The Jobs Question: Work Is A Human Right
Published on: May 16, 2013
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  • The nanosecond something becomes a right, it becomes the responsibility of the government to provide it.

    • BrianFrankie

      Nonsense. What a depressing and cynical view. What Professor Mead is writing about is the pursuit of happiness, and labor is one of the fundamental means of pursuing happiness in humans. Pursuing happiness is all about property rights, and one’s own time is the most important property one has.
      As you are well aware, and is stated in the founding documents of the United States, this is a natural right, independent of and pre-existing government. The government’s role is clearly stated – it is to secure these rights, not to provide them.

      • I don’t disagree with the philosophical view of work, but it remains a fact that one reason EU policy papers are littered with novel designations of work, health care, child care, same-sex marriage, equal rights for women, welfare, social security, ad infin., as a “human right” is so the various constituencies can make colorable legal claims against the government to provide same. I’m not in favor of it. And I have a couple of things to say viz. Prof. Mead’s sincere view of how work fits into the scheme of human pursuits. Short version: I think he underestimates the degree to which many in both European and American society see their “work” as being so disadvantaged that society – that is, you and me – owe them a life completely devoid of any responsibilities except spending the money they get from the government – that is, you and me – and maybe voting to make sure that those who have provided them with such guiltless largess continue to occupy office.

        • On the contrary, the state is currently interfering with these people’s ability to find jobs and the first thing that needs doing is for the state to quit violating these persons’ rights. The jobs will present itself reasonably soon after the state stops preventing companies from forming.

      • Tom

        The problem is a misunderstanding. Corlyss was making a sardonic comment on the expansion of government value. The sardonic part was missed.

        • Tedd

          I think you’re right, but I don’t think it’s right that other commenters accept the responsibility for that. The original comment was a single, unambiguous statement with nothing to suggest that it was not the genuine opinion of the writer. Without some context through which the writer’s true beliefs can be inferred, it’s not unreasonable to take the statement at face value.

          Some people probably do actually believe what Corlyss literally said. In fact, if I’m allowed to also define what constitutes a right, I do myself!

          • I certainly believe what I said. There’s only one reason the gay marriage advocates have labored mightily to get gay marriage before the courts, and that’s so one of them will declare it a right entitled to the same protections as 1st & 14th Amendment rights. That is not a mere symbolic, semantic, or taxonomic triumph for the gays. Classification as a right allows people to call down on critics and skeptics the full horrible weight of the federal government to enforce the sanctity of the classification.
            That’s what happens ANYTIME something is enshrined in law as a human right. I resist the expansion of rights beyond what is now encompassed in the Constitution, excluding the “penumbra” of the privacy right in the 4th Amendment. I don’t believe in no stinkin’ penumbras.

          • Tedd

            Ha! Well there you go. I’m as easily misunderstood as anyone else, I guess.

          • Steven Walser

            You are completely correct. In the small Eastern Washington town of Yakima there is a florist who is facing 3 lawsuits for refusing to sell flowers for a homosexual marriage due to her religious belief. One of the lawsuits has been brought by the attorney general of the state.

    • Seerak

      That kind of “right” is what is called a “positive” right, which is a right to something provided by someone else.

      Of course, if that someone else refuses to provide it, he is accused of violating that other person’s right.

      That’s not a “right” at all. That’s a *duty*, an unchosen obligation.

      Liberty is, among other things, freedom from unchosen obligations; it is the idea that any obligation you bear is freely accepted by you.

      It is crucially important to recognize that genuine rights are negative rights, i.e. the right to be left alone, to set your terms and to accept or reject the terms set by others. If we fail to make that distinction, the Left’s inflation of the concept “rights” to include what are in fact its opposite — duty — will only destroy the very concept of rights, reducing it to a mess of irreconciliable contradictions and the war of all against all.

      The notion of “Positive rights” is a conceptual Trojan horse, an attempt to cloak duty in the language of rights in order to destroy the latter. Don’t let it inside the gates of your mind.

      • Jim Luebke

        Please choose some word other than “duty” to make this point.

        There are some duties, like the duties of parents towards children (and vice versa), and the duties of husbands to wives (and vice versa) that are freely chosen yet qualify as a “duty”.

        Abandoning the word altogether leaves us without a word with appropriate weight and legacy to discuss a concept that is essential to social cohesion.

  • USNK2

    still the same old same old contrast between two utopian ‘visions’: Edward Bellamy’s 1887 “Looking Backward” and William Morris’s response in 1890 “News From Nowhere”.
    well, back to using all my education to mow my lawn, about the only useful task I can do without being downsized so the vulture capitalists can buy another gazillion dollar house/yacht/painting/tiara…

  • Pete

    Unemployment I high yet the ruling elite insist

  • Pete

    on pushing immigration amnesty for the million of unskilled Hispanics. What gives?

  • wigwag

    Professor Mead’s musings are fascinating, but young people facing an economy transforming before their eyes need specific advise about how to thrive in the new economy. Here’s my ten point plant to prosper in the next few decades.

    1) Figure out what the super rich value and provide it to them. Down through history there have always been fabulously wealthy people; there always will be. The super rich are not like the rest of us; for one thing they tend to hang with other super rich people. They also tend to over pay because when your net worth is measured in the billions you tend to have a distorted picture of money. What seems like an enormous sum to others seems trivial to the super rich. If you provide a service that they value and they come to respect you, the compensation will be substantial. It was true for the most valued servants of the French aristocracy. It is true of Warren Buffet’s secretary and it will prove true of the massage therapist, the personal trainer and the personal assistant of any super wealthy person today. Work for a billionaire and you are likely to do very well.

    2) Learn how to be a highly capable fundraising professional and work for educational, cultural and health institutions that need to raise charitable dollars. As Government cutbacks get worse, fundraising becomes even more important. People who are good at it will be very highly compensated. The other day Professor Mead penned a post bemoaning the enormous salaries of university presidents. He was referring to presidents of public universities but it is also true of private institutions. The reason these individuals are so highly compensated is because their development skills are in such high demand and few people are good at it. Learn fundraising skills and you will never go hungry.

    3) Figure out how to profit from the massive trend of disintermediation that is sweeping the economy. Professor Mead wrote a post yesterday about subscription based medicine. Even if you’re an entrepreneur not a doctor, figure out how to take advantage of that trend. Find a way to extend it from primary care to specialist care. Find a unique way to disintermediate primary education, secondary education or higher education. Figure out how to disintermediate the electric company or other public utilities. Come up with a way to disintermediate the arts or culture by removing the middle man museum, theater or concert hall that stands between the artist and his audience. Grab this trend around the neck and ride it to enormous success.

    4) Find a way (ethically if possible) to make a living from sex. Sex has always sold; it always will. It doesn’t have to be hard core or blatantly pornographic. Shakespeare’s plays were bawdy and so was Chaucer. Think of the sexual innuendo in movies, television shows or trashy novels. Capitalize on mankind’s obsession with sex and you will always have money in the bank.

    5) Here’s a terrific idea that Professor Mead wrote about in his blog a few years ago. Become a value added intermediator. As disintermediation chases out the middleman for raising costs without adding value, find a way to reintroduce value into the middle man’s role. Become an agent of some sort whether its in the educational area or health care area or something else. Every revolution produces a counter-revolution. Barnes and Noble and Borders once threatened to destroy neighborhood book stores. Now Borders is out of business, Barnes and Noble is in trouble and neighborhood bookstores that once faced extinction are making a come back. The wave of disintermediation will produce a counter revolution. For those thoughtful enough to be waiting for it, reintermeduarion will offer tremendous financial opportunities.

    6) The American population is getting older. Older people have many needs that younger people don’t have from the need to adjust to new technologies (ever try to teach an 90 year old to use an iPad?) to health care and transportation needs. Find a way to take advantage of this emerging market.

    7) Learn how to be a good talker. In every age, people who were good at sales always thrived. Politicians are sales people, pundits are sales people, vendors of Volvos are sales people. Even the University Presidents I mentioned above who solicit big donations are good sales people. People who are really good at selling will always be highly valued. Talking is a skill; it can be learned. Good talkers will always earn a good living.

    8) Figure out how to profit from people’s narcissism. Throughout human history upwardly mobile people have always been interested in displaying emblems of their success. In Shakespeare’s day, upwardly mobile people wanted a crest granted by the King. Today, A paper cup with a Starbucks label is an emblem of success; a paper cup with a Dunkin Doughnuts label isn’t. A Lexus is an emblem of success; a Chevy isn’t. Find a way to help upwardly mobile people keep up with the Joneses by assisting them in displaying emblems of success and you will be well compensated for it.

    9) Find a legal way to allow people to experience altered states of consciousness. Down thru the ages human beings have pursued mind bending experiences. A non trivial portion of the population craves these experiences (perhaps for biological reasons). Some methods of mind bending are legal (alcohol and meditation) some are illegal (cocaine and heroin). Discover and promote new ways to alter consciousness and you will make alot of money.

    10) Reflect on two songs: the theme song from the old television show “Cheers.” It was called “where everybody knows your name.” And Billy Joel’s classic “Piano Man.” When listening to Billy Joel’s tune, focus on the stanza that includes the lyrics “they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness but its better than drinking alone.” Our society is becoming increasingly atomized and isolating. The trend towards working at home will make this problem even worse. People do not want to bowl alone. They crave companionship; they want to escape from alienation; they want to be around people who “know their name.” Bars used to be a venue for this until alcohol became less cool; productive people can’t congregate in bars during the day. Bars were replaced by Starbucks where the mind altering substances of choice were sugar (think of the frappachino), caffeine (think of a quad espresso-my drink of choice) and the most mind altering thrill of all; paying more than you should for a cup of milk (doesn’t latte in Italian means over priced glass of milk?). Find new and more desirable ways for people to congregate, enjoy each others company and escape the alienation of the modern world and you are sure to be a huge success.

    And then there’s this; “…to thine own self be true and then it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.”

    • Anthony

      Great post! Very thoughtful.

      • wigwag

        Thank you for the kind words, Anthony. If I was a young person looking to secure my future in an economy in turmoil and likely to look very different three decades from now than it looks today, I think I would focus on recommendation number 10 that I made above.

        Pretty much since the end of World War I artists have been commenting on the increasing sense of alienation pervading the capitalist world. Whether its T.S. Eliot defining modern existence as a “Wasteland,” James Joyce’s character, Stephen Dedalus in “Portrait of an Artist” trying desperately to discover his place in the universe, Kafka’s Gregor Samsa awaking to find himself metamorphized into a bug or Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgram becoming “unstuck in time,” the key artistic theme for decades has been alienation. In fact, it’s the pervasive obsession with alienation that has made irony the only theme modern artists seem interested in exploring.

        Modern technology has made this reality worse. You can telecommute from home to work; that’s isolating enough. But now, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms it has actually become common to telecommute to your friendships. This simply isn’t natural. Human beings are a social species. We crave the companionship of other sentient creatures both animal (hence the pet) and people.

        If our working life doesn’t provide the social contact we crave, we will seek it out elsewhere. The chorus to the theme song from the TV show “Cheers” that I mentioned above goes

        “Sometimes you want to go
        Where everybody knows your name
        And they’re always glad you came
        You want to be where you can see
        Our troubles are all the same
        You want to be where everybody knows your name.”

        If I was planning to become successful in the new, very challenging economy, I would focus on developing antidotes to alienation. People who develop warm, safe, inviting and user friendly venues ( whether physical or in cyber space) where people can interface will be providing a service that people desperately want and increasingly need. I think there is a lot of money to be made by creating spaces where people can go and feel assured that everyone knows their name.

        • Anthony

          The depth and breath of alienation theme as cited above speaks to universal human quest to be a part of rather than estranged from. And you are absolutely correct that a focus on responsiveness to society’s members need to, in modern life, avoid sense of alienation offers a innovative opportunity for the enterprising young person. Also, WigWag I interjected my comment here despite your reply to Anthony of 20 hours ago (we are different people – I attempted to intimate that earlier with: appreciate and anticipate) because your reply informed.

    • Ruth Murray

      I would like to add another category: work at helping people who aren’t functioning at their best (all these mental health problems, esp in our children!) including people with addictions, and you’ll help society in general as well as each individual.

      • wigwag

        Ruth, you make a terrific point. One of the absolutely incredible success stories of what Mead calls the “blue model” is the major advances that we’ve seen in the education of children with special needs. For decades, when the states had the right to grant or deny these children any services they deemed appropriate, special needs kids were relegated to the garbage heap. This was true in all states but was especially true in Southern states (there were exceptions; the Red State of North Carolina has been a leader in protecting the disabled for decades). The passage of two pieces of federal legislation, the A.D.A and I.D.E.A. changed all that. As a result there has been a revolution in the prospects of many kids with Downs Syndrome, autism, Fragile X and other developmental disabilities.

        At one time these kids were warehoused as if they were animals; now many finish high school and a few even graduate from college. It’s all because early intervention mandated by federal law works. Of course, Republicans hate these laws because they are expensive; but I suspect that what many of them really hate is Government not only succeeding but demonstrating a shred of human decency.

        Of course much still needs to be done and while things for kids with developmental disabilities are far from perfect, they have improved quite a bit.

        You are right; this will probably be a growing field that will employ more people though I doubt that these professions will prove to be especially remunerative.

        Thanks for responding to me and making such a great point.

    • Anthony

      Always appreciate and anticipate your contributions but don’t want any identity confusion via earlier effusiveness.

  • JT

    Kind of chuckling to myself in that when I read the article for some reason running in my mind was H.G. Well’s book The Time Machine. Will we largely become the Eloi happily playing in a garden of Eden, served by a few mysterious under ground nasty Morlocks that occasionally pray upon the Eloi. Hopfully not!

    When reading you writings on the changing work landscape about computers performing the work needs for most in the future, I often think about how wonderful that sounds. Never completely understood the dread some express with that idea. Change can be hard for many understandably, but overall it sounds as if it has the potential to be a golden age, with greater personal freedom, & leisure time. Hopfully our society will make the right moves to allow that to happen.

  • Jim Luebke

    Yet however far scarcity retreats, human appetites (and the promises of pandering politicians) seem to advance farther. What people saw as a luxury in times past, is seen as a “necessity” today. What was seen as unavoidable misfortune in times past, is seen as intolerable injustice today.

    We’re nowhere near the utopian vision. Until then (and we may never get there), we still need to allocate scarce resources. The market, with its price signals, incentives, and other feedback mechanisms, remains the best way to do that.

    We have to give incentivizes to the people who work to make those resources less scarce, and hold the prospect of denial of those resources as an incentive to keep people from freeloading.

  • Anthony

    Bravo Professor. Even though your views often give me heartburn, you are a great writer.

    Fans of this essay might also like to read a piece by Richard Posner on Keynes.

    Working 9 to 12 ‘How Much Is Enough?’ by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky. By Richard Posner. New York Times. April 12, 2012

    On Keynes – “His essay is very English, because the traditional aspiration of the
    English upper class was not to work at all. Keynes, middle- rather than
    upper-class, worked hard all his life, but he was highly cultivated, a
    member of the Bloomsbury set, a balletomane, an admirer of the “good
    life” in a distinctively English sense unrelated to material comfort.”

  • theresanursemom

    The promise of space cannot be underestimated in its effects on future employment from many standpoints, and in many ways yet to reveal themselves to us. I fear that for mankind to remain on earth and gaze upon our navels would squander our potential. A huge new frontier awaits us if we are bold enough to venture into it.

  • OT but do we want America to be a racially stratified class society?

  • Here’s an idea: why not gradually decrease the length of the standard work day and week (by statutory means) and see where it leads? That way such productive work as there is will be equally divided.

    BTW, Keynes did not predict work would disappear. He predicted a 15 hour week. What would you do with a fifteen hour week? Me, I would garden, cook, clean house, care for my kids and aged parents, and learn how to do my own household repairs, even build my own house. Come to think of it, that’s the life I actually led.

    And if the work week finally falls to five hours, what would I do then? Same as above.

    Bottom line: there will always be enough to do taking care of ourselves and our families. Better us than hired help.

    • M_Becker

      You – and Keynes – are practitioners of economic idiocy. What you are proposing is Marx concept of “from each / to each.”

      “Work” has a certain worth with relation to it’s added value to a product, no matter the product. Simply reducing the number of hours one individual spends doing that work does not increase it’s value by an equal amount.

      You want to reduce the “work-week” to approximately one third of the current, you’d better be prepared to live on about one third of your current wage.

      The point is not to “equally divide” work (or anything else), it should be to reward innovation, risk taking, productivity and knowledge/skill.

      • I think you may misunderstand me. I am all for innovation, risk taking, productivity and knowledge/skill. Innovation and knowledge — for those who have the aptitude for it. You are wrong, I think, to suppose those worker shorter hours doing routine wage work will be less productive or skilled at what they do. If anything workers can work faster and more efficiently for shorter periods of time than for longer, and their real hourly wages should go up accordingly. Also you must take into account the value of the things people would do for themselves which now they pay others to do for them. I agree the final result will be a lower standard of living measured in purely monetary terms, but not necessarily in the overall quality of everyday life.

        As for Marx, huh?

        • M_Becker

          I didn’t misunderstand you at all. You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, it’s all prattle.

    • larryj8

      A 15 hour week sounds fine. In fact, you can do that today. Only, you’ll be paid for 15 hours, not 40. If you can live on 15 hours worth of income, you’re doing quite well. However, if you expect an employer to give you a 267% pay raise so you can have the same income, you’re being quite unrealistic to say the least.

    • grichens

      “Bottom line: there will always be enough to do taking care of ourselves and our families. Better us than hired help.”

      Sounds to me that your outcome would not mean a shorter work week, but more of it spent working for ourselves than someone else. This would be OK if it’s as congruent with the personal preferences of others as it is yours.

      • Correct. I maintain that these other forms of work are intrinsically more fulfilling than routine wage work, which is what we are talking about here

  • qet

    Via Meadia’s heartfelt (or so it seems) statement deserves an intelligent challenge which can hardly be presented in a comment space. I would only ask that he consider the following:

    –Via Meadia would do well to re-read (for I am sure he has read) Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, with special attention to her distinction of labor from work and of both action, and of production from fabrication. I think the confusion of these concepts, especially that between labor and work, production and fabrication which Arendt describes is present in Via Meadia’s own thinking.

    –Being a pessimist about the near-term prospects of civilization does not mean necessarily that one regards one’s fellow man with condescension or superciliousness. It does mean that one takes account of something Via Meadia seemingly refuses to: sheer numbers. This is not the Athenian polis we are considering, but a planet of 7+ billion, each of whom seeks, requires and desires both sustenance and meaning.

    –If everyone is a Milton then no one is. It is fine to speculate with Gray that a particular deceased might have been so, but even the brightest future that can reasonably be anticipated is not one of 7 billion Miltons. The “meaningful work” that Via Meadia suggests must be “found” (meaning is created, not found) for those billions will not, cannot, be the work of a Milton, or of a Kepler or Pasteur. Resorting to stock, vacuous phrases like ” everyone has a contribution to make,” which say nothing, is unworthy of Via Meadia.

    –The liberation from drudgery Via Meadia sees on the horizon has been so seen for over 200 years now. So how is it that now, in 2013, this transcendence is really, finally, at long last, achieveable where it wasn’t when Via Meadia’s positivist predecessors were seeing the same thing? What has changed? Simply tossing about “the Information economy” is no answer.

    • It’s certainly a fair question to ask, “What’s different this time?” The answer is that this is the first time in history where we may be able to construct our own inheritors. A steam-powered loom is to IBM’s Watson as a protozoan is to, oh, maybe a fish. But 50 years from now we’ll be comparing protozoa to humans, and then the real fun begins.

  • Anthony

    I have been thinking a lot about this essay, and I think Professor Mead has characterized the views of most Democrats.

    “Once the working classes aren’t needed to dig coal anymore, in this view, there is nothing to be done for the mass of mankind than to sit
    them in front of the TV on a comfy couch with a big bag of chips. They are good for nothing else.”

    This is not the view of most democrats. Rather, they want the state to suppliment the wages of low wage workers so that they won’t be completely miserable due to their inablility to be self sufficinet financially, regardless of how hard they work. The Bureau of Labor put out a list of jobs with the fastest projected rate of growth. Of all the jobs listed, the only ones with middle class wages were primary school teacher and registered nurse.

    Many of these high growth jobs have average salaries of less 30k per year. Someone making less than 30,000 dollars will have a hard time managing as a single person, even with a frugal budget. And people making $10 dollars an hour or less will not be able to survive without assistance from the state.

  • Old_School_Conservative53

    Horse Hockey! Pure, unadulterated horse hockey, Professor.
    It would take only a very few changes to policy in America, and you would see skilled manufacturing repatriating in a tidal wave.
    1. Simplify the freaking tax code, especially as regards corporate income tax. Microsoft should be able to file on a post card. Make it a flat 10% of profits.
    2. Fire all the environmental radicals at USEPA and start over. Require Congress to ratify each and every new regulation.
    3. Initiate a PRACTICAL energy policy. Use what we have as aggressively as possible until and unless alternative energy can compete on its own w/o huge subsidies or tax credits.
    With the increasing retirement numbers of the baby boomers these simple steps would provide enough jobs for every man, woman, boy or girl who has the slightest inclination to work for a living.

  • Tedd

    First, the “widget fallacy” is only part of the picture. The production of actual things is, ultimately, the only source of wealth. A much smaller percentage of Americans earn their living producing food, but American still produces just as much food. (More, actually.) Other kinds of work adds value to the production of actual things (e.g., by making it more efficient or effective). In other words, they add second-order value.

    The correct counter-widget argument is not that the production of widgets is not the only source of value, it’s that the production of widgets doesn’t necessarily have to be evenly distributed throughout the economy — on a nation by nation basis, for example. One nation can have a higher percentage of widget production while another can have a higher percentage of work that is supported by widget production.

    Second, while I’m largely in agreement with the optimistic view of the future expressed in the final paragraph, there is a fly in that ointment. Barring some fundamental change in human capability, a significant percentage of the population of every country is not able to add value in information-based work. They’re just not that smart. It might be considered poor form to say that, but we all know that it’s true. Whatever the future looks like, it has to contain one of three things:

    A means by which all people are made intelligent enough to add value in information-based work. (And, no, education is not the answer. I’m talking about aptitude here, not opportunity.)

    A means of providing for the people who can’t add value in information-based work.

    Significant non-information-based ways of adding economic value.

  • MoReport

    Economics for minimalists: Production>Consumption
    One can avoid this painful inequality for a time
    by supplementing production with savings, or
    borrowing, but eventually one goes bankrupt.
    This time, _everybody_ is going to go bankrupt
    at once, catastrophically; Plan for that.

  • Anthony

    “Pretty much everybody understands at some level that the question of jobs is at the heart of America’s politics today.
    WRM, underneath that question for Americans (or for that matter humans) is an existential proposition – work as component to a free and responsible life. The United States is less than 250 years old and has grappled with work and its populace from inception – you intimate some iterations in essay. Nevertheless, a free society (such as ours) must prove its ability to make good on its promises (life, liberty, justice, and pursuit of happiness, etc.) and to keep alive cherished values; somewhere work has been included as a cherished value for many, but it has always been a conundrum for America (as distribution of both work and employment skewed relative to all sorts of subjective criteria).
    Now in 21st century, we find concept of both work and employment again transforming and a majority of Americans are anxiously wondering “where do I fit.” The Democratic Dilemma, in this instance, is how does America incorporate its work eligible population into a capitalist system oriented by both technology and profit – creative destruction? WigWag in earlier post on essay offers insightful contributions but they may have less charm for the lesser motivated (A society that accepts performance as chief determinant of status has real charm for those whose ability, drive, aggressiveness, or luck enables them to come out on top. It may have notably less charm for those who do not come out on top….”).
    An important question left unaddressed in current jobs essay is whether “full scale employment” (available life sustaining jobs) is a basic aim of American public policy and proable in current global economic context. Similarly, what are long-term economic goals for country and how are they related to labor market participation (jobs). Finally and equally important, the question how are jobs categorized to meet not only income incentives but also psychic status needs and are variables relevant to market exploitation.

  • I have to say that I’m more with Keynes than Dr. Mead on this one. Mead is assuming that automation will only subsume manufacturing and mid-level white collar jobs, and that it won’t be capable of creative work that’s accessible to those of average and below-average ability. Widget fetishism is one thing, but I’m not sure that Dr. Mead isn’t engaging in human fetishism.

    We’re only beginning to see the first inklings of what artificial intelligence will be capable. When AI comes into its own, there simply isn’t going to be anything that we value today that can’t be done better and cheaper by a machine. We will, in fact, be a machine culture, with a tiny number of humans wielding vast wealth-creating power through software that can exceed human cognition and creativity in all but the most esoteric areas.

    That’s a pretty grim future for humanity. I’m not worried about extinction, because the machine culture will be perfectly happy to spend 20% of GDP to keep the human population perfectly free from want, but lotus-eating only lasts for a couple of generations while the birth rate plummets.

    I only see three ways out of the problem:

    1) 21st-century Luddism. We can artificially restrict what machines are allowed to do to ensure that human lives have meaning. But this is only metastable at best; unless you can convince everybody on the planet that they should forgo the wealth to be created through automation, you’re merely forestalling the inevitable.

    2) If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Humans augmented by machines will be much more talented and capable, maybe even more so than pure silicon entities. Maybe we find that even the average and below-average can add real value when they’re not purely wetware. But this assumes that there are things that are inherently “better” about biological cognition than machine cognition. I’m not sure that that’s an assumption on which to base the future of human civilization.

    3) Fundamentally redefine what it means to be human. If there’s a third way to thread the needle between work and idleness, then we can define the value of our lives in terms that simply aren’t comprehensible today. I hope that’s the case. No doubt we’re going to have more and more time to visualize what such a third way might be, and to experiment with its implementation.

    I’m not necessarily pessimistic; we’re awfully clever when our backs are to the wall. But it’s a pretty safe bet that our current values won’t come through this transition unscathed. We’re not headed toward a classically liberal civilization. We’re headed toward something else.

    What’s that curse about living in interesting times?

  • LouAnnWatson

    arbeit macht frei…

  • thesafesurfer

    The modern world’s economy is a completely dependent on commercial trade between urban areas just as it was in Roman times. Any decrease in agricultural production and the cities decline, commerce declines, and the civilization we enjoy that is dependent on it.

    We all better pray that global food production doesn’t see any kind of decrease in our lifetimes.

  • I agree with the sentiment that every human being has intrinsic value. But I don’t think that every human being can provide some sort of artistic contribution as you suggest.

    My evidence is the large amount of human beings in the United States with BAs and MAs in creative writing, who are far away from being anywhere close to “talented”. Sure, they can write well. But that’s not exactly what a talented author or artist does. Practice makes perfect, and a perfect musician makes a great studio musician. But that’s also certainly not an artist.

    And there have been many sons of privilege in a similar vein to Keynes. They had all the time in the world to hone their skill and/or craft, yet they still turn out mediocre at best. S

    In the new creative economy, surely there will be a place for these people though. I think the best analogy is that of pollination. Sure, there are beautiful flowers that spring up a few times a year. But where will they be without the bee to propagate further flowers? Those who share new media/art/etc are an important part of the emerging ecosystem of interconnected internet media. Though they don’t exactly create media, they still will have a discerning eye for what is good, due to their relatively advanced education (since apparently the bachelors degree is the new high school diploma). There isn’t exactly any specific sort of economic role for sharers of information, but it seems like such an important function can somehow eventually receive compensation.

    There are a few examples of this type of activity. Those with youtube channels who simply review and recommend products comes to mind.

  • It truly is shocking that supposedly educated men are so ignorant of all the handwaving and detail eliding that they are doing in talking about, well most everything.

    We are dreadfully short of people to do the work of government oversight. In the US, we barely know the names of all the governments. There is no one consolidated list outlining their jurisdictions, what they do, how they are organized, no reconciliation mechanism to match their charts of accounts so you can quickly identify useful things like who’s paying 75% too much for cement or some other anonymous good that happens to be purchased from a major campaign contributor. None of this stuff takes a genius. A high school graduate with a work ethic would do.

    In science, the number of people who actually check and verify scientific papers is tiny compared to the mass needed. No matter what you think about global warming, the original MBH hockey stick paper published in 1998 should have been replicated long before MM 2001 attempted to and found their math to be in error and the 4 years until the correction came out in Nature could certainly have been speeded up, couldn’t it?

    In entertainment, rich immersive worlds are still elusive because the detail and variation that you would find in reality just isn’t there. The bodies necessary to build out the detail just aren’t attacking the problem.

    I’m just scratching the surface here. These shortcuts we take as a matter of routine because of our lack of manpower pop up everywhere. We just need to stop taking them and the labor situation will improve.

    I’m doing my part. I am starting a government oversight project to do the grunt work necessary to data mine the state.

  • joshuagenes

    The future of the middle class is in engineering. The new manufacturing age will bring printed cars, buildings, food, body parts, just about anything you need. With the advent of home manufacturing through 3D printing and building things atom by atom. The bulk of the jobs will revolve around education, design, science, software, and engineering. Now if we can only get the educational industrial complex to actually give people the education they need rather than the expensive, useless, propaganda bs they keep pushing through “requirements”.

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