Thursday, December 3, 2015

Energy Technology as "No Need to Work" Rationale

This post mostly serves to make a simple point - albeit one which has slowly evolved (at least) since the Great Depression without being directly addressed. Growing use of technology contributed to greater government involvement, in the twentieth century economy. However, technological dispersion now encourages a rationale on the part of both public and private interests, that not everyone needs steady work as a lifetime option. I disagree...people not only need work, but work is necessary in terms which matter at a personal level, to have a meaningful life.

In spite of what is said publicly, too many on the political left and right have reached a tacit agreement that not only is the economy incapable of generating full employment, supposedly it doesn't even matter. As someone who became long term unemployed too early (i.e. prior to what one normally associates with retirement), I heartily disagree with that perspective.

So long as traditional manufacture was capable of generating international expansion, these wealth proceeds greatly contributed to time based services growth (hence employment), as well. Only think what energy related production contributed to broad based knowledge use till recently, for a growing services economy. Mark Perry posts a reminder, regarding the life choices this created for populations: "Each American has the energy-equivalent of nearly 600 full-time "human energy servants". Perry's reference is Brian Wang at the Next Big Future blog, where Wang titles his post:
Average american has energy equivalent of 450 human slaves working 8 hour shifts every day
By no means is the concept of energy slave, a new one. Wikipedia notes:
The term was first used by R. Buckminster Fuller in the caption of an illustration for the cover of the February 1940 issue of Fortune magazine, entitled "World Energy".
The Encyclopedia of Human Thermodynamics states that Buckminster Fuller introduced the term circa 1944, (a bit of confusion here!) and defines it:
In terminology, energy slave is an abstract conception referring to the technologic-mechanical energy equivalent that a healthy human youth could do.
Consider for a moment, one perspective which earlier forms of slavery were said to impart to culture. To what degree did ownership of slaves, encourage people to question the necessity of work? Many who owned this form of - yes, human capital, often did not need to do hard work, and intellectual pursuits were taken on for enjoyment. Indeed, many who were too poor to own slaves before the Civil War, must have realized what a luxury those intellectual pursuits actually represented.

As today's economy begins to encounter limits to knowledge use formation as supplied by other wealth, will technology - as a latter day "forced" labor substitute of sorts - become an excuse for rich and poor alike to no longer work, while a few are fortunate enough to keep well compensated intellectual pursuits? Or will human capital - hence knowledge use in aggregate - have a chance to become better distributed wealth in its own right?

Granted, the "no need to work" perspective isn't openly acknowledged, for obvious reasons. The U.S. in particular insists on a harsh work ethic, in spite of an economy which is no longer doing a good job of providing work where it is most needed. Meanwhile, as technology continues in its latest version of work shifting organizational capacity, the left is starting to emphasize the importance of capital ownership, even as they negate the importance of human capital in the process. And others on the right - even while emphasizing the importance of work - are doing little to encourage economic growth, to maintain stable labor force participation.

Energy slaves in the form of energy technology have provided a most fortunate human capital multiplier in recent centuries. However, asymmetric compensation has begun to claim the wealth aggregates, that are possible for knowledge use as funded by traditional forms of wealth. Fortunately, symmetric compensation (or time arbitrage) could retrieve the thread of meaningful work potential, before other threads become unraveled - on the part of monetary policy, government and the supply side as well. Hopefully, knowledge use systems will have a chance to address full employment and continued growth, in the years ahead.

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