The Importance of Job Creation on Birdwhack Island

Ten people live on Birdwhack Island. The island is pretty bare, so the two remaining trees aren't big enough to make a canoe or raft. All food is imported. For some reason the only fish or crabs or insects or birds that come to the island are inedible. The remaining grass and bushes are inedible and can't make a cool Kon-Tiki type boat like Thor Heyerdahl made.

One guy has a big motorboat which he uses to get chicken and yams and whatever from the nearest island 20 miles away. (Or whatever distance would be farther than most humans could swim in a day.) He doesn't let anyone else use his boat. If you like eating, George is the man to see.

The island is named after its dominant economic activity, bird-whacking. George was once attacked by a sparrow when he was five, so he employs the other nine islanders in grabbing every bird that lands on the island and whacking it to death on rocks. These are seagulls and cormorants and terns, not much like sparrows, but George wants them dead anyway, anything with wings. They've never attacked anyone on the island. The dead birds can't be eaten, aren't used as fertilizer. Killing them serves no purpose other than fulfilling George's whim.

Let's say George doesn't like Kevin's whacking technique. He demonstrates how he wants the birds whacked, but Kevin is fired when he's unable to make the elegant motion that George demonstrates. Now Kevin has no way of getting food. If the other islanders can't share because they're getting just enough to sustain them, and he can't get George to donate food to him, he's going hungry.

The way people usually talk about this kind of problem in the US is to say Kevin needs to find someone else who can give him food. It's a lack of jobs, or maybe they need more vocational training on Birdwhack Island so Kevin can get that elegant technique George prefers. It starts to seem like birdwhacking is an inherently important task because everyone's ability to eat depends on it, and shame on Kevin for not finding something he can do that George will trade food for.

I assume people reading this analogy would talk about how unfair it is that George is the only supplier of food. In other words, George controls the means of production.

How can the situation be changed without socialism or violating George's property rights? Put the means of production in the hands of the workers? Perish the thought! It's George's right to use his boat how he wants, and to forbid others from using it. He could donate food to the others if he felt like it, but he should feel free not to donate if he doesn't want to. I suppose the dastardly Union of Birdwhackers could go on strike until George rehires Kevin or agrees to feed everyone. But George could just leave the island and stop bringing food to any of them.

Remind me again why George's right to own and control the means of production is more important than other people surviving? Damn the property rights, full socialism ahead. I understand some of the dangers of people redistributing wealth, some portion of the population deciding to take the property of others and deciding how to spread it. I understand some of the historical examples of how it has gone wrong. I don't think redistributing wealth or common ownership of the means of production requires all the other hideous baggage that accompanied it in Russia or China, like assassinating and imprisoning dissidents, causing famines, central planning by the state. There are other models that I think could work. I'm partial to a thing called "Participatory Economics" which is all about worker-owned and worker-run businesses. It's almost like a module that could be used in a socialist state or a stateless anarchist collective. In some ways there's overlap between socialist and anarchist ideas, although socialism seems to imply a state is involved. Anarchism doesn't mean people can't form organizations and work together.

Anyway, what I wanted to show in that analogy is how people sometimes hold jobs sacred, for no good reason as far as I can see. Whether they are doing any job, no matter how pointless, becomes more important than whether they have food or shelter or health care. Why are jobs that sacred?

The way we've been brought up to view jobs is that if one person pays another to do some task, then the job is contributing to society. I don't buy it. Not that Paris Hilton needs more money, but someone paid her to appear in House of Wax, and a commercial for BK, and a reality tv show. Is she contributing more to society by working those jobs than someone who has no job? Financiers have been busy making loans to people they knew couldn't pay, then repackaging and selling the loans to other people as toxic assets. That was harming society, but the financiers earned lots of money from it, and then got bailed out and given bonuses.

If jobs are not all contributing to society or not mostly contributing to society, and we're telling people they should starve to death or have their illness untreated because they haven't got a job, that means we're expecting poor people to choose between humoring rich people, or death. Are you sure you haven't tried as hard as you can to humor some rich person? Did you wear a really big jester cap with bells and bling?

On the other side of the equation, there are people whose skills aren't very marketable, or aren't getting a chance to earn enough money to support themselves. Just because they can't do something that a corporation or business would be willing to hire them for, or can't start their own business and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, doesn't mean they are slacking. The economy seems to be currently organized so that money goes out to workers based on whatever rich people think will help them get richer. Capitalism. People with capital leveraging it to get a return on their investment. Just because people can't or won't participate in that doesn't mean they're causing a problem.

If we can't feed everyone by hoping for capitalists to hire everyone, then we should move on to some other system that will.


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