The Artificial Scarcity of Jobs

by John Spritzler

October 27, 2012

To listen to presidential candidates Romney and Obama arguing over which of them has the best plan to create jobs, one would think that creating jobs is a difficult thing to do and that is why we don't have enough of them to go around. The truth is very different.


What is a Job?

From the point of view of ordinary people (and this, as we shall see, is not at all the same as the point of view of corporate and government elites) a job is what enables a person to contribute economically useful work to society and receive, in return, the right to enjoy economic wealth created by society. This is not a complicated idea. And creating jobs is not a difficult thing to do, as the following will illustrate.


It's Easy to Create Jobs

Think about it this way. Imagine a bunch of people find themselves stranded on an otherwise deserted island. There are no laws, no deeds of ownership, no contracts with outsiders, no capitalism or socialism or any other "ism" in effect. The people are free to make society be whatever they want it to be. Let's say that they decide to create a sharing economy. They decide that anybody who makes a reasonable contribution to the island's economic wealth, either by helping to produce something or by providing a useful service or by studying to learn a skill in order to do so eventually, will be considered a member of the sharing economy and will be entitled to enjoy the fruits of the island's economy according to their need or their reasonable desire. They decide that economic goods and services will be made available at stores, free for the taking by all members of the sharing economy. For things in short supply, they'll figure ways of equitably rationing them according to need. The people of the island who agree to having a sharing economy meet together periodically to settle questions that may arise as to whether, in some questionable cases, the contribution to the economy is reasonable, with consideration given to the usefulness and desirablity of the work and the amount of work contributed by the individuals compared to the rest of the people in the sharing economy. Those who refuse to make a reasonable contribution to the sharing economy will forfeit their right to obtain things or services from it for free; they will essentially have to beg.

Let's say you are on this island and you need a job, which is to say you need a way to join the sharing economy. What would you do? Well, you could walk around to places where people in the economy were doing useful things, and see if you found any of them to be places where you'd like to join in. Let's say you find a place where you'd like to work. You say to them, "Can I help?" If they say sure, then you've got a job. If they say, "Thanks, but we don't need any more help here" then you could look elsewhere. But if it's the same story elsewhere you could say, "Hey, nobody seems to need any more help, which means if I joined you then we could all work less and have more leisure time, and still produce as much economic wealth as before." And if they didn't like that idea (maybe everybody on the island is a workaholic?) you could say, "OK, the goods and services currently being produced don't require any more workers, and you don't want to make room for me by having everyone work a bit less, so I'll figure out some way to do something economically useful that is entirely novel, and join the sharing economy that way." Doing something both useful and novel is entrepreneurship, and it would play a big role on the island.

Let's say you decide to be an entrepreneur. You come up with an idea: what lots of people on this island would really love to have is gizmowidgets. "I want to make gizmowidgets," you announce to the meeting of islanders. They ask, "What's a gizmowidget?" and you explain. They like the idea, or at least think it's worth a try. You say, "I'll need a place to set up shop, and ten people to help me make them, and a supply of the following raw materials." The islanders' meeting considers this, agrees, and gives you permission to use a building that is available and permission to take the raw materials you need from the island's supply. They also agree that the ten people and yourself who do a reasonable amount of work producing gizmowidgets will be members of the sharing economy and enjoy the right to take what they need, or reasonably desire, from the island's supplies for free (or have an equal status with everybody else regarding things in short supply that are rationed). Presto! Jobs are created.

Alternatively, let's say that when you found a place you wanted to work at and asked to help, they told you that they'd love to have some help, but you don't have the skill that is required. In that case you could attend a school to learn the skill, and this would count as a reasonable contribution to the economy, on the basis of which you would be a member of the sharing economy--you would "have a job."


What Causes Unemployment?

In a sharing economy society, would there be--could one even conceive of there being--a "shortage of jobs"? What would it take on this island for a person who is willing to work to nonetheless not be able to find a job? Let's say it was you who was involuntarily unemployed. This would have to mean that there is no place on the island where people are working but would like to have more leisure time--with no loss in economic wealth available to them--by sharing the work with you. And it means there is nothing novel that people on the island would like to have that you (and others) could help provide. In other words, it means that the people on the island want to work harder than necessary just to avoid letting you help them, and they don't want you to do anything at all to make life on the island more enjoyable. They would have to be stark raving crazy!

And yet, in our current society, millions of people cannot find a job. Does this mean that everybody is stark raving crazy? No. What it does mean, however, is that from the point of view of ordinary people, our capitalist economic system is stark raving crazy. So why do we have such a crazy system?

This gets us back to the question touched on earlier, about how a job means one thing from the point of view of an ordinary person, and something very different from the point of view of the corporate and government elite. From the elite's point of view, a job is a relationship between an employer and an employee in which the employee does work that enables the employer to sell a product or service for a profit. (A job in the non-profit sector is similar: it is a relationship between the employers collectively and an employee in which the employee does work that enables the employers collectively to sell products or services for a profit.)

The capitalist system is all about making profits for employers; creating jobs is merely a means towards this end. If profits can be made by hiring fewer employees, then fewer people will have jobs. And as we know all too well, profits can indeed be made by hiring fewer people; this is why capitalists use automation so much. Furthermore, a job from the capitalist's point of view is not about enabling the worker to enjoy the fruits of the economy. No! From the capitalist's point of view, the less the job pays the better, which is why they outsource jobs to countries like China and Vietnam and Mexico where wages are extremely low.


It's Obvious How to End Unemployment

If we want everybody to be able to have a job, then we need to abolish capitalism, remove the capitalist class from power, and create a sharing economy like the folks on the island.* There's nothing complicated or difficult about a sharing economy, except one thing: removing from power the people who don't want it because it would mean the end of their enormous wealth, power and privilege in society. But it can be done: see Thinking about Revolution for discussion of how.

Big Money, with its control of the political parties and the mass media, tries to make it seem like creating jobs is a complicated and difficult task. They do this to hide the fact that the scarcity of jobs is entirely artificial. The scarcity is due to the stark raving craziness of the capitalist system. Job scarcity exists only because Big Money profit-making causes it to exist and because Big Money likes it when lots of workers are unemployed because this forces them to agree to work for less.

When politicians like Romney and Obama pretend to be devoted to "creating jobs" by touting their tax schemes and so forth, it's all hogwash. They are beholden to Big Money, and Big Money's goal is profits, not jobs.


* The island's economy can be scaled up to the whole world. Local community meetings would still have the final say about the community's resources, i.e. how they will be used, while larger scale coordination and cooperation among local communities (e.g. agreements to be in the same sharing economy, division of labor, joint enterprises, etc.) would be achieved by voluntary federation.