Vol. XIII, #5, December 25, 1998
DIVISION OF LABOR
"For the most part, in the past, if you did not work, you did not eat and therefore, survive. Much of what is 'called' work today, is not. All manner of frivolous occupation is passed off as 'work'. They are not employed in ANY occupation that is directly involved in the things of living. Digging up bones in South Africa is not work. Slapping labels on raspberry mineral water in bottles with hand-pleasing shapes is not work. Playing basketball for the NBA is not work. Starring in a movie is not work. Slathering cream cheese on a six-dollar bagel is not work.
"Only a very tiny percent of our population is involved in the actual work of living, that is, the ESSENTIAL component of agriculture. In 1820, more than 70% of the labor force worked on the farm. By 1900 fewer than 40% were engaged in agriculture. Half a century ago...more than half the population had shifted from the production of goods to the production of services.
"It was the destabilization of the depression that utterly changed the landscape to an interest to ensure the 'consumption' of goods as opposed to a concern for their production. This is the only reason that alleged 'growth' has been so important to what passes for modern 'economics'. Today, over 70% of the population is involved in the production of 'services'. Less than 30% is involved in the production of goods and less than 3% are involved in agriculture.
"When times get really bad, we will have no use whatsoever for the 'services'. There are countless millions and millions and millions of people, in this country alone, who do no essential work of any kind at all. They are employed in the 'services'. When the technology fails and people have to resort to actual work, they will find they are skill-less. Intuitively, you understand this. Many pollyannas have even come out and said that the third-world countries will be less affected by the consequences of Y2K. Why? Because they have a much higher proportion of people who actually do work.
"When the companies begin to go belly-up, millions will be displaced. They will find that for every available 'real' job there will be hundreds of takers. People who have skills like plumbing, welding, carpentry will have a high demand for their services while the frivolous 'laborers' like advertising executives, tax lawyers, movie moguls, employees of Disneyland and Sea World, antique store owners and interior decorators, personal shoppers, fashion models, party planners and data entry operators will be shit out of luck. Multiple millions will find themselves 'unemployed' as if they were 'really' employed in the first place in anything other than the production of 'whatever' for mere growth-oriented consumption; production for consumption's sake alone, not because any of it is integral to or necessary for living."
Milne notwithstanding, frankly, I'm a lot happier being the world's oldest webmaster and living a technology-aided lifestyle than I think I would be tending backyard crops with a hoe and ox, and I don't begrudge people whose 'work' helps me lead a more comfortable way of life. But his point is well-taken: The division of labor, greatly accelerated by the development and implementation of complex computer systems, has created a great many interesting (and unnecessary to survival) jobs that would become useless if the technology that supports them fails.
The mathematics of probabilities tell us that the probability for failure of the whole is greater than the failure of a single part. The formula for the probability of a "system" failure is:
where f is the (equally-likely) probability for failure of individual components of the system, and n is the number of (equally-important) components.
Source of this material, The Contrarian's View