“This is actually why Smith’s (Adam) work is so important. He created the vision of an imaginary world almost entirely free of debt and credit, and therefore, free of guilt and sin; a world where men and women were free to simply calculate their interests in full knowledge that everything had been prearranged by God to ensure that it will serve the greater good. Such imaginary constructs are of course what scientists refer to as “models,” and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with them. Actually, I think a fair case can be made that we cannot think without them. The problem with such models—at least, it always seems to happen when we model something called “the market”—is that, once created, we have a tendency to treat them as objective realities, or even fall down before them and start worshipping them as gods. “We must obey the dictates of the market!”
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by Dave Graeber
Back in the 1980s, people spent a lot of time discussing the future of work. One thing I remember being told was that we needed to be ensuring that students knew how to use their leisure time because with the improvements in technology, we’d all be working fewer hours.
Of course, we all presumed that meant that the working week would be shorter for all of us rather than the situation where the employed are expected to work longer while the unemployed have so much leisure time that we feel it necessary to compel them to go for a large number of jobs which they’re unlikely to get rather than actually using their time productively. Simply, even though there aren’t enough jobs to go around, we want to make sure that nobody feels ok about not working; they need to blame themselves rather than changes in the economy.
It was William Gibson who said, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” In his book, “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future”, Kevin Kelly suggests the following scenario:
“First, machines will consolidate their gains in already automated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Robots like this already work in Amazon’s warehouses. Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no humans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will feature a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. In fact, prototype pill-dispensing robots are already up and running in hospitals in California. To date, they have not messed up a single prescription, something that cannot be said of any human pharmacist. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots, starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and eventually advancing to toilets. The highway parts of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs. By 2050 most truck drivers won’t be human. Since truck driving is currently the most common occupation in the U.S., this is a big deal.”
He goes on later to tell us:
“In fact, any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, translator, editor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic. We are already at the inflection point.”
Now this leaves the question of what “unemployed” in a future world where it’s those who own the means of production who acquire even more of the wealth, and then complain that they need to pay taxes to support those who have no meaningful way of supporting themselves. At least with the industrial revolution workhouses were a possibility because there was still work to do, but in a world where technology can do the vast majority of things, we may need to rethink the whole way the economy is shaped. Otherwise, we may end up with governments suggesting that certain companies need a billion dollars or so, because they didn’t benefit from the tax cut owing to the fact that they haven’t paid tax for years, while the rest of us are left to our devices.
There are no simple answers, but it’s clear that the answers we’ve been trying for past few years won’t work into the future. When the Liberals have been tell us that they support Jobs, somebody needs to tell them that he died a few years ago and Apple is run by someone else now.
Whatever the answer, maybe it’s time to do more than think outside the box; we need to think outside the clichés too. The following video isn’t a solution, but it might be some sort of start:
P.S. If you’re a teacher, you might find this blog interesting: