Tag Archives: capitalism

Rethinking Jobs And Business: How Pandemics And Relief Benefits May Change Both

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The world is always changing. That’s the only constant.

Sometimes, it changes more rapidly and chaotically than usual. That tends to happen a lot when major events transpire, such as a once-in-a-generation pandemic that infected millions and shut down entire countries. I hope I don’t have to belabor that to anyone with a news feed for the past year.

At the same time, these kinds of rapid upheavals can get us thinking harder about things we tend not to question. I’m not just talking about how much we take our health, our infrastructure, and our essential workers for granted. I’m referring to bigger concepts about how we approach life, society, and how we structure our lives.

One area that seems to be getting more scrutiny lately is how we approach jobs, work, and careers. I’ve certainly given it more thought, mostly in terms of the impacts of telework and how I used my stimulus check. I suspect many others have contemplated these topics in new ways in wake of recent events.

Now, as the pandemic nears its end, some of those concepts are already manifesting in the real world. One effect, in particular, has been especially jarring in America, mostly for reasons that other industrialized countries may find laughable. It has to do with people not wanting to work for a lousy, unlivable wage.

I know that shouldn’t be such a radical concept, but it is and as a proud American, I find it infuriating. There’s no getting around it. The ages for the average, non-CEO American have been stagnant for decades. It’s an issue that has been festering since long before the pandemic and even before I was born.

Before the pandemic swept in, there was an ongoing debate on whether the minimum wage should be increased to $15 nationally. I won’t get too heavily into the politics and talking points behind it, mostly because it ultimately descends into cycle of speculation and fallacies. I’ll just say that the pandemic has complicated that debate in unexpected ways.

During the height of the pandemic, the economy was basically shut down. Suddenly, millions were out of work and businesses had to shut down. Many still haven’t fully recovered. A big reason why many didn’t starve to death or end up on the streets was because of government relief packages, which included extended unemployment benefits.

While America’s relief package wasn’t nearly as generous as other countries, it was certainly better than nothing. I know plenty of people who genuinely needed that relief to stay afloat in terms of paying bills and feeding their families. It’s also not unreasonable to say that this was a critical measure in terms of preventing the pandemic from getting even worse.

However, this effort revealed something remarkable. According to a study done last year, the unemployment benefits that many workers received was actually better than their previous wages. It wasn’t an insignificant chunk of the work force, either. The benefits were greater for approximately 68 percent of American workers.

What does that say about the wages we’re paying our workers?

Moreover, what does that say about the system in general that workers can make more by not working than they would if they were?

Something about that doesn’t add up, literally and conceptually. I get that this was an unprecedented situation. At the same time, it reveal something about how we see work and workers. It’s something businesses are starting to realize too.

As the country and the world opens up, new job opportunities are arising. That’s good news for those who have been out of work. Unfortunately, those same businesses are having a hard time filling those positions.

The jobs are there.

The workers are there.

They just aren’t gravitating towards one another.

Here’s a brief rundown of the situation, courtesy of NPR. If you haven’t been working or are lucky enough to have kept your job during the pandemic, it should offer some insight and perspective.

NPR: Millions Are Out Of A Job. Yet Some Employers Wonder: Why Can’t I Find Workers?

At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed, businessman Bill Martin has a head-scratching problem: He’s got plenty of jobs but few people willing to take them.

“I keep hearing about all the unemployed people,” Martin says. “I certainly can’t find any of those folks.”

Martin helps run M.A. Industries, a plastics manufacturing company in Peachtree City, Ga. The company makes products used in the medical industry — specifically, in things like coronavirus tests and vaccine manufacturing and development.

But as he struggles to keep up with demand, Martin is finding it almost impossible to find new workers.

As someone who has worked his share of lousy, low-paying jobs, I can’t say I’m surprised by this. Don’t get me wrong. I still feel for the business owners who need workers to keep things going. I just can’t forget how arduous it was, working hard at a job that paid so little and left me so exhausted at the end of the day.

If the alternative is staying home and collecting unemployment, which ultimately pays more, then the choice is easy. That’s especially true for those who have kids or relatives they need to take care of. It’s not that they’re lazy, as some overpaid pundits love pointing out. It’s just that the nature of these jobs aren’t that appealing, especially when the pay is so low.

If anything, this situation has inspired us all to take a step back and look at how we approach work, jobs, careers, and business. When you think about it, it’s a little distressing that we build so much of our lives around work. It’s not just something we do out of obligation and responsibility. Many literally have to work in order to survive.

Is that right?

Is that just?

Is that healthy for society as a whole?

I say this as someone who has been lucky enough to have jobs that I’ve both loved and hated. I know what it’s like to work for a business that you hate. I also know what it’s like to have a job you find genuinely fulfilling. Not everyone is that lucky. In fact, I suspect the vast majority of the population, even in America, never experience that luck.

I get that there are economic reasons why some businesses can’t pay their employees high wages. I’ve worked in fast food restaurants. I know the profit margins aren’t exactly large. I also know that, even when I could make more than minimum wage, it was rarely enough to live on. That’s not even factoring the physical toll some of this work takes.

Despite that toll, there was still an undeniable stigma to those who didn’t work or those who simply avoided low paying jobs. In America, it’s a direct extension of that old protestant work ethic that equates moral worth with a willingness to do backbreaking labor for minimal pay. I’m not saying that work ethic is wrong, but I do think it needs to be re-evaluated.

The pandemic suddenly gave people an option on whether or not they wanted to do these kinds of low-paying jobs. Many understandably opt to just collect unemployment. They may not live luxuriously, but they will live. In some cases, they’re even better off.

It may be a sign of things to come. I already speculated on how the pandemic relief bills could be a precursor to a universal basic income. Now that people have experienced life in which their survival isn’t directly tied to having a low-paying job, I think it’ll be difficult to back.

I also think that’s a good thing. Regardless of how you feel about minimum wages, work ethic, or running a business, I think it’s generally a positive trend that we’re starting to decouple work with the right to survive. I think it’s a trend that has to happen, especially as automation does more and more of the low-skilled labor traditionally done by human workers.

It’s true. Some people are lazy and don’t like to work. Some people are just so driven and incapable of not working. Both still deserve to live without needed a job to keep them from starving to death or losing their home. As bad as this pandemic has been, I sincerely hopes it inspires us to rethink how we structure our society. There is a better way of doing things. We should always strive to do things better. Sometimes, that means rethinking everything we’ve come to believe about work, business, and life in general.

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Extremes In Capitalist Tropes: Bob Belcher Vs. Montgomery Burns

The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a bit of a shift from my previous videos. In this, I try to dissect certain TV tropes from some of my favorite shows. For this video, I’m breaking down how capitalism manifests in two distinct characters, namely Montgomery Burns from “The Simpsons” and Bob Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers.”

I’m very curious to see what kind of response I get here. If you like what you see with this video and want to see more like it, please let me know. Thanks and enjoy!

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How Much Agency Do We Really Have?

How much agency do we actually have in our day-to-day lives?

How much freedom do we actually enjoy on a pragmatic basis?

I ask these questions as part of another thought experiment, albeit one that requires more introspection than the others I’ve posed. I think it’s relevant at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic that has severely restricted everyone’s agency to significant degrees. It’s also relevant because it’s something we rarely scrutinize.

There’s another reason I’m discussing matters of agency. It has less to do with current events and more to do with frequent criticisms of certain stories. As an aspiring writer and an avid consumer, especially of superhero media, the agency of certain characters is an integral part of that process. You can’t tell a meaningful story without characters exercising some level of agency.

What has become a major issue in recent years is the source, degree, and structure surrounding that agency. I’ve noticed critics and consumers alike scrutinizing who makes the major choices in a story, as well as what role they play, how they look, and why they’re doing what they do. While these are relevant details, that scrutiny can be misguided.

I see it whenever a female character is perceived as having no agency or having too much.

I see it whenever a male character is perceived as being the only source of agency for every major detail.

I see it whenever a character of a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation play a role that isn’t just restricted to tokenism.

It has derailed many meaningful conversations about some genuinely great stories. It has also established this standard for some people that if any character with agency happens to be of a certain gender or ethnicity, they roll their eyes and discount the story as pushing some sort of agenda. I find that to be incredibly shallow and short-sighted.

That’s why I think it helps to analyze how much agency we think we have in the real world. It’s easy to quantify that agency within the rigid structure of a story, but the real world is larger, more complicated, and a lot less predictable. How can we determine how much agency we actually have in the grand scheme of things?

How much agency did you have in being born into a particular time, place, or socioeconomic level?

How much agency did you have in falling in love with the person you married?

How much agency did you have in getting the job you have or the career you pursued?

How much agency did you have in finding the friends and social circles you’re part of?

On the surface, it may seem like you’re exercising your ability to choose in these circumstance. I ask that you take a step back and think a bit harder about it.

When it comes to our lot in life, did we really have much say in the economic and social system that we’re part of? Sure, we can choose to not participate, but in doing so, we either starve to death because we don’t have money for food or we become completely isolated from the world and any semblance of social support.

We think we have choices when we go to the supermarket or a restaurant, but how many of those choices are already chosen for us? We don’t always by the cheapest brand of cereal because we want to. We buy it because we have to. In that same sense, we don’t always buy the car we want. We buy what we can afford.

To a large extent, our agency is incredibly limited by our economic resources. It’s limited even more by our social structure, as well. We can’t always do what we want, no matter how depraved. We can’t just walk outside naked, rub our genitals against the nearest person, and yell racial slurs at the top of our lungs. We’d get arrested, imprisoned, or ostracized, at the very least.

Even if what we do isn’t illegal, we still limit our choices because of peer pressure and social stigma. It’s not illegal to watch porn on a public bus, but it will get you odd looks and plenty of scorn. To some extent, we sacrifice some of our agency to maintain an orderly, functioning society. It’s just a question of how much we sacrifice and how much we’re willing cling to.

With all that in mind, see if you can take stock in the amount of agency you exercise in your day-to-day life. You may be surprised by how little or how much you actually have. It may not be the most interesting thought experiment you can do for yourself, but the implications it offers are profound.

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How Much Money Do You Really Need?

Most people aren’t born into wealth. The vast majority of the population has no idea what it’s like to be a billionaire, a millionaire, or someone who just doesn’t live with the constant dread that they’re just one missed paycheck away from total ruin. There’s a reason why they’re called the one percent and it goes beyond basic math.

I admit I’ve often contemplated what it would be like if I suddenly became wealthy. I’ve even articulated some of those musings in detail. I suspect most people have day-dreamed at some point what they would do if they suddenly had a billion dollars at their disposal. For most people, it’s difficult to contemplate because, like it or not, money changes people and not always for the better.

When someone asks what you would do with a million dollars, it’s easy to come up with all sorts of answers. Some are inevitably going to be more absurd than others. The movie “Office Space” articulated that point perfectly. However, there’s another question that I feel is worth asking and I also feel it’s more revealing.

How much money do you really need?

I’m not talking about fantasy wealth here.

I’m not talking dream vacations, dream homes, or spending sprees.

How much money do you actually need to live a happy, comfortable life by whatever standards you define it?

That’s a harder question to answer because it varies for everyone. There are some people in the world who think a million dollars isn’t enough. Depending on where you live in the world, that’s not an unreasonable position. Even with those variations, it still doesn’t zero in on the answer. How much is enough?

I’ve seen how people act when the lottery gets above the $300 million mark. In my experience, once things get over $100 million, that’s when even a typical day dream isn’t enough to appreciate just how much money that is. I’ve tried to imagine it and in every case, I come to the same conclusion.

If I had that much money, I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with it.

It’s not that my needs are simple or cheap. I think my costs are fairly average for someone living in a suburban area. If I had $100 million, didn’t invest a penny in stocks or bonds, and stopped making money today, I still wouldn’t be able to spend it all before I turned 100.

I probably couldn’t even spend $50 million. When things get into the billion-dollar territory, it gets even more absurd. Even millionaires have a hard time fathoming how billionaires operate. Most people, even with decent math skills, don’t understand just how much money a billion dollars is.

At that point, you’re way beyond basic needs and wants. You’re in a domain in which you literally cannot spend all that money at once. You have to legitimately try to lose it all and while some people have done that, it often happens in the process of seeking even more billions to add to their fortune. It rarely occurs just by spending money on your day-to-day needs.

In that context, contemplating how much money you actually need says more about you and your situation than it does about your understanding of finance. If you need that much money to be comfortable, then that says something about your mindset and it’s not just about greed. Some want to change the world for the better with that money. Some want to impose their will on it. It depends on who you are and what drives you.

For me, personally, I don’t think I need anything above $10 million. I probably wouldn’t need more than $5 million just to maintain my current living costs, adjusting for inflation, and planning for my future. That might change if I ever get married and have kids, but for now, that’s my perspective.

I’m interesting in hearing how others would respond to this question. How much money is enough for you? How much would you need to be content, stable, and happy? Let me know in the comments. I’d be happy to revisit this issue again down the line.

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Why Capitalism Will Survive Technological Progress (To A Point)

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There’s a popular perception among those who speculate about the future. It has less to do with the technology and progress that we’ll make, as a society, and more to do with what will be rendered obsolete. Like dial-up internet or VHS tapes, there will be many artifacts of our current society that are destined to become relics of a bygone era.

Near the top of the list of those things people can’t wait to get rid of is capitalism. When I say “capitalism,” though, I don’t necessarily mean everything from the concept of money to big corporations to having 500 different kinds of covers for your cell phone. I’m more referring to the kind of economic system that creates extreme income inequality, mass exploitation of workers, and price gouging.

While I can appreciate sentiments of people who feel that way about a system where the inequalities are well-documented, I have some good news and some bad news for those looking forward to that post-capitalist utopia.

Capitalism is NOT going to become obsolete, but it will take on a radically different form.

I say that as someone who has written plenty about the upheavals our society will face when technologies like artificial intelligence, human enhancement, and advanced robotics become more refined. The economic, social, and political system, as we know it today, will not be able to function in that environment.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will disappear like VHS tapes. That’s especially true of our current form of capitalism. It’s already changing before our eyes, but it’s set to change even more in the coming decades. It may get to a point where it’s hard to call it “capitalism” by our current definition, but it will still exist to a certain extent.

Whether you’re a hardcore libertarian or a self-proclaimed socialist, it’s hard to overlook the flaws in capitalism. This is a system that is prone to corruption, negatively impacts the environment, and will gladly eschew health concerns in the interests of profits. Basically, if you’ve ever dealt with a cable company, the tobacco lobby, or the banking industry, you’ve experienced those flaws first-hand.

Many of the flaws, however, are a byproduct of logistical limitations. Human beings are not wired to make sense of the plethora of economic forces that govern the cost, production, distribution, and marketing of goods. We’re barely wired to assemble IKEA furniture. The human race evolved to survive in the plains of the African Savanna, not the bustling streets of New York City.

Even with these limitations, humanity has managed to achieve a lot from this flawed system. Despite its shortcomings, it has been the catalyst for modern society. The cities, industries, and technological advancement that we’ve undergone over the past 200 years would not have been possible without capitalism. Say what you will about the profit motive. Apple would not be a trillion-dollar company without it.

It’s for that reason, along with the knowledge of capitalism’s many documented failures, that emerging trends in technology is more likely to smooth out the edges of the system rather than render it obsolete entirely. As someone who groans every time he sees his cable bill, I admit I’m eager for those refinements.

I still don’t blame others for hoping that the entire system is scraped. The thinking is that increasing efficiencies in automation, improvements in manufacturing at the nano-scale, and advances in artificial intelligence will undercut the key foundations of capitalism. Why would corporations, marketing gimmicks, or brand restrictions even exist in a world run by intelligent machines, enhanced humans, and 3D printers?

It’s not an entirely flawed notion. We’re already seeing plenty of disruptions in established systems due to technology. Landlines are disappearing, streaming media has destroyed brick-and-mortar rental stores like Blockbuster, and self-driving cars will likely end the taxi and trucking industry as we know it.

Further down the line, even more industries will break down when you scale up and expand these same technologies. A sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence could manage the banking and financial industry without any middle men, who are going to be prone to corruption. That same intelligence won’t be prone to the same panics that have plagued capitalism for centuries.

Other technologies will render distressing institutions like sweatshops obsolete, thanks to advances in robotics and 3D printing. A lot of the exploitations surrounding capitalism, both in terms of people and the environment, come from labor and production costs. Mitigating or ending that exploitation can and likely will be done without undercutting capitalism, if only because it’s more efficient in the long run.

Then, there’s the prospect of human enhancement. That, more than anything, will change the nature of society and economics in ways nobody alive today can predict. Beyond undermining the multi-trillion dollar health care industry that exists today, changes to the human condition could fundamentally change the way the economy functions.

Even with all those changes, though, I believe a certain facet capitalism will survive. Even in a society full of enhanced humans equipped with brain implants, perfectly refined genes, and molecular assemblers that can build anything imaginable, there will be a market. There will be a form of currency. There will even be institutions, human and robotic, to manage it all.

That’s because, even in a society where hunger, disease, and poverty of all kinds has been eliminated, there’s still one market that will always exist. That market is escaping boredom. It doesn’t matter how healthy, content, or advanced you are. You’ll still want to avoid getting bored and this is where the future of capitalism truly lies.

I believe that boredom will be the only remaining plague in the future. I also believe that technology can only do so much manage our wants and needs. At some point, we’re still going to seek novel experiences. We’re still going to want to explore new feelings, whether that involves studying science or visiting a futuristic theme park like “Westworld.” The demand will be there and that’s where capitalism comes in.

It may end up being the case that those experiences will be the closest thing we have to a tangible currency. In a society where technology has made so many other resources accessible and abundant, it’s the only currency that has tangible and perceived value. There may still be other forms of money built around it, such as new crypto-currencies, but there will still be real market forces at work.

Some of those forces will have the same flaws we see now. Much of the current system depends on people working to produce goods and services, using the money they make to buy those goods and services, and participating in a vast network of investment, marketing, and distribution of resources. It’s a complex, chaotic, and inherently unmanageable system.

There will probably be failures, missteps, and conflicts in managing this new marketplace of experiences. Entire companies may emerge, possibly from some that exist today, that compete over who crafts those experiences and provides them to customers, either over the internet or directly into someone’s brain. That competition is likely to produce corruption and scandal, albeit in a very different form.

Having advanced artificial intelligence and humans that aren’t at the mercy of their caveman brains will help, but only to a point. As long as society is full of individuals seeking different wants and needs, there will be some form of capitalism necessary to meet them both. Trying to avoid or subvert that probably won’t lead to a better system, as the many failures of alternative systems have proven.

Like our current system of capitalism, there will be flaws. Even enhanced humans and artificial intelligence will have limits that need refinement over time. It’s those very shortcomings, though, that will help forge a better system overall. Again, it’s impossible to tell what forms they’ll take, but so long as there are markets, there will be capitalists seeking to profit from them.

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