L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 261, February 29, 2004
Why Johnny Can't Get A Job
Exclusive to TLE
I'm a smart guy. I know it, and I'm not ashamed of it. Being smart doesn't make me better than someone who isn't and it doesn't mean I don't occasionally do stupid things. I'm not the smartest guy in the world by any means I used to be a member of a Linux users' group that included people that held multiple doctorates in nuclear physics and split atoms for a living. I can't hold a candle to people like that, but the simple fact of the matter is that I am more intelligent than something like 90% of the people in the world.
If this notion bothers you, I invite you to consider that Michael Jordan is naturally more adept at basketball than 99.99% of the people in the world, and that Bill Gates is a better natural businessman than 99.99% of the people in the world. That doesn't make them better people than those 99.99%, it just makes them better at that one thing.
I don't ordinarily discuss what is apparently a genetic aptitude because it tends to bother people. Admitting that you're smarter than most people and you know it is usually interpreted as a sign of hubris, and I have no desire to alienate people in that regard. I bring it up now because it's important to consider.
My grandfather (William Stone, Senior) is an 80-year-old, former South Dakota cattle rancher. For sixty years, he made his living on the South Dakota prairie breeding and raising cattle to be sold to feed lots, which are then slaughtered and made into the beef you find in your local supermarket.
My grandfather is also a rugged individualist in the truest sense of the word you can't survive as a South Dakota cattle rancher without being one. He is one generation removed from true pioneers of the American West, and in many ways, the rural areas of South Dakota that I love so much have not changed since pioneer times. Certainly technology and ranching methods have advanced, but in the end, a modern South Dakota cattle rancher is still totally reliant on himself and the resources immediately around him for his survival.
My grandfather is also a very intelligent individual. He and my grandmother don't consider themselves such, but when I point out to them that most people aren't capable of holding the kind of conversations that we typically do, they usually admit that I have a point.
I consider both my grandparents to be extraordinary individuals. They have lived through times and seen more dramatic changes in their lives than I've likely to. When they were born, the standard mode of transportation in rural South Dakota was still the horse. Cars while not uncommon were reserved for long-distance trips. Most homes did not have telephones. There was no television, and even radio was fairly new to the marketplace not that it mattered, because they lived so far from town that it was difficult to receive a signal.
I spend a lot of time listening to my grandparents, because I consider that at their age, having seen and done the things that they have, they have a perspective on events and issues that I will never achieve.
For years, as the American manufacturing industries have essentially migrated overseas, my grandfather and I have held spirited discussions about the state of affairs. One of the things he's careful to remind me is that as an intelligent individual, I'm rather lucky: I have the luxury of having many career choices open to me. I can basically do whatever I want to do, and be assured that as long as I apply myself, I'll be reasonably successful. The other 90% of people, he points out, don't have that luxury. They simply aren't capable of performing the kind of "brain sweat" I am, and so their options are limited.
His next point which usually follows close on the heels of this observation is something that as a devotee of the Zero Aggression Principle I have a difficult time with:
My grandfather suggests that intelligent individuals as a group have a responsibility to ensure that there is something for the other 90% of people to do for a living.
While this sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea from one perspective, it involves concepts that fly in the face of my core philosophy. Specifically:
"No human being has the right under ANY circumstances to initiate force against another human being, nor to threaten or delegate its initiation."
For me and the other 10% of the population my intellectual equal or above to be responsible for the livelihoods of everyone else flies in the face of the ZAP. I am NOT responsible for anyone for whom I don't CHOOSE to be responsible. There is no way I can choose to be responsible for 90% of the population for the simple fact that I don't know them. I don't even know 1% of the population ANY population. For me to presume to be responsible for total strangers, whose lives and situations I cannot possibly know, is the worst sort of arrogance.
In fact, that sort of insane arrogance the cognitive dissonance that tells people they can be responsible for the happiness of total strangers is precisely what created a police state in a country that was once a bastion of individual freedom.
My grandfather's practical concerns regarding this are simple: the long-term trend a trend now shared by my chosen profession, Information Technology is for anything resembling a manufacturing job to move overseas. The reason for this is simple: socialist politics in the US being what they are, the cost of labor is pennies on the megabuck in third-world nations versus the United States.
My grandfather suggests that people like myself have a responsibility to assure that people who can't do the kind of work we do still have a job. Since the Industrial Revolution, those jobs have typically been in manufacturing. There was a time most of my grandfather's life, in fact when a hard-working American could be assured of a good, decently-paying, manufacturing-related job in even the smallest towns. Even if that meant pumping gas at a local service station, the jobs were available and paid well enough that a person could feed a small family. Indeed, my own father put himself through college as a married man with an infant child by pumping gas at a station not a mile from where I sit writing.
One could never find such a job today. What in the world happened?
Simple: government happened.
For most of my grandfather's life, government particularly the Federal Government was a tiny fraction of what it is today. Indeed, in the eighty years since my grandfather's birth, the Federal Government has grown from something most Americans never saw or dealt with to something no American can even so much as cross the street without encountering.
Prior to the growth of the Federal Government, innovators could quickly and easily create entire industries out of nothing but financial backing and the will to create. While the creation of certain industries destroyed others entirely, the jobs created by the new industry represented an overall net GAIN in terms of industrial employment. For example, the automobile industry destroyed the buggy industry, but since every American family ultimately owned multiple cars, it didn't matter. More people were employed by the automobile industry than the buggy industry laid off.
This is the natural order of the free market: hundreds of millions (preferably billions) of creative individuals of all intelligence are in charge of their individual lives, destinies, and finances. Such individuals create new industries at a far greater rate than old ones collapse. The demand for new methods and employees to serve the new industries creates labor shortages in all areas.
By becoming an enormous, intrusive entity that takes responsibility for individual destinies, government has cut the free market off at the knees.
Today, the average American is no more in charge of his or her destiny than was a medieval serf. The difference is that today's government learned that given a minimum level of comfort, most modern serfs won't revolt.
In modern America, it is utterly impossible to create new industries. The last new industry created in this country was the home computing industry, and that was over twenty years ago. Ultimately, this industry evolved into a simple commodity like televisions and radios, meaning that there is no longer any real money to be made from manufacturing. Indeed, the profit on the average personal computer to the manufacturer is generally less than a hundred dollars.
This has driven manufacturers to decrease production costs. As with every other industry, the highest of such costs are generally in labor, so it is only natural that they have migrated to countries where labor costs are significantly less.
Were there still a free market in the United States, the creative power of 250 million individuals would have long ago driven new industries. Catalytic fusion promises to revolutionize power generation, entirely freeing a whole generation of individuals to create even more new industries. Yet, because government has made it impossible to create new industries (in this case owing to the demands of fuel and power companies who wish to retain an immoral monopoly on power generation), the catalytic fusion industry languishes.
Similarly, the commercial exploitation of space promises to totally revolutionize virtually every industry on Earth, yet government interference in space exploration makes it impossible to create a whole host of new industries that would otherwise exist.
There should be chronic labor shortages in the United States. That there is not can be directly attributed to the existence of government.
This situation will not continue indefinitely. Certainly it is now beyond the point where it can be salvaged while retaining anything resembling the United States. The modern socialist police state is no more stable than the former Soviet Union, and the ultimate result will be the same:
Some day probably far sooner than any of us imagine the Federal Government and majority of State and Local Governments will collapse of their own instability.
With luck, when this occurs, the cause of the collapse will be so obvious and the American Experiment to limit government so obviously a failure that individuals will support replacing external government with self-government guided by the Zero Aggression Principle. If not, the country will at best go through another cycle of rise-and-collapse. At worst, we'll be saddled with a government even more restrictive than the present one.
Government is not the answer to our problems. As my grandfather suggests, intelligent people people he considers the movers of our society do have a responsibility, but it's not to see that the other 90% of people have jobs. Our responsibility is to see that the next opportunity we have to create a government, we learn from history. Instead of replacing one force-initiating, life-destroying structure with another one, we'll learn from past mistakes and replace it with NOTHING.
Freedom, Immortality, and the Stars!