We're getting so efficient at what we do that if everyone was working full tilt, there would be be no more room on Earth for all the products, services and new developments being created. Our economy is like a growing plant that's become pot bound. There's little place to grow, without running into environmental concern.
Growth is like a journey, a narrative. It gives the economy purpose and direction. It provides an understandable focus. Building the new landscape. Without it, we're floundering.
What's America's purpose for the next 10 years? Where are we going?
A new frontier to expand into makes that question easier to answer. Without it, we have to figure out a new way to justify our endeavours.
Part of the problem is that population keeps expanding and billions of folks around the world are being lifted out of poverty. Is there enough space on Earth for every one's aspirations?
Here are some possible answers to this dilemma.
Create a focus of transitioning to a greener more sustainable economy. President Obama talks about this quite often. This includes the things people keep hearing about like green energy, green cars (which may be an oxymoron), clean coal (carbon sequestration) solar power, wind, and even nuclear power.
This could keep us busy, but it's hard to get the fires of green energy lighted, especially using the matches of free market economics. Will wind power pay when dirty coal is still cheaper?
Green energy is kind of like green wood. It's hard to get the fire lit.
This transition goes beyond just green energy. Back in the 1990s, the internet opened up a frontier of information technology. Suddenly there were new jobs in services such as Google that no one had heard of before.
New types of products and services that have lower footprints on the environment are coming from the advances of science. We are seeing the miniaturization of things. Libraries that once filled entire buildings can now be stuffed into flash memory and placed on one bookshelf. Less footprint.
Still, many of these technologies will also make us more efficient, thus eliminating jobs. For instance more "pro summer" opportunities. Instead of using a travel agent, people can book their own travels via web sites.
Big changes need to come to our culture as well. Maybe we should learn to put less emphasis on economic wealth and value other things that can bring a different kind of value to life. More free time, for instance. Possibly not striving to produce so much in terms of marketable goods and services, but other qualities in life like friendships and contemplation. Learning how to let the grass grow under our wheels.
Maybe that's what our goal should be. Learn to let grass grow under wheels. In some ways, it could be almost as important as inventing the wheel.
I don't want people to think I'm just a lazy hippie, so I can also suggest finding a new frontier. How about building more stuff in space? There's plenty of room.
As we outgrow Earth, how about building things in space that can keep us employed.
Keep us busy.
Now we have things like GPS, thanks to satellites in space. We can figure out more stuff to do using space. Large telescopes to satisfy our couriosity about the universe. More jobs for college graduates. More topics to write papers on.
Still, can the free market pay for this? We are building the James Webb Telescope, but it's still "government work" and we need a lot more of this to keep all our minds active.
With long term unemployment as high as it is, we need to think about where we are going next for the new jobs and opportunities. If we had another earth to expand into, the answer to that question would be more straight forward.
Without a new Earth, we need to think creatively. No one solution will do it all. It's a combination of things. Greening of our economy, new frontiers in science, space, but also new frontiers in culture, like learning that it's not a crime to slow down. It will take a combination of all these things. This may seem contradictory, but one size doesn't fit all 7 billion folks on Earth.
We just have to start thinking about unemployment in terms of how do we go beyond the pot bound economy.