Democrats and Republicans who talk only of creating jobs are blind to the needs of a constituency trying to go its own way
As politicians grapple with the Great Recession, their obsession is "creating jobs," by which everyone implicitly means "the sort of steady, secure, full time jobs that so many Americans had before the financial crisis, but can't seem to find now, even after many months of looking." President Obama hoped his stimulus bill would spur hiring and reduce unemployment. The GOP candidates are furiously contesting whether Mitt Romney's time in business, Jon Huntsman's tenure in Utah, or Rick Perry's stint in the Texas statehouse is the best preparation for getting the country back to work. But what if our return to prosperity won't look much like the last time the U.S. economy was booming? What if the future includes a lot more people working nontraditional jobs, stringing together freelance work, and engaging in various small-scale entrepreneurial activities, whether teaching electric guitar lessons or consulting for corporations?
Douglas Rushkoff makes a radical argument about this kind of future at CNN. "Unlike Industrial Age employment, digital production can be done from the home, independently, and even in a peer-to-peer fashion without going through big corporations," he writes. "We can make games for each other, write books, solve problems, educate and inspire one another -- all through bits instead of stuff. And we can pay one another using the same money we use to buy real stuff." Though skeptical that we're anywhere close to a world where most people can survive doing this sort of work, Will Wilkinson acknowledges that the economy of the last couple decades isn't likely to return. "A job is no longer the sort of thing one can count on to last a decade or a lifetime," he writes. "Indeed, the 'job' as a ready-made slot in an established firm that a worker with the right credentials and experience can plug herself into and receive a steady, long-term stream of income and benefits does seem to be going the way of the great auk." Phil Bowermaster agrees. "Maybe what's becoming obsolete is not jobs per se, but the idea that they are something that you simply find," he argues. "Increasingly, perhaps, a job is something that we each have to create. We can't count on someone else to create one for us. That model is disappearing."