A few years back I wrote about how automation, changing demand, and resource depletion were going to result in far fewer jobs relative to level of prosperity. That for a population of constant size to maintain the same degree of material prosperity will, in the not too distant future, require far fewer hours worked. That even the creation of a new multi-billion person middle class only delays this shift. It doesn't prevent it. And I wrote that this automation would encompass not only "brute force" jobs but also white collar skilled work such as skilled cooking, most legal practice, and service jobs.
Well, look at this article in Slate. And the discussion on Slashdot that it has engendered. The links and refs here should give you more if you want to dive that deep.
This is real, folks. It's happening right now.
Which, among other things, makes even further hash of the bullshit that the executive class-backed media is trying to sell us that anybody who is unemployed somehow deserves it. If for ten adults to live to the limits of a "middle class" income only involves four of them having jobs then no amount of badgering or sermonizing or even retraining will make that unemployment go away. And, as precictably as gravity, that wealth will tend to concentrate in the hands of a subset of that shrinking percentage who have jobs.
Let me go over each of those again in more detail.
- Assume a world where for ten adults to live "well", ten of them must have jobs.
- Change the means of production and other factors such that only four of them need to work to maintain that same degree of prosperity. Not only does this leave the majority of people unemployed, it also, means (under most forms of government) that a minority of the people will be making most of the choices about how that work gets done.
I'm not only talking about the big decisons here. I'm talking about the ten thousand little ones of which each of those big ones is made. If ten of ten people do the cooking then everybody knows how the ingredients get used. If one does the cooking then there will always, ALWAYS, be a power imbalance where that one person can put goodies aside, give them preferentially to their friends, sell them off for bribes, etc. Try to stop this with thousands of descriptive rules and mostly what you'll do is create black markets and end up micromanaging the person doing the work. Which almost never works out well.
- Therefore, when the percentage of people with jobs decreases, power and wealth concentrates.
- And once power and wealth become unevenly distributed, those who have wealth already will push to even further gather that wealth to themselves and others like them.
And if you think that this can be countered by having everything done by consensus or some such then I recommend that you spend some time working in your local food coop and see how that works out for you. And a food coop, mind you, is a case where participants have the option of withdrawing and so there's constant pressure on the group to not get too caught up in bureaucratic idiocies lest everybody walk out.
It is past time that we admit the truth. Now and more so every year those with wealth need to get used to either subsidizing or at least giving access to land and other resources to a population that is on its way to being bigger than that which is "gainfully employed." It's either that or starvation followed by brutal repression and almost certain violent revolution.
Note, please, my second option. When I write "giving access to land…" I'm talking about changing zoning codes to allow any number of things that we now consider squatting. I'm talking about not persecuting those who choose to live disconnected from the grid. I'm talking about making it expensive and difficult for property owners to "warehouse" those properties, either to create scarcity or simply because they can't be bothered to keep it in use. I'm also talking about not treating it as a sin to be short on money. About raising our children to understand that a person can be honorable and disciplined and smart and hard working by nature and still not have any money.
This also means a world where the obligations of citizenship are less frequently denominated in money. When a few percent of the people control just about all the money and where our government "does its business" entirely in money then it's very simple. That three or four percent will own the country. And, sooner or later, will reduce most of that other ninety-something percent to peonage. Slavery.
How do we counter that? We should start by admitting that all of us inherited most of the wealth extant now. And that morality alone should compel us to provide basic means of sustenance for everybody, refusing to do so only in cases of severe scarcity.
What does that mean? Again, let's take that part by part.
1.) We have vast reserves of wealth. If one includes the resources that we keep idle or use profligately, we have almost incomprehensible amounts of wealth.
2.) Even correcting for increasing raw materials scarcities, wealth creation is getting easier and the rate of that increase is accelerating. So our children, if we just sit still, will have even more wealth per citizen than we do.
3.) Most of our wealth was here when we got here. We inherited it, as Elizabeth Warren articulates very well in this video clip.
4.) Therefore, nobody now alive can legitimately claim to have created most of it or even found it.
5.) Therefore, we're all, to some extent, living on the backs of somebody else's labor, innovation, and sacrifice.
6.) Therefore, it is morally unsound for some to hold to themselves the resources that none of us "earned." (Some of you may disgree with this but I'm not going to get sidetracked right now.)
7.) Therefore we have the means and a moral pressure to let loose at least enough of that wealth from private ownership to ensure subsistence for all.
8.) Such a transfer is not a favor. It is not charity. It is giving property over to people who already have legitimate claims to it.
9.) It is crucial that our citizens, and in particular our children, be taught to see such systematic and permanent distribution of wealth as just, reasonable, and normal.
Obligatory, several year, separated periods of duty national service would also be a damn good start. Not just as people with guns. But serving in the ways that we pioneered quite well in the thirties and forties. As teachers. Park rangers. Builders. Many, many things.
And yes, this would break most of the unions.
But let's be honest please for a minute. As constituted now most of them are dying and/or zombified already.
All of this comes down to one conclusion. Our world as it is shaped now won't work for the circumstances ahead. Either we change voluntarily now, with minimal disruption, tragedy, and waste or we wait. And get to watch something like the French Revolution get enacted with over five billion likely combatants, modern propaganda techniques, and nuclear weapons.
That's the truth. Period.