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A Train Headed for Disaster



Last revised: 25 October 2006

All indications are that we in North America, to borrow a phrase from Werner Erhard, are on a train headed for disaster. It doesn’t make any difference that some people look out the left window and some look out the right. The train itself rolls on in the same direction.

The disaster is an existential crisis for the vast majority of our people. Especially in Canada where I live, since 1980, business has been automating work, eliminating any human job that a machine could do better. Gone are many jobs that involved crunching numbers, tabulating information, keeping accounts, compiling statistics, supervising work, managing inventories, directing inquiries, dispensing tickets, booking travel, printing books, etc.

As a result, work has shrunk. Many entry-level jobs have disappeared making it harder for youth to enter the job market. Many jobs that might have been done by immigrants new to our culture, whose language skills may not yet be well developed, have also been eliminated.

On top of this, any jobs that could be exported to low-cost nations, such as call centres, banking, software research and development, and manufacturing have been sent offshore. Yet now we hear economists decrying the fall in Canadian “productivity.” But few of them seem to realize how automation and offshore outsourcing, in the service of a small group of people who are amassing the world's wealth, have caused the problem.

My deepest, darkest fantasy is that journalists and economists are not prepared to openly look at and accept the fact that those who are leading the global economy may be dead-wrong and predatory in what they are doing. That is, at least insofar as the benefit of the largest number of the population is concerned. That may be a statement that many Africans would have been willing to make for a few centuries, but it is now our turn as North Americans to see its truthfulness because we are now the victims of its harmfulness.

No, I am not suggesting a conspiracy by a cabal composed of a single ethnic group (the Nazis chose the Jews to blame); the very use of such an idea serves the power elite by scapegoating, or deflecting attention from themselves onto, some poor blokes who are usually not the cause of the problem. Surely, the Second World War discredited this strategy, hopefully forever.

As far as I can see, the members of the modern power elite who are globalizing poverty come from all walks of life. People from all ethnic groups, if they can possibly join this privileged few, this "superclass," appear to be only too eager to do so. We have apotheosized greed and sensuality in our consumer society and tantalize potential new recruits with the promise of magnificant riches and all the sensory objects and pleasures they can buy.

I believe that this movement to beggar our neighbour and roll in sensuousness and pleasure is not what life was designed for. I cannot but draw our attention to the existence, in this divine order we live in, of the law of karma, which states that "what we sow, we reap." If we beggar our neighbours, we invite being beggared in the future. If we throw people out of work, we invite the same fate on ourselves. Surely this makes sense to us - at some level.

Since merging, consolidating, and spinning off ended in the 1970s (as I recall) and automation began in the 1980s, a rapacious, predatory group of capitalists has been bent on breaking unions, lowering workers’ wages, ending benefits, and in every other way destroying the supportive environment that we created for working people in the 1950s and 1960s.

The social safety net has been dismantled. Many of its programs, which would have seen to the needs of aging workers, are now gone. Workers' wages are falling as they become deskilled and marginalized through computerization. Corporations lose their vertical lines of promotion and many workers are dead-ended.

A growing pool of people are being rendered unemployed, and some unemployable, because they have been “bridged” by the computer or rendered obsolete in some other way. This deveopling situation makes it easy for employers to keep wages and benefits low. Long lineups of people spring up for each advertised position, making it a buyer’s market.

Meanwhile, the cost of gasoline, cars, rent, housing, airline tickets, clothing, etc., all creep up while some workers realize years without raises and others suffer wage cuts. Our children cannot afford to buy a house. Many of them have abandoned the idea of home ownership and are happy if they accumulate a little equity in the incredibly-expensive houses that sell today.

The disaster will hit us soon because one large section of the population - the Baby Boomers – will soon be unable to work. They will head into old age without adequate pensions or benefits or safety-net programs. They will endeavour to live without the social supports that once were there.

How will they do it?

It is quite clear that new arrangements for sharing will need to arise. One friend suggested that elderly people who have houses but lack care may wish to share those houses with younger families who lack a house but can provide care. We may need to turn to barter and the use of local currencies. All manner of arrangements may need to arise to meet the coming crisis. In the words of Werner Erhard, if we want to save the train headed for disaster from arriving there, we have to stop it, get out ahead of it, and lay new track.

How long will it take us to see that our train is headed for disaster? When will we stop the inroads of a rapacious capitalism that cares not a whit for people but wishes only to garner the world’s wealth for itself, instead of creating a world that works?