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January 2014

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I was talking with Louie the other day and he observed that, due to huge rises in productivity, a good chunk of the population does virtually no "work" - they are effectively employed solely to be consumers.

When speaking of the United States, we have plenty to cover the "basic" needs of everybody. Food, shelter, clothing... we have no lack of resources or manpower to create these things. There are of course people slipping through the cracks, but it's not for a lack of resources (instead it's due to a societary misallocation of them).

As capitalism chugs on, the things we actually need to live become more and more trivial to produce, and there are fewer jobs involved in their production. Of course, the rest of us have to do something...

I find myself asking just what exactly it is that I do. At its most basic level, I lend support to help a business operate.

But let's follow through on that chain. What does my company do? They aid in software and hardware UI design and usability research for larger clients.

But what do the larger clients do? They take that research and create gizmos and gadgets and sell them to people.

What do the gizmos and gadgets do? They (in some cases) help people work more efficiently. In other cases they provide diversions, comfort, or entertainment.

There are essentially two potential outcomes, if you follow the chain:

- I lend support to a process that ultimately creates products that lend support to other processes
- I lend support to a process that ultimately creates products that results in trinkets and diversions for entertainment value

Of those two outcomes, I find the first especially interesting. It's so incredibly cyclical - the products we create may shave seconds off of a person's workload, and that person in turn may be working on products that shave seconds off of another person's workload.

It seems that a good chunk of the population works only to make other people's work easier. When you follow that line of thinking to the natural conclusion and "close the loop," it starts to seem pretty ridiculous - my job is to make Bob's job easier, and Bob's job is to make my job easier.

So how much of the economy is really smoke and mirrors, and why are the people actually producing tangible results (the guy down at Burger King making you a sandwich, for example) valued so much less than those of us who are shuffling work back and forth between each other?

I can't help but think at some point it's all going to collapse.


Quintin Stone @ Tue May 24 20:13:17 -0400 2005

It's cooperative production. Even if you're not producing anything, then maybe Bob is. If Bob's not, then I can only assume you're both working to help someone else produce. Maybe even your whole company exists only to help some other company produce.

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