One consequence of the botched launch of Obamacare is that it has, judging from his plummeting numbers with “Millennials,” diminished Barack Obama’s cool. It’s not merely that the website isn’t state-of-the-art but that the art it’s flailing to be state of is that of the mid-20th-century social program. The emperor has hipster garb, but underneath he’s just another Commissar Squaresville. So, health care being an irredeemable downer for the foreseeable future, this week the president pivoted (as they say) to “economic inequality,” which will be, he assures us, his principal focus for the rest of his term. And what’s his big idea for this new priority? Stand well back: He wants to increase the minimum wage!
Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos of Amazon (a non-government website) is musing about delivering his products to customers across the country (and the planet) within hours by using drones.
Drones! If there’s one thing Obama can do, it’s drones. He’s renowned across Yemen and Waziristan as the Domino’s of drones. If he’d thought to have your health-insurance-cancellation notices dropped by drone, Obamacare might have been a viable business model. Yet, even in Obama’s sole area of expertise and dominant market share, the private sector is already outpacing him.
Who has a greater grasp of the economic contours of the day after tomorrow — Bezos or Obama? My colleague Jonah Goldberg notes that the day before the president’s speech on “inequality,” Applebee’s announced that it was introducing computer “menu tablets” to its restaurants. Automated supermarket checkout, 3D printing, driverless vehicles . . . what has the “minimum wage” to do with any of that? To get your minimum wage increased, you first have to have a minimum-wage job.
In my book (which I shall forbear to plug, but is available at Amazon, and with which Jeff Bezos will be happy to drone your aunt this holiday season), I write:
Once upon a time, millions of Americans worked on farms. Then, as agriculture declined, they moved into the factories. When manufacturing was outsourced, they settled into low-paying service jobs or better-paying cubicle jobs — so-called “professional services” often deriving from the ever swelling accounting and legal administration that now attends almost any activity in America. What comes next?
Or, more to the point, what if there is no “next”?
What do millions of people do in a world in which, in Marxian terms, “capital” no longer needs “labor”? America’s liberal elite seem to enjoy having a domestic-servant class on hand, but, unlike the Downton Abbey crowd, are vaguely uncomfortable with having them drawn from the sturdy yokel stock of the village, and thus favor, to a degree only the Saudis can match, importing their maids and pool-boys from a permanent subordinate class of cheap foreign labor. Hence the fetishization of the “undocumented,” soon to be reflected in the multi-million bipartisan amnesty for those willing to do “the jobs Americans won’t do.”
So what jobs will Americans get to do? We dignify the new age as “the knowledge economy,” although, to the casual observer, it doesn’t seem to require a lot of knowledge. One of the advantages of Obamacare, according to Nancy Pelosi, is that it will liberate the citizenry: “Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.” It’s certainly true that employer-based health coverage distorts the job market, but what’s more likely in a world without work? A new golden age of American sculpture and opera? Or millions more people who live vicariously through celebrity gossip and electronic diversions? One of the differences between government health care in America compared to, say, Sweden is the costs of obesity, heart disease, childhood diabetes, etc. In an ever more sedentary society where fewer and fewer have to get up to go to work in the morning, is it likely that those trends will diminish or increase?