Before jumping to judgment, let me explain why I hope that jobs soon become obsolete. A trend is occurring that has never before happened in human history. First let’s go over some history, for all of human history, we have had to work to survive, just as all other animals also do. Whether that meant hunting for food, then tending to crops, then trading for goods / food and so on and so forth until we find ourselves in the present day working 9 to 5 and the variety of other jobs that are to be found, some lucky and more still unlucky.
During this trend, a mini trend has progressed simultaneously; the amount of man-hours worked against productivity or work done. Up until the industrial revolution, a span of some 6,900 years, this ratio stayed fairly constant. That is, the amount of man hours vs work done didn’t change, it was about 2000 calories of work per person per day. Also that is the average amount of energy a person needs daily to sustain themselves, that number wasn’t arrived at by coincidence. Of course, civilisation prospered in some cases and there was still progress.This gradual incline was due to slavery, a moral black mark in our history, and all those extra hands were able to carry out all that extra work such as building Rome and other cities of antiquity.
Then the industrial revolution happened in the late 19th century, and the ratio start positively increasing. That is, the same or less man hours constituted increased productivity or work done. This was of course due to the machines and industrial processes that we started creating; steam engines, coal plants, light bulbs and factories that allowed us to work at the same output, but with improved effectiveness / efficiency. This trend, the same amount of man-hours and improved productivity is responsible for everything we have today. Technology started replacing human labour and this trend has continued to this day allowing us to have that little thing called comfort, and unhindered it will continue to progress further; we went from manual labour farming with horse-drawn ploughs to tractors that could allow 1 farmer to do the work of 10 men in a fraction of the time as just one example.
This positive increase (or reversing depending on the way you look at it) has an unintended consequence. People have been losing their jobs for the past 130 odd years as machines have replaced their profession. From the elevator man, to the soot shoveler on coal trains, to auto-workers et al. We are going through an epoch unseen before in human history. We are in the midst of transitioning from a manual labour society (circa 1850), to an increasingly machine-operated society today. We have still not passed all the way through, because as is plainly obvious we still have billions of people working, and many of them struggling to make a living, but it is undeniable.
The reasons for the increasing mechanization in society are simple. It costs much less to have a machine do a persons work. There is no health insurance bills, sick leave, vacation days and various other factors that influence productivity. The main rationale used to replace a person is to improve a company’s profit margin and time to market, the first of which is a very important factor in the progression of free market societies, only when people and companies have excess capital, or savings can new technologies, processes, products be created, used and consumed to advance the human race. In the past however, as people have become displaced from one profession, they have moved to other professions that could not be automated or that were created as new technologies were created. In the 20th century, as manufacturing jobs starting becoming replaced, then auto-workers et al, these persons moved en masse into the services sector. For the last 50 odd years, the services sector has exploded, most notable in the USA, but also in much of the developing world. However, the services sector is starting to bloat, and it simply cannot absorb the mass numbers anymore. Parallel to this, the wheels seem to be coming off the major world economies, and millions of jobs have been lost since the global financial crisis occurred in 2008. This is putting the squeeze to companies who now see automation as a way to reduce costs and thus improve profit margins.
It’s actually quite ironic, the reasons for the increasing mechanisation of manual labour are because it is cost-effective compared to a living breathing person. The irony in this is that as more and more people are laid off, replaced by machines, the less products in the long run the company can sell. For a period of time, the company might improve its profit margins as the rest of society hasn’t yet succumbed to the transitionary period. But eventually, as more and more of society’s jobs are automated, and eventually it will happen. All this automation removes the employees as consumers from the market, and in a free market, employees and consumers are interchangeable, they are both one and the same. These former employees will no longer have the earnings to buy these increasingly mechanised products or services. Thus, we will reach a point where we can produce almost everything via automation and there will be no one to buy them. To buy, you must first earn.
What is going to happen to the millions of factory workers when 3D printing becomes affordable and the plants start closing down? To miners when nanotechnology is finalised and we can turn garbage into food, metals and anything we can dream of to build anything we can imagine? Or to farmers when we start growing our food underground in luminescent rooms allowing good to grow at a fraction of the time needed above ground, and then to the fertilizer / pesticide companies whom we will have no more use of as we move our food production underground out of the reach of insects and no longer in need of soil, but a nutrient rich water feed instead. These are all questions we need to be answering now instead of when the time comes.
On the flip side, the costs of many services and products will continue dropping until [hopefully] they hit zero. Once we are almost to that point, we as a species will have a choice to make. Transition to a resource based economy where people are simply given what they need to survive, and perhaps more at no cost since everything can be produced for free or very close to it. Or, and in my opinion the more likely choice, the upper echelon who are narrowly short-sighted to their own benefit invent some other form of currency and keep the charade going convincing us that it is a necessary function of society to have government and classes to function. Think of the movie ‘In Time’, and you will get an idea. (Youtube Link)
Transitions are always painful, we as a species don’t deal well with change. That’s why we end up in societal systems far longer than we should, that’s why history repeats itself with dictators, tyrants, monarchies, and republics of the people which always end up serving the state first, the people maybe, later with war after war needlessly conducted to the detriment of the people. Much easier to be fooled in going back to the past instead of advancing into the unknown. However, this time we have an alternative, once we arrive at that critical point in time, we will have the ability to free everyone from the confines of manual labour and mindless work (mindless work, not work such as engineering, art and other such things that require human creativity) and set everyone free. We will be able to truly provide everyone on this sweet little blue planet with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and not just have them as words on paper.
I can’t wait for this day to happen and that we make the right choice, and I hope the transition is quick. There is a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering in this world today, and I expect that unfortunately there will be much more before this transition is over, and more still if we collectively make the wrong choice, However, the pain of this transition done right, will be much less than the pain of stopping, or rolling back the wheels of the future.
Below is an article written by CNN on which I have based this blog post. We differ on the end result and perhaps some of the middle ground, but not in the monumental change that is to come. Money will be a thing of the past one day soon, and we will have to come up with a more equitable and less wasteful way of distributing goods and food around the planet. Here is to the future, and to the abolishment of human suffering once and for all. We can only dream for now, but the future is fast upon us. Without knowledge, wisdom and a steady resolve, we can’t push into the future for there will always be those holding us back.