People want to feel their lives have purpose. They want to be useful. They want to work and feel productive. They want to know they are contributing.
Most people don't have simply economic conceptions of those terms though. Work, purpose, usefulness aren't merely matters of making money. People don’t want to be thought to matter only because they pay their way. Nobody wants to think they're only invited along on a trip just to chip in on the gas. They want to think their travelling companions want their company.
That's a metaphor. Of course there are situations where the only reason we're allowed to come along is that we've bought a ticket. But life in general ought to be more than just a bus ride.
An economy is simply the way a society pays to hold itself together, how it feeds and clothes and shelters its members so that they can go about the business of living together in relative peace and security. We tinker with economies in order to make societies more peaceful, secure, and happy. Economies serve or should serve society. We seem to have gotten it backwards. Individuals have a say in what sort of society they live in. We can control it just by being nicer to one another. But only a very few have a say in how our economy runs and the number is getting fewer. What has happened is that the people running the economy and who see the the point of a society as serving the economy are measuring and valuing everything in economic terms, including people, whom they reductively assess as resources or costs, that is as things to be exploited or controlled.
Bad enough, spiritually and psychologically, feeling that you are of no more worth than a lump of coal or useful only for your ability to dig up a lump of coal.
What happens when they decide you are a cost?
It was a long running theme in Kurt Vonnegut's writing, his fiction and non-fiction, that as a nation we’ve accepted a purely economic model of humanity in place of a social one and in doing so reduced everything to a question of cost versus profit. In such a system, human beings have no intrinsic worth. They are only worth what they contribute to the making of profits and that turns out to be, in the case of most people, a negative sum. We cost more than we earn. In such a system then, it makes sense---because it makes cents, gazillions of cents---to replace people with machines and computers. In accepting this situation, we’ve essentially declared ourselves a problem to be solved, and we’re solving it by disposing of more and more of us as “useless”. We are of no worth to ourselves or each other. We have robbed ourselves of any sense of purpose.
The result is a mass despair that expresses itself in a variety of group and individual insanities.
So it goes.
For the first time in the history of the country one of the two majors contenders for President is running on the idea that we are an economy more than we are a society and as such most of our citizens are costs to be controlled and he's just the guy to control them.
Bain Capital did not produce, it profited. It did that by controlling costs. Controlling meant cutting and often cutting to the point of eliminating them. Sometimes it was the whole business that was a cost to be controlled. Always it was people who worked there. Mitt Romney was in the business of controlling costs. No wonder he likes firing people. To him that's a job well done. It makes him feel useful, it gives him purpose. When he ran Bain, his purpose was to decide that other people had served their purpose, they were no longer useful, they didn't matter anymore.
In Mitt world, where corporations are people, people are useful only to the degree they help corporations increase profits. And what's the good of all that profit? It makes millionaires. It makes more money for those who are already millionaires. Anyone who holds a job that doesn't directly serve the immediate need of making new millionaires and making current millionaires more millions is a cost. In Mitt World we don't need cops and firefighters and teachers as much as we need millionaires. He doesn't look forward to the day when everyone's a millionaire because that would take away the point and the fun. Besides, who would clean the pools? He just wants there to be more millionaires. Vote for him, my friends, and enter to win that lottery.
Has anyone asked Mitt if we need fewer forest rangers?
Former New Hampshire Governor and current Mitt apologist John Sununu, trying to make the case that Mitt is right, we do need fewer firefighters, cops, and teachers, said a bunch of wholly vacuous things, including:
There are municipalities, there are states where there is flight of population, and as the population goes down, you need fewer teachers.
Which is true enough, but of course the answer to this is that in places where the population is going up, you need more teachers and in most of those places teachers are in fact being laid off.
But my favorite was this:
As technology contributes to community security and dealing with issues that firefighters have to issue, you would hope that you can as a taxpayer see the benefits of the efficiency in personnel you can get out of that…
In other words, let’s replace as many firefighters as we can with robots, and not for safety’s sake, but to save money.
I expect he’s in favor of Robocops too.