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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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But what have all these fixes, repairs and constant rebuilding of the capitalist engine accomplished? The unemployment rate is enormous. And the rewards, financial and otherwise, of getting and keeping a job are diminishing for millions who can find employment. Students, families and government are carrying staggering debt. 

Can anyone seriously look at the job landscape and argue that capitalism is some organic job-creating machine that just needs to be left alone? Is there really some magical new policy or law that can or will make the whole machine hum again? And even if there were, what is the cost of this system? To our ecosystem? To the idea of democracy? To our dignity? To our potential as humans? Just what is so great about a system in which some humans get to be the bosses and most of us get to be the bossed? Is this the best humans can do? 

Perhaps most urgently, can the job system grow its way back to health, as so many advocate, when growth itself accelerates and intensifies the threat to the sustainability of life on earth? To many it is increasingly clear that it cannot, will not and should not. 

Fortunately, all over the world people are hard at work making a better economy. 

A

s Bruce Springsteen sings on his brilliant new album Wrecking Ball:

There’s a new world coming

I can see the light

I’m a Jack of all trades

We’ll be alright

So you use what you’ve got

And you learn to make do

You take the old, you make it new

Necessity is the mother of invention. So it’s not surprising that Detroit is one of the places where there is both a lot of thinking and a lot of doing in the "reimagining work" department. It is hard to envision a place where the breakdown of the old system is more advanced or more obvious.

Snazzy new sports stadiums and gambling casinos sit amidst tens of thousands of vacant residential and commercial property and mile after mile of empty lots where buildings once stood. Business friendly mayors like Dave Bing do no better at “fixing” Detroit than charismatic crooks like Kwame Kilpatrick. Hundreds of millions spent in recent years by major foundations haven’t saved Detroit either. 

The governance of Detroit’s schools was taken over by the state years ago. The schools got worse. Still more parents and students abandoned the schools and the city in droves. Soon, the state government will take de facto control of the city government too. The Kool-Aid theory of the powers-that-be says that better “governance” will fix Detroit’s problems. The code is that the black people have screwed everything up, despite the best efforts of the white establishment to help them. 

The stark reality is that the problems are structural and cumulative. The old job system isn’t coming back to Detroit. Ever. The stark reality is that Detroit is not some one-off fluke. Detroit is just the canary in the coal mine. Virtually every dynamic that was in play in Detroit over the last several decades is now at work planet wide. Paralyzed “leadership”; persistent racism; and growing inequalities of wealth, income and power and shrinking democracy aren’t just features of Detroit. They apply to the nation and many other places throughout the world. 

Help from the system that is failing is definitely not on the way. All the superficial debates about high taxes or low taxes, individual mandates or no individual mandates, big government or small government, contraception or no contraception will not put Humpty Dumpty together again. 

For many this is understandably both depressing and disorienting. But for others it is liberating. “Solutionaries” are creating a different kind of economy. There may be no jobs, but there's plenty of work to be done. Victimology is not welcome here. 

 
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