In 1952, Kurt Vonnegut published his first novel, named Player Piano. Set in the not-too-distant future, it tells a tale of what life would be like if everything was run by automation, and only the engineers and managers had jobs. It is not a pretty picture.
Or, you could just look around you now in 2016. Previous generations could look forward to the availability of work in manufacturing, mining, etc. — we hear every day about how these jobs have left for good. But what about those other jobs: Bank teller, sales clerk, gas station attendant?
On a related note: Have you noticed how little time we seem to have, those of us who are employed? Sure, part of it is that we’re working record numbers of hours to avoid being fired — but then, after work, we have to do everyone else’s job for them too. Go to the grocery store, pick up some vegetables, put them in a plastic bag, weigh it, enter the code, take the label and place it on the plastic bag, go to the automated checkout counter, swipe my “loyalty card”, swipe my groceries, bag them myself, insert bank card into the machine, ask for “cash back” (my bank has no actual branch offices), carry my groceries to my car, pull the car up to the automatic gas vending machines, lather, rinse, repeat…
I saw a sign in a grocery store parking lot, asking us to “help keep prices down” by taking our own carts into the store — they can’t even pay a teenager minimum wage to bring in the carts? Worse, more than once I’ve encountered those very teenage cart-movers (at another grocery store) casting steely gazes at me when I don’t bring in a cart and they have to move it themselves. Do they not see the big picture here?
Years ago I worked in an office building which had a small sandwich shop on the first floor. One day I walked in fairly late for lunch and, since there were no other customers there, I made small talk. “How’s business?” I asked. “Doesn’t matter to me,” said the guy behind the counter, “I get paid the same either way.” Two weeks later, the place closed down; I guess it did matter to him in the end.
I even know of one large organization that fired most of the janitorial staff and called it a move to help the environment!
It seems that organizations everywhere have decided that the best way to avoid paying employees is to outsource all of their work to their customers. It’s so pervasive that most of us don’t even realize it anymore.
Is it possible to demand service anymore? Are we too far gone? Will you wait in the human being checkout line behind 10 people, complain to management, or just go to the “self checkout”? Maybe we do in fact need to check ourselves out — why do we let ourselves be misused this way?
We seemed to have missed the lesson from Henry Ford, who, when asked why he paid his employees so well, replied “If I didn’t, who would buy my cars?” We can’t run an economy with 80% of people having nothing productive to do. If people don’t wake up and see what’s happening, pretty soon we’ll all work for Big Box Mart — it will be like the old company town: since we work there we can’t afford to buy food and clothing anywhere else, which in turn keeps us employed there, partly because we dress so poorly (sort of a fashion-focused Pygmalion).
No wonder Dr. Paul Proteus wanted to move to the country and live off the land, although his wife was not so keen on the idea.
By the way, where is Galt’s Gulch and can I get in?