Western countries have two problems. Problems, which I suppose may have quite a similar solution to.
The first problem is the constantly looming economical crisis indicated by economic problems especially in the Southern EU and the USA. It seems that we are constantly on the verge of an economic crisis in the West, owing mostly to the offshoring of heavy industry, to the fluctuations in the financial market and to the constantly more skewed demographic structure of our nations.
The second problem is the prospect of automation in the job market. It is practically guaranteed that with the second wave of automation, a huge amount of jobs will simply vanish. Just as no horse cart drivers exist anymore, in the future we’ll have no bus drivers, service clerks or call center assistants. If a job can be replaced by a robot, it will be replaced by a robot.
The first problem is a productivity problem. If we are losing our industry, if we cannot operate in the financial market and if we are running out of able bodied workforce, our productivity is going to tank. And at the end of the day, it is not the hours we pour into our work that create the revenue that makes our pay, but what we get done. So we need to get more done with less legs, with less time to do it in.
The second problem is a social and a moral problem. If we are growing towards a situation where there will simply not be enough work to go around for everybody, how should we treat those who do not get to work?
Like I said, the solution to both problems is probably the same: we need to help our people figure out what they really want to do, and we need to let them do exactly that.
In order to meet the productivity demands of the near future, we need to get more things done in less time. And as studies show, people who are really into what they do can get a huge amount done compared to those who are not. Like the ex-CTO of a major corporation said a couple of weeks ago, an enthusiastic coder can be a thousand times more productive than a frustrated one.
And if we are truly entering a post work world, those people not working are in an even more pressing need to figure out something fun and engaging to do with their time. Right now, people without jobs can tap into welfare, at least in Scandinavia. While that may be enough to pay the bills, if unemployed people don’t find new jobs soon, they’ll become frustrated and alienated. This frustration can, with time, create a massive social problem.
If a post work world segregates people into the valuable people who do work and the not-so-valuable who don’t, we’ll still have a problem. Even if we can get everybody’s stomach full and give them roofs over their heads. But if, instead of economic success, we learned to emphasize the importance of doing interesting things, of passion, of finding one’s vocation, the situation might be different.
By going through the trouble of directing one’s passion towards an immediately pressing need people could, in addition to working with interesting things, also boost their material well being over the minimum provided by the society. But also people who would not or could not contribute in such a way would not only be a welfare burden, but in fact a valuable part of the society in another way.
Much of innovation works like this: in order to create something new and useful, you first have to fool with a lot of old and unuseful stuff. People dedicated to non-work activities might in fact boost the innovative capacity of the human race massively.
A post work society could distribute the labor so that people could tap into what truly interests them and work on that, eventually either producing something of compensatable value or not. We could have generative people who are not immediately productive, and executive people who are, with the two working even in some kind of unison.
By encouraging people to work with what truly interests them, the work itself would be of value, even if it did not immediately enter the marketplace. And by this I do not only mean some intrinstic human value, but also the very bottom line. In a changing world we need to be constantly innovative to keep up with the market.
I believe that the impending productivity crisis will require us to rethink the way we work pretty soon. And while I am not entirely sure as to how we should start to address the moral conundrums involved in letting some people grasshopper their way through their lives, while the ants provide, it is certainly interesting to think about it.
A new world needs new perspectives. Be it a world without jobs, or a world without work.