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LIFE AIN'T ONLY SUPPLY & DEMAND

"The Job Creators"

This line, title of a tune by Amos Lee, captures the element missing in most of current dialog regarding the economy and jobs. This so-called debate passes for serious discourse in the media, when it appears to be just another of the many creative forms of social engineering through propaganda, which has become ever more the new normal since the days of Nazi Germany. The person who knows "the price of everything and the value of nothing" is most likely to be the one touting values for everyone else to emulate.

These days, at least in the good old USA, we hear a lot of piffle about not taxing — or in any other way annoying — the "job creators." This is an obvious ploy to appeal not only to those who consider themselves to be in the rarified and saviour-like category of such creators (including those who give lip-service to the notion that only God can create anything of substance), but also to those who clearly do not create jobs, but would certainly be happy to have one. The latter, however, are just as much job creators, for the only reason they want a job is in order to have the wherewithal to purchase the necessities of life, and some luxuries. Which, of course, is what actually creates jobs.

The premise that only the select few are responsible for creating jobs raises divide and conquer to a new level, admirable for its audacity and level of deception. You have to give it those whose job is to create spin. They are nothing if not creative.

The fact is that entrepreneurs do not "create" jobs. Their companies do not create jobs. The government, likewise, does not create jobs. There is, has been, and always will be, only one creator of jobs, and that is demand. No demand, no supply. No supply, no jobs.

In the village, if one has enough supply of food and water — all the necessities of life — then there is no demand created. Demand arises only when one cannot fulfill all one's needs within one's own self-sufficiency. Beyond the individual, it may be argued that the needs of one's family constitute a kind of demand, but that is to parse this argument too finely. And, of course, individual "needs" often have little to do with necessity.

When one cannot provide sufficiently for one's needs, real or imagined — as in times of scarcity brought on by drought, manipulation of markets, or other contingency — then the requirement arises to seek help from others, e.g. in order to provide for one's family. This can become a solicitation for charity, on the one hand, or on the other, an traditional entrepreneurial enterprise: attempting to do for others what they cannot do, or do not wish to do, for themselves. And creating a job, or many jobs, for oneself in the process.

Though successful in finding work in the service of others, it may be only a "job of work," temporary in nature, and not qualifying as a "real job" as implied by the phrase, job creators. A job created by the proverbial small business entrepreneur is implicitly a substantial thing — relatively permanent, humane working conditions, fair compensation, benefits provided, potential for career advancement, and retirement with generous pension attached. They all lived happily ever-after. In other words, something that is rapidly becoming a myth, one that harks back to a time before unions were routinely busted, and a good worker could look forward to having his or her loyalty to a single company rewarded for a lifetime of hard work and dedication. A job was a big part of what was once the American dream, which has turned into a nightmare for many.

In other words, the job that the job creators are credited with creating no longer exists in the real world of the marketplace. However, that inconvenient truth does not diminish the appeal to tradition, and the warm fuzzy feelings, that the phrase connotes. Finally, here is someone who will give me a job! Let me fall down and worship!

Seriously, it is an unfortunate meme of our present-day political sideshow that this kind of trope is massively effective, inducing otherwise reasonably intelligent voters to vote against their own interests. Because they buy into the underlying myth to which the call to action refers, they respond without examining the tenuous connection of the promise to the reality. In the post-job era, when someone offers the prospects of a job, who can blame anyone for falling for the proposition? Does Charlie Brown ever doubt that, this time, Lucy will not jerk the football away at the last second?

In times of scarcity, offering a job is like offering water to those dying of thirst in the desert. And may be appropriately considered a form of mirage. The employing class has, once again, managed successfully to turn the social contract 180 degrees around on the employed: The job I offer you is more valuable than anything you bring to it. This increases the leverage of those who already hold the upper hand in the social compact, and elevates them to a heroic, undeserved status.

This is why I contend that the era of jobs, as such, is over. From now own, everyone has to be, or become, an entrepreneur. All those who find themselves "between jobs" should stop looking for some white knight who will save them, by slaying the dragon of unemployment. Instead, they could begin looking for others, employed, unemployed, or employers, who need what they can do. They are called clients, not bosses.

If we examine more closely, and more coolly, the theory that entrepreneurs actually create jobs, or that their corporate fronts do, we can perhaps find some transparency, and see where credit is really due. A corporation exists for a couple of purposes, neither or which is very altruistic. One is to shield the ownership from prosecution for wrongdoing, while it goes about pursuing the main corporate raison d'etre, profit. Either of these traits constitutes enough reason why the Supreme Court should never have awarded the status of personhood to corporations. Taken together they illuminate that corporations are, and are meant to be, sociopathic in their design and operation. The last thing a corporation wants to see happen is that their fellow corporations, and fellow citizens of the republic, are able to prosper, or even survive. It is we win/you lose all the way. There is no win-win, other than collusion against the losers.

Corporations are also commonly neurotic, even suicidal, in that top management view their tenure as temporary. They bail out with golden parachutes, leaving the corporate entity to flounder on its own, or intentionally gutting it on their way out. This would be roughly akin to one's brain being able to leave one's body any time it finds a better body to inhabit — younger, more fit, living in better circumstances — abandoning the former incarnation to dissolution and decay. This may be likened to a cancer, which kills its host, or a form of vampirism, sucking the blood out of the source of our livelihood as we transmigrate. The Corporation as Frankenstein Monster.

Corporations, and the people leading them, can create jobs only to the extent that they create demand. The existence of a corporation does create incidental demand, of course — for people to empty the trash, clean the toilets, maintain the building, and so on. But these "jobs" are usually outsourced, and predictably come with little or no job security, minimum to low wages, and zero benefits. The profit imperative dictates that the personal benefit accruing from internal jobs, meeting the necessary demands of the corporation, be kept as minimal as possible. Except, of course, for elite positions of upper management, which can often hardly be justified as jobs. Thus, the raging debate over executive compensation. The rationale is self-serving: How can we expect to attract the top talent, such as people like me, unless we offer top compensation, such as we offer me? Wealth at the top is produced by owning, as in shares of stock; less than by earning, let alone working. This is not just semantics. Earnings are produced by holdings.

A corporate or government entity can also create demand artificially, through advertising, manipulation of markets, and promotion of consumption in general, caricatured in the ghastly orgy of the holiday shopping spree, to which we are subjected every year. That there is a truly beneficial effect to this shark-feeding frenzy, on the (un)employment level in the country, is highly suspect. It seems as likely that the true beneficiaries are the middlemen, wholesalers and retailers who make a big splash of providing jobs during the season, which evaporate immediately thereafter.

It may be that source economies such as China experience a big boost, but it would seem intuitively indicated that the US would be better off if it underwent the pain of permanent withdrawal from this addictive behavior. If a retail operation cannot survive on its year-round sales, without a fix from the annual gift-giving spike, it calls into question just how necessary their offering is to their constituents. The post-holiday return and exchange of unneeded, unwanted gifts has become its own industry, which illustrates the specious nature of this kind of "demand."

When an individual entrepreneur or corporate entity recognizes a real demand that is not being met, and puts together the response that results in demand for positions for people to fill, then it can be said that the enterprise is meeting a demand. It can be further argued, with some justification, that they are creating the jobs that are required, if we are willing to stretch the definition of create. But to credit the managers with creating jobs solely and independently, as if they are waving a magic wand, is to ignore this fundamental point.

That there are a great many demands going unmet is another basic truth ignored in this idolization of "the job creators." When there is so much latent demand, where are the creators of the jobs that would meet it? If more people — presently working at a job, or several jobs, that they find less than satisfactory — would take a look at the demands going unmet in their local vicinity, their own neighborhood, they may find that they can become one of these vaunted job creators. They can at least create a job for themselves.

When I came to the end of my tenure working for a corporation, and went into business for myself as a consulting designer-builder, I clearly saw that whatever job security the corporation had seemed to offer was an illusion. It held good only until the management saw that they could replace my position with less costly talent, which as far as they could tell, would be just as good, or possibly better, at doing what I did. Concerning the actual substance of which, of course, they had no clue. As I developed a stable of clients, it also became clear that the balance of the relationship was much more equal. While one of my client may decide, for various reasons, that they no longer need my services, they could not make that decision for my other clients. Whereas my "boss" could decide that, for all the corporate clients I had been successfully serving, with no complaints from any of them, my services were no longer needed. And as my own boss, I could, in turn, decide that a given client was no longer worth the trouble. Whereas working for the corporation, I had to serve any prospect or client the management might toss me as a bone.

When I decided to retire altogether from the profession of commercial design and build services, and to pursue my aspiration of establishing a program of full-time Zen, it was not just a pipe-dream. I had seen that there was clearly a widespread need — and demand — for the practice of genuine Zen. It was clear from the people that were coming to the Zen center, and the expression of desire for deeper and broader practice experience on the part of many.

I recognized a demand that was not being sufficiently met, if at all, in my local vicinity, and began laying the groundwork for establishing a community of practitioners. Over the years, the public awareness of, and interest in, Zen practice had grown. In laying the foundation for a more dedicated program of meditation and study of buddhadharma, I was merely reacting to, and supplying the materials for, an unsatisfied demand.

The kind of demand that I served in my former career was legitimate and worthwhile, but not nearly as personal, nor as personally rewarding, as working with the community to foster genuine Zen practice and dharma education. Like most interpersonal services, the joy of sharing something that has been so seminal in my life, indeed the center of my life, totally surpassed that of other professional engagements, and fulfilled my needs as well as those of the "clients" I found myself serving. These clients are really my true family.

So I encourage all to think creatively and deeply about these issues. Please consider whether there is not something that you, and perhaps you alone, can do, to serve the community. If you do so, you will find that you no longer need a job, nor would you take one, even if offered. For you have found a career, a calling even, and a relationship to your community that is the essence of right livelihood.

Nothing is created. All we can do is rearrange what is already created. This is the essence of Zen practice.

 
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