Thursday, April 30, 2009

Preparing for Living

In advance of the coming economic bad news -- bank "stress test" results on Monday, unemployment on Friday -- allow me to ponder what is really happening at a level that affects all of us: a profound job insecurity that won't get better even when the so-called "macro" numbers look better.

Then allow me to bring up a comment by my friend and reader Luciano in response to my post of March 19: "Post-industrial production is production without labor. This means the END OF THE JOB. Repeat after me: The AGE OF THE JOB is past. The traditional 'job,' which has determined our consciousness for 300 years, is gone forever. The jobs now being lost will not come back. We don't need the workers anymore."

In technical principle, this has been possible for at least half a century. A relatively small -- and declining -- proportion of the population is needed to produce the materials essential to human dignity, such as food, clothing and shelter, much as was foreseen by John Maynard Keynes in his 1930 essay "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren."

He saw the end of "the struggle for subsistence" in the then-unthinkable year of 2030. That struggle persists today largely due to disparities and injustices, but not actual need. We have and produce more than enough for everyone.

Confront the equity issue, however, and we come to the real future problem, also prophesied by Keynes:
... for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.
This is what today's children -- who will be young adults in 2030 -- should be learning: the art of life itself. This is education not merely to have a skill to make a living, but education to learn how to learn and live and grow, in harmony and fairness.
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