Labor Day Sentiments 2011, or,
For Whom the (Job) Bell Tolls

(Nov. 7, 2112 — Washington, D.C.) President Susan Wallace — riding last year’s surge in employment to 19.7% and the dollar’s continued appreciation against the Yen and Swiss Franc — easily coasted to victory at the polls yesterday in her bid for reelection to a second term.  Addressing an estimated crowd of 15,000 at Washington D.C.’s Hilton Hotel, Wallace credited tireless work by her campaign staff, benign economic conditions, and . . .

Wait a second . . .

“Benign economic conditions?!?”

“19.7% employment?!?”

If “employment” is 19.7%, doesn’t that mean “unemployment” is . . . . 80.3%!?!

Back Story

To answer the foregoing, go back.

Way back, like early 19th century America.

Agrarian America.

As late as 1820, when the first Industrial Revolution was still gaining momentum, 90% of the population was engaged, directly or indirectly, in feeding . . . everyone else.

So, people worked as farmers, millers, shippers, warehousemen — not to mention telegraph operators, buggy whip makers, blacksmiths, etc.


Thanks to unimagined advances in agriculture, mechanization, manufacturing, computers, transportation, etc., the percentage of the work force needed to feed the rest of the population might be 3%.

So why is it so far-fetched to imagine that another century of compounding gains in technology will increase productivity — and drive down employment — in such fields as medicine, law, engineering, etc.?

To be sure, such an economy will need millions of new software engineers and other heretofore unimagined professions.

But eventually, one can conceive that even these new fields will succumb to inexorable advances in automation and artificial intelligence.

80-20 Rule; Social Shift

If I’m remotely correct about 20% of the population providing for the other 80%, it’s easy to foresee another watershed (heresy?):  along with this flip-flopping of traditional employment measures will come a change in societal attitude(s).

When unemployment is the norm . . . it will cease to be called “unemployment.”

Instead, it will be called “being at leisure,” “free time,” or perhaps simply “retirement.”

Unlike being “unemployed,” none of those things has a stigma associated with it — or is regarded as a personal tragedy.

Of course, that’s only possible if being unemployed doesn’t automatically consign millions to homelessness, poverty and sickness.

IMHO, harnessing capitalism’s enormous productivity — while navigating its major side effect, inequality — is likely to be one of society’s two biggest challenges the next, oh, century or so (the other being climate change).

Now, I’m off to a nice Labor Day afternoon picnic!

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.
1 Response
  1. Joel Tormoen

    One of your best ever. And one of my favorite topics. But so many folks just cannot comprehend such a “world”.

    Wish I had the socio-economic solution that would make all this a GOOD world when it does happen. The mindset of “lazy good for nothing” will be hard to dispel

Leave a Reply