What to do when there are no more jobs

This video outlines the current path towards automation that civilization is currently marching towards.

The world economy is headed in the direction of more and more stuff being created automatically, more efficiently by less and less people. There is likely no way to stop it.  It's an inevitable evolutionary fate, built into the idea of genetics and memetics.

This automated future pretty well answers the question of where all of the stuff we need and want will come from.  It also answers the question of who will do all the work.  Automatic robots. Automation of some kind will likely be able to most of the types of work that anybody would ever need to be done. Unfortunately this completely upsets the fundamental sustenance that has kept most of humanity fed, clothed and housed for a few hundred years.

If everything can be automated, how the heck are we going to make any money to buy anything? I'm certain there are people who are currently unemployed, or underemployed who will simply have no prospect of a "job" in the future.  Whether that is due to globalization of the economy, or from automation, it doesn't really matter, there are simply going to be people for whom the economy in it's current state does not have any jobs.

Capitalism is capitalism, accountants and CEOs are extremely good at doing the math, finding all the corners to cut and making a profit with the least number of workers as is possible.  There is zero incentive for them to make any jobs, and all profits in the world to get rid of them.

So what are we going to do?

One answer that I've heard about is the idea of a basic income.  The state collects taxes, redistributes a certain amount to everybody so that everybody at least gets a basic life for free.  Our civilization is advanced enough to consider that idea very reasonable.  It's a very fair idea, and I bet some places will adopt it as it is a very straightforward solution to an unprecedented problem.

What I have been considering recently are other directions and paths forward when jobs become a thing that people can't do anymore.

Everybody could be a capitalist

So no jobs for people to do is a problem, but actually it's not the root cause of a problem.  The root cause may be an imbalance in capitalism.

More precisely, a very small portion of the population own the companies that make the profits. Some fraction of people actually own stock, and only a tiny segment of those people actually own amounts of stock that could keep them fed and clothed from the dividends.

That centralized ownership of companies is exactly where I think the problem lies. If the ownership of all the hugely profitable companies was actually somewhat distributed amongst the population, I can see a future where it isn't necessary to work, and it also isn't necessary to live off a basic income from the government.

As an illustrative example, take a taxi driver who owns his car.  Currently he can make the profit from driving people around everyday for a certain price.  Suppose one day a company releases a self driving car kit.  The taxi driver saves some money, buys it, sets it up in his car, presses the "taxi mode" button and sends the car off to do his old job.  The car goes off, does the same work as the driver, and the driver still gets paid.

The driver is now free to do whatever he wants to do with his free time, and still is making the money he was before.  He now has to manage his self-driving car, make sure that it is running in peak form, pay insurance,clean the car and kept up-to-date self-driving technology, but that is a feasible business.

The issue would arise in that a giant competitor might move into the market and squash the one-man, self-driving taxi shop.  That is pretty much how capitalism works.  In that case, it would make the most sense for the taxi driver to sell his self-driving car to a bigger company,and use that money to buy stock in the self-driving car company that provides the best return on investment.

And when I think about that idea right at this moment, it sort of sounds untenable.  Firstly people generally don't have money lying around to buy stock. Secondly, right now I can't make more money with my investments then I can with my work and time.  Thirdly, a huge portion of the population don't even have banking services, let alone an investment account.

This may all be true at the moment, but as the value of human work is decreased to a greater and greater extent, there will be a moment when being an owner of stock at a small scale will provide considerable more value than being a human worker for that company.  Furthermore, the prices of goods and services will decrease as human labour is taken out of business, meaning that we will require a smaller income to survive just as well as before, and maybe, just maybe we could survive off the work of robots that we own a part of.

An old problem

I think the biggest problem that I see with this plan is that currently stock market ownership is very much distributed in the same way as power was in earlier civilization, with nearly all the power allocated to a very small proportion.  Just like the kings and princes of the past, or CEOs and Bankers will be hard pressed to relinquish their share.

... but in a system of cryptographic money and business ownership there is actually a glimmer of feasibility.


Erucolindo said...

I believe that the situation you are describing is sometimes called a "progress trap".

Evolution is full of examples where the seeming inevitable progress becomes a dead end, with no solutions.

I'd argue the answer is not to find out how to live with automation, but instead to make a serious course correction. Technological progress used to be tied to "moral" (in being careful with that word) progress for thousands of years.

What if we looked at the end result of the robots and said no?

We've done it (hopefully) with the atomic bomb.

Kyler said...

I read the wikipedia description of a progress trap, so I don't have any sort of expertise in the subject, but the general feeling that I get is that all the examples are of individual instances of very strong evolutionary forces. Things that are endpoints or very difficult transitions of the evolutionary tree.

It's quite certain that there are going to be more very difficult situations in the future, and perhaps those situations will be calamitous, but I would find it exceptionally unlikely that a vast portion of the population would be able to agree on anything other then "let's not nuke each other".

I do think that my idea of more equal distribution of company ownership would be beneficial to a more sustainable planet because power wouldn't be as concentrate in such few greedy peoples hands.