Thursday, July 24, 2014

When "Work" No Longer Works

There are many things we accept without thinking.  One of them is that to get money, you must work.  This model is based on scarcity.  In a world where labor must be mixed with capital to create goods and services, working makes sense--you provide a value and you receive value for that labor in return.  The concept is that if you create value, you receive compensation.  This rewards hard work and punishes the lazy and moochers.  The problem, however, is that technology eliminates some forms of scarcity.  This upturns the traditional model of labor.  In a world where machines can do the work humans used to do, human labor is worth much less.  Sometimes human labor is rendered obsolete.  An example would be the video store.  It used to be that you had to physically travel to Blockbuster to rent a movie, which needed to be checked in, organized, and returned to the shelf.  The advent of the Internet and Netflix made this business model obsolete.  Video store workers were left unemployed. 

The existence of the Internet has killed the job market because it has eliminated the scarcity of labor.  If you were formerly making big money as a software programmer in the U.S., companies can now hire Indians across the globe to do the work for a small fraction of the price.  The same goes for customer service.  Lawyers are finding that their jobs are also being outsourced.  3-D printers will be available in a few years such that many consumer products will be printable on demand.  Robots will be fulfilling the duties of caregivers and assistants.  Even truck drivers are under threat by driverless cars and vehicle systems.  Watson, the IBM computer that won on Jeopardy, can diagnose medical problems and treat patients much more effectively than humans.  Watson could be available on anyone's smartphone.  And many medical tests are able to be administered via smartphone apps and attachments as well.

The bottom line is that labor isn't what it used to be.  If you now own the means of production, you are making a killing.  The wealth becomes concentrated at the top while the bottom 99% suffer.  The myopia of the super rich is apparent.  The masses will only take poverty and suffering for so long before they react.  This could be positive if it means grassroots organizing, political reforms, and means used to change the system.  It could be negative if people outright revolt.  The haves must recognize that shitting on people will only work for so long before you get a backlash.  We are seeing this in Gaza right now.  The Palestinians have had enough of being terrorized and are striking back.  The Israeli response is typical--using violence and terrorism to beat the people back into submission.

The present system of working for money is coming to an end.  In the future, when labor is essentially obsolete, goods and services will need to be distributed to people in a more efficient manner.  It could mean taxing the richest corporations and guaranteeing a basic standard of living for everyone.  People will still do work, but it won't be for money.  I reject the notion that people are essentially lazy and will only work if threatened with starvation.  People work on the things they are passionate about.  Scientists will work for 80 hours per week to learn new things.  Musicians will starve for years to pursue their craft.  It is the shit work that people hate.  But if you hate this type of work, you are labeled "lazy."  Technology is making these sorts of tasks obsolete. 

The truth is that there is enough wealth and technology right now to enable all people to work part time and have enough.  The problem is that our present system is based on 19th century notions.  We have so much food grocery stores throw food away while people go hungry.  We have millions of homeless people and millions of unused, foreclosed homes.  We have people dying from polio when vaccines exist to prevent the disease.  We have sick people dying from preventable diseases because our system only pays for treatments when people are about to die instead of investing in preventative care. 

Part of this is rooted in human psychology.  Studies have shown that primates have a built-in sense of "fairness" that encourages people to punish moochers, even if this means hurting themselves in the long run.  This might have made sense 10,000 years ago, but now, our desire to punish others is destroying our society.  Similarly, our sense of tribalism and worrying about excluding the "other", whether it be immigrants, those who have different tastes or preferences, or whatever, will ultimately lead to our own doom.  In a world of nuclear weapons, tribalism can be fatal to everyone. 

We have all sorts of natural inclinations.  But we have evolved to live in a different age.  Sometimes common sense lacks sense.  We aren't designed to live in a world that is connected by the Internet, where we have contact with thousands of people, where we know what is going on halfway across the planet.  Sometimes we have to think outside of the box. 

Fear, suspicion, and xenophobia can and will destroy us if we let it. 

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