Monday, May 1, 2017

Working Towards No Work - Part 2

I know that there were plenty of opinion worthy news events over the last week related to connectivity, privacy and the internet.

But the hell with all of that.  I want to continue my tirade/rant/dream of a Post-Work economy.  For those of you who have not read last week's post (Working Towards No Work - Part 1) or the one from three weeks ago, here's a brief summary (though not in the order in which they appeared in the two cited posts):
  • Automation is coming and will disrupt the work place according to this report from the International Bar Association.
  • No work is really safe from this (including c-level management)
  • Setting quotas for living workers will merely push corporations to jurisdictions that don't require them.
  • It is going to happen because it reduces labor costs which in turn gets the things we want to market at lower costs, which will increase demand, which will drive more automation.
  • But if all jobs are automated, then how will we earn money to buy the things that the robots make?
  • We must rebuild our economy on a different platform from capitalism/consumerism.  Maybe around the notion of 'A Life Well Lived', not 'A Life of Work.'
  • This is not Post-Scarcity.  That requires unlimited resources.  Resources are still limited by location and our inability to restructure mater on the fly.  Automation only helps us make the most of the resources that are available and get them where they are needed.

We MUST Automate

Forget, for a moment, about automation on the personal or micro-economic scale.  Heck, don't even think about it on the enterprise or single national entity scale.  Instead, to understand the imperative in the above sub-heading, I ask you to think on the fully macro-economic scale.  The getting-to-stage-1-civilization scale.

With that in mind, the issue is all about resource management.  There are more and more of us humans on the planet every second of every minuted of every hour of every day.  The current estimate has us at 7.5 Billion people with an additional 145 joining every minute (250 emerging and 105 shuffling off per minute, for a net of 145).  We'll be at 10 billion sometime around 2060.  How the F-Sharp are all of those people going to eat? drink? WORK?

Ten Billion is a significant number because it is one strong estimate about how many people the earth can support.  Much of this is based on the eating of meat, a particularly inefficient food source, but we'll set that aside because you and I both know that the human race won't stop at 10B pop.  We'll keep going and going, expecting things to just work out.  For the Powers That Be to 'do something'.  And those Powers only have so many options:

  • Population Control.  Yeah, because that worked so well for China.  Stopping people from pro-creating is not going to get anyone elected or keep them in power.  If we try to stop it, that will just move all of the sex behind even more doors.  The kids will still be born, and once they are born, no one in any first world country is going to kill them because they are excess population.  Personally, I believe that some level of this must eventually take place, but god help the poor soul who tries to make it happen.
  • Invasion/Genocide.  This may work on a national scale, but not on a global scale.  With no more lands to conquer, your people are still going to breed.  It is also the most likely to galvanize the rest of the world to stomp on you.  Again, not a workable solution.
  • Find Another Earth.  Lots of people are working on this, but the tech to make it workable in the next couple of centuries, much less in the next couple of decades which is when we'll need it, is not going to be there.
  • Be More Efficient.  Ultimately, this is the only answer.  We have to use what we have better.  Fewer Bugattis and more bananas.

Ah!  I can hear you thinking over the internet, "We'll put all of those people to work making food and moving water and building shelter!  That'll fix it all!"  Well, not really.  The more people work, the more they consume.  Also, humans are great multi-function machines, but they can not match the productivity of purpose built automation.  We need all of the production and distribution we can get if we are going to have a chance of feeding and housing everyone at even the most basic levels.

Maps?  Where We're Going We Don't Need Maps

The tricky part of all of this is getting from where we are now to where we need to be.  Here in the US of A, much of our identity is tied up in what we do to earn money.  Where we fit on the social ladder is connected to how much money we have.  Who gets what goods and services and at what quality is all based on the amount of money we have.  If no one is working (if no one CAN work because they can't compete with robots), then no one is earning money and no one is buying anything.  How do we measure our self worth?  How do we know who gets the good stuff?

The short answer to that last bit is that no one gets the good stuff because there won't be any more good stuff.  To deal with a 10B+ population, the good stuff has to go away and everyone gets the basic stuff.  There simply will not be room in the production schedule of something like a Bugatti.  Not when making one will deny food, water and shelter to lots of people (though many argue that something like that already takes place.  Communists).

The long answer to all of those questions is that we need to rethink our self worth without money or economic power.  Those cultural touchstones need to be replaced with something else.  The suggestion from that International Bar Association article that launched all of this three weeks ago is to define a Life Well Lived.  That our schools and other institutions need to focus on out-reach and helping.  Giving and sharing and healing.  Doing good works for their own sake, not for any potential reward in either this life or the next.  Charity in the noblest, most caring, least pitying sense of the word.

To make that shift is not something that will happen in a decade or two.  It will require multiple generations and the dedicated good works of people who already do this: nurses, teachers, (most) public safety employees, etc.  Most of them are underpaid and doing it because it is a 'calling'.  Something that they must do to live not in the world, but with themselves.  We need more of these people.  We need to instill this into our children and grandchildren.  And that is the real trick.

I am not one of these people.  I have struggled to find a purpose in life.  Something to which I can truly, unabashedly dedicate my time and energy.  The closest I have come is to raising my daughter.

And that is where I will start.  Have started.

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