Taking Care of Business
For the last several months, I have been organizing my blog around culture, education, engineering and theology. The themes give me a wide space to play in, but I have been learning so much about culture. I think it is time to expand my official category list to include development. Development as I will be using it depends on leveraging various resources to create positive change in communities. In many ways, development focuses on poverty reduction and alleviation.
When thinking about poverty, we have some common ideas about where poverty comes from and what we can do to reduce its effects. Arguably, poverty looks different when you have rampant unemployment. When people want to work but cannot find work, we have a huge problem. This problem can manifest itself culturally, but more often we recognize unemployment as an economic issue. Additionally, unemployment leads to rises in poverty.
The question then becomes “What is the ideal state for a nation’s economy?” Certainly, we would find ourselves in a bit of a bind if absolutely everyone was employed at all times because industries could not expand very easily. Yet, equally we find ourselves in a straight-jacket when people who want to work cannot find work. Roughly speaking, we can divide the economy into two sectors that employ people: the private sector and the public sector. When a country faces high unemployment because the private sector shrinks for any myriad of reasons, the unemployed have two options.
One option involves becoming a job creator. Essentially, people can leverage their creative talents to try to create opportunities for themselves. A small group of people can get together to pool resources, finding a small business. These ventures require a substantial portion of risk. In some economies, particularly in countries where the average age of the population is very young and the private sector is comparatively small, becoming a job creator is a fairly reasonable path. A young entrepreneur can fill a void in her or his community.
Another option involves expanding the public sector. The government coordinates this expansion with the fairly expressed goal of leveraging the human capital of its population towards national development goals. Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted policies to do just that when he enacted the New Deal, putting millions of people back to work. Our state parks generally came from these efforts. While many assign World War II the agent of economic turn-around, the observation about working towards national development goals still holds firm. In the case of WWII, our national development goals concerned national security. Personally, I would not say that the government-led expansion of the public sector has to involve choice jobs that appeal to everyone. Yet, I do think focusing on jobs that put the unemployed into work at a reasonable wage makes a fair deal of sense. Expanding in some public sectors, like education and the military, could create shifting national development goals.
Work plays a pivotal role in a person’s ability to function. Without work, many of us find ourselves without any means of supporting ourselves. Even the simple human act of eating becomes a question. Depending on where we live, we do not generally have the option of putting ourselves to work through farming to solve the dilemma of putting food on our table.
I am struck by the connection between work and human flourishing. One could say that we have been designed to work. We have a deposit of gifts that allows us to participate meaningfully in the world around us while eating the fruits of our labor. Our work adds value overall to our society, and not simply in the economic sense. We become co-creators with our fellow human beings. Who knows what we are capable of?