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Third Daughters at Smashwords
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Garbage day and economic justice

Tuesday is garbage day. Not that big of a day unless you forget to take the can to the street and it is extra full. But I also think that it is a sign of the times.



I remember as a kid garbage day was a big deal. The big white truck would roll up with two guys holding on to the back for dear life. The truck would stop at the cans: one, two or three metal cans all piled with bags, boxes and loose garbage. The men would jump off the back of the truck, toss the garbage into the back, pull a lever and press a button. Then the truck would whirl and whine and an arm would somehow push all that garbage up inside... I mean what action! and those brave men holding on to the truck as it sped down the road to the next house.



And then sometime in high school the trucks went robotic.



Now a big arm drops down, grabs the one big green plastic can and scoops it up dumping its contents straight into the top of the truck. Very smooth and efficient. And if you have more than will fit in the one can... perhaps your neighbor has a little room, or wait until next week, or wait until the city has a special clean up day.



But even all of that is not the point.



With the new fancy robotic arm trucks, the work force diminished by two thirds. Now all you need is a driver. So what happened to the two men who risked life and limb on the back of the truck? Now that we don't pay for them, do we get a discount rate on garbage pick up? No, because the city had to buy new trucks and matching cans. But certainly by now the trucks have been paid off. And there is the rub... with technology and the workplace, technology and economic growth, technology and societal development. I am not anti-technology. I just think we need to use some wisdom when it comes to incorporating technology into our lives.

The idea of introducing technology into the workplace, or society as a whole is to save time. At work, time is money. Save time to save money. Does that money saved make it down the ladder to the consumer, or just into the pocketbooks of the CEO, managers and board members? Business is business. I would hope that good business is wise business. But it appears that good business is concerned less with its workforce, its effect on society and the environment, than with profit margins. Can we have just and responsible business within capitalism?

Let us return to the garbage men. Cities are not businesses, they are people gathered together to join in creating a better place through mutual consent, work and cooperation. A city is more than just buildings, politicians and people. A city is a commune. And above all shouldn't the city be more concerned with its people then with anything else? So does laying off two thirds of the garbage men help the people in general or harm them? How do we evaluate this question? Are one hundred people out of work worth saving millions of dollars? Have those savings even really taken place? What is the long term result? Would I pay higher taxes to insure that a neighbor or myself stays employed? Perhaps not... but does the promised savings of technology really come through? Who can I ask?

Maybe, just maybe, rolling the can out to the street should not be a moment of philosophical reflection. Maybe it is just garbage day. But if I don't think these thoughts and ask these questions then who will?

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