John Maynard Keynes said, once we reach an age of abundance, perhaps we will recognize the vices we called virtues—such as getting and spending money—as the vices they are and get on instead with worthwhile human pursuits.
While working in a think tank in Heidelberg, Germany, during the 1970s, I was impressed by their realization that there are at least two types of unemployment: cyclical, and structural. Cyclical unemployment is the familiar type we have all seen many times during the ups and downs of national and international economics. Structural unemployment is an altogether more serious matter. It refers to jobs that will not come back even when a cyclical downturn has passed.
For every society, including our own, a terrible question is posed: what happens to people who have lost jobs that are not coming back, ever. The problem is, how do we allocate titles to consume to people with no job-based income? By “titles to consume” I mean access to housing, food, clothing, education, transportation, and health care, at the minimum. Welfare as practiced during the twentieth century was a disastrous misfire. We are going to have many people in the category of the structurally and permanently unemployed when this recession ends, and what do we do with them? If we choose to disregard the adults and let them suffer, do we also wish to do the same with their children?
Even after the current recession ends, if it does, we will have a jobs economy with huge numbers of office jobs that serve no useful purpose; for example, office positions in the health insurance version of organized crime. Health insurance companies should not continue to exist, and the jobs in these companies should not either.
We are rushing headlong into a period where we will not have the resources to continue to support unnecessary and parasitic jobs in our dying, preposterous “service economy.” Then what do we do with our surplus human beings?
Jonathon Swift’s suggestion is probably not palatable to most of us. The Romans opted for bread and circuses. We have tentatively opted for Monday night football, SUVs, and six-packs.
So what do we choose to do with people who are quite simply of no use in the economy of the near future? I personally would opt for a jobs program like the New Deal programs of the 1930s, but that would at best be an interim measure. What do we do over the long haul? We have arrived at a time in which the economy does not have any use for a large percentage of our people.