In Jan. 22 IssueNews-Register
By John Thompson, Columnist
This week marked the 25th anniversary of observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This week something else happened in Kentucky that's at least somewhat related; a legislative proposal to tie receiving government benefits to random drug testing. I'd like to explore these two topics.
King means different things to different people, and there's nothing wrong with that. Of course he is best known for forwarding the Civil Rights movement but lesser known is his broadening of scope during the last year of his life. He decided to dedicate himself to the advancement of the poor, dispossessed, disenfranchised and disinherited of society. That's right, the poor; black, white, Latino… every color and creed.
He was in Memphis, TN, to stand in brotherhood with those fighting for labor conditions for the sanitation workers there. True, the vast majority was African-American, but his emphasis was to lay on the rights of labor; wages, working conditions, treatment.
This was a continuation of his theme over the past year. He recognized something that had been recognized many times in our nation's history, but never given any wide public exposure, thus consideration. Whereas King's fight for the rights of blacks upset millions of whites, it was his message that took on the distribution of wealth in a growingly mechanized society that scared the real power; the captains of industry and the very rich.
King proposed what was called a "guaranteed income" to all citizens. He was not the first. The British socio-economist Robert Theobald wrote years earlier of the same concept in his book "Free Men and Free Markets." Before that, one of Glenn Beck's favorite Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, proposed a guaranteed income as recompense for "loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property." So the idea has a long tradition.
In his last book; "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" King writes:
"I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective -- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income. " King would continue,
Earlier in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual's abilities and talents. In the simplistic thinking of that day the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber.
We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty. "
It all sounds like pie-in-the-sky, but when you realize that our country is well into a third phase of the industrial revolution, with a little insight you'll see that eventually we will have to come up with the solution for labor displaced by technological innovation.
We think today we're the first to really complain about jobs moving overseas, but the we complained of the same during the 1980's, but much of what was really happening in the '80s was nearly 20 years of investment into a new system of corporate management finally being implemented in a big way, through computerization of production equipment, (along with massive equity removal by corporate raiders), further displacing labor; a long tradition that began with the dawn of industrialization itself. And government cheese 80's would lead to Clinton's "jobless recovery" 1990's in which profits soared and millions remained unemployed. Just like now… or did you not know that major corporations profits are still going through the roof?
In the early 1800's, 75 percent of Americans were involved in agriculture. With the advent of the reaper, then the steel plow and eventually the tractor, the number would diminish, historically speaking, in a blink of an eye, until now it is now around 3 percent. Over time emerging markets would absorb the displaced, but oh not without the trials, tribulations and destitution of many lives of the underprivileged.
But even an industry such as automotive that absorbed the formerly agrarian laborers, would take thousands of man hours per vehicle to construct initially, would eventually only take hundreds, and now takes only 20 man hours on average to build a car. So there's displacement. If you pay attention, you would notice that production efficiency is always increasing, even as millions lose their jobs, yet the corporate media doesn't put the two together for you. It's widely understood that in the Great Depression there was an over-abundance of supply but lack of demand. How did that happen? Because as machinery replaced labor, labor costs were squeezed and squeezed. Not everyone lived by the maxim of Henry Ford, who paid his workers $5 a day, because he understood that they would be the customers to buy his cars.
Instead you had most capital accumulated in the hands of the very few, while the masses were both unwilling and unable to consume more, society not yet accustomed to being the "dissatisfied consumer," a concept developed by GM researcher Charles Kettering in 1929; a philosophy which dictated making people want new before the old wore out.
I'm digressing on a subject that could fill volumes.
What happens if 99 percent of all work could be done by machines and computers? Do we decry that there's just no money? Here we live in an advanced industrial society with capabilities undreamed of and we think there's no money… no wealth. What we have is a failure to think about it correctly. Of course that's on purpose, but you're not supposed to pay attention to the growing number of billionaires.
So when you're getting angry at someone sitting on their butt smoking weed and drawing a check, or if you've got hot dogs and bologna that you can afford at your pay while someone who receives food stamps has a cart full of food you couldn't afford; instead of questioning why that person gets it, why not question why you're not afforded the same privilege? It's not the 1700's.
This is not to say we're ready for such a move. In a culture still permeated by a Puritan work ethic in an age of technological displacement, we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves, and we've been weaned from thinking that anything entertaining could come without a price. Instead of a life of leisure, I'm afraid our life of being a consumer would more likely lead much of us onto a more destructive path. We would need an education away from trying to eat up all the worlds' resources in an orgy of gluttony and instead satisfy ourselves on simpler things.
A guaranteed income for all, and training on how to become a more peaceful, less competitive, less warlike, less consumeristic society; that's at least one vision of utopia.