(Concluded from Part 1.)
For the longest time, business analysts were calling the automation revolution a cyclical recession. Said Business Week in 1993: “This is the first time in the postwar period that [manufacturing employment] has failed to bounce back in the wake of a recession.” (1)
At last it became impossible to ignore the “jobless recoveries” that happened after each “dip” in the economy. These were not cyclical recessions; they were structural deconstructions of work and the work force, the shedding of whole occupations which, once shed, did not return.
Said another source:
“Some critics … call it deconstruction rather than reconstruction — jobs are a casualty at every point in the delivery chain. …
“[International trade consultant Patrick] Couling says the cost-cutting electronic revolution is one reason why economic recovery in the U.S. has yielded 3.5 million fewer jobs than past recoveries. Employers are investing in systems, not workers.
“‘The fallout can be devastating. But it is more of a disaster to do nothing. It is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he says. (2)
“Growth without jobs,” it was called. The impact caused the growth movement of the 1970s and 80s to shrivel on the vine. I think this business analyst pretty well summed the situation up: “Stop finding yourself, pal: It’s time to get back to work — if you still have a job, that is.” (3)
When I woke up in 1990 to the devastation that the computer was causing, I tried to warn my provincial premier, whom I knew personally, the head of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, and anyone else who would listen. No one wanted to hear about it. No effective voice that I knew of could gain the attention of people so fascinated with what the computer could do that they allowed the drama to unfold without taking effective action.
Today’s generation of younger folk have never enjoyed the kind of security that the older generation enjoyed during the 1950s through the 1970s. Worse, they don’t even know what it was like to live in a system that provided pensions, benefits plans, supposed job security, a social safety net, and so on.
It’s our job as financial wayshowers to change that situation, to come up with a business model that honors the worker, does not overwork people, and provides for their unemployment, illness, disability, and retirement. A world that works is a world that knows that business is not about the enrichment of the few but the needs of the many.
So, financial wayshowers, if you’d permit me to say it, perhaps don’t drive the car looking in the rear-view mirror. There’s nothing to be learned from the past except what not to do. Consult your heart. That’s the new paradigm.
(1) Gene Koretz, “American factories still aren’t in a hiring mood,” Business Week, June 28, 1993, 22.
(2) Mark Wilson, “Triple bar decks jobs. Code data cuts cost for retailer,” Vancouver Province, Oct. 14, 1993.
(3) David Olive, “The New Hard Line,” Report on Business Magazine, October, 1991, 15.