The post-scarcity world

The number of articles which are now talking about the problem of work are increasing. Techcrunch cites many of them in a recent article  pointing out the productivity conundrum in the US; the economy is slowly bouncing back, but the jobs just aren’t coming back with growth as they usually do.

Henry Blodget points out “Fewer Americans are working than at any time in the past three decades.” The New York Times observes “The jobless rate remains far higher than it typically would be this far into a recovery,” quoting a factory owner: “Because it is automated, we won’t have to add a lot of employees with the upturn in the construction industry.”

There is a lot of doom and gloom around as I’ve written here centred on the rise of technology and its replacement of increasing numbers of jobs.

Even lawyers, financiers, and surgeons aren’t safe. The Economist observes “Intelligent machines have reached a new social frontier: knowledge workers are now in the eye of the storm … teachers, researchers and writers are next.” And in the City of London, arguably the world’s primary nexus of finance, “analysts expect [banking] job losses to keep on coming, as technology replaces jobs that people once did.”

The Techcrunch article is the first I’ve read, though, that points out the potential of all this automation. may be destroying jobs, but it’s also creating wealth; and as I’ve argued before, the endgame of all this wealth creation, some generations hence, isn’t a world of full employment. Instead it’s a post-scarcity world of no employment, as we understand the word. Fewer and fewer jobs coexisting with more and more wealth is exactly what you would expect on the road to that outcome. 

However, the conclusion isn’t the only one imaginable:

So the good news is, if you lose your job some years from now, with any luck the same technological advances that devour it will also have generated enough wealth that the government will pay you and your family a basic income while you’re unemployed. The bad news is that you’re not likely to get another long-term job–ever–and that basic income will probably be only just enough to scrape by on.

If we learn to adjust to less work maybe we will spread out what is there more evenly (though there isn’t much evidence of this happening yet) and eventually wean ourselves off work as we know it altogether. The utopian world of The Culture could yet come to pass.

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