Thursday 20 May 2010

On Job Creation and Economic Growth

It seems to me, that people are oftentimes confused when it comes to issues of job creation and economic growth. They applaud business owners for making simple tasks difficult and adding additional, often unpleasant, positions in order to create more demand for employment. Let us take for example an argument I have heard on more than one occasion against the installation of self checkout machines in grocery stores. The argument asserts that because it eliminates the need for cashiers, the installation of self checkout machines is an economically undesirable circumstance. It is undeniably true that less personal are required to man and maintain this system, but what really happens to the labour? The machines decrease the need for labour while fulfilling the same function the cashiers previously did without any noticeable decline in efficiency or service quality. The same amount of money is collected from customers, and the same amount of merchandise is sold, but less labour is required. In the western world we have this idea of individualism that pits every man against every other man, but by working cooperatively, all employees of this grocery store can collectively cut down on the amount of labour they must perform, while maintaining their previous level of income. Since no one is required to man the registers, this labour has been freed up and may now be applied to other areas of the store, perhaps produce clerk or bagger. Suddenly these workers are only required to work thirty hours a week because the additional ten hours has been taken over by the displaced cashiers. Nevertheless, there is still enough payroll left to pay both the cashiers and the produce clerks their previous wage. Unfortunately, this is not what usually happens in our individualist society. Rather than working collectively to reduce their shared workload, the cashiers are often cast aside and forced to pursue other employment while management keeps the payroll savings for themselves. A small contingent of workers benefits, while the plight of the rest remains unchanged. This is wrong. Not only does this lead to public dislike of technologies that could reduce the common workload, but it forces displaced workers to create additional, often unneeded jobs in the economy creating products or offering services that are wholly and completely unnecessary. This may be economic growth, but the gain to human happiness is negligible. Work hours, for the average worker are not decreased, resources are needlessly consumed, and societies focus on material acquisition rather than cultural and moral evolution is reinforced. If we were to adopt fully, all technology available to us, with the goal of minimizing labour while maximising time for the individual to pursue his or her own education, free expression and personal betterment I predict we would see an explosion of invention and adaptation equal to that which moved us from the realm of simple-minded cave dwellers to civilized society. Man, by nature, is industrious. If you place an individual in an empty room with nothing but a crate of building blocks, that individual will eventually assign meaning and purpose to those blocks, even if it is merely asthetic. In the same way, if a person is given free reign, to construct things and utilize his or her surroundings in whatever manner he sees fit it is inevitable that we should see unparalleled leaps in technology and art, the likes of which have never been seen before.