An Economic Thought Experiment
A great chef is an artist that I truly respect.
I’m going to take you back 3,000 years into the life of an ancient tribe, named the Victus tribe. The Victus tribe had about 100 members, and served the god of food.
The tribe was quite reclusive, but rumors of them spread throughout the world. It was said that the food of the Victus tribe was so delicious, it was more valuable than its weight in gold. Explorers who met the Victus tribe in their travels were allowed to join them for one meal. After dining with the Victus and returning to society, no meal could match up. There are even stories of some explorers starving to death, unable to eat normal food again. Many spent their entire lives searching for the tribe, but the tribe was small and secretive, and few ever succeeded in finding them.
The god of food was a demanding god. It required that the Victus make a huge and bountiful feast every night. Each night they had to cook elaborate and ornate dishes, so that the god did not get angry at them.
As a result, most of the Victus tribe were chefs. The breakdown of jobs was as follows: 10% grew, hunted, and foraged the food, 5% built and maintained the houses, 5% did the required odd jobs, and the other 80% were exquisite chefs.
This arrangement worked well for hundreds of years. A few people gathered the food, a few did the other jobs necessary for the tribe to survive, and every night they feasted on delicious meals.
However, one day disaster struck. The god of food was killed by a new god. This god hated the god of food, and wanted to erase even the memory of the food god, so he made a new law for the Victus tribe. They could no longer cook tasty food. All the food had to be bland and tasteless.
This made the Victus tribe quite sad, because it meant ending their beloved traditions. However, they feared the new god, and had to follow the god’s commands, so they started making bland food. Now, every meal was just boiled potatoes and flavorless meat gruel.
Two months after the food god was killed, infighting started in the Victus tribe. The non-chefs began to mock and tease the chefs. They said the chefs were not pulling their weight in the tribe. They were sick of working hard while the chefs sat around all day, breaking their laziness for only half an hour to boil potatoes and cook some gruel.
The chefs tried to help out with other jobs in the tribe. However, their services were not needed. It was easier than ever for the food gatherers to gather food, because they no longer had to find exotic herbs and ingredients. The chef’s skills weren’t really suited to any of the other jobs in the tribe.
This caused the fighting to get even worse. The non-chefs started to call the chefs moochers. They said the chefs were completely dependent on the non-chefs for everything, and wanted the non-chefs to do everything for them. As time went on the fighting got worse, until the tribe was about to implode.
What should this tribe do?
There are a couple of options. You can let the free market sort itself out. Some of the chefs will figure out how to do other jobs, since the fear of starving to death is a pretty great motivator. Some chefs just won’t be able to hack it, but after they die, the rest of the tribe will be stronger, and have more wealth per person.
If you believe that is a viable option, you should reach into the recesses of your dark heart and find a smidgen of empathy.
I hope the answer is clear to everyone. Even though 80% of the tribe suddenly wasn’t able to do their jobs anymore, the tribe had exactly the same amount of food, clothing, and shelter. This amount of food clothing and shelter was enough to provide for everyone under the food god, and is enough to provide for everyone under the new god. Over time, the chefs would learn to do other jobs that could contribute to the society, and everyone would be better off.
One chef would become an expert blacksmith, and direct the love of sharp knives into making better tools for the tribe. Then the tribe would have the same amount of food, clothing, shelter, and also a whole new set of sharp tools for everyone. Some chefs who specialized in the anatomy of animals might become doctors. Others, who specialized in the ancient art of molecular gastronomy, could become chemists, and create countless useful materials. Suddenly the tribe has the same amount of food, clothing, and shelter, along with new sharp tools, doctors, and new chemicals being created each day. This is how wealth gets created.
In our current society, we face many of the same problems. Technology and outsourcing put many hardworking people out of a job. Jobs that five years ago were lucrative and secure, can suddenly be gone forever. However, even without those jobs, we still have more than enough food, clothing, and shelter. The people who are out of work should not be seen as a burden on society. Rather, they should be seen as society’s great opportunity. All these hard working people can now be retrained to do new things, and as a result, our entire society will be better off.
In order for us to reap the benefits from these opportunities, we need to stop treating the unemployed as moochers and lower class citizens. Our society is structured such that a large percentage of people, at some point in their lives, will end up unemployed with a skill set that is not in high demand. This is what happens when technology moves fast. At the same time, due to this technology, there will be countless new jobs created that companies are unable to fill, because so few people have the required skill set. We should have a method to train people who become unemployed, to fill the new jobs that are created. When we do that, everyone ends up better than they were before.