Employment, Individuality and Development

By Garry Jacobs

Feb 14, 2010

“More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” is the title of a New York Times article by columnist Thomas Friedman on January 23, 2010 in which he urges President Obama to launch a national Innovation Movement to create one million new young entrepreneurs in the USA. Entrepreneurship requires creative imagination, original thinking, courage of conviction and the willingness to take risks, precisely the attributes associated with an advanced stage of individuality. Therefore, Friedman’s proposal underlines the link between the Academy’s on-going discussion in the GEC and the one now commencing in the e-conference on The Evolving Individual.

As Ashok Natarajan’s paper on 'Fully Utilizing Social Resources can Eliminate Unemployment' substantiates, at any given point in time there are vast unutilized social resources and social opportunities waiting to be tapped. Recognizing and exploiting these opportunities can harness the capabilities of those who are unemployed or underemployed, while providing valuable services to society.

Why should opportunities go unrecognized and unutilized? Largely because every society is governed by a conforming mentality in which people recognize new opportunities only after some pioneering individual has had the insight and courage to exploit it as well as the drive and talent to become a visible success. Visionary thinkers, pioneering individuals, creative artists, social innovators and entrepreneurs play this crucial role of helping society awaken to its own unutilized potentials. It is not a coincidence that a disproportionate number of innovative technologies emerge out of a tiny geographic area south of San Francisco. Individuality has become a cultural milieu in Silicon Valley, the very spirit of the place.

Over the past half century, many developing nations discovered the hard way the obvious truth that no government can develop a nation. Nations are developed by their people. Ironically, now the most economically advanced nations are caught in a similar misconception, wondering how in the world their governments can create employment opportunities for all job seekers. It is no wonder if most conclude it is impossible, because that is not the way any nation has successfully developed so far. People develop themselves. It is the role of government to foster and support that process of self-development. The very idea that governments can spend their way out of unemployment is counter-intuitive. Money is the product of development and work, not the cause.

The problem arises because of our tendency to view the part – economy – as if it were the whole. Society is the whole of which economy is only a part. Economy is the whole of which money is a part. Society creates jobs, not economy or money. It is people with social aspirations who utilize the available social (organizational and technological) resources to engage in productive work that achieves two objectives of development that go hand in hand – employment and prosperity.

The right solution is to shift our focus from the narrower field of economic resources to the wider field of social resources, as Ashok argues. We must start with the question ‘How does society create work opportunities?’ and go on to ask the question ‘What can we do to foster or accelerate that natural process.’ Then we discover that the opportunities for employment growth abound.

When we do that, we are naturally drawn to focus on the role of individuality in social development and employment generation. The ultimate solution to unemployment is not to create more jobs. It is to endow more people with the capacity of creating jobs for themselves and other people. Until the 19th century, self-employment was the principal means of livelihood for people around the world. The onset of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of large corporations marked a shift from self-employment to salaried work which has gone so far that most people never even consider today the possibility of creating their own job as well as jobs for others by becoming self-employed.

Encouraging people to think independently, experiment, innovate and pioneer new activities may not be a short term prescription to solve the unemployment problem, but encouraging youth to become self-reliant individuals who think for themselves and have the courage to act on their convictions is the surest way to permanently eradicate unemployment in the long term.

Jobs are created by people, but people are nurtured by society. There is a great deal every society can do today to equip its citizens with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to create their own work. America’s entrepreneurial culture is nurtured by the value of independent thinking intrinsic to its educational system. US students may not generate the highest scores on international test comparisons, but they do score at or near the top when it comes to taking original, unconventional approaches to solving practical problems. Of course, even in America, the value of independent thinking is nurtured only to a very limited extent. In countries such as India where rote memorization and blind acceptance of what is taught are still the rule in education, the scope for improvement is unlimited.

Political democracy has been evolving for more than 400 years in Europe, yet it is still far from complete or perfect. Economic democracy had its origins in the 19th century when the industrial revolution made a wide range of products available to the vast majority of the population. A century ago, Henry Ford’s Model-T awakened the aspirations of the American working class and began the revolutionary process of evolving the first society in which the majority belong to the middle class. The prosperity ushered in by economic democracy fostered the spread of political democracy around the world, a movement that is still far from complete.

Globally, the process of economic democratization is still in its infancy. More than three billion human beings still struggle for economic survival. Another billion or more live in economic insecurity, because they lack assured access to a remunerative work. How can we speak of true economic democracy until every human being has the right to work and the opportunity to exercise that right? As economic democracy has fostered the spread and maturation of political democracy, the fulfillment of economic democracy depends on the emergence of a new revolution in psychological democracy which is still at a nascent stage of its development. This is a subject we wish to explore in depth in the Academy’s e-conference on The Evolution of Individuality.