The Weiner Component, Volume 2 – Economics in the 21st Century: #1: Change & the 21st Century: Part I Introduction
Prenote: I find myself getting bored with Donald J. Trump and his machinations. He, as President-Elect is setting up a government which seems that it will wipe out any progress made in the 20th Century on. Will it? We’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile the stock market is rising to new heights. Is that because of President-Elect Donald J. Trump or in spite of him? Again we’ll have to wait and see. Basically the issue with Trump is that we, the public, will have to wait and see what he does after January 20, 2017, when he becomes President of the United States.
Meanwhile I will begin a new version of my book, “Economics in the 21st Century.
Volume 2 #1 – The Purpose of Government in the 21st Century: Introduction: Part 1
The past is always safe, particularly if it is mostly imagined. It is a known when balanced against the future which is always unknown and therefore unsafe. In the presidential election of 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected by a minority of voters who were fearful of the changes that were occurring in society. Trump promised to bring back the past. He would bring back the values and conditions that supposedly were while Clinton would continue forward to a changing society.
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With the election of Donald J. Trump, as President of the United States by a majority of people from the smaller states the country choose the candidate that got the minority of popular votes but the majority of electoral votes. Hillary Clinton actually won the election with nearly three million more votes than Trump received. The voters who choose Trump actually choose to stay with what they believed would be a return of the past, to the supposed happy days when there were jobs for all the low skilled workers. Trump would, he said, “stay the course” and continue the process of lowering taxes. He would continue the war effort in the Middle East and the War against Terror. He would bring back all the jobs that had moved overseas and take the country back to its happy days, whenever they were. He would reform our society, making it as it had been in the past.
Of course “reform” historically was a euphuism for change or raising taxes among the ordinary citizens of the country. Trump has promised to lower taxes for the wealthy. Ordinary people would object to a tax raise but how can they be unhappy about reform, semantical games. The problem is that the government is spending billions of dollars daily above what it collects in taxes pushing the National Debt (which President Clinton had begun to reduce) to new astronomical levels. Trump will lower taxes for the wealthy and the corporations. He will have to make up the difference somehow.
There is currently one vacancy on the Supreme Court and one Justice in her eighties. From what I understand Trump should be able during his tenure as President to probably make two appointments to the Court. This should make the Court 6 to 3 in favor of the conservatives. The significance of a solid conservative balance on the Supreme Court is that it might, among other things like individual rights, finish striking down Roe vs. Wade; and thus take away the right of choice from slightly over fifty percent of the population. The majority of women, according to the surveys taken, are overwhelmingly in favor of choice. It would be a decision imposed by a minority upon the majority.
This seems to be Trump’s version of the “good old days.”
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But despite what is currently happening with Donald J. Trump as the new President-Elect no one really knows what he will do as President. Still the Twenty-first Century holds the promise of all sorts of social and economic changes for the people of the United States, the other Industrial Nations, and even for the emerging non-industrial countries of this world. The question, of course, is whether these changes will be positive or will they be otherwise. Our traditional economic model will no longer function (if it ever did properly beyond the theoretical stage). Technological change, particularly that of the Computer Revolution is moving forward at a rapid pace. The changes are speeding up.
With these changes the concept of employment (What is work?) is/will also undergo evolution. Low skilled jobs are and have been disappearing in the United States; some highly technological occupations are and have been coming into being. A large number of factory and many white collar jobs are moving overseas where they can be performed at a much lower cost. The economy today is a world-wide one with the individual nations still being essentially nationalistic.
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For the last three to four thousand years the concept of work has been fairly constant. It has essentially been effort related to survival: production of food, shelter, clothing, and gradually entities needed for recreation. Up until the Industrial Revolution it took ten or more people working full time (sunrise to sunset) to provide the fundamentals needed for one individual to have the leisure time to be a priest, government official, artist, or someone not having to work for survival. With the change over from a hand-craft society to a machine- operated one the ratio has changed and continues to decrease. From ten to one we gradually went to one person supplying everything for one hundred people. With the coming and continuance of the Computer Revolution the ratio has gone from one supplying everything for one hundred people to one supplying what’s needed for a thousand individuals, with the possibilities of eventually going well beyond that number.
What then happens to both the concept of work and the need to work when all the rudiments can easily and almost effortlessly be supplied? Traditionally man (and woman) have earned their bread like Adam (after being expelled from the Garden of Eden) by the sweat of his (her) brow. Now, ironically, we have returned to garden conditions. Can we handle them?
Today, at the Second decade of the Twenty-first Century, we seem to be well into the Computer Revolution; but, I suspect, we are only seeing its initial stage.
The government constantly monitors and publishes the unemployment percentage of the working population. They are thrilled when it decreases by one or several tenths of a percent. Politicians like Donald Trump, are constantly promising to decrease unemployment. The President will proudly proclaim and take credit for any tenth of a percent decrease. The goal, as far as the government and public are concerned, seems to be a healthy economy with full employment in an era when computers are rapidly increasing the rates of productivity and many corporations are downsizing while increasing their output. We seem to be squarely and hopefully looking historically backward.
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Many thousands of years ago a man-like creature first picked up a rock or piece of wood and used it as a tool or weapon for the first time. From that time on the concept was passed to others and they did the same, eventually discovering that they could chip the rock into a specific shape and sharpness and sharpen the wood, fire-hardening a point. Over the multitude of years types of tools were developed. Mankind developed more and better means of increasing his productivity, of making life easier for himself. In fact his conscious or unconscious goal during all the years of his existence has been to produce more with less effort.
During the 19th Century the emerging handicraft society began to change in England and then Europe and the United States with the gradual development of machines; this became known as the Industrial Revolution, when manufacturing changed from hand-production to machine production.
The early machines were mostly made of wood and were operated by water-power, and shortly thereafter by steam power. With the invention of the electric motor and development in metallurgy the machines became metal and also more highly efficient, multitudinously increasing their productive capacities. Where in the Eighteenth Century it took ten people to produce enough to free one from labor, now gradually one person could produce enough to supply ten individuals with all their basic needs. Life and the concept of work changed. A percentage of the handicraft people were displaced becoming superfluous; these were the luggites. Machines did their work a hundred times faster than they could by hand. The level of productivity brought about by the Industrial Society achieved by the middle of the Twentieth Century a level of supply of goods and services in the Industrial Nations that had been inconceivable earlier. It also brought about the Business Cycle — prosperity, recession, depression, and recovery — in a never ending pattern erratically coming about in shorter or longer periods of time.
Recession and depression, presumably caused by overproduction, brought about a situation in which there was fair to large scale unemployment, reduced consumption of goods and services in an economy where the overall workforce strongly desired to work and consume but could not. The economy had broken down, ceased to smoothly function. The willingness to work was there but the economy could not utilize it. For one reason or another the basic rudiments that caused the economy to smoothly flow no longer worked.
The question here is why? There is a ready and willing workforce anxious to labor and consume the goods and services produced but there is no work for them and very little for them and their families to consume. WHY?
The grease that allows the economy to function is money. The distribution of that entity throughout an economy, the amounts that each family unit earns or has determines who will get how much of the goods and services produced.
How then is money distributed within a society? The different occupations receive different levels of remuneration. Unskilled labor, which is mostly grunt type work requiring generally brute strength only would be the lowest paid earnings. In many cases, not enough is earned to provide for the basic needs of an individual or family. Skilled labor, on the other hand, can go from a fair standard of living to a level where the amount of money earned cannot possibly be spent because of its vastness in the millions.
Money can also be stored, not used for consumption, but put into banks or other financial institutions where it earns interest. In addition it can be used as a commodity where it can earn profit. Used this way it tends to increase the productive capacity of a nation; but this has nothing to do with the distribution of goods and services.
Money, in the form of profit (Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”) becomes the motivating force behind production of both goods and services. Profit, from the sale of goods or the charge for services and the accumulation of money is the motivation for production. This accumulation allows a small percentage of the population to amass large amounts but again, has nothing to do with a reasonable distribution of the specie.
It can be argued that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” works on every level of the economy. Given a choice the laborer, white collar worker, executive, entrepreneur will take that position which pays the greatest amount or has the best advantages. Therefore each entity within the society is functioning where he/she can in their own interest; doing the best for themselves and their family unit. But, again, what has this to do with a fair distribution of the National Income?
Several interesting questions arise here: Is money really related to the production of goods and services? And if it is not then in what way would distribution be accomplished? Since volume of production is tied directly to volume of consumption how, if we are to avoid upturns and downturns (constant recovery and recession), can we maintain a steady course of production and distribution of goods and services?
The economic model (capitalism) was stated in 1776 by Adam Smith in his book “An Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations,” which was published that year. Smith designed his model for a pre-industrial nation, for a time when production could not meet the overall needs of everybody in the society. We are now almost into a postindustrial society moving rapidly through and into the computer Revolution. We are still prone to the vicissitudes of the Business Cycle. Can we afford this kind of continual economic up and down turn?
The Twenty-first Century promises to be a time of intense change. If we continue to adhere to what we have now then the economic upheavals can be catastrophic. The Great Depression of 1929 could be mild compared to what we may face. In 2008 we faced such a situation. It was avoided by massive spending by Presidents Bush and Obama.
Donald Trump seems to be pointing toward the pre-2008 period. He could, during his four year presidency, bring us back to an economic situation as bad as or far worse than the potential 2008 Depression.
To avoid the possibility of negative economic change within our economy the country needs a new economic model or it has to make massive changes within our present system.