Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Servant Economy

I heard a very interesting interview on the Diane Rehm show about future job trends in our economy. Jeff Faux, author of a book titled The Servant Economy was interviewed.

The book talks about a trend toward low wage, low skill jobs in the future. Job growth projections from US Department of Labor seem to show the majority of job growth in occupations that do not require college education from now till 2020. Jobs like janitor, sales clerk and motel maid, for instance.

Much of this is described by the author as being the result of that growing gap between the very rich and the rest of the population. Wealth concentrating at the top. This relates a lot to political choices that voters made when President Reagan was swept into office. Also more recent elections, such as the T-party sweep of 2010.

In liberal media (as opposed to conservative media), much is written about the demise of the American middle class and the future it portends. This book fits right in.

I agree with a lot of what the author says, but have some of my own thoughts to add.

The growing wealth gap is a really big problem, but there are some other factors leading to our economic condition as well. Restrictions on the old paradigm of economic growth due to environmental concern is a big factor. The old American middle class, with it's cars and big houses is problematic to the environment.

Also to the distribution wealth around the world. Global wealth is now tending to become more even. Look at the rise of China. As other countries rise out of poverty, American appears to be sinking from it's former height.

Transition to what another author named Alvin Toffler describes as the Third Wave, or The Information Economy also brings it's dislocation in today's economy. Dawning of an information age can bring new joys, but it also brings stresses to old economic paradigms.

I'd say that the servant economy doesn't have to be all bad. One of the callers to that Diane Rehms show said she had a master's degree in education and was now cleaning houses. She and a partner run their own house cleaning business and they seemed to enjoy it. The author responded by saying there was nothing wrong with good honest work. His own mother was a waitress. It can be a good life, but one does not need to have $40,000 of student loan debt to clean houses.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that we are not preparing for the servant economy, if in fact this is what the future brings. Young people don't need to be burdened with huge student loan debt to work as waiters. Housing and healthcare needs to be more affordable if we are to live in the servant economy.

To some extent, it seems like Americans are living in a fantasy world. A world where high profile jobs are always promised, but rarely materialize. Of course there will always be a percentage of the population that does the high tech / high end jobs. There will always be the folks like Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook). Small groups of employees, like the Facebook team will create interesting things in the economy that the rest of us can benefit from, often free of charge.

Life in the future, even in the servant economy, can be rich and varied. Not necessarily the dismal future that many fear. There has never before been such opportunities in personal networking, for instance. The volunteer sector continues to flourish enhanced by new networking technologies. Cellphones, Facebook and whatever; we are not just poor servants.

If we face up to a future of low end and hopefully low stress jobs, we can still flourish. Smaller families and more single people can help. Less materialism and more voluntary simplicity. Less consumption and more social life.

This may not be the world that some of the wealthy and their right wing think tanks expect to come out of where our economy is going, for the most part, under their watch. Much to their chagrin it might turn into a world of what some folks might call "hippie life."

On the other hand, human civilization might still figure out a way to get the economic juggernaut going again, but it will have to be bringing prosperity to the majority of ordinary people again.

Interesting to note; the front cover of that book shows a gold dust pan.

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