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Technology & Innovation

How the need to work makes a general mess of things

An economic system that forces people to sell their labor in order to survive is not sustainable. Here’s why.

It has been suggested by H. W. van Loon that one of the primary reasons for the inferiority of Greek and Roman inventions compared to those developed from the late 18th century up to the present day is due to the surplus of slaves during these earlier times (The Story of Mankind, p. 425). As slaves could be forced to work, this surplus meant that there existed no incentive to create labour saving devices. Although 2000 years have passed, this situation appears to be repeating itself.

Under the current economic structure, a person’s labour is reduced to a commodity which he or she is forced to sell in order to survive. Jobs are therefore pretty important to most people. And as people need jobs in order to survive, democratic governments, which are the supposed representatives of these work-hungry individuals and therefore subject to their influence, consistently make efforts to protect and generate jobs. The fact then that many of these jobs, especially in the administrative and manufacturing industries, could easily be replaced by more efficient and effective computers and machines is not something that any politician wanting to gain office would bandy around.

Governments also encourage consumption. This then encourages entrepreneurs to create their own jobs that exist primarily to produce an excess amount of unnecessary goods. If you can endure sitting through a couple of hours worth of infomercials you will witness a number of examples. Workers are forced to produce, package, market and sell these goods which often have no lasting benefit to the consumer, purely because that is seen as their sole means for survival. Governments, who are all about ‘job creation’, then encourage the consumption of these goods as a way to keep the cycle in motion. In short, people are forced to work otherwise they will be homeless and starve, so governments and entrepreneurs go out of their way to find ‘work’ for people to do.

The fact that the majority of people are forced to work creates a surplus of labour, which in turn keeps the price of labour relatively low. This low price for labour then acts as a disincentive for anyone to invest in the development of more efficient labour saving devices as there is no perceived need. The fact that people are encouraged to consume encourages excess production. As a result, people are having to work more, and enjoy less of their lives than they should be able to with the levels of technological sophistication we currently have at our disposal. Secondly, and more importantly, this inefficient and excess production of goods has an extremely negative impact on the environment. Human labour is incredibly inefficient due to the physical limitations of the human body and the capacity for human error. This inefficiency in production results in excess waste, which translates into unnecessary pollution being dumped into the environment. Excess production is waste in itself.

An economic system that removes the link between one’s capacity to sell their labour and their survival would encourage investment in much more efficient methods of production as people would no longer be as willing to sell their labour as cheaply as they do now. It would also reduce the production of unnecessary products that are currently produced only to provide workers with some means for survival. If people are no longer forced to work in order to ensure their survival, others will no longer be encouraged to consume in order to support these workers. The net result is less production, less pollution and a vastly improved state of the environment.


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