We were assembling a piece of furniture for our kitchen last night, that Mrs. Left had shopped for and bought online and that had arrived two days later at our door in one large slab of a box, of immense weight and shaped like a large, thick door, or a thin version of the monolith in 2001. I turned to Mrs. Left and quipped, "If anyone wants to know where all the American jobs went, the answer is that we are doing them ourselves."
That is not just a wisecrack, unfortunately. Some American businesses once acted, at least, as if they believed that the path to success was to provide a quality product and/or service and make the customer feel well and fully served. At the gas station, someone checked your tires and your oil and cleaned the windows. At the bank, a real, live, breathing teller took care of your business, and probably asked after your family, too. At the shoe store, someone fitted you. When you bought new clothes, a store salesperson helped. All of these features of American life have become extinct, endangered or much rarer, along with the jobs that went with them. Of course, there aren't as many jobs any more for people who make buggy whips, either.
But I'm still not sure I like the trend. Sometimes it seems like we are heading for a kind of Automat world, when one can navigate all the places and satisfy all the needs required for daily life without ever having to actually deal directly with another human. That sounds too much like the Matrix to me and is certainly no part of any recipe for a full employment economy.
In the end, of course, like everything, it comes down to conflict between the 1% and the 99%. The 1% denies a living wage to the 99%, for the most part, leaving the bulk of society too strapped for cash to ever be more than bottom feeding consumers. When cheapest is best becomes the dominant mantra of consumers, the 1% further consolidates their profits by feeding that demand.
But if everyone instead had access to a fair, living wage, the race to the bottom would slow, or stop. Consumers could step back and appreciate that cost is not all about price and neither is value. The social cushion of personal service could reemerge in our wider culture, where it has hitherto been fleeing.
The 1% already enjoys a degree of personal service far beyond anything imagined in these ramblings. But they are happy to deny more than the tiniest hint of such service to consumers at large, because they profit so greatly from the automated, volume sales of cheap crap that wears out quickly and requires frequent replacement. And because job scarcity serves their interests, they will always choose to do so, if permitted, with the fewest actual humans that they can.