The majority of Americans polled say that the top three issues facing the country are jobs, jobs and jobs. How do we create and maintain good-paying jobs with good benefits?
The short answer is, we can’t. Permanent unemployment and underemployment has been growing for years because robots and computers are taking the jobs. Yes, some jobs are being sent overseas, but even those jobs eventually will be automated. We need a new way of supporting the people.
As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has written, “America has lost at least as many jobs to automated technology as it has to trade. Any routine job that requires the same steps to be performed over and over can potentially be done anywhere in the world by someone working for far less than an American wage, or it can be done by automated technology. By the late 1970s, all such jobs were on the endangered species list. By 2010, they were nearly extinct.”
Look at manufacturing. Overall manufacturing employment in the U.S. rose from 1946 to about 1978, peaking at slightly over 19 million jobs. By 2003 there were only about 14 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. According to a 2006 report published by the Economic Policy Institute, “Between 2000 and 2003, annual manufacturing employment in the United States declined by almost 3 million jobs, and has been largely flat since then.” The report says that 84 percent of this manufacturing job loss from 2000 to 2003 was due to increases in productivity, meaning automation allowed more to be produced with fewer workers. Sooner or later, every sector of the economy will be automated. There is no limit to how sophisticated the computers and robots can become.
And the competition for scarce jobs has driven down wages for those still working. The median wage in America has been flat or in decline since 1980. Between 2009 and 2010, an additional 2.6 million people slipped below the poverty line, and the poverty rate increased from 14.3 percent to 15.1 percent. Today there are 46.2 million people living in official poverty in the United States.
The jobs and high wages aren’t coming back. We are going to have to organize the economy in a new way or we aren’t going to be able to feed ourselves. Under the current capitalist system, a handful of wealthy people and corporations control the money and the means of production. The rest of us have to sell them our labor power in order to live. But in an era when robots and computers are taking the jobs, this system no longer makes sense. No capitalist is going to buy your labor power when a robot will do the job cheaper and with no complaints. With capitalism, having no job means poverty and starvation. And the corporate government has made clear there will be no more safety net.
There is plenty of food, plenty of housing, plenty of everything. We need an economic system that will allow the people to take control of the productive power of electronics and distribute the necessities of life—food, clothing, housing, health care, etc.—to those who need them, regardless of ability to pay. In such a cooperative society, everyone capable of working would be able to make a contribution to society and get what they need in return, and those too old or sick to work would be taken care of.
Capitalism is dying—sentenced to death by the computer—and everything the capitalists try to do to save it makes things worse. In trying to cling to their wealth, their property and their power, they are destroying society, and they will destroy the world itself if we don’t stop them. The private property of the corporations must become public property. The resources and technology the corporations control are too important to society to be in private hands.
In the short term we must tax the rich to get the money to provide a proper safety net for the unemployed, and to begin lining up the people to fight in their own interests. But in the end we are fighting for a new kind of society, where the economy is owned and controlled by the people.