The world is faced with the greatest economic crisis or the greatest opportunity since man was let into Eden. Even before the earliest civilizations, Man has labored. At first, Man fought against nature for food and shelter. Later, people became workers, serfs, and even slaves. We created tools, to be more productive. The Industrial Revolution further increased productivity, elevating pay and creating “leisure time”. The computer revolution turned factory jobs into desk jobs, with air-conditioning, better pay, and benefits… like health care. Now automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Robots threaten to steal the world’s jobs in just a few years. What if… not having a job was a good thing?
Technology pundits, economists, and futurists are well-aware of new technologies. But traditional economics say that society will continue to adjust, regardless of the technology. Just as factories replaced farms, a “new economy” will arise to solve all problems.
The experts, however, have started to change this message. Factory jobs may be the first to go away, but they won’t be the last. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and robots will be equally good at replacing high paying jobs. Outsourced work and even whole factories may return onshore, but new factories will be highly automated factories and create few workers. Experts no longer see a “next economy” on the horizon. Any “new jobs” can be performed just as well as “old jobs”… by robots.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, American’s were primarily farm workers. By the mid-20th century, we were factory workers. Now we have a service economy. The next economy, the jobless future, will be our fourth (and last?) economy. After 150 years of transition, just 2% of workers are farmers. After just 50 years of transition, just 8% of jobs are in factories. Robots and automation have already taken over some service jobs. These transitions have become shorter. Will the transition to the Zero Work economy take just 10 or 20 years?
Back in 1980, a labor organizer in India, Valerian Texeria, looked at Communist and Capitalist theory. He thought that both theories shared a flaw. Machines were becoming more intelligent and new energy sources could be nearly free to produce. If machines replaced human workers, and energy was free, machines could directly replace human workers. While this seems obvious, political and economic experts of the day largely ignored Texeria’s “Zero Work Theory” (ZWT). Today, however, experts are beginning to discuss jobless future that looks a lot like Zero Work.
A jobless future shouldn’t cause panic. That is if the loss of jobs is… a good thing. The history of labor has been a continuous march from long hours and bad work conditions to shorter hours and better work conditions. This is what workers want, and what labor organizers demanded for generations. But it does raise a question, “If less work is better, then is no work best?”
Remember Communism? Communism and Capitalism battled for dominance for most of the 20th Century. SPOILER ALERT. Capitalism won. Big Time! 50 Communist nations faded away, leaving just China as a significant Communist nation. Communism said that a new society without the need for money would arise. Maybe not!
Capitalist said that automation drives down the cost of labor, freeing up money for workers and new jobs. Automation has indeed improved profitability, but profits mostly went to the “1%”, and buying power for the 99% has been frozen for decades. Now automation is replacing jobs faster than new jobs can be created and even more wealth is moving from the middle class to the “1%”.
Texeria proposes that this process of “Technological Unemployment” will increase. Instead of trying to chase lost jobs, Mr. Texeria believes that we should focus on how people will pay for food and shelter without jobs. The idea of UBI goes as far back and Sir Thomas Moore’s 16th-century novel, “Utopia”. There, governments provided a stipend “sufficient for necessaries”. Modern Universal Basic Income (UBI) works by converting government entitlement programs into UBI. The cost for UBI can vary but for the U.S. is around $3 trillion. That’s what the government currently pays for education, socials security, healthcare, and housing. Having citizens choose and buy their own services will eliminate multiple bureaucracies, reducing the cost of government.
Modern Universal Basic Income (UBI) works by converting government entitlement programs into UBI payments. UBI for the U.S. has been estimated at $3 trillion, the current cost of education, socials security, healthcare, and housing programs. Under UBI, citizens will choose and buy their own services. This eliminates multiple bureaucracies, reducing the cost of government.
The Robot Revolution won’t just eliminate jobs. It will reduce the cost of EVERYTHING. Corporations are installing robots because they are cheaper than human workers. That means that when the UBI arrives, it will cost less than today. Because everything will cost less.
The Robot Revolution also means that the “1%” that own the factories and the corporations that are automated will be more profitable. That means provides a new stream of profits that can be taxed. Some experts prefer the idea of a “Robot Tax”, on every robot that displaces a human being. Whatever method is chosen, the economy will be as strong as it is now and will continue growing. UBI represents a restricting of taxes and payments. By removing the most inefficient government programs, rather than increasing the government budget, it may be possible to pay down the national debt.
Robots will continue to take over factory jobs, but they will also drive cars, replace cashiers, and out-perform “knowledge workers” (doctors, lawyers, financial specialists, etc.). That us back to Mr. Texeria and Zero Work. In 1981, he wrote a book, “Zero Work Theory”, predicting an optimistic future that economic experts rejected. His view was simple. Economics laws, including Moore’s Law (computer costs drop by 50% every 2 years) are inescapable and has been eliminating jobs for decades. Technology now eliminates jobs faster than they can be replaced. If not his ZWT and UBI, is there a lower cost and more effective alternative? If so, it’s being kept a secret.
Technology has simply reached a point where jobs are being eliminated faster than they are created, and the speed of elimination is accelerating. ZWT points to massive societal changes, but advocates adjusting to a jobless future rather than trying to prevent it. Of course, experts that are still tied to Communist or Capitalist alternatives haven’t come forward with an alternative to ZWT and UBI that will cost less, or that will be more effective.
Some experts warn that without the “sense of worth” you derive from your job, you can’t have positive self-esteem. How does Mr. Texeria address this? “That’s just leftover thinking from religion and 20th Century economics.”
He may have a point. Soldiers, engineers, and firefighters can “become” their job, and their fellowship with their workmates may be closer than with their family. But these are exceptions. 70% of American’s are unhappy with their jobs. Cashiers, fry cooks, and the guy who cleans the men’s room urinals are much less likely to confuse themselves with their jobs. But they might be… parents of their children, fans of their local sports teams and experts in their favorite hobbies. This is what drives them and this is where they want to spend time.
What will people do with their spare time in the jobless world? The same things that they do today… participate in their community, become involved in politics, play games (in 3-D), participate in increasingly dangerous sports (base jumping, free climbing, parkour…), and experiment with drugs.
Is it desirable for citizens to experiment with drugs? At the moment, no. America is gripped by an opiate epidemic causing 40,000 fatal overdoses annually. One in 10 Americans (1 in 4 over 40) take anti-depressants, which are often contributing factors in 50,000 annual suicides, and workplace killings. Alcohol kills nearly 90,000 American’s every year. Yet, Starbuck’s and Red Bull have built respected caffeine empires. Marijuana legalization is likely to happen in the next few years. in part a movement to discover less destructive drugs for depression and pain relief. And drugs will be used for
Perhaps, given the dramatic rise in leisure time that we will soon face, this might be just the right time for America’s vast pharmaceutical industry to look for less destructive drugs for depression, ADHD, and pain relief. That just might eliminate thousands of mass killings. Of course, without the stress of the modern workplace, many of these drugs may not be needed.
Today’s economic experts have largely failed to adapt old economic theories to the Zero Work future, after “workers” largely disappear. Technology has been moving towards a jobless economy for centuries. Nations are at different levels of development. The U.S. and Europe (and Japan, Canada, etc.) could adopt UBI in just a few years, but it could take a century or more for today’s poorest countries to have large enough economies to pay for UBI.
The Robot Revolution will cause enormous changes, just as the agricultural and industrial ages caused great disruptions in the past. Are we headed towards the destruction of the world or into a new golden age? That largely up to us, and how we hold our governments accountable managing a Zero Work world!