The pillars of consumerism are crumbling

What happens when jobs and stores disappear? What will we buy and how will we buy it? Luckily, a new industry will provide both income and a new commodity to consume.

June 8, 2017 09:37
Vacant department store with closed sign in window

Vacant department store with closed sign in window. (photo credit: INGIMAGE PHOTOS)


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The pillars of consumerism are crumbling. For the past several months, there has been a landslide of large and midsize brick-and- mortar retail chain stores that have either filed for bankruptcy or announced the closing of hundreds of stores. If this pace continues, by the end of this year, over 8,600 brick-and- mortar stores will have closed their doors. By comparison, in 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, only 6,150 stores shut down.

Beyond the impact of the collapse on the retailers themselves, their disappearance will have a devastating effect on the malls where they are located, as these are all anchor stores that bring business to the entire mall. In some cases, retailers such as Macy's and Sears (which also owns Kmart) will shut their doors within the same mall, effectively causing the closure of the entire venue.

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The blight is also taking a toll on jobs. As more and more people turn to the internet to do their shopping, stores close and people lose their jobs. According to Labor Department figures, retailers slashed around 30,000 positions in March. That was about the same total as in February, marking the worst two-month showing since 2009.

The rapid growth of e-commerce may be great for online businesses such as Amazon, but e- commerce does not require nearly as many jobs as do brick-and- mortar stores. The grim conclusion is that as far as traditional retail jobs are concerned, we are seeing the end of an era.

Are We Becoming Irrelevant?

Not only retail stores are affected by technology. Machines are replacing people everywhere. There are two million professional drivers in the US. Where will they work 10 to 15 years from now, when autonomous trucks and buses become safer to drive and cheaper to operate than vehicles driven by humans? What will call-center workers do when chatbots completely replace people in a few years? Waiters, cleaners, hotel service people, even doctors and lawyers, everyone is going to be affected by advancements in technology.

A reader’s comment in one of the newspaper stories about the trend captures the essence of our shifting world: “These stories make me feel irrelevant. Where is humanity going? You get into a car that drives itself, it takes you to work, but a robot took your job. Luckily, I am receiving Basic Income from the government. In that case, why don’t I go to the mall? Oh, right, the mall has shut down because we do all our shopping online and drones deliver the products to our doorstep, so even the delivery people have vanished. In fact, I have no reason to walk out the door. I haven’t spoken to a real person in months! Soon, we will all become irrelevant, redundant!”

Introducing Universal Basic Income

In recent years, there has been much ado over the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI). UBI means that every person receives a fixed sum of money that sustains you above the poverty line whether or not you are employed. In many places around the world, primarily in Western Europe and Canada, experiments on the impact and feasibility of UBI are already underway.

The idea of UBI is also gaining traction thanks to the vocal support of bigwigs at Silicon Valley. Elon Musk, for example, said, “It’s going to be necessary,” and Mark Zuckerberg stated, “We should explore ideas like universal basic income.”

A New Set of Jobs and Industries—Around the Heart

I am totally and utterly against the idea of UBI. If we give people free money, it will devastate society and will turn many of them into ticking bombs. The tragic incident that happened on June 5 in Orlando, where a man who had recently been fired walked into his previous workplace with a handgun, murdered five former coworkers, then committed suicide should teach all of us what might happen to a person who sees no future ahead of him.

Violence is already rampant and growing in our society. Sending off millions of people with nothing to do and with no commitments will drive many of them off the deep end, and we will all suffer the consequences.

In my view, the onset of the robotic era is a great opportunity for all of humanity. Since machines will be taking our physical jobs, we will be free to develop what The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called “a whole new set of jobs and industries around the heart, around connecting people to people.”

In other words, people will not be unemployed. They will be employed as innovators of a new society. Their job will be to foster a society whose members are connected, caring, and feel responsible for one another.

Today, people are admired for their successful careers. Yet, tomorrow machines will be running everything. Competition over jobs will be obsolete; there will be no jobs to fight over. Therefore, the job of the new workers will be to introduce new values into society, where people will compete over recognition as contributors to society.

Positive competition will change the entire mindset of society. We are all envious beings. But when we envy people for their ability to promote society instead of their ability to promote themselves, we ourselves become positive elements in society. In this way, all of society will change direction from isolation to connection.

Shopping Centers Turned Community Centers

The industries of the heart will “manufacture” social cohesion. People will not receive UBI, but salaries, just as they do in today’s job market. The only difference will be in the product they will be making.

There is no end to what people can do if they want to benefit society. Creativity will be unlimited, and the more technology improves, the more people will be able to engage in pro- social jobs and the more possibilities to promote society will open up.

The conditions for creating the change are already in the making. According to a new report from Credit Suisse, between 20% to 25% of the nation’s shopping malls will close in the next five years, as e-commerce continues to draw shoppers away from bricks-and- mortar retailers.

Instead of becoming crime-breeding zones, as is happening today, they can easily be transformed into centers for training in the new pro-social work.

As I see it, every person who becomes unemployed should not receive unemployment benefits, but be enrolled in these trainings right away, and receive a salary just as in any other job. Instead of sitting at home feeling miserable, recently fired people should receive benefits from the state contingent upon their participation in the pro-social trainings. At the end of the training, or even during, they will launch their new careers as innovators of the new society.

The Technology of Connection

The technologies for nurturing pro-social attitudes in entire communities already exist. Round Table events and Connection Circles are two ways that I have elaborated on in my book Completing the Circle: An empirically proven method for finding peace and harmony in life.

They have been tried numerous times in the US, Western and Eastern Europe, and Israel, all with resounding success. When implemented correctly, these technologies not only create an atmosphere of warmth and sociability, but also promote the understanding that this is how society should maintain itself if we want to feel safe and happy in our neighborhoods. With the advent of the jobless era, the social paradigm shift will become a necessity.

However, thanks to online technologies, this shift can be done at minimal cost. Moreover, the expenses that will be saved as people’s current anti-social attitude is reversed will far outweigh the cost of the trainings, making them lucrative business for investors.

When a community unites, violence, crime, and substance abuse all drop, and mutual responsibility, mutual assistance, and friendliness emerge. This frees tremendous amounts of resources that would otherwise be used on policing and welfare workers trying to mitigate crises. Therefore, even from the most capitalistic viewpoint, pro-social attitudes in the community pay off.

The sooner the governments, or states, implement these programs for the unemployed, the greater will be their profits, both socially and financially, and the greater will be the benefits to our entire society.

Michael Laitman is a Professor of Ontology, a PhD in Philosophy and Kabbalah, an MSc in Medical Bio-Cybernetics, and was the prime disciple of Kabbalist, Rav Baruch Shalom Ashlag (the RABASH). He has written over 40 books, which have been translated into dozens of languages.

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