Jobs are going, going, gone, and will not be back. This is not a cyclical problem, it is a major crisis. We may follow a patchwork approach to the unemployment problem, and react on the spur of the moment to the loudest calls for attention. This way, we may even stumble on some satisfying makeshift arrangement and pretend that we have reached a new equilibrium. We may... and then we may not, and there are those threats, those three "time-bombs" ticking, remember?
Then, we may seek a permanent solution to the problem of life in society after toil is over, and aim at setting up a new equilibrium for the Age of Leisure. If we do, then we must wave goodbye to Homo Faber, set new rules for the new game, and plot a path that will take us safely, with as little pain as possible, from here to there, through the dangers of transition, out of the present crisis ... and beyond.
This book will propose a solution. Before it does, though, we will go back in time to the root of the problem and come back step-by-step, in a cautious "forward pass" along the network of decisions which resulted in affluence... and crisis. We will start in the beginning, go slowly, touch all the bases and leave no milestones unturned. We will, because it is not really possible to grasp the intricacies of the present crisis and to plot that path to safety unless we have a clear idea of the events which brought us to where we are.
Fastidious? Maybe, but I have heard too often, too many experts in the field of human resources - not to speak of laymen like Ministers and Secretaries of State! - utter incredibly asinine statements because they had missed a turn somewhere. You and I have seen much too many &laqno;enterprises of great pitch and moment » turn awry or simply fall flat, because there was a little missing link in the vision of the world of the powerbug-on-duty. We will go back and look at the "why" of the crisis, try to understand what went wrong with a system that has been good enough to satisfy - and then some! - all the material demands that were placed upon it. As we do, we will not only understand why this crisis had to come, but also why it has to go away... and see how we can help.
The "why" may be boring, though, to the true believers and the compulsive problem-solvers, so here is a clue and a deal. The clue is that whenever you feel that you have had it with yesteryear and yesterday and can take the rest of the "why" of the crisis on faith, you may proceed directly to Book Two (more precisely to Parts II and III of Book Two), where you will find real, honest-to-goodness suggestions for a better world. The deal is that if you are shocked by some of these suggestions, you will not shout "Preposterous!"... but will return quietly to join the historical mini-tour at the very point you decided to wander on your own.
Now, for the curious at heart, let us go back in time...
1. TOP-DOGS AND PACK-HUNTS
Go back in time..., go back in time. The Saga of Man the Worker starts with a modern manager's dream: total dedication to work. Small groups of men, women and children roam the woods, picking berries and trying to catch small animals. Like some birds and insects and door-to-door salesmen, they go from sunrise to sunset, without pause, eating as they go along. It is indeed a manager's dream, as it can be seen that workers need no extra incentives and require absolutely no supervision. It is a perfect system of personal entrepreneurship; it offers equal opportunities for all, and results correlate abilities. Good berry-pickers obtain a reward commensurate with their efforts: survival. It is unknown to us, but appears dubious, whether berry-pickers as a whole enjoyed berry-picking, either as a way of life or as an occasion for self-development. What we definitely know, is that some berry-pickers, at least, did not care too much for it and that they looked for more exciting challenges, like hunting larger animals.
The consenting Labour Force
We know also that this did provide opportunities for self-development, even self-aggrandizement, and that, immediately as some reached the level of self-development and self-aggrandizement necessary to express forcefully their opinion, the world witnessed the first great division of labour: the division between those who would go on herding buffaloes, picking berries, "working"... and those who would henceforth devote their lives to loftier schemes, like planning raids on neighboring tribes, or forecasting the "Gross Tribal Product" by scrutinizing the innards of some unlucky animals. This first division of labour was a portentous event in the history of Mankind. It is immaterial, though, whether we refer to it as the "Birth of Society", the "Dawn of Civilization", the "First Social Contract", the "Original Powerplay" or simply say "in the beginning"...
"Leadership" was not really a surprise move. Wolves, baboons and other animals hunt in packs, an activity that requires coordination and team-work and is greatly enhanced by some sort of pecking-order. Not surprising either that this division of labour should meet with the enthusiastic approval of the would-be coordinators; but what about the "labour force", about those who would now have to feed both themselves and the "leaders"?
It is unrealistic to believe that, right from the start, the labour force was forced unto submission; it is a safer guess that, faced with the challenges of day-to-day life, the "strong" had other priorities than to look after the "weak", and that great warriors, except for immediate intercourse, had little interest in running down fugitive spouses and their progeny. Had they wanted to run them down, the whole wide world was on the side of freedom. The reasonable assumption is that it is the weak who began to play "follow the leader", that leadership was sought, not imposed, and that if Man, a stiff-necked animal who would rather go his own way and do his own thinking, accepted gregarious life, it was undoubtedly because it offered advantages that made up for the constraints and that, all considered, hunting in pack was more fun than berry-picking by oneself.
It is very important to understand that in the beginning there was freedom. No two parties will stick together, no family units will hold, no society will be born unless its original members agree that, together, they will fare better than each for himself. It is a bargain, a contract, and if he is to come back nightly to the common hearth rather than take to the hills on his own, the most down-trodden individual in the group must see something for him in keeping close to his stronger neighbors. Primitive society is the original "non-zero sum game", and if it is to go on every player has to gain a little more at it than playing "Lone Ranger" .
The first social contracts were not elaborate and certainly not "equal". If he fetched wood and otherwise followed orders, the weak partner might be allowed to sleep within snoring distance from the strong and to receive from his bigger friend a modicum of protection, together with the implied promise that he would not be butchered and eaten except in case of dire necessity. It was understood also that "chiefs" were whimsical, temperamental and unpredictable, just like all other forces of nature. These were hard bargains and it was "take it or leave it"; still, there was freedom and it was a bargain. There was freedom, that is, until an agreement had been reached.
When the contract was "signed", it became another story. A whole series of changes take place after the birth of society. First, the division of labour that makes the deal palatable to the strong will create a state of interdependence: each individual in the group becomes dependent on the others for his welfare. To the weak, this is nothing new and it just creates an extra incentive to belong; for the strong partner, however, it is unusual to depend on weaklings.
Yet dependence is created the minute there is a labour force: it is so much more pleasant to have somebody else do the chores. When the strong feels dependent, he discovers an incentive to keep the weak at hand. Freed from daily tasks and with followers ready to lend a helping hand, leaders realize that they have good reasons and plenty of time now to pursue tentative quitters. From then on, it is labelled unpatriotic to resign from the tribe; society shapes into something much more cohesive and sometimes oppressive.
It is not because someone, or someone's father, has agreed there should
be a pack-hunt, that agreement will eternally prevail as to the identity
of the top-dogs who will lead the pack; the top-dogs who will have access
to more goodies and longer week-ends. When the game of "Society"
is well on the way, a refined version of it is introduced, called: "Power".
This new game of "Power", though, is definitely a "zero-sum
Rules for the Zero-Sum Game
Meaning that I win what you lose and vice-versa. The Power game has certain basic rules that it is necessary to understand in order to follow what comes next; so, before we proceed further, just a word about concepts like Effective Majorities, Chains of Command and Reinforcement, both positive and negative.
An effective majority is the minimal number of people in a group who, together, can wield or muster enough strength - physical or otherwise - to impose their will on the rest of the group and use the common resources to their own advantage. All decisions in any group are always taken by an effective majority. In a group of two, the stronger will prevail; in a group of three or more... it depends.
The father may impose his will on the woman and children, but only until they grow strong, until he grows old... Then, comes the time for alliances. What about the father and his eldest son against the others? What about me and my brothers against my cousins? What about Us against Them? Whatever the way teams may coalesce, We will prevail against Them, if - and only if - together, we have more strength than they have, and thus constitute an "effective majority".
The concept is always "strength", but muscles will not take you very far. The physical power of an individual does not extend further than the length of his arm, at best to the range of the weapon he bears, which is not much, and even the strongest is weak if he stands alone against too many. When the group becomes larger, presumptive leaders will need friends, "allies". If he can command loyalty, the Leader's power will be multiplied by whatever strength is wielded by those loyal to him.
Through a similar process downstream, the strength of his allies will be built on the strength of their own followers, and so on down the line, step-by-step, until a chain of command is established over a significant population, and there is an area within which will prevail the word of the Leader and an orderly distribution of wealth, power and leisure. More than anything else, a society is this chain of command. If there is to exist a society at all, each loyalty link in the chain, in the "power structure", must be stronger than the centrifugal forces in the stiff-necked human animal that are the great desire for freedom and the equally great desire for the rejection of constraints.
It may look like leaders will choose their allies but, in the beginning, power is usually built from the bottom up. A sufficient number of people - minimal to maximize what each may obtain - will become an effective majority and impose their will upon the group. Within this effective majority, a majority "of the second order" will soon assemble, to obtain for its privileged members even more advantages than the ordinary members of the effective majority, but without compromising the basic agreement which keeps the first effective majority together. Within a "second order majority" appears a "third order majority", and so on, until the power at the top is in the hands of a human-scale group, family-size, in which decisions can be taken amongst people who know each other, respect each other... and fear each other.
This is the normal way for power to build, except that it may be quite unstable; let any link weaken along the line, and the effect will transmit, up and down, over a large segment of the chain. To balance this instability, it is normal for leaders who have reached the top, once the structure is in place, to "delegate" power down the structure, to people who will command no loyalty of their own, and thus will have no power except the power they derive from the top. Delegates see clearly the virtue and advantages in loyalty, and do not get fresh so easily. Delegation of power from the top provides for stability ... or inertia. It is all check-and-balance.
Then, reinforcement. In small primitive groups, it is usually negative reinforcement that is applied and a "sticks-only" policy is the crudest an simplest way to get things done. The boss will bash the brains of his immediate followers to make sure that they obey his orders, and they in turn will do the same to their own followers, until the will of the Chief is done at all levels. Sheer brute force will determine the pecking-order and, unless one of the top-dogs trips and breaks a leg, it may go on unchallenged for quite a while.
When larger groups are assembled, however, for pack-hunting on a societal scope and for more global objectives, a longer chain of command is required suggesting a more subtle approach. It is possible, of course, even in a complex society, to whip people into submission. It has been done very often; it is simply not very efficient. Better results are obtained when people are convinced that they have something to gain when they follow orders.
People do better running downhill rather than uphill... When people are positively reinforced, it is as if their own inner resources would work with - rather than against - their action, and performance is improved over that of people negatively reinforced. This increased effectiveness has to do in part with self-motivation, and in part with the fact that, in a negative reinforcement system, all these people at each level who must do the whipping and watch their own backs are not doing anything really productive: there is a very significant "supervision differential" that plays in favour of positive reinforcement. So, when larger groups begin to develop, leaders have to learn better manners and it will become "carrots" rather than "sticks".
Since it is so much more efficient, leaders in their right minds would
always use positive rather than negative reinforcement, if it were not for
a small catch: it is always easy to find sticks, but sometimes there are
not quite enough carrots around for everybody's appetite. Successful leaders
are those who know how to keep carrots available for the effective majority
and how to crack the whip for the others, carrots being usually food and
leisure and the stick of negative reinforcement whatever you can imagine.
The great promise
Effective majority, chain of command, reinforcement, we'll come back later to these concepts. Now, back to the original powerplay, the division of labour and the first "great promise". Early primitive societies had to face shortages; the basic purpose of pack-hunting was to get more food, and the way to have it was to work more. So, as soon as the leaders of the berry-pickers-turned-pack-hunters realized that they had a labour force on their hands, they started to think in terms of full-employment.
They did not, however, implement full employment in view of its beneficial effect upon the worker. To the contrary, looking soberly at the consequences of work on the body, mind and soul of human beings, it was with deep regret that rulers, shamans, planners of raids and forecasters of crops imposed on the labour force - that is to say all the others - whatever work was required to keep the fire burning, the wheels turning and the elite fed. With deep regret, for it made people restless, but they did it just the same, since the main reason for an effective majority to develop and to cling to power was precisely for its members to have more food for less work, that is to have a labour force at their disposal, and they proceeded to use the labour force as best they could.
Using the labour force at its best, leaders nevertheless understood perfectly that it was leisure, not work, that was considered fulfillment by their constituency, and they skillfully used leisure as well as food for positive reinforcement. Wise leaders vowed that as soon as the administrative infrastructure of the tribe would allow, every human being would be spared the indignity of toil.
This promise helped in no little way rulers and their friends to remain at the top, at a safe distance from berry-picking and other chores. Then, with larger and larger groups gathering together, communications, better organization and a will for leisure, the day came along when the great promise could be kept. The dream of leisure for all human beings became a distinct possibility...
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