We've spoken before in these pages about the growing threat of automation to many of the jobs we currently take for granted as 'human employment'. The trend's accelerating. A recent article claims that even China is moving rapidly towards automation of its factory environments, to cut back on rising wages and salaries and match the quality of production expected in overseas markets.
All this prompts the question: what will society be like when there's no longer work for everyone? Fred Reed takes a look at the problem.
Unemployment or just barely employment already is high and apparently endemic. The rate is higher than it looks because the government counts only those looking for work, not the substantial population living on welfare. College graduates increasingly cannot find work, or have to work as baristas in Starbucks and live at home with their parents.
Which raises a very real problem: What do we do when most people have no work, though they are both willing and able?
To date, the only way we know to distribute goods and services (houses, food, that sort of thing) is to have people work and pay them for it. It is an imperfect system, having been devised by humans, and pays a quarterback millions for throwing a pointy object to a downfield felon while a shock-trauma nurse can barely eat. Still, it has been reasonably serviceable.
But this works only when there are jobs to be had. When there are not, when the bright, eager, and conscientious young cannot find jobs, then what?
. . .
As long as the country does not fall into chaos, we are not going to allow large numbers of people to starve (despite the title of this column). A way today used to avoid this is simply to give the necessities of life to those who cannot work to earn them — for example, welfare illiterates for whom there is no economic need.
But we have no widely accepted way of providing the necessities to a new college graduate whose degree, whatever it may be, doesn’t get him a job. And since the only way we have of paying those who do not work is to tax those who do, we face the prospect of ever rising taxes on an ever shrinking base of employed. That isn’t going to fly.
It is utterly conceivable that within the life spans of today’s cradle occupants, only twenty percent, or ten, of those of working age will be employed. (Eighty years is a long time, technologically speaking, much longer than from the Wright brothers to a space station.) In this case, the wage-and-salary model is not going to work. What will?
There's more at the link. Thought-provoking and recommended reading.
Revolutions have started over lesser causes - and may do so again.