Friday, October 10, 2014

Generation Why? (Part 3)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this story, I talk about my journey from post-secondary education to getting started with trying to make a career. This is Part 3.

As I talked about earlier this week, I am a huge believer in the concept of basic income. This is the idea that everybody in a given political system (city, county, province, country, etc.) would get a government cheque with an amount that would keep the poorest among us above the poverty line.

If you're asking how a government could possibly afford this, it wouldn't happen all at once. The program would obviously be a little bit more complicated than just giving everybody free money. Personal taxes would probably go up a little bit if you make more than the basic income amount. Businesses would have the opportunity to restructure their salaries so their employees would make about the same amount of money overall as they did before, and the corporate tax rate would also be raised since these businesses would now have some former salary that is no longer going to employees. Parents with children under 18 would receive additional benefits to keep their families above the poverty line, so that we could get a real chance at making sure no crimes are committed simply because somebody is poor. The economic stimulation from this system would undoubtedly be unbelievable, as suddenly the resources needed to run homeless shelters, hospitals, police forces, payday loan centres, etc., would suddenly drop precipitously.

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about the fact that automation in first world countries and factories around the world mean that human workers will come to be relied upon less and less. However, profits from companies that turn to automation won't slow down, if anything they will become more efficient and make even more money. All of this could mean that we will have millions of people with no work to do, and corporations making incredible amounts of money (something that you will note is already happening in the US, and almost certainly in other places). Executives are making hundreds or thousands of times as much as their lowest employees, at a pace that is completely unsustainable in the long term. Increasing corporate tax rates for corporations that are innovative and forward-thinking enough to stay ahead of the curve on automation will still make more money, but they will pay a higher percentage of tax when their revenue gets into the hundreds of billions of dollars. This tax revenue can then be redistributed to former workers and those unable or unwilling to work to keep them from burdening society, but also keep them injecting money back into the economy.
Humans need not apply.
At a certain point in the future, not everybody will have to work. The concept of the 40-hour work week is something that was made up by Henry Ford (it actually used to be higher than 40 hours on assembly lines, before child labour laws were a thing) when he decided to give people more time off work without a cut in pay so that people would be able to go out and actually have time to spend the money they were earning. If we took this even further, some people could go down to something like 15-25 hours a week, and still earn enough money during that time to make a comfortable living. Money itself is a human construct, and it's becoming an increasingly virtual one. Estimates put the amount of cash in circulation at only about 10% of the world's wealth. Saying that there isn't enough money to give everybody enough to avoid malnutrition or starvation or disease or homelessness just isn't realistic. In North America we throw away about half of the food that is produced because it goes bad or people will not eat it or it can't be sold. Grocery stores do this, throwing away food after rendering it inedible while the homeless peddle for change.

What are we doing to our brothers and sisters?

Now, back to my generation. I talked yesterday for a bit about the concept of giving new graduates a stipend for (about) 6 months of salary to get them started on the right foot. If new post-secondary graduates didn't have to worry about money fresh out of school, don't you think there is SO much they could accomplish. If I had had 6 months paid for me out of school with the freedom to job hunt without fear of not getting a return on investment (over $60000 for 5 years of school), there would have been much less pressure to find a job fast, and I could think about what I really wanted to do with my life, and pursue that passion.

At this point, all things considered, my pre-career has been pretty great. I have been working a lot of fairly short, term contracts, with the theory being that I'll eventually work my way into something permanent where I actually have a smidge of job security. University, though I enjoyed it greatly, did very little to prepare me for the concept of going out into the world and making myself known. I gained a modicum of notoriety at my school in my department, but that would only be useful if I had wanted to continue down the academic path. My options were severely limited after that point, and I had effectively no contacts in industries, because I was doing fundamental research with basically no real-world usefulness just yet (which I was fine with, but it didn't help me out in any way career-wise).

It would be really great if the public service remembered the humble beginnings from whence it came. I have a lot to say about the nature of the government hiring process and the stress it puts on new hires trying to figure their lives out, but I think I'm going to save that for another time. All I have to say is that when you prioritize cheap labour with the bare minimum qualifications, you get what you pay for. Outsourcing your workforce to temp agencies might save you money in the short term, but when young people see how much easier life is in the private sector, you're going to have a lot of difficulty attracting fresh faces who've already seen the brighter light.

University taught me a lot, but one thing it failed to prepare me for was the size you feel when you doff the ivory towers of your post-secondary institution and proceed on your own into the world. I know I have a lot of offer the world, and I'm going to get there one way or another. I'll just take it 6 months at a time for now.

This concludes my thought-splosion on the state of affairs for students after university entering the workforce. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 from earlier this week as well.