Several years ago I visited a college class in which a student was doing a presentation about global warming. He used as an illustration of this the long-distance transport of salmon from Russia to the US. His point was that the use of fossil fuels in this distribution contributed to global warming. In response a student piped up that she thought this was actually a good idea because it “created jobs.”
This reminds me of the stock cheerleader Jim Cramer, who I happened to catch one day yammering on TV about the melting of the Arctic ice cap. Rather than expressing alarm at the impact of this on the world’s environment (over the last thirty years approximately one-half of the Arctic ice cap volume has melted), Cramer was celebrating the ice’s disappearance as opening up access to oil and other resources in the Arctic for oil companies. “Get in while the getting is good!” was his enthused message.
Decades ago when I was attending a public hearing in Hawaii about a proposed hotel development set to be erected on community land, an issue that the residents of this community and their supporters had mobilized around to stop, a representative from the Carpenters’ Union, who like many of the protesters was also part-Hawaiian, showed up to support the development on the grounds that “it creates jobs.” I thought to myself, “By that logic, there would be no point in stopping any resort developments. We could keep on building until the islands are all filled up and what would you do for carpenters’ jobs then?”
Here is the problem with the “it creates jobs” argument: you have to be utterly incapable of thinking outside the box of capitalist logic to fail to realize the inanity of this argument.
Why do we have to “create jobs” in the first place? Aren’t there tasks that need to be done out there?
What did humanity do for most of the 200,000 years we’ve been around? Did the hunters and gatherers whose societies make up the vast majority of human existence so far, not do anything because there were no precious “job creators” around to organize them and inform them that they could “have jobs”, if they worked for the “job creators”, and went gathering and hunting? Did people just sit around all day wondering what they ought to do with their time since there wasn’t any TV or Internet to occupy them?
Did horticultural societies only come into being because capitalist “job creators” showed up and told people what to do and told them if they didn’t do what the “job creators” were willing to pay them to do, that they would otherwise starve?
Did the humans who figured out how to keep a fire going and how to start a fire only do this because some enterprising entrepreneur came along and said: “I have a great idea: let’s patent this fire thing and we’ll make so much money doing it! Under our patent if we catch anyone using a fire that we didn’t sell to them we can extinguish their fire and leave them to die of exposure or pay us for the right to have a fire. We’ll make a fortune!”
“Job creating” and the absence of work for large numbers of people without it – what Marx dubbed the “Reserve Army of the Unemployment” – only exist within capitalist economies. Unemployment did not exist prior to bourgeois societies. Homelessness does not exist outside of capitalist economies. Somehow everyone found a way and the need to work before capitalism appeared. Capitalism’s operating logic is to deprive the means to life from the vast majority so that those who now monopolize the means to life (aka the means of production) can force the rest of the population to work for them under the Hobson’s Choice of “work or starve.” This allows those who own the means of production to exploit the labor of others to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest. This is why when capitalism first emerged in England one of the central acts making its rise possible was the closing off of access to the land to the peasants, rendering them unable now to make a life outside of becoming a proletarian (literally, the “propertyless”).
It is only under conditions in which private property in the form of the formalized control by a relative few over the means to life, protected by the law and enforced by men with guns, that “creating jobs” makes any sense at all. Outside of this situation, the very idea that jobs have to be created is nonsensical.
Look around: are there not tasks that need to be done? Aren’t there places to be cleaned up and made beautiful? Aren’t there houses and playgrounds and parks to be built? Isn’t there artwork and music that could be spread about to enliven people’s worlds? Aren’t there animals to be rescued or cared for? People who need companionship? Inventions to be developed and tried? Trees to be planted? Malnourishment to be solved? Sexual exploitation to be ended? Inequities to be bridged? Books to be written, read, and shared? And so on and so on and so on.
If we had a system in which social needs determined what was done rather than whether it can make a profit for a capitalist, we would have far fewer problems. Why is such a world so hard to imagine?
Why do people have hobbies where they not only don’t generally make any money from and, in fact, they spend money and countless hours on, if the pursuit of monetary gain is the sine qua non of human existence?
I am going to spit the next time someone says the words “job creators” or “it creates jobs.” The people who supposedly create jobs are the very ones responsible for destroying people’s right and need to work and for destroying the planet.
They are not the solution. They are the problem.
Dennis Loo is Professor of Sociology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is a Harvard honors graduate in Government and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of “Globalization and the Demolition of Society” and Co-Editor/Author of “Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney”. Website: Dr. Dennis Loo