Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Abstract Rises, the Physical Sinks

Another way to put this is to ask: Where Have Jobs Grown? They have grown in those sectors farthest removed from the production of physical goods and energy. The best explanation of that is that energy slaves and their machines are getting ever better at satisfying our physical needs. Therefore, to employ the population, we have to do something else.

I illustrate this with a chart, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics program (link), showing job growth from 1972 to 2011, a forty-year period:

In this arrangement, the curves show cumulative percentage growth in jobs created from a 1972 base. The listing of sectors on the right is in order of growth rank. Manufacturing is at the bottom. Utilities also had negative growth, thus employing fewer people than the sectors did in 1972. Construction began to tank even before the housing bubble burst in 2008.

When the economy no longer needs people to mine minerals or to harvest wood, to transform raw materials into products, to supply fuels or to build things, what remains is services of all kinds.

Under Services here I combined Professional and Business Services, Health and Private Education Services, Information, and Leisure and Hospitality. Government education (state universities and local schools) I show separately. The Trade and Transportation category is made up of Wholesale, Retail, and Transportation and Warehousing. Of these, Retail had more growth than Wholesale, and Wholesale grew at a higher rate than Transportation and Warehousing. Data on farm employment are not collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics—but that category has been shrinking, not growing.

A closer look at Services is provided by the next graphic. It shows that the biggest growth has been achieved by Health and Education Services (which is mostly health services). Thanks for aging, Baby Boom. Leisure and Hospitality includes entertainment. Information includes television and radio along with other communications media.

The menu for detaching from the physical dimension? Discover fossil fuels, get some leisure. Cultivate ingenuity and create machines to use the fossil fuels. While the oil lasts we can keep ourselves entertained without worrying too much about rain, sun, drought, floods, and so on. Afterwards these charts will be redrawn again.

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