free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 162. LIFE WITHOUT WORK

Monday, November 14, 2005

162. LIFE WITHOUT WORK

This is a fun scenario to goof around with:

Tomorrow, fuel imports to the US come to a complete halt, due to a perfect storm of terrorism, weather, acts of war etc. 60% of the US oil supply (12mbd) is lost, and the US must now survive on only 8mbd -- or else start tapping reserves. Private inventories are 314 million barrels, and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is 686.9 million barrels. That's a total of 1000 million barrels, which will be used up in 83.3 days, if drastic measures are not taken.

A state of emergency is declared, and the country is powered down. The number one priority is to get people with frivolous jobs to stop working and consuming energy. The only people allowed to work are those who provide absolute essentials, such as food, water, electricity, fuel, energy equipment, heat, phone, critical transport, police, emergency services etc. The system is totally bare-bones, and no expansion of work permits is allowed.

So some people are still working, as usual. Most people, though, are laid off, and anxious because they don't have a job. The government understands this. They know they can't keep people from working without providing them some form of subsistence. A bold idea is proposed: Social Security, unemployment benefits and welfare will be suspended. Cash payments will no longer be made to beneficiaries. The trust fund will also be temporarily accessed by the government. In return, the government will purchase essential goods and services (staple foods, water, electricity etc.) and provide them to the entire U.S. population. It's crazy and "communist", but this is a crisis, and something has to be done. We simply can't drain the SPR, and at the same time, the people have to be fed. Normalcy will be restored at the soonest possible opportunity, but during the crisis, the TV says: "we would like to ask that you cooperate with the national effort to reduce working".

After a few weeks, an emergency task force is convened. The government realizes it can't keep paying all these bills for food, so they simply expropriate all the food according to existing executive orders. This doesn't mean that they go out and physically seize all the food; they simply declare food to be public property. This way, they can get the food for free, and they in fact, institute a law making food rations free of charge. When you're hungry, you just walk into the grocery store with your ration card and pick up some food, as usual.

Now, you may wonder why the farmers will do the work producing the food, if they don't get paid. Don't they have to make a living? Well, no actually. They're already "making a living" from the universal food/utilities dole. Granted, this may lead some farmers to be lazy, but that problem will be solved by calling for volunteers to do work related to agriculture and food distribution. These volunteers are all being supported by the universal dole, so they don't need a paycheck, and are simply helping because they enjoy the work. It's a nice break from just relaxing all the time, so there's many applicants for every volunteer position. (Remember, frivolous energy-consuming work is frowned on by the system, and working without a permit is a crime. The government is more than happy to round up lots of "work criminals", and put them in prisons where they can be put on the dole and prevented from working.) Farmers who don't want to work for free can thus be phased out in favor of farmers who don't mind working for free. The new farmers would work on the agriculture system much like programmers work on Linux. Food would become an "open-system" available to all for free, and created/maintained by hardworking volunteers.

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I think modern people have some real psychiatric "issues" with the work ethic. On the face of it, you'd think that "life without work" would be a reason to celebrate and relax, but people are addicted to work, and "life without work" is a troubling, frightening concept. It's like I noted above: you would probably need brutal laws and criminalization to PREVENT people from working. That's how bad the disease is!!

Here's a related news article:

Philippines to work four days a week to save energy

I think we have to face it, folks. It's all this "working" that is sucking down the energy. I know it's unthinkable, and hard to come to grips with it, but frivolous work is the cause of energy problems, not the solution.

It may seem communist to pay people for not working, but we do it all the time. We pay farmers to leave their land idle.

Instead, why don't we pay people doing frivolous jobs (like tax preparation or sports memorabilia sales etc.) to be idle, and take away the subsidies from farmers so they produce a massive glut of food and cause food prices to drop to ridiculously low levels?

-- by JD

16 Comments:

At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 8:00:00 AM PST, Anonymous popmonkey said...

and i suppose all those idle folks will just do theatre and puppet shows and won't walk around torching stuff and looting...

sounds like a catastrophe to me. are you saying as long as we avoid die-off PO is ok?

 
At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 8:26:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So some people are still working, as usual. Most people, though, are laid off, and anxious because they don't have a job. The government understands this. They know they can't keep people from working without providing them some form of subsistence.

Not only can they, that's probably what's planned.

A bold idea is proposed: Social Security, unemployment benefits and welfare will be suspended. Cash payments will no longer be made to beneficiaries. The trust fund will also be temporarily accessed by the government.

How temporarily? It won't last long.

In return, the government will purchase essential goods and services (staple foods, water, electricity etc.) and provide them to the entire U.S. population. It's crazy and "communist", but this is a crisis, and something has to be done.

Do the math. Based on my rough analysis on numbers from the department of energy, this will last, at most, 3 years, assuming we can acheieve 80% conservation (i.e. consumption is cut 80%). After that, there just won't be the money available.

We simply can't drain the SPR, and at the same time, the people have to be fed. Normalcy will be restored at the soonest possible opportunity, but during the crisis, the TV says: "we would like to ask that you cooperate with the national effort to reduce working".

The "soonest possible opportunity?" You really don't get it. THERE WILL NOT BE AN OPPORTUNITY TO RESTORE NORMALCY. Not, that is, unless normalcy means mass homelessness and shortened lifespan.

After a few weeks, an emergency task force is convened. The government realizes it can't keep paying all these bills for food, so they simply expropriate all the food according to existing executive orders. This doesn't mean that they go out and physically seize all the food; they simply declare food to be public property. This way, they can get the food for free, and they in fact, institute a law making food rations free of charge. When you're hungry, you just walk into the grocery store with your ration card and pick up some food, as usual.

More likely, they do go and physically sieze the food, and distribute it to the rich. Who's going to pay the supermarkets to stay open when food is free? The government? The government will be running out of money shortly.

Now, you may wonder why the farmers will do the work producing the food, if they don't get paid. Don't they have to make a living? Well, no actually. They're already "making a living" from the universal food/utilities dole.

Hey, so long as there's also a universal mortgage/ rent dole, a universal clothing dole, a universal medical dole, a universal education dole, a universal mechanical repair dole, a universal fertilizer dole, a universal pesticide dole, a universal irrigation dole, a universal diesel dole, a universal seedstock dole, a universal transportation dole, and a universal infrastructure dole, and complete relief from taxes, this just might work. We could always borrow more money from China.

Granted, this may lead some farmers to be lazy, but that problem will be solved by calling for volunteers to do work related to agriculture and food distribution.

Why should anyone volunteer when they're getting food for free? Do you really think that a reasonable explanation about the situation to people is going to motivate enough effort? I'm sure it will motivate some, but I seriously doubt enough. More likely is that people will be pressed into working.

It's a nice break from just relaxing all the time, so there's many applicants for every volunteer position.

I think it's more likely that the people who don't become slaves will turn to looting as a means to relieve boredom. History is on my side in this.

(Remember, frivolous energy-consuming work is frowned on by the system, and working without a permit is a crime. The government is more than happy to round up lots of "work criminals", and put them in prisons where they can be put on the dole and prevented from working.)

So, you'd rather not kill people, just lock them up? Ah yes, now I see the light of your "optimism" dawning.

Farmers who don't want to work for free can thus be phased out in favor of farmers who don't mind working for free.

Phased out how? By evicting them from their property? What will the bank say/do now that this person is no longer on property owned by said bank? Once again, this just seems so optimistic to me, I just don't have the words to describe it. No, wait, they're coming to me...This is more or less what doomers say will happen. It appears to me that, for you, death is the king of all horrors, and that you'd propose anything, no matter how degrading and debasing, to avoid it.

The new farmers would work on the agriculture system much like programmers work on Linux. Food would become an "open-system" available to all for free, and created/maintained by hardworking volunteers.

Ignores that not all Linux programmers work on it for free any more. Ignores also that even when they did, they had other sources of income. Linux was a strategic bid by a core of programmers to unseat Microsoft. But that's a separate issue.

I think modern people have some real psychiatric "issues" with the work ethic. On the face of it, you'd think that "life without work" would be a reason to celebrate and relax, but people are addicted to work, and "life without work" is a troubling, frightening concept.

I'm in partial agreement. But work is necessary. In their natural state, people are hungry, naked, and ill. Work makes houses, grows food, weaves cloth for clothes, etc. If no one did those things, we wouldn't live long. Of course, that's expanded to include making Televisions, gameboys, electric guitars, etc., all of which are not completely necessary. I do think that workaholism is as bad as diseases come, and we need to combat it. I would rank it as one of the top three spiritual problems of our age (the other two being a nudity/ sex taboo and lack of empathy). There's an interesting history behind the "work ethic" that's well worth looking at. It's not natural, in any case.

I think we have to face it, folks. It's all this "working" that is sucking down the energy. I know it's unthinkable, and hard to come to grips with it, but frivolous work is the cause of energy problems, not the solution.

JD, you're absolutely correct. What you don't seem to understand is that, even in a communist system, widespread employment at something useful is what keeps people alive as a whole. Oil is what has allowed people to work at frivolous occupations for the last century. But once oil becomes too expensive or literally runs out (it'll happen eventually), there won't be enough food, clothing, shelter, etc. to go around.

Instead, why don't we pay people doing frivolous jobs (like tax preparation or sports memorabilia sales etc.) to be idle, and take away the subsidies from farmers so they produce a massive glut of food and cause food prices to drop to ridiculously low levels?

Again, you've not done the math. Go to the USDA website and pull down the stats on crop yields per acre since 1860, correlate it with nitrogen fertilizer production and abstract away fluctuations in avg. rainfall (I think that's also on the USDA website--if not, the national weather service will have it). I've done this exercise for the United States, England, and Eastern Europe--the last two sets of stats are a little harder to find; as I recall I went to a local university library to find them for Eastern Europe. What I found in all three cases is that fertilizer use has caused a massive increase in crop yields, and that once it no longer becomes possible to make or mine artificial fertilizers, it appears that crop yields must drop. Even assuming that we can find 20% more arable land (extremely unlikely without burning our rain forrests, which in turn is disastrous), we will only grow enough food for 2 billion people.

 
At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 8:55:00 AM PST, Blogger James said...

This scenario assumes the best of communism (which in practice doesn't work that well). The farmers would need some level of compensation, no matter what. Exclude the rich from the food stamp proposal, and only provide for the middle class and the poor, who would be adversely affected. Severly limit driving, and use the excess fuel for argriculture and other essential uses...

 
At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 10:55:00 AM PST, Blogger Jan-Willem Bats said...

For more on a possible way towards a leisure society, see:

http://www.marshallbrain.com/robotic-nation.htm

 
At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 11:00:00 AM PST, Anonymous Reality Check said...

Why don't you give credit to Jay Hanson, which is where you ripped this idea off from?

Admit you ripped it off from him and give him due credit or I will prove you ripped him and humiliate you on your own blog.

Reality Check

 
At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 11:34:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The aim of everyone should be to:

Get a decent house and pay it off, become as energy self sufficient as possible (Solar panels, wind turbines) and get a bit of land to grow stuff. From this point on life is surprisingly cheap, and you could literally sit and home a sell videos of the dog doing tricks to make ends meet over the internet.

Only some people are obsessed with accumulating crap. You hear about people buying outfits and shoes and never wearing them, strange, and buying book they never read, larger than needed cars.

But they do say the devil makes work for idle hands, so I guess we either get on with something half useful or torch the neighbour’s pussy cat.

 
At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 2:19:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Imagine this:

1. An contracted four-day workweek, with more hours worked each day followed by a long weekend (like the French schoolweek)
2. Very strong incentives, both stick and carrot, to carpool to work

Kaboom, you've just quadrupled the oil-efficiency of commuters.

In Sydney we have e-tags which charge you automatically when you go through a toll; with a small adjustment you could scale the prices depending on the vehicle and/or number of occupants.

 
At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 4:46:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

and i suppose all those idle folks will just do theatre and puppet shows and won't walk around torching stuff and looting...

sounds like a catastrophe to me. are you saying as long as we avoid die-off PO is ok?


Yah. What are you saying? That a die-off is preferable to modifying the employment/economic system? That no effort should be made to eliminate frivolous uses of fuel, even in a crisis like I described?

 
At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 5:09:00 PM PST, Anonymous popmonkey said...

thanks roland, that's more like it. and with a shorter work week with longer days it would make even more sense for people to "sleep at work" as per a previous discussion.

i would like to know, however, how you arrive at "quadruple" considering that #2 has unknown variables.

 
At Monday, November 14, 2005 at 9:13:00 PM PST, Anonymous popmonkey said...

Yah. What are you saying? That a die-off is preferable to modifying the employment/economic system? That no effort should be made to eliminate frivolous uses of fuel, even in a crisis like I described?

nope, not at all. all i'm saying is that your scenario is a doomer one. and that i would like very much to avoid it.

like i asked in the first comment, are you saying that PO ok as long as there's no die-off? i.e. it's okay for people to have nothing to live for, no privacy, no rights, and be under constant government control?

been there done that, literally.

 
At Tuesday, November 15, 2005 at 12:28:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

nope, not at all. all i'm saying is that your scenario is a doomer one. and that i would like very much to avoid it.

Is it a doomer scenario? It seems like you want to make it into a doomer scenario. Why is the scenario of people being paid for not working a doomer scenario? Lots of people get paid for not working: farmers for leaving their land idle, children, retired people, people on food stamps or disability, the people displaced from New Orleans, rich people living on interest. In 2001, the total number of employed people in the U.S. was about 115 million, versus a population of about 280 million. 165 million people were eating without having a job. Where's the doom there? Why are non-working people so frightening to you? They're your neighbors.

Do we really need to have an income tax system so complex you need an army of specialists to decipher it? Wouldn't it be more productive to eliminate that waste of labor and energy? What's the alternative? An energy hungry future where we all have to move piles of dirt from point A to point B and back again, not because it needs doing, but because there is no other way to eat? To me, that sounds more like a doomer scenario, where we're all slaves to a maladaptive government system. Do you see what I'm saying? Should we make the tax code even more complicated, just to create busy work and make sure hands aren't idle?

like i asked in the first comment, are you saying that PO ok as long as there's no die-off?

Certainly, preventing the death of people is the top priority. There's lots of ways things could turn out. You might not like some of them. But PO will be what it is, regardless of whether you (or I) think it's okay or not. The important thing is to get through it, and get to the other side, where we can grow again. That may require some radical improvisation and creative thinking.

i.e. it's okay for people to have nothing to live for, no privacy, no rights, and be under constant government control?

The post describes a situation where social security is greatly expanded in order to cope with an emergency. Do current social security recipients (and others who eat without working) have nothing to live for, no privacy, and no rights, and are they under constant government control?

In today's unstable world, it's not impossible for crude oil supplies to be cut off. It's one possible contingency. What would you have the U.S. do in the scenario I described? Let people die so as not to infringe on their reason to live, privacy, rights and autonomy from government control?

 
At Tuesday, November 15, 2005 at 9:23:00 AM PST, Anonymous popmonkey said...

not working doesn't frighten me. mass unemployment, regardless of subsidy, does. your conjecture is that people would accept this change of affairs, and mine is that they would riot.

i know, you'll keep saying: "what would you have america do in this scenario?". how about lets talk about more realistic scenarios because yours is a doomer scenario.

you or i can only speculate as to what would happen. what's the point in this speculation? what sort of awareness does it raise? it's like saying: "ok, asteroid is coming at us, what happens next?" or "congress repeals the 22nd ammendment, bush gets reelected in 2008, uses next four years to complete his rise as dictator: what happens next?", or more to the point, "we run out of oil, completely"

if you want my opinion, in your scenario things would be much nastier. some of us may wish for this "commune" solution of yours but most likely we would have martial law, use the SPR to go to war against whoever cut us off and whoever has oil and we would live out the rest of our lives amidst war and strife. you think the govt would use all that money wisely? it would be a run on the treasury by those in power. the population would see little of it. we'd be eating gruel in a line behind army trucks, not some socialist supermarket.

i.e. a doomer scenario in my book.

 
At Tuesday, November 15, 2005 at 5:41:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

pop, mass unemployment is not an unrealistic scenario. In fact, it's definitely the most likely of all the doomer scenarios. As I pointed out in #152, even cornucopians who think peak oil will be a non-event are concerned about massive unemployment due to increasingly sophisticated automation. It's a problem we have to face squarely, and I will continue to talk about it. Optimism is not about ignoring disturbing potential outcomes. It's about identifying solutions for all possible contingencies.

 
At Wednesday, November 16, 2005 at 9:23:00 AM PST, Anonymous popmonkey said...

JD, i understand all that. let me put my issue with this post in another way.

1. the scenario is a doomer one
2. your solution is naive

one thing you fail to connect the dots on is that your solution above would cause a massive economic collapse, first in the U.S and then quickly in the global market. possibly causing a die-off anyway, but certainly strife with no end in sight, at least in our lifetimes.

i admit my criticism isn't constructive because i don't have a counter solution to this particular problem. my stance is that we should be thinking of ways to avoid it. i think your deluding yourself that such a complex solution is possible in the U.S. or that it would prevent the other doomer outcome, total economic collapse.

 
At Wednesday, November 16, 2005 at 6:27:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

pop, you're right that the post has a lot of flaws. Unemployment is a baffling problem, and nobody has a great solution. But I think it's still important to think about it. My main aim in writing this post was not to solve the unemployment problem, but to stimulate thinking about it, and the often neurotic need we all have about work. I'm sure I'll write about these topics again, and I'll try to pick a better angle next time. :-)
JD

 
At Monday, July 21, 2008 at 9:22:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The government pays for this from the social security trust fund....riiight.

That money's gone folks.

Let's use this easy to understand example. A kid gets $50 for his birthday and puts it in his piggy bank. He now has $50 in the bank.

He then takes out the $50 and puts in a IOU for the $50 and spends it. How much does he have in his piggy bank? $50? No. ZERO.

The government did the same thing with the social security trust fund. Took the money out, stuffed it with IOUs and then spent the money.

So, "The trust fund will also be temporarily accessed by the government."

Hello, it has been PERMANENTLY accessed by government and spent into oblivion.

 

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