In the Mojave Desert, beside quiet crumbling roads, lie the remnants of dead cities. Their ghosts serve to remind us that, at one point in time, their buildings were filled with people, their roads were filled with cars, and their ethos brimmed with life.
But you may never see a ghost town in the old Southwest. You might not even know they exist. I-40 killed them, and I-40 makes sure they remain forgotten.
In the name of efficiency, the interstate system was lain across the United States to make cities closer, travel times shorter, and national defense easier. I am quite fond of the interstates, and I use them frequently. But I can’t forget that, before interstates, there existed life sustained by needy travelers, and since the interstates, only decay in their wake.
In a pseudo-capitalistic world such as our own, we hold efficiency to be ideal. Efficiency goes places faster. It means more output with less labor and fewer resources. It creates profit. Profit is good. Everything should strive to be more efficient.
Once upon a time, we as a nation dreamed of a time when the menial tasks of our daily lives were automated by machines, allowing us to access an unprecedented amount of leisure. Machines would be efficient, and our labor would be unnecessary. This has been a dream of science fiction for a hundred years: a life with clunky robots, meals in pill form, and functional programs to serve our basic needs.
Well, my fellow citizens, we have arrived. We live in a day of mechanization and automation. Unprecedented amounts of leisure are at our fingertips.
However, today we know leisure by a different name: Unemployment.
I am a composer. Once upon a time, it took dozens of musicians to create a film score. There was the composer, and there were the orchestrators. Then to record, there was the orchestra and the sound technicians. Fifty people could be employed to do one film score.
Now we’ve become efficient. It takes one person to create a film score. There is the composer, and the composer has a library of digital samples that represent what would be an orchestra. With a labor force of one, the studio saves money, but forty-nine people are looking for work.
At what point does the average person with the average skill set become obsolete? Who benefits from the fruits of efficiency if innovation puts you out of a job? Of course the individual is responsible for developing a relevant skill set, but in a world of seven billion individuals, how can we expect to have seven billion entrepreneurs?
Admittedly, I know little about economics, but I can’t help but perceive this as a modern irony: We live in a world of leisure, but those who create it don’t have the time to enjoy it, and those upon whom it is forced can’t afford it. And what will we do, sit in idle destitution? Do we have no choice but to let efficiency drive us towards a permanent welfare state?
Are we to let the average individual crumble like a ghost town because the superhighway of innovation happened to be built around them?