It’s Labor Day.
I grew up in an apartment complex financed and built by Local 3 of the Electrical Workers Union. I joke now about its Soviet style architecture and warmth, but places like Electchester were needed. The workforce in post-WW2 America was growing like crazy.
Our softball league used to march down 5th Avenue in the Labor Day Parade. It was a big deal in New York City.
It’s not even held on Labor Day anymore.
Labor is vilified today. Unions, more evil still.
All this has come to mind after seeing a Facebook post (then online shouting match) about American corporate taxes. My blood began to boil. Instead of joining the flamewar, let me vent.
Here’s the problem with the whole corporate tax equation. Our tax structure was set up with the idea business would be the driver of employment.
Charles Wilson, a nominee for Secretary of Defense in the early 50s and former GM executive famously said, “I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”
He was right… sixty years ago.
Business has decided that’s no longer part of the deal. Companies offshore, centralize and automate and do so to save every penny.
At your place of employment are there now fewer people doing the same work as a few years ago? My guess is yes. You’re not alone.
When I was a kid, George Jetson drove to work and immediately put his feet on his desk. Wasn’t that our expectation? The future would be less work and more comfort.
That’s not how automation has worked. We have not been augmented. We have been replaced.
The list of non-human jobs grows by the day. Versatile robots and driverless vehicles? Certainly within our lifetimes.
What truly wasn’t expected was the optimization of tasks. Computers have made this possible. Companies learned how to make workers much more productive. None of this is done to the laborer’s benefit.
There was once a class of middle managers who ran departments within stores. WalMart, Home Depot, Target and all the rest have learned how to massively manage from a central location. When stores like Caldors and Zayers closed, that level of job disappeared too.
I grew up in the age of strong labor. The middle class was a good place to be. Hourly employees owned homes.
Our current economic and tax structure can only support a nation of haves and have nots. There are already not enough jobs to go around. And it’s like that in nearly all the industrialized world.
We need to make a decision. What kind of society do we want and how will we make that happen? What level of need and poverty will we accept and for how many?
Whatever the answer is, it’s certainly not what we’re doing now.