As always in an election year, the public clamors for more jobs. Understandably, being unemployed for any reason is a deplorable (did I just use that word?) position to find oneself in. Politicians promise more jobs. But does the market call for more jobs or more production?
In actuality, people clamor for more, cheap, newer and better stuff. They want a job to be able to accumulate the stuff. To some, it’s a matter of keeping busy or leading a fulfilling life, whatever that means, but to most people working at a job means they can have more stuff.
As a thought experiment let’s imagine that all production equipment were outlawed. No more assembly lines, hydraulic machinery, lathes, CNC machines, computers and so on. All goods had to be produced the old-fashioned way, by hand. Now that would yield a hiring spree like never before. Workers by the millions would be required to start producing stuff to keep pace with consumer demand. But how much stuff could be produced and at what price? It would be highly unlikely that our standard of living could evenly be remotely maintained. Work hours would increase, real output would slow and unfortunately, some people would go hungry.
We are able to live at these historical levels because of labor-saving production methods. It is those same methods of production that replace manual labor and human inputs. Simply put, we forfeit jobs to maintain our comfortable standards of living. This has been a sub conscience cost-benefit decision by everyone in the market.
Let us think about jobs another way. The politicians constantly promise more jobs. Every election cycle some windbag in front of a microphone is promising more jobs. That would be the easiest thing for a “policymaker” to provide. After all, the politicians have the power of the state to enforce their decisions. They can pass whatever law they want and have the Supreme Court rubber stamp it for them. Think Obamacare.
If it’s actually more jobs that they want then they could pass a law which outlaws the use of large vehicles on the nation’s highways. Limit the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) to a few tons. That would limit the amount of freight any single vehicle could transport. It would also increase the demand for truck drivers off the chart. For that matter, outlaw those big ole’ scary trucks. Who needs those slow moving behemoths in the way when you didn’t allow enough time to get to that job. Now that would certainly require more people to transport goods.
Here’s an idea that kills two birds with one stone. Limit the range an automobile can travel to under 100 miles. Demand smaller fuel tanks in cars and light trucks. This would limit people’s use of independent transportation and boost the rail industry in one fell swoop. Better yet, outlaw private citizens from air travel. Decree that the airways are now reserved for “official use only”. One can imagine the amount of new rail lines that would have to be laid. The new trains and train cars that would have to be built could employ myriads of workers. The progressives would finally have their way and get the rail system they’ve always wanted. Legislatively it would be an uphill battle, but legally it could be done. After all, the public demands that the government build the roads. Who ever heard of private roads? Yes, I’m being facetious.
There’s the story of when Milton Friedman was visiting Indonesia and observed a bunch of laborers digging a long trench with shovels. When he asked his companion why they were using shovels and not industrial equipment, his companion answered,”It employs more people to use shovels.”
To which Friedman replied,”If it’s employment you want then why don’t you give them spoons?”
Along those same lines, Congress could outlaw road striping equipment. From now on all road stripes must be painted by hand. Imagine the army of people with rollers and paint brushes out in the hot sun painting stripes and lines on the roads. I just hope all of those wheel barrel operators who are moving America’s freight don’t get in the way. Now that’s progression for you!
Probably by now you’re getting the picture. To be fair, what people are clamoring for are more high paying jobs. Not menial labor jobs. Those are always available for the taking. As Murray Rothbard once said,”Somebody has to take out the trash.” But, short of the economy becoming completely communist, how are politicians supposed to determine what those jobs would be and where they should be? That’s the task for market entrepreneurs to determine. It’s also because of entrepreneurs that we have this standard of living we enjoy today. These are the actors in the market who determine how much labor and what type of labor is needed and where to employ it. Can an automated system yield a better outcome or human labor? The entrepreneur who has skin in the game can make the best decision in that regard. Not the government or some Monday night quarterback demanding a better job from his local crook, er… politician.
For some reason, call it cognitive dissonance if you like, average people think the strong hand of the state is required to create jobs. Because the market doesn’t have a spokesman, very little attention is given to the fact that the best results happen when the government stays out of the business of business. They forget that the free market, or whatever free market we may still have left, has brought them this far already. It’s the same market, with all of its participants, that have raised our living standards to levels that would make the kings of old envious.
Maybe this thought experiment may have taught you something about jobs and production. Demanding jobs from a deceitful politician is futile at best. Instead, let’s put our trust in that non-institution that has always given us the best of everything, namely, the market. Allow the market to function as it ought to. It may be scary but it hasn’t let us down yet. I just ask one thing as a truck driver, Please don’t text and drive in your independent form of transportation that the market demanded instead of trains, with your new smartphone, which the market produced without the government telling them too, on the road that was built and is maintained with little manual labor. We wouldn’t want to see you get into an accident with the road striping equipment that’s ahead of you. Drive safe.