Periods of prosperity in the life of a nation, or more generally any society, undermine community by reducing the need we have for one another. People do fewer favors for one another as there tends to be enough money for everyone to act independently. In America, as is the case elsewhere, new job creation has not kept pace with job declines brought about by automation and off-shoring. These are issues that are clearly connected with current trends in the economy.
Job declines were not brought about by the 2008 recession alone, but rather have only been exacerbated by trends which were noticeable one-two decades earlier which have helped to create a period of increased unemployment. Throughout this century many who were victimized by jobs lost to automation and off-shoring have not been able to gain satisfactory re-employment. Rather, they have been able to find some work, but it is often part time at far less wages than their former full time jobs. Many others still work but for fewer hours per week and for less wages. Also, there are fewer workers needed to manufacture new widgets because computers, robots or machines with artificial intelligence are doing the work of some former workers. Thus, productivity increases. The costs of producing the same number of widgets are declining.
In theory, increased productivity is a good thing, if for no other reason than the fact that the price of goods may decline in a society losing jobs and overall earning power. If costs of production decline, sale prices can as well, leaving the same or a similar profit margin because productivity has increased.
However, increasingly people in the labor force trade high paying jobs for lower ones, and many for fewer hours of work per week. Real wages decline for those who work either full time or part time. On the other hand, part time workers now have many more hours per week to do other work, which they may have formerly paid to have done. These include housework, back yard construction projects, lawn work, painting inside and outside, house repairs and all sorts of minor projects in connection with our living space. These are potential areas of savings. Thus, households squeezed by job changes that significantly diminish earnings can save with fewer cars, planning trips with less mileage or by sharing rides with others.
Trading favors with other families can also help meet costs of incurring such expenses alone: these include child care, lawn care including community garden soil preparation, sharing seeds and plants started from seeds. Urban groups organize farmers markets, community gardens and may even use a voucher or parallel currency to keep track of favors or obligations to each other. We may even work on domestic energy savings projects, food storage and savings. People simply do more favors for one-another creating a cycle of interdependence. If everyone was busy working, dependence on one another for favors wasn’t done as much. Further, such behavior might be considered onerous, but now may be more and more welcome. We are creating social connections and helping participants become socially recapitalized while also building economic assets through untapped obligations.
By creating or recreating a face to face economy and partially rebuilding our social connections, we are rebuilding community and improving the quality of our lives.
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Richard A. Hudson is a writer, reader and blogger committed to exercise, proper nutrition and health. He’s interested in politics, economics, alternative energy, gardening and sustainability and has written brief essays on many of these topics on his bloghttp://richlynne.wordpress.com. Despite his generally positive and optimistic views about globalization, he wonders whether we will survive current destructive forces that increasingly promote warfare among political and social classes. He is also beginning to think about the declining influence of the know-it-all baby boomer generation just as the next generation born in the 60s begins to slowly stumble into a dominant position in the U.S.
He received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago (1966) and subsequently spent 42 years in academics, gradually developing all sorts of interests well beyond his basic training. He ended his academic career in 2008, having published about 100 scientific papers, reviews and commentaries. In his last several years in the academy, his role as Dean of the Graduate School afforded him many opportunities to interact with students from all over the world seeking graduate degrees.