Existential Questions on the Future of Work (Part 4: Makers & Takers)
Who are the “Makers” and “Takers” and how are rewards, incentives, liabilities and penalties structured to promote human civilization?
The thoughts that follow in these writings intend to stimulate discussion around questions we already face or will likely confront within our lifetimes:
Part 1: People & Civilization
Part 2: Institutions & Economics
Part 3: Technology & Automation
Part 4: Makers & Takers
Part 5: Values & Questions
Acknowledgements include (links provided throughout):
Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson (sequence of books on topic),
Ryan Avent: The Wealth of Humans,
Heather McGowan (starting with Jobs Are Over) and
Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Player Piano.
Defining Who Are Makers and Takers
The “Makers vs. Takers” concept is deeply ingrained into ancient value systems and remains a persistent theme in modern political rhetoric.
Conventional (modern) interpretation:
• Maker = Taxpayers / The Wealthy / Employers / Able-bodied
• Taker = Welfare Recipients / Low Income Families / Unemployed / Infirm
In The Wealth of Humans, Ryan Avent reflects on the violent path to modern social and economic equilibrium: “The inequalities of Feudalism took armed revolutions to overcome and resulted in the Industrial Revolution. The forms of economics that followed — Fascism and Communism came to blows in World Wars. Yet out of these struggles, the prosperity of the late 1900’s found more people “well-off” than any other time in history — with homes, leisure, air conditioning, clean water, food, electricity, access to health care and education that would be the envy of past royalty.”
Avent observes the political discourse of “Makers vs. Takers” suggests today’s Makers view the wealth they earn as justified reward and incentive for hard work, risk-taking, and personal sacrifices made to develop needed skills and knowledge as well as time devoted to the job itself. These Makers then resent the taxation of their earnings being handed out to others, who they label Takers — a term implying they are freeloaders, perhaps even parasites.
He then dissects the components of wealth and economic growth, noting the significance of elements necessary for the accumulation of wealth that are not readily observed and thus easily taken for granted. Maker rhetoric would overlook or dismiss these “dark matter” factors such as the public services, social environment of communities and corporations, public respect for the rule of law and acceptance of the livelihood social ordering has provided.
To live in the modern world, the civilization resulting from millennia of political struggle, technological advances and social progress, requires also accepting the terms of the detente in the conflict between the power of wealth and the power of numbers for defining the rules. Avent writes:
“Culturally, we have been more tolerant of unchecked inequality than imposed equality.”
Civilization’s social contract (“submit to my authority and I will provide for you and protect your remaining rights”) relies upon providing adequate livelihood and opportunity for all contributing to public services, the social environment of communities and corporations and behavioral respect for the rule of law. As such, the Makers would be those who contribute to the prosperity of civilization through activities such as business growth, creating jobs with workers able to increase consumption of goods/services, improving and maintaining infrastructure, research & development, promoting public health and education and advancing culture and the arts.
Traditional Takers become Makers:
• Researchers advancing the body of knowledge in science or medicine.
• Creatives making works of human culture like art, music and storytelling.
• Aids and advocates for others — delivering care, education and justice.
Following logically, the Takers would then be those who diminish, obstruct, complicate or remove any of these directly or through necessary access to resources (including funds) and in particular if by way of personal gain.
Maker becomes Taker:
• Financial institution shifts capital from human investments to securities.
• Property owner skims profit margin by adding predatorily high rent costs.
• Investment fund compels short-term share-boosting at the expense of a company’s long-term investment in competitive strength and market growth.
• Profession employs protectivist licensing requirements beyond public interests to reduce supply, competition and career opportunity.
As contributors to the advancement of human well-being and the public good, Makers improve:
• economic opportunities through jobs, markets, supply and capital
• quality, performance and affordability of consumer goods and services
• infrastructure (such as roads, bridges, schools, housing)
• the environment (clean, safe, biodiverse, comfortable)
• resilience to natural disasters (like hurricanes, floods and earthquakes)
• discovery and knowledge of science, engineering and medicine
• access, affordability and quality of human services (such as the justice system, continual education, healthcare, child care, care of the elderly, mentally ill and disabled.)
• society through initiatives to overcome poverty, inequality and injustice
• human culture through the arts, music, performance and storytelling
• public physical / mental health promoting exercise, diet and socialization.
As seekers of self-enrichment at the expense of human good, Takers:
• deplete available capital to invest in human enterprise by consigning funds within abstract financial investments (money chasing money)
• reduce profit margins from businesses operations by manipulating or assessing unfairly high rent for property (adding nothing in the process)
• reduce social/mental/physiological/dietary well-being through methods such as assessing unfairly high costs or using lobbies to undermine funding for the health system, schools, civil justice, environmental and food safety
• reducing patronage of or excluding access to culture and the arts
• reduce market resilience by concentrating ownership / wealth into fewer entities (elite, banks) — risking burdening public funds needed for bail-outs
• create and reinforce protections against competition, economic mobility or entrepreneurship through complex licensing, certification or regulation including access to market segments and geographical regions. beyond justifications protecting public interests
• obstruct reduction to human suffering (due to poverty, disease, addiction, discrimination, violence, mental illness, pollution and malnourishment, etc.)
What political (regulatory), economic (tax/fee) and/or social levers might better align rewards, incentives, penalties and liabilities to revised notions of who contributes to and who undermines the public good and progress of civilization?