Warning: this little post isn’t going to live up to that mouthful of a title.
Brian Howey writes about a recent conversation with former Governor and current Purdue President, Mitch Daniels. Daniels identifies what I agree is a very real problem with the change in our economy. The shift from manufacturing to a knowledge based economy may leave us producing more than we need, but the production is going to be done by fewer and fewer people:
“Every time human ingenuity has created one of these transformations, people have worried,” Daniels said. “They see what is being lost. It won’t take a third of us to grow food. What’s everybody going to do? Every time up to now, the new economy produced more opportunities than the old one did.”
But the change gripping the United States today is worrisome to Daniels.
“It’s not yet clear to me that it will create sufficient categories of new high-paying jobs,” Daniels said. “Whether there will be enough of them to support a growing population and a middle class like we’ve known, that’s what is bothering me.”
As I view it, we’ll be economically productive enough to create what we need to support everyone as well or better than we ever had. The problem is that our current means of allocating the benefits of that productivity doesn’t distribute those benefits in a manner that will support everyone as well or better than we have in recent memory. Traditionally, there has been some justification in telling someone that, if they weren’t producing and acquiring what they needed to support themselves, it was because they were lazy, and we ought not reward laziness. More and more, it seems to me, there are people who are perfectly willing to work; but the economy has shifted in ways that requires labor less and less. If labor isn’t something the economy needs very much, how do we go about allocating our resources in a way that doesn’t rely on labor as a proxy for merit?