The Moment of Truth — November 17, 2009

Job Creation ex nihilo

Government and economists are “disappointed” in the rate of job growth.

Now there’s what I call a puzzling phenomenon. Even though neither government nor business has done anything at all to stimulate job growth, the unemployment problem has not improved. Despite their best efforts to will job growth into being through the power of pure belief, unemployment is up and no new jobs have been created. How can this be?

How can wishful thinking not have put millions of people back to work? More importantly, how can reimbursing the financial industry for the trillions they lost through the backfiring of their own wishful thinking not create jobs? These are some effective wishful thinkers we’ve given trillions to. They brought growth in every industry including their own to a standstill by the sheer power of imagination. If they can’t create jobs by doing nothing but daydreaming about it a few hours a day between receiving bonuses, who can?

To be fair, business is no fan of low unemployment. Low unemployment means workers can be choosier, at least in theory, about where they work, thus forcing employers to compete for them with better working conditions and benefits and higher wages. So any practical initiatives for creating jobs with the specific purpose of lowering unemployment will have to come from the government.

This leads to another question: how can the Commerce and Labor Departments be disappointed in the backwards rate of job growth? Nothing has been done to create jobs, so what’s to be disappointed about? If the Obama administration had done one one-hundredth as much to create jobs as they did to not close Gitmo, I could see them being disappointed. But since they have done absolutely nothing to stimulate job growth, it’s unclear how poor or zero or even negative job growth can be a disappointment.

And yet I love that they’re disappointed. It’s almost adorably childish, the fact that they’re disappointed

Back in the Reagan era we all understood how giving the government to the industries it was supposed to regulate would benefit working people, and we grasped how firing lots of employees to raise a company’s stock price was good for everyone, just as we knew that helping the rich get richer would magically end poverty. But those were the good old days of quaint superstition and blind faith.

Once the really really rich had almost all of our money and then I guess burned it or tied it to the backs of sea turtles or however they made it disappear, the spell was broken. No amount of money given to the same wrong people would make things right anymore. The magician’s pants had fallen down, and the doves he’d been concealing in them dropped out dead onto the floor. Giving him more doves was not going make us believe in magic again. It would just kill more doves.

We see that now, but our government can’t seem to figure it out. Obama and his fifty-two assistants are firm believers in spontaneous generation, it appears. Just as we returned to medieval treatment of prisoners during the Bush administration, the Obama administration has returned to the medieval belief that if you sit on a cheese long enough, cattle will hatch out of it.

Bush, of course, never intended to create enough jobs to make any difference, just enough to get by in the polls. But, boy, if Obama could whip up a few dozen million jobs, not only would it make him a hero again, he would actually be keeping his promise to his constituency–the people who voted for abandoning so-called “centrist” trickle-down, supply-side, corporate-favoring voodoo economics, in favor of an economy more attached to the needs and productive use of the abilities and imaginations of the actual people making up the majority of society.

At this logical point, any discussion of economic policy boils down to the question, “what is an economy for?” At its most basic level, an economy springs up around a community’s needs. People need food, so farmers grow it or hunters and gatherers hunt and gather it. People need shelter, so designers design it and builders build it. People need first aid, so healers heal. People need to learn skills and folklore, so teachers teach. Things the community can’t provide for itself must be traded for, so traders trade. And beyond that, creative people make art, train animals, innovate and invent. Even the simplest real community quickly develops economically beyond the basic needs of the people it comprises. But it never abandons the task of providing those needs. Those needs are the basis of the so-called primitive economy, and any economy that provided innovation and glory without taking care of the bases first would be considered a failure by its own people.

However, sometimes even its own people are too dazzled by a society’s glory to realize how that glory has devoured their society from the bottom up. Take what we can piece together of the original society on Easter Island. They made great innovations in religion there. So powerful were their invisible overlords that the entire economy came to be devoted to appeasing them. The Easter Island economic priorities allowed the feet, legs, torso and arms of society to wither away, leaving only giant heads. Who can argue that those giant stone heads aren’t awe-inspiring, as awe-inspiring in their own way as any sky scraper, billionaire’s yacht or Roland Emerich movie?

But had you and I been there, with our post-modern common-sense attitude, when the Easter Islanders were squandering their resources on the awe-inspiring, even as their children were starving, we would probably have considered their priorities poorly ordered… unless we were Ronald Reagan or Milton Friedman or some other economic genius who could see beyond the mere misery of human starvation to the greater economic truth.

See, our economy is sophisticated. We focus on greater economic truths first. In this way we are spiritually superior to primitive societies. Mere gross concerns such as food, shelter, education and healthcare are secondary to the greater subtle economic truth that resources must be controlled by those already ordained and established as resource controllers.

This is why Obama can’t create jobs: he’s too spiritual. He appeases the big stone heads, even though his goal may be to feed the starving children. He can’t help it. It’s very difficult to think beyond one’s epistemology. I love that word, epistemology. Look it up and make sure I’m using it correctly, won’t you? I have a bad history with such theoretical terms. Whatever it may mean, giving to the big stone heads is considered a natural and inevitable way to behave. Giving to the poor is considered artificial and strange. Feeding the big stone heads is not considered meddling with the forbidden gears of the cosmos, while providing health care to poor people is. Ultimately, the world is understood to be constructed so that all resources are destined to gravitate to the big stone heads, and no other understanding is possible.

And yet here are millions of us, out here in the real society, saying, “Giving everything to the big stone heads is killing us, man.”

You want to create jobs? Look first at what needs doing. Then use the resources at your disposal to pay people to do those jobs, and to get buying power to the people who need those jobs done for them. Teaching and healing and growing food and providing shelter. Even trading and innovating. And I mean people, not giant agribusinesses or insurance companies or teacher-enslavement corporations or mighty absentee real estate moguls. Not importers of toxic Chinese slave toys. Not thieves who commandeer inventors’ ingenuity.

There are plenty of jobs that need doing and plenty of people to do them. You want to match the people with the jobs. You need to facilitate something real and material in the actual proximity of the unemployed person. The giant stone heads won’t magically do that for you.

The jobs needing doing are on the ignored ground floor of society–the giant stone heads don’t have any connection to that world’s actual material requirements. They’ll make a cream-filled cupcake. They’ll make an action figure. But they don’t provide real food or real figures or real action. They trade in trinkets and talismans and spun sugar. They’re the owners of the company that owns the company that sells the mortgage debt owed by the owners of the crappy carnival where the games are rigged and the prizes unwinnable.

They exist at the top of many layers of ownership. I don’t have anything against ownership per se. I have something against layers and layers of unnecessary ownership that produces nothing, siphons off everything, and is answerable to no one.

When you exist at the bottom of several strata of ownership, as most of us do, you are buried alive and the priests are dancing on your grave. It may be a beautiful and awe-inspiring and even highly significant dance, but its richness is lost on those of us trying to breathe underground. Defrock the priests and give their frocks to the poor and naked.

If Obama really wants to avoid disappointment next time the job figures come in, here’s what he should do: something. Something real. Something real in the region where the real unemployed people are. In their midst. Jobs aren’t going to create themselves. Banks aren’t going to create jobs by themselves. And certainly not where jobs are most needed. As far as their usefulness to a real society, the banks are broken. The magic is used up. The carnival’s all broken down, the magician’s doves are dead, the rides won’t move and everyone knows the corn dogs are full of E. coli. The bearded lady cut her throat shaving.

Nothing comes from nothing. As long as you’re imagining, imagine something new and useful to do. And then do it.

This has been the Moment of Truth: good day!