Employment for Profit's Sake

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We humans have come a long way as far as developing new technologies and techniques for making production of both necessities and extras much more efficient than it was long ago. We can now produce much more much quicker. Why then do we find ourselves working more rather than less hours these days than in the past? Why aren't countless dull jobs that are currently unnecessarily filled with human laborers turned over to machine work?

Unemployment seems to be the simplest answer to that question. If machines take over the average hours worked by people would indeed be lowered, but it would be lowered by having more and more people unemployed. And unfortunately, the way the system is set up right now, 'unemployed' equals not 'deserving of any products' (food, possessions, etc.), hence those people would starve (or leech off the government's tax-funds). But surely it is no better to continue down the path we are on now: more and more specialization so that every person can find some simple, unnecessary task to waste ever more and more hours on (often at incredibly low wages) so that they can bring in the products they need. If we keep up this course, we might soon find ourselves living in a future where everyone spends so much time working that "free time" is more rare and valuable than diamonds. As it is, right now even the most successful people often work long hours to hang on to their success, to increase or simply secure their already bursting bank account.

In this technological age, we all seem to have lost sight of both the value of relaxing - of not working - and of the fact that technology is supposed to be a tool to help free us from unnecessary or dull tasks and allow us to concentrate our energies on more interesting pursuits. Instead technology has become the master and we the slaves, and "free time" becomes a fantasy (those who actively seek it being labeled lazy). In an age of scientifically engineered mattresses and effective sleeping pills, people still find themselves sacrificing more and more sleep just to keep up with work and chores and raising their family. No wonder depression is at an all time high - no one can relax any more.

I think that comes largely from our screwed up value system (the heart of the so-called work-ethic), where getting the same job done with less work is seen not as a method of working less, but as a reason to work more. Rather than mechanize a process now done by a human and letting that person go home early (the same job gets done, so there's no reason the person couldn't get paid just as much, except for the machine expenses which could be covered by working slightly more than necessary but way less than would be done without the machine), we continue to force people to waste their lives on useless tasks. It probably all comes from a desire to maximize profits, a goal which comes well before that of freeing up time. Any freed up time could, after all, be used to increase production and make more profits (which the workers of course are unlikely to see - but they have to work the increased hours nonetheless because the wages are lowered down so that they don't reap the benefits of their extra work, but the people at the top do).

But is that really how it should work? Our goals are so out of order that we are needlessly working ourselves to death because we are so obsessed with some greedy capitalistic system whereby a rare few prosper - though they too end up working themselves crazy to stay in power - and the rest get to dream of their chance to join that elite crowd. We could have such higher quality of life if only we started to value our time as much as we do our chance to be rich (or at least as minimally poor as possible, in the case of the majority with no hopes for riches), as much as we value our silly capitalistic profit-maximizing system. Something's wrong, but we're all afraid to fix it because we refuse to question the sacred cow of Profit. And so we go on slowly dying forty-hours at a time. What a waste.

Originally Written: 02-23-03
Last Updated: 11-14-03