A majority of unskilled jobs are completely unnecessary even with current technology. We are already very much a Robotic Nation; ATM Machines, industrial robots, automated checkouts, e-commerce, computerized help desks, and vending machines have replaced millions of workers. The burden of most unskilled labor can and will be shifted to machines, and the same is true for even a great deal of skilled labor. Yet, currently, it is as if human beings are taking on the role of machines, grinding away day-in and day-out in dead end jobs, all the while, the middle class is shrinking and unemployment is growing. If something isn’t done, there will be some major class warfare.
Leisure is a good thing! Even for our economies it is a good thing. If it wasn’t for the norms and government regulations in our society that produce more leisure time such as weekends, holidays, child labor laws, minimum wage, overtime laws, and so forth, there wouldn’t be nearly as much demand to fuel the enormous industries surrounding music, art, sports, movies, entertainment, etc.Unfortunately, we have been infected by the Protestant Ethic meme which sanctifies work. This sort of mentality is prevalent among most of society, from CEOs to workers’ unions. Unions fight for the “right to work” and are deeply fearful of their jobs becoming automated. Ironically, many of the policies they push for make human labor more expensive, which gives further incentive for automation. I argue that workers should rejoice at the possibilities created by human labor becoming obsolete. We should speed up the process. Screw the right to work, we need the Right to be Lazy!
Employment is only valuable if it is performing a necessary service. If we can get our basic needs taken care of sufficiently, unemployment could be a perfectly reasonable option. There are plenty of worse things in the world than doing nothing. Being a marketing executive or politician, for example.I would argue, though, that under conditions of abundance, we should seek to find joy in ways that benefit others as well. Volunteering one’s time to nonprofit charitable endeavors would certainly be one example. Creating art, music, comedy, poetry, movies, video games, and so forth would also be valid ways of contributing to the world.
Thus, as automation progresses, we should gradually and continually strengthen laws regarding overtime, retirement, minimum wage, welfare, universal healthcare, importation from sweat-shop-ridden countries, and so forth, all in the name of making human labor more expensive, and compensating for the displacement caused by mechanization of labor. We should consider simultaneously giving positive incentives, such as tax breaks, for businesses that make strides toward automation, and fund research in that area.
I would go so far to say that once a sufficient amount of our production of basic necessities is automated, unemployment would be a good thing. We shouldn’t just have welfare, but a Guaranteed Minimum Income system. (even Hayek would agree)
Once liberated from needless toil, we will be free to spend more time enjoying the fruits of our material abundance by creating art, playing sports, and loving one another. Maybe our GDP won’t be growing quite as quickly at first, but some things are more important than the quantity of stuff we produced this financial quarter. Feel free to share your thoughts. Is the End of Work near? If so, what should be done about it?