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Economical economy

One view of the economy is that all people should be gainfully employed, doing something productive to help out, in order to obtain a living for themselves and their dependents.  I do not mean to imply that this notion is altogether wrong, but I wish to supply reasons why I do not believe it is the best way to view the situation.

Consider a simple example.  100 families live in a village.  Each family runs a farm to produce food for itself.  Then new technology is invented.  Tractors make it so that one farmer can produce all of the food the entire village needs.  That one farmer can produce all of the food and all the other famers can benefit from it without doing any work at all.  The same level of production is achieved with a much lower cost of human labor.  The way our economy currently works, the other 99 families would then attempt to gain employment by some other means to earn enough money to pay for the food from the 1 farmer.  This increases productivity and keeps the cost of human labor constant.  Either solution is good for the economy.

Some people love being athletic.  Some people are very good at basketball and get paid handsomely for playing it.  These people have the benefit of doing something that they personally enjoy and earn a living (including plenty of allowance for luxury) doing so.  I am similarly situated.  I love math.  I get paid to do math all day long.  My employment is ideal for me.  I am paid to do something that I enjoy doing.

Some people have interests which are not profitable.  Some people enjoy painting or performing music.  While some artists are well-known and make lots of money, very few actually make much at all.  Indeed, even athletes are this way.  While NBA players are paid handsomely, not all people who play basketball are paid that well--or even at all.  On the other hand, there are jobs which need to be done which some people may possibly enjoy, but most people would not.  (In fact, I admit that math teacher is something that many people would think of as an adverse job.)

Consider, for example, garbage collection.  This is necessary for our society to continue to run as it currently is, however not many people aspire to the position.  A common view on jobs of this nature is to condescend.  I often hear of people insulting workers who flip burgers or collect garbage or sweep floors or other similar labor.  These may be low-skill jobs, but they are necessary jobs and we should respect and appreciate the workers who do them.

Another consideration is that many people are unfit to be gainfully employed.  They may be physically or mentally incapable of doing most jobs.  Perhaps there is some job which they could do.  Perhaps there is none.  Should such a person not be entitled to the same comforts in life that the rest of us enjoy because of this disadvantage?

I look forward to a society where people contribute not because they are greedy and want more money but because they want to help make society a better place.  A society where people are allowed to pursue their own interests without the fear of losing their livelihood.  Where an artist can practice drawing and sketching and explore eir creative side.  Where a student can learn as long and as much as ey likes.  Where people are allowed to be what we often consider "unproductive" and not be penalized for doing so.

My reasoning is not to encourage laziness, although I know that it could easily do so.  My reasoning is that we have enough.  We have plenty.  We are a productive people.  We have technologies which automate so many of the things which needed to be done with human labor in the past.  McDonald's has started using automated order-takers to reduce man hours in stores.  I view this as a good thing.  It increases productivity (or, in other words, reduces cost of manual labor for the same level of productivity).

Returning to the example of the village, if the 100 families in the village were content with having no more than just food to get by, the 1 farmer can provide for the needs of the entire village and the other 99 families are free to pursue any interest of their choosing, or no interest at all.  Another solution would be to have the labor on rotation so that one day in every 100 one family takes a turn working on the farm, thus the labor and its results are both equally shared.

Let us examine the numbers.  The gross domestic product of the USA in 2014 was $17.4 trillion and the population was 319 million.  This is an average of $54,500 of goods and services produced per person for the year 2014.  What that means is that if we had 100% strict socialism (where everyone was paid precisely the same amount), each person would receive an income of $54,500.  (As a reference, that's higher than my current salary.)  Keep in mind that this is per person, not adult let alone per working adult.  This includes children and retired persons, and people who are unable to work or unemployed.

What does this mean?  This means that we are really good at producing things.  We are a productive people.  The median income for 2014 was $52,000.  The mean number of persons per household was 2.5.  This means that each person, on average, is making roughly $21,000.  So the average person is making less than half of what the average person is producing.  How is that accomplished?  It means that those at the top are taking roughly half of the money for themselves and those at the bottom are thereby getting a 50% pay cut.

How can socialism help?  The redistribution of wealth can help by allowing people to pursue their own interests and still pay for basic life necessities.  We produce enough to not just make higher education free for all students, but in fact to pay them for attending school.  We can give students a stipend plentiful enough to live off of and still learn full-time.  In the long run, this will increase future productivity because people with higher skill sets are more productive in life.  And it would allow students to dedicate all of their time to learning.  I know that many of my students work part or full time to help pay for their schooling and living expenses.  This significantly impacts their performance in my courses.

What if people take advantage of the system?  I'm sure that will happen.  The question is not whether it will happen but in what frequency.  If, for example, 5% of people (who are capable of contributing to productivity) simply refuse to contribute, this would not be a heavy burden on the rest of us.  We could continue on with our lives without even noticing the change.  If, on the other hand, 90% of people refuse to contribute, the brunt of bearing the burden there may be felt by the 10% who do contribute.  But, again, going by the numbers above, 50% of people (who currently work) could stop working today and average income would remain constant while productivity would be cut in half.

There is the sentiment of the little red hen.  Those who are doing the work and being productive are affronted by those who mooch off the system, reaping the benefits while doing no work.  However, there are many classes of people who mooch who are not hated for doing so.  For example, young children.  Children under the age of 5, say, are basically incapable of contributing in any real way to the economy.  And yet, any such children in a caring home are still provided for just as much as the working adults.  It is when a person is capable of working but refuses to that ey is the recipient of such animosity.

A point I would like to make in response to that is "why?".   Again returning to the village analogy, the 1 farmer doing the work with the tractor and producing food for the entire village is not working any harder than ey was when ey was only producing enough food for eir own family.  So why should he be upset, whether the remainder of the villagers work or not?  Ey is not being asked to work unreasonably hard.  It is as hard as ey would work regardless.  A parent is happy to provide for eir own children, so why would the one farmer not be happy to provide for the entire village (if ey had the capability to do so)?

The 99 families taking food from the 1 farmer to feed themselves is not harmful to the economy.  However, if there was 1 family who took half of the farmer's food and sold it to another village to make a profit for himself, this would harm the village's economy because then the 99 families remaining would only have half of the food they need to survive, and many would go hungry.  In other words, the "moochers" are less damaging to the overall standard of living than the greedy.  This is why I believe it is justified to place high taxes on the super wealthy and use a portion of those taxes to subsidize the income of those below the poverty line.

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