Jobs Program: Do we use Spoons, Shovels or Machines?

Some think giving the poor some equipment hurts jobs…

In some circles the cry for a jobs program is stronger than the pleas for better quality concrete. Some would argue that giving the poor machines for producing better construction products takes job opportunities away from hundreds of workers who now use shovels and strong backs.

Developing nations need economic tools not spoonsWe have called this the “ant-farm mentality” and it contributes to keeping those at the bottom of the economic pyramid “down on the farm” in most cases.

Having income from a job is a critical need in developing nations, but which job will make the greatest impact on the families that are in need? Will $2 dollars a day in return for hard-labor create a middle class any time soon? Does the labor of many shovels and buckets really produce the quality of construction necessary to build an infrastructure that will last? The answer in some cases is yes… But many times it is NO.  And the “NO-times” result in the tragic loss of life, property and opportunity.

Over time the world has developed the tools and equipment resources that increase the odds of long-term construction success. In many disaster prone areas they have set standards and developed equipment that will meet those standards on a consistent basis. We have learned that even a thousand spoons can not quickly construct canals for food production or for the delivery of life-saving drinking water. The bulldozer was developed to solve the issues of consistency and efficiency, but it also produced a skill-based job culture that resulted in a middle class.  The economic strength provided by skilled workers and their machines can change the future of many poor nations.

The  impact from producing quality construction is the value found in building stronger structures. Better homes and buildings result in reduced losses from disaster and more economic security. Billions of dollars are wasted because shovels have been allowed to inconsistently produce things that equipment can do better. For the long-term, investments in appropriately scaled technologies will reduce risk and create lasting resources for the communities that are served. Better paying jobs are a result of the economic strength that comes from a vibrant and efficient construction system.

I am reminded of a story about Milton Friedman, the well-respected economist… While traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a work site where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”

The concrete supply chain is a hidden opportunity for economic strength and security. We continue to suggest that spoons and shovels represent a failed idea that millions of poor-paying jobs will create a strong nation. What do you think?

Bruce Christensen is the author at CementTrust

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About cementtrust

I am a director with Cement Trust and passionate about improving cement-based production in the poorest nations of the world.
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