The Population vs. Productivity Paradox

This is one of the most fascinating discussions I’ve listened to in a while, and also one of the most sobering. Take the time to listen to this episode of the Cracked podcast, it’s 100% worth it, although a little unsettling in its conclusions. You don’t expect to get something this deep and thoughtful from a “comedy” podcast, but here it is…

Listened to it? (Really, go listen to it, it’s worth the time.)

Okay, now my own thoughts.

I think Jason’s pretty much 100% right, and while I wouldn’t quite call it a “hive mind”, I do think that societies function as organisms on a greater level than the individual which have their own goals and responses. The idea that societies produce the kinds of people they “need” makes sense if you look at it from this perspective and the children of each generation are shaped to suit the needs of that society by social forces.

Of course, his conclusions are pretty uncomfortable. When I first heard what he said, all I could think of was Mega-City One from the old Judge Dredd comics. Despite how the city is often portrayed post-1980’s in the comics, the original idea behind the city was that it was a city where everyone’s basic needs were taken care of by the state, and so the whole population existed in this everlasting condition of slight boredom. The city was essentially a warehouse of people who existed to exist, and this produced bizarre social trends and cultural movements which the comic played for darkly humourous social commentary.

However, looking at it with a more logical eye, I think the society he proposes might not be the worst option. Heck, as he says we pretty much do this already, we just call it something else. Those with ambition work, while those without ambition would just spend their time doing whatever it was they enjoyed and keeping out of trouble. Here in Canada we almost do this already with our extensive Welfare system, which many Conservatives harp on all the time and say we need to be rid of to “force them to work”. But the truth is we already have an “official”  unemployment rate hovering around 7%, and the true rate is probably much much higher (the government manipulates the numbers so they don’t look bad), so if we were to force all those “welfare bums” out onto the street what work would there be for them? Do you want hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions) of unemployed, starving and desperate people dumped out into our society? How’s that going to benefit social stability?

Meanwhile, as he says, all those “welfare bums” put 100% of what the government gives them back into society and keep our economy going, so why should we begrudge giving them what they need to survive? If anything, it’s the rich people who hoard their money that actually take money from the system and work against the economy by not putting most of what they make back into circulation.

What’s the alternative anyways? We either give people what they need to live, and let them choose what to do with their lives, or we have a large excess population that is poor, increasingly desperate, and progressively on the verge of social unrest until revolution finally does happen. And when it does, everyone will lose- rich and poor.

Then again, it would solve some of the overpopulation problem. As Jason says, society has a way of correcting these things on its own.




1 thought on “The Population vs. Productivity Paradox

  1. Ginny and I listened to this on the way down to Sherbrooke this weekend. I found the conversation frustrating because so much of it missed some of the key features about the benefits of work. In fact, it was mentioned only once in passing: “Purpose”.
    There’s an old adage that a man needs to work to feel good about himself. I would say that a human being needs purpose to feel that today is moving forward beyond yesterday. That if you’re simply in a holding pattern of doing something like playing video games all the time, or the like, its no wonder you get fat, feel disconnected from people, etc… Because our natural state (as much as it bothers me) is that of social cohesion and working towards some benefit. We all want to feel we’ve contributed in some way.

    Now the problem comes when we suggest that contribution comes in the form of meaningless work. No one wants that. So we choose instead nothing instead of meaninglessness. Work used to be for survival. And there’s meaning in survival.
    But now, without a sense of a tomorrow for people, and no real need for actual survival by many, there’s a sense of malaise that destroys the very fabric of purpose.

    They are wrong that we have been working towards a world where everyone lives in leisure. Just because the Jetsons and the Flinstones (BOTH MEANT AS SOCIAL SATIRE) show those kinds of situations, doesn’t mean that’s the ultimate goal.

    I think the Ultimate goal has truly been The Venus Project. And the issue shouldn’t be let some people work and others not. But what can you contribute to the betterment of humankind?

Comments are closed.