. Then extend your efforts to those you already love; then to those with whom you have no particular relationship; finally, to your competitors and enemies. We are all in this together. Each of us is connected in some mysterious way to others in a net that stretches out in all directions until it disappears in infinity. Each of us is a node in a network of humanity that never ends. Just for today, add something of value to this complex system remembering that what we do in life does end in eternity. If you fail in an attempt to answer these questions in the way you live your life, don’t worry, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.