The Future of (No) Work – Part 2

Why a Universal Basic Income is Inevitable

The video below, Humans Need Not Apply by CGP Grey is and should be, disturbing to those who absorb its well-presented facts and arguments. As I said in Part 1 – The Future of Work, we are certainly not prepared for the looming decimation of wage work it shows us, and we need to be. I am somewhat comforted by my historical frame of reference. 

Wage work has only been intimately connected with our sense of self-worth for a short time. And this most notably in countries wherein the Protestant ethic sank deeply into the value structure and remained there even after its original religious rationale faded away. In Calvinist Geneva industriousness was simply one way and not the only way for the Elect to try and prove their worthiness to God. From the late eighteenth century, wages became a question of survival for the masses migrating to industrial towns.

As some of you know, in ancient Greece, the need to work for a living was a sign of misfortune — of life more like a slave’s than that of a free, self-actualizing citizen. The cardinal virtue was courage, and leisure was a blessing bestowed by the gods. Same in Rome, where loyalty to the State was cardinal and hard work receives not a single praiseworthy mention in any piece of Latin prose or poetry I have ever read in translation except with reference to a particularly valuable slave.  In medieval Catholic Europe, the highest accolades were reserved for the pious, the chivalrous, and those knights particularly adept at separating the heads from the shoulders of infidels and heretics. 

So, for much of human history, work and money were rather grimy necessities. But history is a closed book to most and cold comfort anyway. We cannot dismiss that the wage economy and the earning of money are the chief ways we now acquire our badges of distinction. We work harder or smarter, we earn more, and we differentiate ourselves by acquiring more stuff and, in particular, better stuff than Bob next door has. We will almost certainly be able to create the abundance we need in the Robo-economy and perhaps distribute it more fairly than we do now, through a universal income scheme. But that attitude adjustment is going to be very tricky. The human need to compete and win over others, the need to wave those badges of distinction is not going away when the jobs do — how will it manifest?  If we keep ignoring what this video shows us, the manifestations could get very nasty indeed, politically, and socially. But I don’t think it has to be this way. Indeed I propose the solution in my article about a Universal Basic Income.

Your thoughts? This subject is endlessly fascinating.