NEWS – George Jetson, Working Class Hero


George Jetson was able to support a wife, two children, a dog with a speech impediment and robot maid, all from working two hours a week pushing a button.

That’s what we thought the future was going to look like in 1962. Over at Hanna Barbera, they understood that automation was going to lead to efficiency and the benefit of efficiency was to liberate us from the obligations of labor. If it wasn’t going to allow us to have more fun, well then, what was the point?


In 1970, the book Future Shock imagined the profession of Leisure Counselor to advise those perplexed on how to spend all that recreational time they were going to have in the modern world.

That was the dream of modernity, wasn’t it? A superior technology that would result in ease and prosperity through all levels of society? The elimination of certain types of work was anticipated. Industrial advancements had been causing changes in work for two hundred years but it had always resulted in new-fangled, less physical, more productive, more lucrative work that filled the gap. We’d seen that before.


So how come it didn’t turn out that way? Why hasn’t greater efficiency and it’s resulting greater productivity translated into fewer work hours? What used to take two hours now takes one hour – why isn’t the laborer the beneficiary of that hour? If what once required two people now requires one person, then either there needs to be a new form of work to employ the spare dude or the two dudes can split the workload and work half as much, right? {And it was always dudes. The labor market was far less congested since working women were far more rare both because of cultural limitations we seem to have evolved beyond but also because George’s wage was sufficient to allow Jane to spend the day shopping. Today most households require two working adults to maintain.]

We work as many hours as we ever did and for many workers displaced by technology, there are no new jobs to fill that space. Increased productivity goes to increased operating profitability but profits aren’t allocated to labor. Profits go to shareholders.


One cause that occurs to me – in 1962, the top marginal rate for federal income taxes was 91%. Maybe you worked a little less hard turning ten million dollars into twenty million dollars if you’re only going to keep 9% of it. Maybe you’re a little more willing to share revenues with your labor force under that condition.


I’m really not an economics maven and I’m a little outside my comfort zone here. The decline of unionism plays a part. Investors demand (and receive) a higher return on investment than was the case 50 years ago. Trust laws go unenforced. Labor has been squeezed and squeezed and squeezed to the lowest value it can exist on. The low dollar value attributed to sweat is something I will never understand (Ditto the overvalue attributed to white collar labor, particularly finance).

There’s a cultural dimension too. We work. We work as though we were meant to, as though our purpose is only realized in the products of our labor, the sprockets we make, the deals we close, the wages we take home. Who questions the appropriateness of two working parents being necessary to keep the household going? Who believes that their moving up the ladder will mean working fewer hours? How many bargain for more leisure time instead of more money?


I did. That is, I retired young. Sometimes I’m kind of bashful about it. It feels a little dishonorable. “I choose to be unproductive. I choose to avoid labor. I choose to dedicate my time to the my pleasure and the pleasure of those I love.” What a lazy dog, eh? What a misguided soul whose days offer no material enrichment.

Don’t worry about me, i’m comfortable, tanx god, but I’d be comfortabler if I had kept the office going (Though my hospital time may have motivated client-flight and killed the practice. I dunno).

download-5Back in ’62, though, I was promised this, along with videophones and moving sidewalks and ever longer cigarettes and ever bigger cars, along with cities on the moon  and hover-bikes and equality for negroes, along with universal analysis, the Playboy Club and miracle cures for everything. We were promised the time to enjoy it.


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