Friday, August 26, 2011

Libertarianism, Economic Crises, and the Future

I'm going to be honest. I like the idea of being a libertarian. I like the concept that maybe, just maybe, people can be trusted to be responsible for themselves. I like the idea of smaller government, although I'm not sure exactly how to achieve it. I like the idea of paying fewer taxes...but what about all the people who would lose their jobs?

Truth is, government cuts affect real people. Some of whom are my friends. Of course, the ideal of libertarianism is that anyone who tries should be able to get a job, and if they can't, they just aren't trying (with exceptions for the profoundly disabled).

Which is a nice idea. It's a great idea. It's a great image that 'anyone who tries should be able to get a job'.

Here's where it runs up against reality.

Reality: Most modern factories are highly automated. They require a small number of highly-trained workers.

Reality: The local pharmacy now has two counters for actual cashiers, and I've never seen them both occupied. There are six U-scan units. I know people have been fired in favor of the machines.

Reality: There are more people every day. There are fewer jobs every day.

I want to believe in a world where everyone can step forward, be proud, work for a living and survive. But for that, there needs to be a labor shortage. We currently live in a world with a labor surplus.

Now, that may not be such a bad thing. Cities could only start when agriculture developed to the point where farming had a labor surplus. A labor surplus is an incredible resource. The problem is that our society exists in the industrial paradigm. You work and you get to eat or you don't work and you either don't get to eat or live as a beggar. At the same time, we live in a world of plenty.

So, what about a different dream...one in which everyone gets their basic needs and only has to work for the extras. We almost have the technology to do it. Except...

...that's Marxism. Marxism does not work at any level above that of the kibbutz, commune or monastery. Unless, of course, Marx was actually spot on with his theory of history and the communists failed because the technology was not there yet. Now there's a scary thought, isn't there.

So. How do you reconcile libertarian philosophy with a labor surplus? The immediate answer is that you can't. A libertarian society requires a labor shortage.

Except that's the in the box answer. It's not the science fiction writer's answer.

The science fiction writer's answer is that we, as a society, should both move away from the employment paradigm into one that makes sense for a post-industrial society and find a use and place for the surplus labor. When Europe had a labor surplus, they colonized America. Oh, but there's no America now...no new world.

Wrong. We do have a New World to colonize. We have the technology. We are very close to having a drug that protects humans from the effects of long-term exposure to space. And we have the labor surplus.

We have the hard working people who want to live, want to build, but are trapped because there aren't enough jobs, or the jobs there are don't pay a living wage.

And we have a new world that's not much further away, with the right launch window, than America was for the men and women of the Mayflower and her sisters. Those men and women used state of the art technology, and they willingly took a leap of faith. A shot in the dark to get a better life...one in which they knew they would have to work hard. Sure, they were also fleeing religious persecution, but there were other issues. Land shortage. Shortage of jobs. A labor surplus.

I suspect that there are many people out there who would, if given the chance, if the door was opened only a crack, willingly take the same leap of faith and risk a one way trip to a new world. One where they would have to work even harder, for it is not a new world that is green and pleasant and there are no natives to learn from and exploit.

The answer to having a truly free society without going down the path to Communism (although I'm not averse to a bit of well-placed Socialism) and to resolving our labor surplus problems is also good for the human race. It would teach us, once more, that to build society and make history, men and women and, yes, even children, must take risks. It would remind us that what we are is a curious, upright ape that climbs the hill just to see what's in the next valley.

Everyone out there is saying that society needs to retrench. Roll back. Not spend money. Huddle together until the crisis passes. They're wrong.

Our society is at a crisis point, and if we retrench and roll back, we become Rome. If we go up and out, then we become the future of humanity.

So. How about it. Who out there is young, healthy, ready to start a family and willing to take a one way trip of about six weeks? You'd end up in a place where you had to make not just your food, but your air and water. The weather is awful. But your children would not be sucking off of some welfare teat but standing proud as citizens of a new world.

Who out there would be willing to take a one way trip...to Mars.