Monday, August 10, 2015

Well, Climate Change Isn't All Bad


Joblessness is a problem. Some can be ascribed to offshoring, but much of it also to increases in productivity, such as robotics, and also to the economic maturity of our country, because so much of the housing stock is already in place, for instance. Every level is affected, but it's working people, people who do physical jobs without a lot of high level thought, that are the most affected. Solutions to increase the education of these workers are destined to be only partially effective, since there is a bell curve of intelligence.

Since general wealth has increased, and the biggest problem seems to be wealth disparities, I have thought that we need to disconnect income from jobs somehow, although still maintain incentives, which is a hard task. It's not a new thought; this is what the utopian socialists thought about in their ideas of constructing the perfect societies. Leisure and play were at the heart of their proposals, although as Gay Talese pointed out, in practice sexual rights and license took a part of their rituals that did not appear in the written prospectus. But be that as it may, the idea was that life should be happy, and hard and constant work was not necessarily a great idea for everyone.

But, clearly, detaching work from wealth is a hard job. When societies such as the Dutch and Danish have tried to do that, they have found freeloading a huge problem. Even with low levels of support as we had in the US before welfare reform, expectations of sitting around and having kids and not having to work were confounding.

The history of the world, however, shows us that while ideas have a place in progress, even more powerful are unforeseen events and connections. Let's consider our number one Unintended Consequence, climate change. It's not just coming, it's here, and there are lots of troubles and displacements pending. We think first, how can we avoid what is coming, how can we abate temperature rising? Well, given the proclivities of manking, the shortsightedness and me-firstism that prevails, we probably can't, no matter how dire though the consequences in a severely illness of the planet vis-a-vis lifeforms. Some preventive steps will be taken and some will be effective, but it's hard to think how enough will be done.

But challenge is opportunity. Won't climate change require lots of work on the part of society? Thinkers will need to invent. We already see the capitalistic system working on products to decrease energy use, and that's just the start. And unlike the job-destroying change of modern productivity increases, the era of climate change will need actual, hands on workers a lot. Not just to install solar panels, but to build dikes! There will be so much actual construction that we will be likely to run out of workers. The most afflicted areas will be job-spawners – Florida will have another job renaissance.

The world might be going to hell, but at least there will be jobs.

So, I'm not thinking about utopia much any more.

Budd Shenkin

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