By Sam Burnham, Curator
One of the late evening conversations during the Cracker weekend was about the Agrarian Ideals that we hold dear. Of particular note is the economic theory that we wish to espouse. Capitalism is, by far, the best economic system ever conceived in the minds of mankind. The freedom and incentives built into the system make it efficient, competitive, and, most importantly, free.
But along with the liberty of capitalism comes a responsibility. While economic markets should not be weighed down with restrictive government regulations, it should still be regulated. But instead of the laws of the land, this economic system should be governed by things far more solemn and forbearing. It is this very regulation that we are missing in our society today. Our inability to implement this one principle is what is causing unemployment, wage stagnation, probably every economic shortfall in this nation today.The only way that free systems can survive is if we maintain them with the principles that must govern them. A system designed to work for good people must be maintained by good people.
These principles are driven by the intrinsic value of a human being. This value is not something that can be measured in dollars, rubles, or yen. In fact, if you reduce this value down to a measurable amount of money, you have just destroyed the value entirely. Money is always going to be one of the restrictions that business leaders face when operating. And a budget will always have limits on how much a proprietor can afford to expend in salaries and benefits. But if we address the value of a person in terms of currency alone, we are missing the point.
Mechanization and automation are both replacing people in commerce, industry, and agriculture. Banks use automated tellers, stores have self-checkout, factories employ robots, all in the name of lower costs, lower prices, higher profits. But what are the costs? Just the other day I saw a post on Twitter where someone was trying to communicate with their online bank - one of those new things with no branches, just websites. He wasn't getting much service. I had been in my local bank earlier that same day. Upon entering, two tellers greeted me by my first name, then they both greeted my coworker by his first name. They each helped one of us and in less time than it took for that other guy to send a tweet, we had both completed transactions and were on our way back out the front door. It's a human touch, a personal connection. That face-to-face transaction is backed by an interaction in a community, not a glint in a microprocessor.
When we cut this human interaction out, no matter how menial we think the task to be, we are taking from someone a chance to provide for themselves. We are taking from ourselves a chance to interact with another person. In doing this we take a bit of the humanity out of our society. We continue the pattern of dehumanizing each other and in doing so, we dehumanize ourselves. In that act of turning "Amy" at the bank into a button on a touchscreen we have made our community a little less valuable. Yes, the bank may have more money because they pay one less person. We may even benefit because the bank can afford to give us a higher yield on an account. But a member of our community lost her job to a machine. There may not be another job for her because of all the other machines coming on line. Then what? What happens once a machine can do our job?
A story I heard on NPR this past week was reporting on such technological advances and how these machines will free people up to do "more detailed" or "more important" tasks. But unless we eventually determine what these tasks are and how people learn to do them, all the advancements do is continuously replace people with machines. Another unintended consequence is that we devalue the art of manual labor. There are people who have an innate ability, even the desire, to work with their hands. These are people who don't withdraw from sweat and grime that come from physically handling their work. They don't take issue with being physically tired after an honest day's work. Who are we to determine that these tasks are better off done by machines? We have developed the erroneous, perhaps dangerous, assumption that everyone wants, even needs, to attend college and work in an office, that this is the way to wealth and enlightenment. That's not fair to a group of people who aren't wired that way, people we devalue and demean by suggesting their proclivity toward manual labor makes them somehow less of a human.
It is time for us to change. It is time to stop mechanizing or automating every job out there. It is time to return to the idea that the human factor has worth, that the bottom line is not the only value that business has to budget into the cost of operation. We have to once again understand that our human resources are exactly that - human. Until we begin treating people as people, rather than as expenditures, we will continue to live in a dangerous world where people feel like and therefore treat others as liabilities rather than assets,
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire