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to find it depressing but true that most people are surplus to requirements?

(24 Posts)
gramercy Wed 20-Jul-11 10:07:10

I read this comment on a news story this morning:

We do have a very fundamental problem: a small percentage of the population can now provide for pretty much everybody. Most people are simply surplus to requirements, in the strict sense of the term, i.e. their labour is not needed. In many respects we welcome the reduction of labour through innovation. But what happens when vast swathes of the population, who in previous years would have engaged in unskilled or semi-skilled labour, are now not needed by anybody? They still need food and shelter. They need goals and aspirations, and they need self-respect. But honest work was previously at the heart of all these things.

Thinking about it, I thought that, yes, we are for the most part becoming redundant. I'm feeling down now, thinking of people facing a completely unproductive life, just born to consume or care for the imminent vast swathes of old people.

CogitoErgoSometimes Wed 20-Jul-11 10:54:58

That passage reminds me of the final chapters of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when Arthur Dent finds himself back on Earth with the outcast third of the Golgafrinchan civilisation. They've put all the superflous people in their society - telephone sanitisers, management consultants, security guards, insurance salesmen, hairdressers - on a big ship and sent them off into the universe. The civilisation later dies out from a virulent disease contracted from an unsanitised telephone.... smile

The marvellous thing about humanity is that we adapt to changing conditions. Whether its the industrial revolution, mechanisation, labour-saving devices or global outsourcing... there's always something that needs doing that can't be covered by a robot or an indian call centre

VirtualWitch Wed 20-Jul-11 10:59:53

Well, thats the current ethos in the UK, certainly. Its socialism on a massive scale by the back door. In many parts of the world though there is still an ethos that people are expected to work to get on and that those who don't do not deserve the same living standards. Bad luck is not compensated for beyond a basic minimum.

I also think there might be a sort of mushroom effect with that way of thinking. If some people have quite a nice life with little effort, others think they would want a bit of that too. So they join in, and the culture set up to protect people like that expands to accommodate them. They can become quite vociferous if challenged as they are led to believe it is their right to be supported by others.

Finally (end case scenario) the few that do work and earn and pay for the others get fed up and decide they would like to join the idle ones. What happens then?

PaperBank Wed 20-Jul-11 11:03:44

If we're only here to make food and eat, then we're the same as animals.

If there are other things human beings can do as well, then that's what makes us different from the rest of the animal world.

Theatre, philosophy, art, football, travelling, literature, music, architecture, scientific developments, education beyond just learning to be a productive cog, making the world a better place for our fellow humans - these are all the things we can turn our attention to once our needs for food and shelter are met.

TeenieLeek Wed 20-Jul-11 11:08:00

smile Cogito, that was my instant first thought as well, before I even scrolled to your post. RIP Douglas Adams.

It's a funny thing - my grandfather was a miner. My Dad was a PR consultant. The former job barely exists any more.

The latter barely existed when my grandfather was around. I suppose that the best way to have a purpose is to make more people, machines can't look after babies.

CogitoErgoSometimes Wed 20-Jul-11 11:10:22

I don't think 'idleness' is the point being made in the passage quoted. It's saying that there is a dearth of unskilled/semi-skilled jobs which, in previous times, those that wanted to leave school without qualifications etc., could take up and enjoy a reasonable living from. I don't happen to think it's accurate. I think those unskilled/semi-skilled jobs still exist but the division between the income that can be earned from those jobs and the benefits that can be received for not taking them up has narrowed.... making them far less attractive financially. You've only to look at the vast numbers of people employed in the rural economy & care services - often shipped in from overseas because local people don't want to do those jobs - to see that there is still a demand for unskilled workers.

knittedbreast Wed 20-Jul-11 11:12:52

i completly agree. we just dont need people for lots of things now, it makes those who own and arrange these industries richer and uses less man power. gets us out of jobs and the only jobs that are around require degrees etc but there are less of them. its not by accident in the slightest.

an example, supermarket workers. now we can self scan which is on reason i do not. customer services, order online rather than by phone another reason i do not.

but we can see all this in the rich poor divide

Ormirian Wed 20-Jul-11 11:15:53

I agree cogito. The jobs are there but they are 'unaffordable' to most UK residents. Unaffordable in the sense that it wouldn't be possible to have the lifestyle that is considered normal in the UK today.

CogitoErgoSometimes Wed 20-Jul-11 11:18:33

Even if we order online, who is putting the goods in boxes and making the deliveries?.... real people. Even if we self-scan at a supermarket there are still real people making those goods, stacking the shelves and doing other jobs. Since the invention of the Spinning Mule people right up to automation and the internet someone has been predicting that workers are surplus to requirements, but oddly enough we still need lots of people to make it all happen.

Rich poor divide my eye hmm....

Kallista Wed 20-Jul-11 11:19:07

Gramercy - i think your best bet may be not to read or watch the news - it IS depressing!
I think that part of the issue is that there are cheaper imported goods & food available (often produced in slave labour conditions).
Unless people have fat wallets to spend on local goods + produce then British farms & industry will continue to fail, leading to higher unemployment.
A viscious circle! Best bet is to ignore the news if makes you down.

CogitoErgoSometimes Wed 20-Jul-11 11:22:03

"Unaffordable in the sense that it wouldn't be possible to have the lifestyle that is considered normal in the UK today."

Maybe not for someone trying to support a family. But the young people that are currently being brought in from overseas to pick cauliflowers in Lincolnshire, for example, see their stint as a means to an end rather than a permanent career choice. A step up to better jobs in the future. A way to get some money behind them for the next stage in their life. When school leavers in the sixties got a job pushing a wheelbarrow on a building site the idea was not that they would still be doing that when they retired....

Andrewofgg Wed 20-Jul-11 11:30:05

Old farts like me will remember Grunwick, which was a photo-processing lab; in the late seventies it was the site of a big industrial dispute. Depending on whose side you took it was a greedy capitalist or an arrogant trade union.

What matters now is that Grunwick closed some years ago. And who closed it? Not the boss and not the union; we did. People like so many of us who bought digital cameras and stopped buying film and getting it processed.

No doubt there are jobs making memory cards but they can be re-used indefinitely and create fewer jobs than the labs did. Remember when you couldn't open a magazine without finding an envelope inviting you to send your films off for processing?

But that's life. I expect the National Union of Monks and Ecclesiastical Operatives was miffed about the printing press!

knittedbreast Wed 20-Jul-11 11:31:02

cogito, customer services dont make goods or stack shelves- thats the job i was refering to, not the warehouse staff. although even that is being eroded, more often now warehouses are arranged by machine, programmed to select x from place x to be sent. here all you need is a couple of supervisers and warehouse manager-far less people are required.

As for the self scanning, again i wasnt refering to the farmers that make the food, but the people and the NUMBER of people on the tills serving.

Its already well known that the introduction of the internet has had this effect, its far cheaper to run everyhting by machine or online. less people involved and those who are not usually of the same lower skill set. yes you have more IT, but you need to be of a certain skill set to be that IT person. Jobs fo unskilled workers in some sectors are reclining.

CogitoErgoSometimes Wed 20-Jul-11 11:45:05

Processes that mean fewer people are required in one part of an industry can often throw up a requirement to have more people employed elsewhere. The rise of internet shopping is closing High Street stores and warehouses may well be automated but it must have been a godsend to all the parcel delivery companies & drivers out there who have never had it so good. Six self-scan tills may take up the space of one or two manned tills but all supermarkets seem to need a helper standing by for when we get it wrong.... don't think it has reduced the total number of staff.

We always adapt and find new ways of using people. 'Reclining' unskilled workers would be less than useless, of course.... wink

minipie Wed 20-Jul-11 11:59:22

What is ironic is that at the same time that we are bemoaning the lack of jobs for people to do, we are also bemoaning the long-hours culture and increasing demands placed on those who are employed.

I would like to see more job sharing, part time working, and simply employing more people so that the workload (and the pay) is shared out more.

That might be a bit less efficient than having a single employee working long hours, but it would have so many other benefits.

GooseyLoosey Wed 20-Jul-11 12:01:57

Surplus to whose requirements? I myself probably perform no particularly useful function that the rest of you would miss. However, my children could grow up to rule the world or cure diseases and they need me.

knittedbreast Wed 20-Jul-11 12:06:02

yes but even the delivery companies dont want to employ more people, they want their people to work longer hours or deliver more in shorter spaces of time over larger distances. These jobs that are lost are not being replaced by a load in delivery. I work in this area, its what i see everyday.

less workers, more work, longer hours, stricter conditions, people moved on to non contracted work, only work in busy periods which also means you are only employed 10 months of the year which voids the work 12 months and its a contract. less pay. you have to delvier x more over much larger areas.

Also part time work is a farce, unless you are already high up low skilled pt work means you earn piss all with little to no possibility of progression. it also makes the gov unemloyment figures look better.

Its not spain here, we dont get the winter gov payment when the work dries up for x time of the year.

PaperBank Wed 20-Jul-11 12:18:27

Is the world perfect yet? No, so we all still have work to do.

Al0uiseG Wed 20-Jul-11 12:26:39

Time for either a huge war or a natural disaster on a massive scale. Sadly.

CinnabarRed Wed 20-Jul-11 12:28:16

I don't think the quote in the OP was necessarily just referring to unskilled/semi-skilled jobs, actually.

I have a highly skilled job (tax policy adviser to various governments) but I sometimes wonder how much it really contributes to the sum of human happiness.

And how about bankers? City lawyers? Management consultants? Financiers? Private equity fund managers? Hedge fund managers? All of us highly skilled and very well remunerated, but no-one will miss us when the revolution comes and we're first against the wall....

ThisIsANiceCage Wed 20-Jul-11 12:32:48

Yes I often wonder about that stuff, CinnabarRed. One can be very busy, but is it useful? And to whom?

Al0uiseG Wed 20-Jul-11 12:35:02

I'd miss you Cinnabar, i love your posts.

I think that the people in highly skilled jobs will be the first to see the writing on the wall and adapt accordingly. The unskilled and low skilled will be paid less and less as their work will be considered less valuable.

CinnabarRed Wed 20-Jul-11 13:25:35

blush @ Al0uiseG!

The reason I do my job is really three-fold. Mostly it's because I love the intellectual challenge. The second reason is that I like to think that I do some good by helping governments create tax legislation that is more workable and less open to abuse than it might otherwise be. And the third reason is because I enjoy the high salary and the respect that comes with my job.

So I can justify what I do in those terms. But I struggle to justify it when compared to teachers, policemen, doctors and nurses, the binmen, charity workers, etc etc. The only rationale I can come up with is that the taxes I pay support the public sector and charities. Which is why I'm always happy to pay my taxes and have never sought to reduce my tax bill in any way!

ThisIsANiceCage Wed 20-Jul-11 13:36:59

And wot Al0iseG said ^^ about your posts, Cinnabar!

Sterling job with your tax thread - very educational.

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