Guest Post: The Future Of Work

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Chris Martenson, authored by Charles Hugh Smith

The Future Of Work

A growing number of workers are becoming increasingly concerned about the future viability of their jobs (if they have them) and, in many cases, that of their professions. Looking at a future increasingly defined by slower economic growth and higher energy costs, many are asking:

"What is the future of work?" 

Given the "recovery’s" stagnant job market and the economy’s slide into renewed contraction, it’s a timely question. To answer it, we must first ask, what’s the future of the U.S. economy?

In broad brush, the Powers That Be have gone "all in" on a bet that this recession is no different than past post-war recessions: all we need to do to get through this “rough patch” is borrow and spend money at the Federal level, and the household and business sectors will soon recover their desire and ability to borrow more and spend it all on one thing or another. We don’t really care what or how, because all spending adds up into gross domestic product (GDP).

In other words, we're going to “grow our way” out of stagnation and over-indebtedness, just as we’ve done for the past fifty years.

Unfortunately, this diagnosis is flat-out wrong. This is not just another post-war recession, and so the treatment—lowering interest rates to zero and flooding the economy with borrowed money and liquidity—isn’t working. In fact, it’s making the patient sicker by the day.

The best way to eliminate the signal noise of official propaganda (“The stock market is rising, so everything’s great for everyone!” etc.) and the high keening wails of Keynesian cargo cultists is to construct a model of the underlying fundamental forces that will shape the future.

The best way to do that is to glance at a few key charts.

Let’s start with debt. Clearly, the “growth” of the U.S. economy since 1980 is debt-based. Debt has exceeded growth by 136%. If debt had risen in tandem with GDP, then total debt would be a mere $22 trillion instead of $52 trillion.

The next chart reflects how every incremental increase in debt has had a diminishing effect on growth. Where $1 of debt once added 70 cents to GDP, now it adds basically nothing, or even reduces GDP.

We hear a lot of euphoric babble about households "deleveraging;" that is, paying down debt and thus setting the stage for the next ramp-up of household debt. But the reality is not quite so euphoric. Compared to the explosion in household debt since 1980, which we might term the debt elephant, the recent “deleveraging” reduction in debt is more like a mosquito.

Next, let’s look at jobs and employment. To make sure we’re getting the full picture, let’s look at several measures of employment as a reflection of the underlying economy.

This first chart looks like a steady onward-and-upward trend of job growth. The “jobless recovery” appears to be a modest bump in the road of ever-rising employment.

By other measures, however, employment hasn’t hit a bump in the road; it’s off the road and sinking into a bottomless bog. Here is the civilian participation rate, which measures how many folks in the civilian population are participating in the labor market in one way or another.

By this measure, the labor market has retraced to the level of the 1981-82 recession thirty years ago.

Next, let’s look at another, perhaps even more telling metric: private payrolls per capita, which is basically a measure of how many jobs there are per capita in the economy.

What this means is that beneath the glitter of a “rising GDP” and “rising stock market,” the economy is producing far fewer jobs per capita.

If we look at the total number of civilians and the total number of jobs, the chart looks even uglier. We are back to the levels of 1970s stagflation, just as women began entering the workforce en masse to compensate for declining household purchasing power.

This next chart is civilian employment per capita, which is similar to the previous chart of private payrolls per capita, but includes all jobs, including public-sector/government employment. Once again it shows that the economy is back to the levels of the mid-1980s, even including the rapid expansion of local and state government payrolls.

Another way to measure the real performance of an economy is capacity utilization -- how much of the potential capacity of the economy is being used. In good times, capacity is added because the existing capacity is running full-tilt. In recessions, there is not enough demand to use the economy’s full capacity, and therefore no reason to add to capacity with business investment.

I’ve drawn some lines to clarify what happened during each primary phase of the post-war era. During the stagflationary 1970s, capacity utilization see-sawed between growth and recession, tracing out a series of lower lows and lower highs. This downtrend reflected the reality that the economy wasn’t growing; it was stagnating, hitting new lows with every downturn, and never reaching its previous high-point during recovery.

After finally hitting bottom in the 1981-92 recession when Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker vanquished inflation by jacking up interest rates to 18%, the economy entered a 30-year cycle of financialization (deregulation of the banking sector and the rise of debt as the engine of growth), globalization, and technological innovation that fueled a multi-decade trend of rising productivity.

The wheels fell off the financialization and dot-com boom in 2000, and the Federal Reserve and federal government created an even more extreme version of financialization that inflated a gigantic debt/real estate bubble. Like all financial bubbles, this one burst, and once again the Fed and federal government scrambled to inflate another debt bubble.

Since the household sector was tapped out and its primary asset, the family home, had lost a third of its bubble value, the Federal government borrowed $6 trillion to bail out the banking sector and spread trillions of dollars around as stimulus and giveaways like "Cash for Clunkers."

Unsurprisingly, this injection of trillions of dollars did boost capacity utilization. Roughly 11% of the entire GDP is borrowed and spent every year now by the federal government. But just as in the stagflationary 1970s, the decline reached a new low and the subsequent rise never got close to the previous bubble high of 2006.

Now that the economy is rolling over again, capacity utilization is also declining. 

None of this reflects a healthy economy. What it does reflect is an economy that has depended on ever-greater amounts of debt to power a diminishing trend of growth, and an economy which creates fewer and fewer jobs with ever-greater mountains of debt.

This is not a bump in the road; it is the exhaustion of the entire model of growth that we have depended on for the past 30 years. Once the debt saturation point has been reached, adding more debt subtracts from the economy rather than adds to it. This is reflected in the decline of employment by every metric: total number of jobs, civilian participation, payrolls per capita, and employment as a percentage of the total population.

We are past the point of debt saturation, and so we need a new model of employment, and indeed of “growth” itself. Sadly, as discussed in a recent report, the Status Quo financial witch-doctors have only prescribed more debt and more unproductive friction. 

Unfortunately, as the above charts abundantly illustrate, the patient (the U.S. economy) hasn’t been cured; rather, its condition has gotten worse. The stock market is like a sort of makeup that has been slathered on by the Fed to give the appearance of health, but the internal measures of jobs and income (both declining) show that both the “health” and the “recovery” are illusory.

So, the key question to ask ourselves is: where will the demand for work be in a post-debt, post-"cheap oil" economy"?

In Part II: The Future of Work, we tackle this critical question and provide a framework for potential job seekers/switchers to use in positioning themselves for meaningful and dependable employment in this coming era. 

Click here to read Part II of this report (free executive summary; paid enrollment required to access).

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TeamDepends's picture

Speaking of work, can someone explain what a derivatives trader does and how it could possibly benefit mankind.

CPL's picture

They recycle the oxygen in their offices for the plants, although the plants are more than likely plastic replica's.


So nothing of value will be lost once the last derivatives trader is gone.

redpill's picture

And do not underestimate the demographic disaster ongoing in the labor market.  While we're at the same per capita employment as we were in the late 70s when more women entered the workforce, today the people losing jobs are overwhelmingly men.  Since the start of the recession the rate of industrial employment decline for men has been a percentage three times that of women.  There are all kinds of reasons for this (men still make more on average, so you save more by laying them off, and there are more of them in hard hit industries like construction and finance).

What does this mean?  It's not good.  Unemployed women tend to go back home and attempt to save costs by doing various domestic duties that they may have otherwise paid for, and try to muddle through.  Unemployed men, feeling instinctively threatened in a lack of ability to provide, are more prone to lash out angrily, take part in increasingly desperate and/or criminal actions, or at the end of the day if things get bad enough, simply riot.  This is reality.  History has shown over and over that you do not want legions of unemployed males roaming the streets unless you're looking for a bloody revolution.

Smiddywesson's picture

History has shown over and over that you do not want legions of unemployed males roaming the streets unless you're looking for a bloody revolution.

Combine that observation with millions of vets who are dumped on the streets because we can no longer afford the wars, sprinkle in a million excons we couldn't afford to warehouse, and you've got yourself a fireworks show.

Bring the Gold's picture

(not directed at you Smiddy)

But if they complain about the military then they aren't really vets anymore, right? Just want to make sure I understand all the current talking points on why brutal domestic police state repression is acceptable.

redpill's picture

BtG, please refer to your TSA Manual Chapter 1, Section 1, Paragraph 1.  "When in doubt, consider them domestic terrorists."

Oh regional Indian's picture

Future of work = Machines.

Future of Humans  = Batteries

Simple. If you are an energizer Bunny, massa will be good to you.


Me on You tube

redpill's picture

You'd be a rockstar at OWS.   Roll up a phatty brah

Oh regional Indian's picture

Thanks redpill. ;-)

Toke-n take-n! 


Mountainview's picture

You forgot the Chinese jerks doing all the sweat jobs...We, on the otherside will scratch each others shoulder and pay us mutually $10'000.- a month...

r00t61's picture

I love The Matrix too but it makes no sense to dump energy into humans to extract it from them later via their body heat.  Humans are inefficient at converting food energy, as compared, to say, generating energy via coal, wind, solar, nuclear, the list goes on and on.

If ever there were sentient machines I think they'd conclude that humans were a "pest" species that needed to be destroyed on sight, much the same way we view mosquitos and cockroaches.  But no worries.  Humanity will live on in the form of all the entertainment it has produced and recorded for posterity.  It's too easy to rip on something like Jersey Shore or Dancing With The Stars, so instead I'll rip on all the infomercial spots produced by the Home Shopping Network.

That's what will be left to discover when aliens from the Triangulum Galaxy come to visit the Terran system.

TheMerryPrankster's picture

Unless you were harvesting their dreams or just liked the taste of human flesh and the crunch of bones . Zombie economy meet Alien Predators - I think I smell a 3d Spectacular.

Carlyle Groupie's picture

I'm thinking you'll equate to about 3 quarts of high sulfur crude. Grade: sour. Sorry about your luck.

Bring the Gold's picture

Come on red arrow, surely they pay you enough to comment? Or you are angry and stupid enough to comment. Bust it out.

Bring the Gold's picture

Lol, supporting the police state and you don't have the balls to comment. Spineless coward. Not a surprise given your philosophical position.

pasttense's picture

"History has shown over and over that you do not want legions of unemployed males roaming the streets unless you're looking for a bloody revolution."

This of course provides the answer to the question Chris asks about where to find employment in the future--in the police/prisons/Homeland Security sector.

Bring the Gold's picture

All the things that magically are immune from any serious discussion of cuts when it comes to the budget. Isn't that special.

MachoMan's picture

If the MIC and its domestic departments are the lifeblood of the printing press by ensuring the dollar/oil peg, among other things, and the printing press is the life support of the economy, then why would you ever seriously expect the MIC to be on the budgetary chopping block?

malusDiaz's picture

....GM Motors... Ford... Crysler .... whats in common?


They make the motors that drive the MIC...


Do I win a prize? I'd like a cookie plz massa!

trav7777's picture

thank you affirmative action!

Lord knows all the great inventions of the next 100 years will surely come from all these women, instead of a vapid consumer brand snob shopping culture.

Bring the Gold's picture

Yeah history and life circumstances were SOO much better before the 1970's. I'm not a fan of affirmative action, but blaiming our current situation on women is pretty laughable at best.

cynicalskeptic's picture

The inflation of the 70's, and the coming of age of the baby boomers led to HUGE real increases in 'household' costs.  Prices started their upward climb with Viertnam era inflation.   The entry of women into the workforce increased household income to partially offset these costs BUT two earner families also drofe some prices up shot up drastically as demand increased (moere new buyers) fought for a limited supply (and bid on houses with two incomes).  Commutes got longer as ''affordable' houses were built farther and farther from jobs.

Ther were many unintended effects:

In the past you could manage entry into the middle class on ONE salary - buy a house, car, save for kids' college.... after the 70's TWO earner families became the norm.  This allowed employers to throttle back on the raises a male would have demanded  to keep up with inflation.  Offshoring of jobs added to downward wage pressure.  Two income families became the norm.  With women's earnings an integral part of the household budget, most could not afford NOT to work.  Childrearing was now 'subcontracted out' by the middle class.  While the wealthy had always done so they had qualified help - the middle class looked for the cheapest possible option.   The societal costs of 'outsourced' parenting have been huge.   The US employs teachers and nurses from the third world to be nannies for upper middle class kids (economically a good deal for those former teachers and nurses but nodt so good for their native countries).  For others you have illegal imigrants, informal daycare and any other option you can think of.  

Overall, we've been conned.  In 1950 you could have a good life on one salary, worked reasonable hours, had steady employment with the promise of a pension, could put your children through college - after which they'd get a better job than you had.  Now BOTH parents work (together or divorced) and do so for longer hours.  Retirement is likely to be unwanted - a layoff in your 50's with minimal 401K 'savings' instead of a pension.  Your children are in hock for the rest of their lives to pay for a college education which too often has done nothing to make them more employable.   We have more 'stuff' but our lives aren't really all that much 'better.' Families have two cars (so both parents can get to work) dishwashers (beacuse Mom is too tired to wash plates at home after work).  TV's and computers keep kids entertained and parents distracted.  Restaurants boomed as people were too rushed to shop and cook meals at home.   You had a nominal overall increase in household income and decreases in the prices of much of the 'stuff' we buy (now made overseas) but on a net basis, we've been falling behind.  

The rich have gotten a LOT richer while the rest of us are lucky to be treading water.  Many are drwoning - no lifevests and exhausted they're going under for good.  


MachoMan's picture

So where is the con in all of this?  Did I not consciously decide to buy the third ipad so that i could have one in the bathroom while I take my shit?  Were the cumulative misallocations of wages for the last 40 years the product of a con or were people simply poor stewards of their own resources?

The other aspect is that what you are describing was a one-off period of time...  it too was unsustainable...  the concept of being able to send all your kids to college and them earn a higher wage than you, OF COURSE THIS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE...  that isn't a con...

you're dancing around it...  citing some symptoms...  but you're not describing any con.

blunderdog's picture

Declining wages are considered a "con," but only by the people who work for wages. 

In a market, of course, there are always two sides to these equations. 

Lower wages are better for profits.  So that's a "pro" if you benefit from increased profit and are unaffected by reduced wages.

Medea's picture

What an ignorant, dogmatic response to such a thoughtful post.

MachoMan's picture

If you care to actually address the merits, I'm game...

Bring the Gold's picture

The "con" was inflation due to money printing for guns and butter. Women working was only a problem due to women being paid less. Also you ignore the peak in domestic oil production, the recovery of Europe and Japan and their entry into the marketplace with cheaper labor and new infrastructure ie various historical forces. All those things that you cite are actually the Upper Class manipulating things for THEIR benefit. It's scapegoating arguments or at best chivalrous desire to protect women from the workplace.

This has nothing to do with women working and everything to do with masterful, cynical manipulation by the rentier class (the epic bond holders and stock holders of the major Central Banks). Women working is a positive thing, outsourcing of childcare was not. Using women working as a scapegoat is a further deflection by the manipulator class to prey upon men who feel justifiably victimized by their labor being made worth less.

However, to lay the blame at the feet of the Chinese worker, the Mexican illegal or women is to miss what's happened and fall into the tried a true scapegoat trap. It's not the fault of those groups, its the fault of the same group it always is, the REAL decision makers and I don't mean their political frontmen.

Robot Traders Mom's picture

@TeamDepends-I think you know the answer to that. All of us in finance, whether we are trying to do the right thing or not, are blood sucking leaches. Plain and simple. We get paid to move money around.


It makes zero fucking sense why a financial advisor can be compensated more than a doctor.

Hippocratic Oaf's picture on. It's called reading right to left. I only care what the fuckin' vig is.

My wife asks me "How was work today?" I tell her I didn't cure cancer.

El Viejo's picture

It's a Darwinian playground. Soon all jobs will be in finance.

Marco's picture

Being counterparty to physical hedging and currency derivatives for actual producers is valuable I guess ... of course that's only a minute part of volume.

Gully Foyle's picture


The story is set in a dystopian future in which an overpopulated world solves the problem by allocating people only one day per week. For the rest of the six days they are 'stoned,' a kind of suspended animation.

Smiddywesson's picture

Carousel.  You get 28 years, no more, no less.   

Potemkin Village Idiot's picture

Didn't Jabba the Hut do that to Han Solo? (I think it was over a 'debt repayment' issue)...

In any case, most of medicated America is pretty much 'stoned' 7 days a week as is...

sasebo's picture

They gamble with other people's medium of exchange to acquire some medium of exchange so they can buy some stuff produced by entretreneurs & their workers without producing anything themselves. Kinda like a parasite.

Waffen's picture

Engine Repair?
Raising chickens?

I am thinking post Local Grocery world.

Sudden Debt's picture

I'm thinking more Cold War:


Unemployed? => ARMY FOR 2 YEARS!



Bring the Gold's picture

How about saving costs on Medicare/Medicaid by drafting old people, preferably those who earn $1,500,000+ a year, then you cut down on Social Security payments as well. Those young people haven't paid anything into the system and aren't going to receive payouts for a long time. You want to balance the budget? Send old rich folks to war.


Oh right, you are probably old and want young people to be sent into the jaws of war for your personal profit. Gotcha.

Sudden Debt's picture

I'm 36 :)

Nop, draft was fun! The Belgium army isn't exactly your war and fighting machine you know :)

Beer in the morning, Beer at noon, Beer at the evening!

Your BASIC 3 B's so to speak ;)

Bring the Gold's picture

Ah ok, US military is a tad different especially with multiple wars raging.

Sudden Debt's picture

Hey! Don't underestimate our army!

We've been at wars to!

Just a few months ago, there was this Belgium soldier on television who said that when he was in Lybia, that he got shot at and that he could hear the bullet pass by!!!

Our minister of Defense almost had to resign because he put our armed forces into danger. That evil beast!!

I wonder when they'll make a movie from his encounter with near death.



Potemkin Village Idiot's picture

Bullets? Wow!

So now that he has carnal knowledge in the school of gangbanging, would you say he's more 'crippin' or 'bloodin'?

Potemkin Village Idiot's picture

The Belgium army isn't exactly your war and fighting machine

That must explain the 'miserable & fat' part...

Sudden Debt's picture

Yeah.... said by a English moron....

you just took away the humor dude.

English farts are all what's wrong with normal people. I'm not even going to sum up everything what's wrong with those people.

I'll only sum up for what they're good at.

Here it comes:  ..... ..... .....


DoChenRollingBearing's picture

You are in excellent form today Sudden Debt!

Potemkin Village Idiot's picture

Sorry man... Just funnin' (at your expense I'm sorry to say - so sorry about that)... But I can never pass up a good moment to insert a old Monty Python clip...

No offense - Call it a defect...

MachoMan's picture

For any better than ya'll are at fighting, you sure can make some nice firearms.







and waffles.