Purpose of Life

by

John Wright

 

Let me say first what this article is not about. There is no prescience on my part about the more eternal questions regarding where we came from or where we are headed re an afterlife. My focus is quite comparatively narrow. Iím addressing only in that time we spend between early adulthood and death. Other people can bore you or mislead you about ethereal realms of creation and eternity. I, on the other hand, feel confident that I can bore you, but hopefully not mislead you, simply by looking at the adult years each of us has in this life.

The trigger that got me thinking about this subject was nothing more than a quick mental review of the evolution of our working lives from circa 1960 to the present. To be brief, you would never willfully choose now as the time to be starting your career, for the employment world of today in the USA frankly stinks. If you are typical, you are overworked and you are underpaid. Your job security is weak. All signs point to a continuation of this unhappy environment. No, the USA employment scene was nothing like it is now back in 1960. It was very nice.

College and university graduates even at BS or BA levels were courted by industry. Jobs were plentiful and annual pay increases Ö nice ones Ö were virtually guaranteed. Companies helped plan your career and they offered and advertised seemingly complete employment security and excellent benefits. Words like outsourcing and offshoring simply didnít exist. The USA economy was truly expanding.

People with nothing more than a high school diploma could also be well-employed and have rather good wages in industry, sufficient to buy a home, buy a new car every three or four years, take modest vacations and save enough to put children through college. Nice, huh?

But looking at the negative side, as early as the 1960ís some of our heavy industry, like steel companies, were starting to feel the pinch from foreign competition, notably Japan. Old plants here that were not modernized were not competitive in production rates or product quality, while wages here were much higher than those in Japan. I certainly did not envisage a future where that difference would expand to consume many of our higher paying industrial jobs. The handwriting was on the wall but it was too early for me to see a massive evolution only twenty years into the future.

Yes, we started losing important industrial jobs in significant numbers by the early 1980ís. We were already becoming quite familiar with Japanese brands like Sony, Panasonic, Yashica, Yamaha Ö and all of a sudden Honda didnít just mean motorcycle. Gradually but surely names like RCA, Zenith, General Electric and Motorola started disappearing from the world of consumer electronics. We received very high quality and low cost consumer products from Japan, including a variety of automobiles that put our degraded and amoral automobile industrial giants to shame.

What few people saw then, even in the early 1980ís, was that the process of displacing jobs in the USA was branching out to include ever more industrial positions and even some so-called professional white-collar jobs. The process not only continued but expanded with more countries becoming our suppliers, leading to the world of today, post free trade agreements, where good jobs are hard to find and hard to hold. Employers no longer court most of us, they are not paternalistic and no promises are made about the future, while benefits are being reduced, both medical and pension. The more successful of us find ever more of their total compensation in the form of bonuses rather than salary increases, and these types of compensation can be curtailed at any time moving forward. You invite a world of hurt if you learn to depend on bonuses for day to day living.

Even more important, the time that we used to have for personal needs and leisure pursuits no longer exists, as our jobs donít even faintly resemble the old nine to five single income family world. Imagine an earlier time where you might have a spouse at home taking care of everything since YOU work all day and earn the money. Imagine starting your job each day at 8 A.M., taking a full hour for lunch and leaving promptly at 5 P.M. Think about what it would be like to leave work at work and simply pick up where you left things the next day, ergo, you would not work at home nor would you worry about job pressure. With a free and clear mind you would participate easily in family life and be thinking of fun each evening and on weekends. That world was reality, but not now.

We could look at the reality of today as a sequence of economic events in which the low cost supplier wins the contract. That view is a reasonable and traditional aspect of capitalism, and it is predicated on efficiency leading to progress. Yet, something is very wrong. Our class differences within the USA have polarized strongly in regard to wealth. Astronomical executive salaries are blatantly immoral. We ordinary people feel pressured just to survive economically. We no longer have expanding leisure time that one would expect in a world of increasing automation. Indeed, we have far less leisure time resulting from the two-income family and very long working hours. We are virtually in the same labor condition as we were at the beginning of the 20th century with long working hours and low pay, and that includes both blue and white-collar jobs.

If we were to see the general populations of other countries enjoying far better lives due to their economic growth, then at least there would be some kind of balance. Yet what I see are dirt poor people in Central and South America working for companies like Dole® to bring "cheap" pineapples, etc. to us. I see hundreds of millions of dirt poor people in India, not a vastly improved society. I cannot speak knowledgeably in detail about China, but there is an obvious reality that only a very small percentage of the population (perhaps 2 percent) is working to create products for an export market.

Iím becoming very uncomfortable with an ever more apparent discontinuity Ö we are losing our jobs and suffering long work hours at the same time that our competitor countries populations are continuing to live, on the whole, almost as poorly as they have in the past. If this is capitalism, something has gone off track very badly, for capitalism was the engine and the philosophy that was to lead to a better life for all. It isnít happening, folks. In fact, we are going backwards in a hurry, with no corresponding good life happening anywhere else, except for the wealthy owners and managers of larger businesses, and a small cadre of high-powered professionals. An 1800ís plantation image comes to mind, and yes I am talking about a form of slavery, or at best a country of indentured servants.

One might argue with me by pointing out that Japan industrialized after World War II, and the whole country became wealthy and modern within thirty to thirty-five years, so that should mean the same things will happen in India and China and North Korea given a little more time. Well, it just ainít so, folks. Little Japan with a population of 30 million people found the USA to be a huge and open market for just about everything they could make. Contrast that with the populations of India, China and even North Korea and South Korea and Taiwan and it becomes totally obvious that the USA market canít begin to absorb even a tiny part of what these countries will be able to produce. What will happen is that we will lose our remaining export markets, possibly excepting agricultural products, and that means our economy will shrink. There will not, however, be a repeat of the Japanese success in the large population countries, but very slowly the lives of the general populations there might noticeably improve, situationally. For example, the Chinese are really working hard to modernize and Westernize, but India isnít. They are relying on education to help their capable people emigrate.

There has been much promotion of the "service industry" as a replacement for our industrial production and some of our white-collar jobs. Recently, my wife related a description she heard regarding service value added aspects of a business that starts with a measure of coffee with a real price of about two cents Ö enough to make one cup of coffee. If you make it at home your real cost is about three cents, considering the water, the heat, the filter paper and the depreciation of your china cup and your coffee maker. Buy that same coffee in a diner and you will pay $1.50 for someone else to provide heated water and a cup and serve it to you. Go to a Starbuckís® and you will pay $4.50 for a designer cup, some milk, sugar, miscellaneous other condiments and the ambience of the place, including newspapers for you to read while you enjoy the coffee and the company of other "upscale" people. It is the concept of charging for each added service that presumably leads to more jobs. True, until the customers wise up or evolve or hit hard times.

Hey, I paid $2.25 a bottle for Michelob™ beer twenty-eight years ago at a local meat-market bar! That same bottle purchased by the case from a distributor cost less than one dollar. So Ö yes, I am personally familiar with the concept of service and ambience, and I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, new about service related jobs. For some period of time, in certain special circumstances, we pay more than the retail price to receive some additional service or to enjoy some special environment. But that concept is as old as the hills. Travelers paid for lodging and food in medieval times!

In short, there is no new service industry. Such jobs as we add when we open more places like a McDonaldís® do not, I repeat, do not make a reasonable replacement for lost jobs that paid much higher wages or salaries. This, however, misses one of the more important points. Service industry jobs depend on the willingness of the public to request the service. Any time inflation hits (as it is right now, strongly) or a family has other unexpected expenses or loss of income, their use of service industry amenities dies or is strongly curtailed. This means there is no inherent security in a service industry job, regardless of wages paid. Benefits, if they exist at all, stink. If you happen to work as a clerk in a pharmacy you probably are secure as people will spend money for medical needs, but restaurant and fast food employees are not at all secure, nor are clerks at a variety of retail stores.

While Iím at it, I should look at white-collar service jobs like consulting, perhaps for a new kitchen design or for new business software. Other areas include but are certainly not limited to insurance sales people, personal finance consultants, health club employees, personal trainers, pet watchers, cleaning services and a host of other elective and arbitrary expense areas that can be cut in a heartbeat. The service industry in general is not secure because it is not fundamental to our existence, as contrasted to a furnace repair person or an automobile mechanic, whose skills are critical even in bad times. Yes, you can argue that the two examples I just used are included in the domain of "service" jobs, but the character is obviously different, and you donít expand the number of those jobs except by expanding population. Trust me, you donít want to expand our population.

All the hokum about the service industry and the improving economy are deceptions designed to keep people disarmed about the larger moves of the larger corporations in eliminating good paying jobs in the USA. The silence in Washington about jobs being exported means that businesses and the growing "Business State" are moving along without any beneficial government control to aid citizens here.

The "Business State" that I identified in Destiny is not only a reality; it is destroying our personal lives. Interestingly, it could not be happening without an excess of extremely cheap labor elsewhere in the world. And if the silly pro-immigration folks here have their way we will have our own extremely cheap labor, particularly if we lose or worsen our minimum wage law. That, my friends, is the expected byproduct in a world of fools who consistently reproduce to excess. It isnít that we couldnít have plenty of goods and services for everyone alive today. The point is that nobody needs all the excess people we have, and the excess people are being used for cheap labor, which undermines the quality of life for those of us who have been sensible about reproduction and serious in our education and work ethic.

Briefly, this whole scenario is one more scene in the play titled "The Wealthy Vs the Poor." I suppose that what irks me more than anything else is that the wealthy appear to be blind regarding consequences. Doesnít history teach the educated anything of note? Is not endless greed ultimately rewarded with revolution? Must we go around this silly circle yet again? Can the wealthy and powerful not see that it is their obligation to Humanity to train the poor not to reproduce to excess, and not to turn them into slaves? Apparently not. History will repeat.

But what about the "Purpose of Life?" If I whine about the good old days I am simply another useless and negative person. Conversely, if I define a good life for each of us and use history as a precedent then maybe we have something rational and tangible to use as a goal for the near future. My fairly obvious intent is to define a better environment and then identify the steps necessary to take us from where we are to that environment.

Perhaps the most important word when it comes to planning a life is "balance." We need to work to generate income that will be sufficient to provide the nicer things in life without displacing necessities like education for our children. We need time at home to rear children and to create our own comfort zones and social settings. We need personal time to expand our knowledge and simply to have fun doing what we call hobbies and sports activities. We need significant vacation time to refresh our minds and bodies. We need time to involve ourselves in our communities to help others and to make sure our evolution in infrastructure and population will not decrease quality of life. Balance is what leads to happiness and a sense that we are living the good life. To have balance requires time and reasonable income.

We are out of balance. The combination of the two income family, that is earning only what was earned forty years ago on one income in terms of buying power, and the pressure to work ten or more hours per day and sometimes evenings and weekends Ö well, there can not be a balanced life in that setting. I know a few single folks with extremely strong career motivation who see no problem with the current environment. They are, of course, necessarily single, as no intelligent person would ever want them as a spouse, for they are married to their jobs. No child would ever get essential attention in that setting. I must commend these people for staying single and I must indicate strongly that they do not represent a sensible path for the continuation of the human race Ö they are not a valid model from which to plan a life.

Single parenting is another example to be avoided, as the parent simply cannot have the time or the resources to grow the child, especially in our current work/income environment. I could list other problem areas but the important realization is that time must be available to support, emotionally sustain and grow the nuclear family. Having to worry continuously about job security and limited income wrecks the parent and then the child, compared to what life could be, should be and can be.

Today we have various Republicans lobbying to make the "Minimum Wage Law" optional for employers. In a twisted way I kind of wish that would happen as the resulting poverty, anger and eventual revolution would finally bring the roof down on the heads of the wealthy. To stay on track, however, I have to point out that all moves that decrease real income and increase required hours of work just to survive are anti-society, anti-human and deserving of violent political response.

We have a whole generation of political and business people in charge who must forcibly be replaced and/or controlled. They are your enemies and they are so crass in their behavior that they will make statements like the minimum wage reference without acknowledging that they are screwing further the already screwed. The only legal manner available to accomplish their removal is voting. The little people must be made to realize that they cannot execute the steps to have a good life as long as they continue to allow government to operate to their disadvantage. Businesses can be controlled and limited by government, and that is crucial to saving jobs and income and forcing limited working hours.

So, if the purpose of life is to have the good life we must be secure. It is irrational for us to allow our jobs to be exported. It is irrational to allow any practices that degrade the life of the general population. For example, your gasoline prices are going up rapidly in part because of the increasing oil demands of the nations we are industrializing. Our executives talk about new markets in those countries, so they shift their investment capital, costing you your job here and driving up your gasoline, fuel oil and propane prices.

I wrote in Destiny that our environmental problems would be exacerbated by having more underdeveloped nations develop and become consumers of energy. I did not write about the economic consequences of competition for oil during and beyond the industrialization phase. Yet that, along with our stupid Middle East policy and war have combined to start another massive round of inflation here. Just wait. In another three to four years all the other goods and services costs will do what oil prices have done. I already see it in the supermarkets. We are in for bad times unless we dump our present government officials and muzzle and contain our business executives. But alas, the genie is already out of the bottle regarding developing nations and their industrialization. Trade restrictions are in order to force the re-industrialization of the USA. And contrary to all the pap you hear about the benefits of immigration, it is a disaster and must be stopped.

No, further development of our oil resources will not fix our oil problem. Our ability to get oil from our own resources is pathetically limited opposite our consumption. Meanwhile, the oil barons reap windfall profits from every barrel that is produced domestically. Maybe absurdly high oil prices will finally support the implementation of solar cell and other alternative energy technologies within the USA. Then we can pick on the developing nations for worsening the greenhouse effect! Of course, we will exert no control over those no longer sleeping giants at that point in time.

Even if we evolve locally per my fondest hopes regarding the purpose of life, there is a massive world out there that will be in a frenzy of growth and consumption and generation of waste products and heat energy. It thus becomes apparent that a local view is inadequate to ensure a long-term enjoyment of the good life. And that includes all the citizens of the world, not just we folks in the USA. The challenge is massive and for the moment overwhelming, for we can see ahead and can recognize pending disaster.

Finally, I repeat a few of my words in Destiny Ö it is time for the human race to grow up. We need larger than life size minds to engineer and manage the future, globally, as well as a set of morals that promote rather than demean Humanity and our planet. I do not know if we will rise to the occasion. I do not know if we can realize the purpose of life. I do know we are making many wrong moves today so I have more than a little doubt about our local and global future. How will you cast your vote?

Oh, yes, the purpose of life is to enjoy life in all its many aspects, but not at the expense of others or as their indentured servant or slave, and not in ways that destroy our beautiful world. Think about that when you vote, and take the time to draw other people into conversation to enlighten them, before they vote.