Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Means Justifying the End?

Consumers of the abstract

I hate commuting and I hate buying gas. So you'll understand that I was a little miffed on my slow, inefficient, gas-infused commute this morning when I heard an oil company executive on CNBC talking about energy security and "good paying jobs" in the energy sector.

Whether it's oil executives telling us why we need to buy more of their resources or homebuilders and real estate agent insisting that we become homeowners or makers of goods telling us to buy more stuff to stuff into our garage and rented climate-controlled storage unit, sellers of goods and resources often pitch their economic indispensability to the public and politicians in terms of jobs. There was a lot of hyperventilating of the past few weeks with the announcement of Amazon Go, the checkout-free, cashier-free concept store; the New York Post called it the "next major job killer".

A couple of years ago economist Justin Wolfers gave a talk at George Mason University about happiness and measures of happiness from countries around the world. I was able to get the last question and asked, "What makes people happy?" Mr. Wolfers responded, "Having a job."

Being employed. Being mobile. Being well housed. Being sated. All abstracts. The basic economic problem of scarcity – that is, unlimited wants and limited resources – is not a problem for most people in our prosperous and wealthy nation. Poverty, illness, and isolation scare the crap out of us and put the lively in livelihood. These are the reasons we put up with oversold political promises, polluted air, resource depletion, 30-year debt, idle assets, and obesity.

And having time. It's finite. It's why I loathe sitting in a car, sitting in traffic, wasting the most precious resource of all.

Sorry if this post isn't particularly concise or happy. (I think I brought our Gross National Happiness index down a bit.) I'm trying to point out that our national priorities need to be intangible. But that's an impossible sell. Selling coal mining jobs and manufacturing jobs and the resources and goods that come from these activities is tangible; people in those industries that lost their jobs know the real hardship they experienced.

When laws are put into place, it's hard to remove them because people get used to them and change their responses because of them. When an industry takes hold and a community builds around it, it's a great hardship when that industry dies and takes jobs and a community's future with it. People get lost.

I don't have a satisfying cliche-ladened oversimplified solution to this problem. But let me suggest that – as big as this country is – it has to be a problem addressed as one people with focus on all people. E pluribus unum. That's the endgame.