As mentioned, I have spent the last few days on vacation. While there I got to do something I rarely do these days which is to read a fiction book from cover to cover in a few days. For this selection I chose a Tom Robbins book I haven’t read – it wasn’t recommended, I just got it at some sale a while back – the book is Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas.
It was amusing enough to hold my interest, I can’t really recommend it for great reading but there were several parts that really did intrigue me – especially because the copyright is eighteen years old and several of the ideas seem extremely contemporary (like the instability of the stock market system and how it’s being gamed by insiders). I’d like to cite a passage here describing the lecture of the antagonist – a former stock broker star:
… in our society, jobs are an aberration, a flash in the pan…People have always worked, he explains, but they have only held jobs – with wages and employees and vacations and pink slips – for a very short time. And now, with the proliferation of cybernetics and robotics and automation of all types and degrees, jobs are on the way out again. In the context of history, jobs have been but a passing fancy.
Nowadays, he would have you believe, the state uses jobs, or rather the illusion of jobs as a mechanism for control. When there is a public outcry about some particularly vile instance of deforestation, wreckage, or pollution, the “pufftoads” hasten to justify the environmental assault by trumpeting the jobs it allegedly will save or create – and then the protests fade like the rustle of a worn dollar bill. Foreign policy decisions, including illegal and immoral acts of armed intervention, likewise are made acceptable, even popular, on the grounds that such actions are necessary to protect American jobs. Virtually every candidate for public office in the past seventy years has campaigned with the rubber worm of “more jobs” dangling from his or her rusty hook, and the angler with the most lifelike worm snags the votes, even though all voters except the cerebrally paralyzed must recognize that there are going to be fewer and fewer jobs as time – and technology – progresses.
I kept checking the date on this book. This is fiction from 1994.
Jobs are the magical trump card that politicians reach for time and again. Jobs are why we can’t say goodbye to destructive industry, jobs are why we rally at the advent of every new product – no matter the quality or usefulness. Jobs are why we can’t focus on health, safety, or the environment. Jobs are why our military has any civilian support; our military has become a bastion of the job based economy. Without the relatively superior pay and benefits, our all volunteer military would certainly dwindle to a fraction of its size. The military knows that a dependable, high quality work force is impossible without basic benefits of insurance, health, home security, education, retirement plans, and clear working contracts. For all that the military has not gotten right, the one thing it does get right is providing the basics for their employees and their families.
What “job” means in America is a package deal of temporary security – that could possibly lead to longer term security (but the likelihood of that constantly wanes). If someone has a “job” they have a position of usefulness secured for pay, as well as some other securities like the promise of more regular work, a semblance of safe conditions, reasonable shift lengths, healthcare options, retirement plans, building a knowledge or credibility base, as well as a social network of those in similar situations as yourself. What has happened is that the previously agreed upon social contract of security and longevity is now void. With a global economy, American workers now compete with companies that have built their policy on not providing workers with safe and secure conditions for the short or long term. Our system of distribution and an assembly line that wraps around the globe means that tracing inhumane treatment is a lost cause for the average consumer. The likelihood that some of the workers that processed our food, clothing, shelter, retail goods, and even medical goods were mistreated or forced to work in substandard situations is extremely high. The American workforce has simply joined the legion of mistreated and exploited international workers in a globalized economy.
If we want a permanent solution to our own short term and long term security, our country must establish a minimum standard of living – kind of like the military did for an entry level recruit with a family. If someone goes through life trying, working, contributing to society, they should be able to afford a minimum standard of living – one that allows for dignity in our food, shelter, health, liberties, and pursuits of happiness. We know how to do it – the military is a part of our government – we just have to find the voice to claim that being American means having dignity and compassion, it means that we care about “strangers” because we have
humane American standards.