A couple of years ago I wrote and received a grant to plant several small trees at the elementary school where I’ve been working part time. The low bid came from a company owned by Mennonites, and despite driving to the worksite in a truck all of the other labor was done by hand. You could tell the three-man crew– two young and one older– knew what they were doing as there was very little wasted motion. The young bucks did most of the heavy labor while the old man supervised and pitched in occasionally. They hauled the trees to be planted along with mulch and shovels with a wheelbarrow and in short order had the windbreak/privacy screen-to-be in the ground. Within about two hours they had eight trees planted, mulch placed and tools put away.
This has me to thinking about all the jobs that have been replaced by machines. Remember when things were done by hand in person? Customer service was handled by brigades of real live people without the benefit of voice recognition software. Legions of typists churned out letters before the advent of computers and laser printers. Battalions of cashiers waited on customers, rang up purchases and then made change from a till before SKU codes and debit cards. Armies of factory workers glued, screwed and soldered before the robots took over.
And people wonder where have all of the jobs gone?
But if the jobs are being replaced by technology, who is making the money that would have gone to salaries?
With the help of Google (and not a reference librarian or an assistant) I soon found the following information: according to the Congressional Budget Office, between 1979 and 2007, incomes of the top one percent of Americans grew by an average of 275 percent. During the same time period, the average pre-tax income for the bottom 90 percent of households decreased by $900, while that of the top one percent increased by over $700,000.
The same source notes that adding to the disparity are the Reagan-era tax cuts for the wealthy. From 1992-2007, the top 400 income earners in the U.S. saw their income increase 392 percent and their average tax rate reduced by 37 percent.
As my mother used to say, the rich get richer and the poor have babies.
And there doesn’t appear to be a solution in sight as both political parties appear out of touch and incapable of coming up with real solutions to get people working. How can they when both Romney and Obama are raising a billion dollars each to spend on the next presidential election? Who do you think either represents; the people cutting the fat political contribution checks or those collecting unemployment compensation?
I can think of one move that would help: raise the average fuel tax from about fifty cents a gallon to five dollars. I’m no economist but this would have to create tons of jobs as employers realize that it’s more cost effective to do many jobs by human hand than machine. It would also have the added benefits of reducing the deficit, our dependence on foreign oil and harmful emissions. So the little guy doesn’t get soaked on this too much, allow everyone to purchase a base amount of gasoline with no tax. It would hurt nevertheless, but then again it would solve a bunch of problems in one fell swoop.
Then, the other day on a walk I passed a job site where three college-age men employed by another landscaping firm were planting several small trees. This was not an Mennonite operation. Each arrived at the job in a separate truck/trailer combination. One of the gas-operated trucks brought a gas operated machine to auger holes, another gas-operated truck delivered a gas-operated wheelbarrow and the third gas-operated truck brought the trees. The men were standing around as I passed so I asked if they were on break. “No,” one replied. “The auger’s broke.”
More than that is broke in this country.