Friday, 8 May 2015

The end of jobs

A friend recently asked me if I foresee any chance of "jobs", or in his words "the economic trade of labour in return for payment" becoming so unsustainable that we as society would abandon it. My response is below.

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No.

The term "chance" implies that I'm not certain about the unsustainability.

There will NEVER be enough meaningful jobs for everyone. Unemployment is only in a 'healthy' range around 6-7% right now because of a system stretched to its utter limit to create jobs, often at the cost of getting meaningful work done.

First, self employment is counted as jobs in this statistic, as is part time work. So the proportion of people that trade their labour for payment likely a lot smaller than official surface figures.

There are also a large portion of jobs that simply shouldn't be.

- Literally pointless jobs like full-service gas pumps. Really gas stations could be fully automated and could behave like large vending machines.

- Parasitic jobs such as car salespeople, day traders and arbitrageurs. I separate these from pointless jobs because they do perform a service, but only because of legacy systems that mandate that these services are necessary.

- Fields where the output of the field is only loosely related to the number of people working in the field, such as marketing. From the perspective of companies, if half of all ads disappears, the only real effect would be for each remaining ad to be twice as effective. Likewise, the benefit to the consumer, knowledge of a product, would be just as large with perhaps only 10% of ads retained. In that sense, 90% of the work in advertising, from ad creation to posting billboards, is parasitic.

Then there are the jobs that won't be for much longer.

- Physical jobs that are due for automation, such as semi-truck driving.

- Small manufacturing jobs that can be simply replaced by on-demand 3D printing.

- Technical jobs that routinely get automated, like how much search engines have supplanted librarians.

- Many service jobs are a fixed portion of the population, such as teaching, haircutting, and child care. However, the population of countries in the developed world are either flat, declining, or dependant upon immigration to maintain the population increase that modern economics relies upon so dearly.

- Many resource-based jobs are at risk to better energy efficiency, better labour efficiency, and automated landfill harvesting and reclaimation. Even argiculture is being turned upside down by cultured meat. With it, there goes shipping.

Finally, the work that NEEDS to be done such as environmental restoration, medical services, and the development of space technology, simply doesn't work well under an exchange-for-payment system because economically 'rational' people and corporations either won't or can't pay for it.

I would refer you to the 20 minute video "Humans Need Not Apply" for a compelling argument about how this is inevitable. My best resources for universal basic income and on post-scarcity are the novels Accelerando and Red Mars touch on these topics.