For some time now I have been thinking about the future. Like so many, I enjoy science fiction, the latest gadgets, the newest discovery, and have Nova as a recording on my DVR. Yet, my hobby is not all-consuming, but lately I can't shake my worry. Today I saw this interesting diary (http://www.dailykos.com/...) on why jobs are not coming back. So I decided to post for the first time in several years.
Capitalism, for some, is a religion. In reality, Capitalism is merely a method by which goods and services are distributed. Distribution occurs through the use of money, or other fetish, which is acquired either through assistance (government or charity), through labor, through graft, or through investment (or rent seeking). Needs typically outweigh wants and wants outweigh the untainable; as such, some goods are more "elastic" than others and our willingness to pay more depends on need > want. The labor market is based on the desirability (demand) of the thing created and how hard it is to find someone that has the requisite ability to produce the thing (supply).
Marx, and many others, questioned the effect of automation on the greater economy. The diary I just mentioned talks about a machine replacing several workers. Ford, GE, hell any major manufacturer, replaces workers with machines. America, and many other once great manufacturing hubs, are now in a Post-Industrial or Service economy. Despite this transition, many jobs that require humans exist: customer service, medicine, law, construction, and transportation.
Machines are now moving out of manufacturing and into other areas once thought to be immune to automation. Customer service being replaced by self-checks and online purchasing. Distribution chains run through complex algorithms collecting, sorting, and shipping packages without human interaction. Shipping done through automated trucks or maybe drones. Construction through drones and 3d printing. Medicine with super-computing diagnostics, and robotic arms. And so on and so on.
Let's be honest if a machine can do something faster, more accurately, and without breaks or pay, why would you not choose that option? In our daily lives, and in an extremely micro-level, we all want it faster, easier, and hopefully free or cheap. There is nothing wrong with this desire.
So why my worry and angst? Science and innovation have far outpaced society's ability to ask questions, digest, and think. The easiest example, to me, are the states without laws against texting while driving. (http://www.ghsa.org/...) This is a no-brainer issue that in my mind is non-political, yet there are still states where the practice is legal. Stem-cells, cloning, species modification, and nanites, and we are still debating abortion. I am not anti-science by any means, but are we asking questions about where we want to go as a society? as a species? How many law makers even understand where science is at the moment?
At some point human labor will be largely unnecessary. Also, I fully realize that there is still a place for artists, thinkers, scientists, and other "creative" professions, but is an "Idea" economy large enough to support us all? Back to my brief discussion on Capitalism. No labor, means no money for billions of people and no money means that Capitalism, as an effective distribution of goods and services, crumbles. We can start to have an esoteric discussion about the value of anything if labor is no longer necessary. The question? What's after Capitalism?
The transition from necessary human labor to largely unnecessary human labor will be slow and has been slow, but I believe if could happen in my lifetime. The worry for me is not the destination. No work? Life of leisure with friends and family, doing what I want without a concern for how to pay for it? Yes please. No, the worry is in the transition. To me, it seems plausible that there is a tipping point, where there are just enough jobs for the "economy" to toddle along but massive systemic un/underemployment. A terrible situation of economic famine, where there are goods and services, but we do not distribute them because of a lack of money for those in need. Hungry and desperate people do desperate and extreme things. Yet, I think we can avoid that fate, but are we prepared to try? So what's next and how do we get there without sparking Armageddon?
Today we have an entire political party dedicated to the idea of "I got mine, fuck you." A belief that some people just don't want to work and deserve what, if anything, they get. Rich extracting as much, as quickly, as possible, quite possibly the worst attitude to adopt if we want to avoid future conflict. The first step is to adopt a position that everyone, everywhere, should receive, and feel entitled to, the basics: shelter, food, and health. Until then, and even then, I'll worry.