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Is It Possible To Build An Economy Without Jobs?

Humans will always work. But that whole employee-employer thing is optional. It's time to start looking for another model.

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What do we get in the 21st century? Government funds are used to channel millions of working-age adults, mostly people of color, into the prison-industrial system. More than two million are incarcerated. Millions more are on parole or probation, awaiting trial, or are convicted felons easily excluded from employment. It is the job of millions more to process them. 

Does that perpetuate the system of racial and social control? Yes, it does. But put that aside for a moment. Consider just the economics of it. Today, there are approximately 14 million workers in the US who are “officially” unemployed. Eliminate the prison-industrial complex and that number would instantly go up by at least five million. 

Then, consider the post-1980 education-industrial system. One of the great myths of our time is that unemployment is caused by a lack of education. It is true that education itself has become a significant cause of employment. From junior college through graduate school, the education business has exploded. There was a time when education was considered valuable in its own right. Not these days. 

Now all you ever hear is that education is the key to getting a job. 

Really? As with the prison system, keeping people in school longer does keep some out of the workforce and therefore technically off of the unemployment rolls. At the same time, the growth in secondary school enrollment and the corresponding construction needs created some employment.

But here’s the thing: by any measure, the US population is more educated than ever. And yet unemployment and the underemployment rates are still astronomical. So much for education somehow being the cause of jobs. 

Like the education boom, here’s another “make-work” program: Millions in the labor force are “hired” to fight and supply endless and meaningless wars. Once again,  this “employment” is funded by taxpayers—not by the exalted private-sector. 

Simultaneously, the job system has bought time—and made some more jobs for itself by increasing debt. Public debt went up. So did credit card debt, student loan debt and housing debt. We now live in massive, pervasive debt -- all of which enslaves us still more. 

But debt has served an economic purpose. It has kept the job system going in two ways, First, it drove the production of  cars, TVs, gadgets, furniture, military equipment, and other stuff. Stagnant wages obviously cannot drive increased consumption. But debt can, and it did.

Second, a greatly expanded financial disservice industry was created to process and manipulate all the credit sloshing through the system. That, too, added jobs. 

The truth is, if you took debt out of the economy over the last 30 years, the bankruptcy of both the theory and the practice of the job system would have become obvious that much sooner. 

And finally, there's the true role of government spending in the economy. Actions speak louder than words. Ignore the bloviation about small government and the purity of the private sector. In the last 30 years the job system has grown local, state and federal government well beyond what would be required simply by the growth of the population or the addition of new services. Contrary to the claims of the 1 percent noise machine, little of the growth in the size of government has been to provide additional services to the poor or economically marginalized. But even if that were the case, would it not be an admission the capitalism does not all by itself provide for all of the people all of the time? 

What the growth of government and its spending does do is help corporations like Halliburton get fat government contracts while claiming that only the private sector creates jobs. It saves mega banks and insurance companies from their own mistakes. And increasing government employment offsets some of the decline in private sector employment. 

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