The Threat of a Jobless World

The Threat of a Jobless World

People are seriously worried. I’ve been in a number of conversations recently where people are very worried about our coming era of automation where fewer and fewer jobs will be left for people to do.

A few months ago I predicted that over 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030. With technologies like driverless cars, robotic assembly lines, and teacherless schools on the horizon, the handwriting is on the wall and people are getting nervous.

At the same time, our best thinkers don’t seem to have good answers for what comes next. Our best colleges are training students for jobs that will no longer exist. Our business leaders are myopically focused on what’s best for them. They have an obligation to hire the fewest number of people they can get away with, and to trim staff and expenses wherever possible. And politicians don’t know what to think because there are no lobbyists for the future unemployed.

In the past, the vast majority of our layoffs were caused by economic downturns. As we move into the future, the tide will shift, and the majority of our layoffs will be caused by automation and technology.

With all the chaos and uncertainty of a workerless world looming, I’d like to step you through some of the reasons why it will not be as bad as the doomsayers are predicting.

Automation still requires some human interaction.

Our Human-Based World

Let me first reiterate this key point. In the past, the vast majority of our layoffs were caused by economic downturns. As we move into the future, the tide will shift, and the majority of our layoffs will be caused by automation and technology.

This is an important factor to understand because as this happens, our social structures will begin to operate with a different set of rules.

We still live in a human-based world. People create our economy. Without people there is no market for goods, no market for raw materials, no market for energy, communications, or medical services. Without people there is no economy.

If you can imagine a world with only one person, there is no economy because there is no one to trade with. In a world with two people, there is a very limited economy resulting from the trading back and forth between the two.

So is the economy in a world with 100 people 50 times more than the world of 2? Actually it’s exponentially greater because of all the options for trading back and forth.

Theoretically, a world with 9 billion people in it will be far greater than one with 6 billion. The Internet is dramatically improving our trade channels, and as a result, improving our economies.

The Three Laws of Automation Parity

As we think about the growing number of machines in our lives, we need to consider how our relationship with them will morph and change.

  • Machines that are too intrusive, too demanding, or too annoying will never be accepted.
  • Machines need people more than we need them. A machine without users is like a Transformers movie without an audience.
  • People can live without machines, but machines cannot live without people.

Yes, there are many scary sci-fi movies where the machines somehow gain magical human-like qualities and start killing humans. But in the real world, where we already have so many problems that we don’t have to fabricate new ones, machines are still very much dependent upon humans.

The automations that we see eliminating jobs today, are all being developed “by humans for humans.” Their primary purpose is for personal gain.

Automation, in many cases, will replace money as the tool of choice for our power elite.

In much the same way that people use weapons to destroy other people, automation and machines in the wrong hands can be a very destructive force.

It’s easy to start viewing automation as a silent killer, much like an Ebola virus for jobs. But in the end, there are always humans directing the effort, and humans benefiting from the destruction.

Once we cut through the slight-of-hand misdirects, we begin to see the real wizard behind the curtain.

Knowing that it’s nothing more than a human vs. human game, we can begin to see the limitations of our own actions. For this reason I’ve created the “Three Laws of Automation Parity” to help guide our thinking about this future threat.

NOTE: Since this is my first discussion on this topic, I’m very likely missing key points. I would invite you to let me know where I'm off base and add to this conversation below.

1.) The Law of Human-Automation Equilibrium

As we move into a future dominated by automation and technology, it’s important to understand that people still drive the economy. If people become unemployed and lose their income, they also lose their purchasing power. And when large numbers of consumers lose their ability to consume, the whole economy suffers.

What’s bad for the economy is also bad for the controllers of automation.

Whenever the proper balance between humans and automation drifts too far into the automation camp, an economic backlash will occur.

Automation is a tool of the power elite, and the number of people who are controlled by it is a key ingredient of the power formula.

As an example, people who control the cellphone industry are far more powerful if a billion people are using their devices, than if only a million are. Consequently, when people can no longer afford their phones, or don’t like the devices, it directly affects their sense of power.

Yes, certain people are willing to win at any cost. For them, the carnage and destruction that follows is easily dismissed with comments like “I can’t help it if they were too stupid to hang on to their job.”

However, even the most ruthless have empathetic family members. And one of their greatest fears is often having people despise them after they’re dead. Their legacy is hugely important, and even though they want desperately to win, they want to leave on a positive note.

2.) The Law of Diminishing Returns

Humans are still capable of making a wide range of complicated decisions on an ongoing basis. Even though we are able to automate down to a certain level, it becomes prohibitively complex and expensive to automate past a certain level.

The simple task of cleaning involves tens of thousands of nuanced decisions to formulate an appropriate response. As an example, walking in to clean your grandparent’s attic, every object has an emotional value that is used by you to sort, organize, and discard the objects in front of you.

The complexity of this type of decision-making is not easily transmitted to an emotionless machine. Even if this technology could be developed, it would likely not be used because it interferes with a critical component of our humanity.

Another important example is in the field of healthcare. Human to human touch is not easily replicated. We like being around others, and when someone is hurt or injured, the need for human interaction increases

Yes, we will automate many aspects of the field of healthcare. But we will find it prohibitively expensive and complex to automate past a certain point.

The Law of Diminishing Returns is the barrier we, as humans, will naturally resist crossing for reasons we can’t always explain.

3.) The Law of Overestimating Capabilities

Seven years after the Wright Brother’s inaugural flight in 1903, Waldo Waterman built the first flying car. It was a logical extension of the airplane and people could instantly see the efficiencies that could be gained with a flying car. Now, 102 years later, we have little more than museum pieces to show for our flying car efforts.

In 1947 Dennis Gabor invented holography, a technology that he would later receive the Nobel Prize for in 1971. We are now celebrating the 65th anniversary of a technology that never materialized in the way he imagined it.

In 1950, computer visionary Alan Turing imagined a world where computers could think and respond like humans. Now, 62 years later, we have yet to pass his infamous “Turing Test.”

According to Amara’s Law, "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." And the long run is often times very very long.

It’s easy for us to see a new technology in a movie and extrapolate the speed of adoption and the impact it will have. But one of our biggest mistakes is over simplifying the process for getting there.

Final Thoughts

Every problem creates an opportunity and as the numbers of unemployed rise, this too becomes another entrepreneurial opportunity.

We are entering an unprecedented era where all of the rules are about to change. We won’t be able to trust our instincts or many of the things we’ve traditionally been able to count on.

Economists will all be scratching their collective heads wondering why our economy is acting so weird. But then again, they scratch their heads when everything is normal and wonder why our economy is acting so normal.

Over the coming decades we will indeed see many jobs go away, and it will be up to up to devise better systems for rapid job creation.

Sometimes it takes reaching a higher pain threshold before we are willing to make the changes necessary. Look for many of these pain thresholds to peak in the near future as we dip our toes in our next era for humanity. That's when things will get very interesting.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything

.

.

 

35 Responses

  1. Exciting new territory here, the interface between man and machine in the broader socio-economic marketplace. This excellent introduction invites the following comments on the three points discussed:
    1. The equilibrium is unbalanced due to the fact that money is more highly valued than people. So 150 men sit while 1 farm combine works in the field.
    2. Automation vs. non-automation. Assembling line repetitive jobs will be done as they have been from the beginning – robotically – now without people as the robots. Surgeons jobs are secure however. And toilet cleaners as well.
    The problem unaddressed underlying this topic is that man has uprooted himself from his natural environment. He will continue to suffer to the extent that he has done this – severed his roots to his host planet.
    3. Overestimation of capabilities – this is clearly seen in vaccines. From a mistaken foundation, i.e., antibody production, an industry has grown to such proportion and economic and therefore political influence in Congress that everyone’s health and welfare is threatened with extermination. The immune system is cell-driven and does not utilize antibodies until well after the ‘fight’ is over. Antibodies do not protect the body, cells do. This flawed technology is a prime example of overestimation of capability – the only capability that has not been grossly exceeded in the entire vaccine industry is the greed for profit at all costs. It is far more likely that the plague that decimates humanity will be caused rather than prevented by vaccines.
    The end of the world for you may come with just one more toxic dose of whatever you think you might die without taking.
    Kind of zen in a way …
    Jeff Prystupa

  2. Tom,
    I keep reminding you that change will never, ever again be as SLOW as it is today. Along with accelerating pain thresholds is evolution of humanity and its smart machines. To me, we humans need more collaboration among our own specie. Old fashioned brainstorming, for instance, produces many more ideas than one or two people will.
    … I facilitate team brainstorming and then apply methods to prioritize the results. And one brainstorming is never enough. Any topic is complex. We need to see the characteristics of that complexity and deal with all of it.
    For example: Strategize. Strategizing is meaningless without goals as long term results we want to achieve. Indeed, to be effective, we need goals, objectives, strategies, plans and finally actions.
    … I’m nearing a launch of my innovation toolkit that delivers an entire business in strategy for teams inside and entrepreneurs doing startups.
    Best,
    Gary

  3. Not quite the “Turing Test” but rather impressive indeed:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHkhp6BwnGo

    And btw regarding the concerns/”threats” of a jobless economy – why not think out of the box to solve that?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KphWsnhZ4Ag

  4. Thanks Thomas,
    Nicely articulated. However, there is too much of gap here between “2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030″ and socio-economic “Three Laws of Automation Parity.”

    I understand your views on why 2 billion will be lost, but our economy is so big that personal gain will trump societal benefits for a very long time. That’s why 2 billion jobs will disappear.

    The gap I refer to is which industries and professions will rise during this period where between now and 2030. Are you saying 2 billion jobs will be lost or changed by 2030?

  5. Tom

    I certainly agree that pain produces solutions.

    Automation creates wealth, and it concentrates it into those with equity. However, employment is how 99% of the world’s population acquires its wealth. More and more wealth for the world overall, but fewer and fewer jobs for the many.

    I’m reminded of 1848. So many forces exploding at the same time. Population increases put pressure on agriculture and land use, while there were massive crop failures. Textile manufacturing undercut craftsman and broke up the middle class guilds. The poor flooded cities looking for work, and they found 14 hour days and slums. Food prices jumped, workers spent 1/2 their salaries on food, demand drop for other goods, and unemployment rose. New idea fueled movements: democracy, socialism, nationalism, and liberalism. Seven European governments fell in 1848, some multiple times to different movements and forces.

    On the other side was the end of feudalism, fewer autocracies, more democracy and social programs.

    Today, we are on some sort of unsustainable path with corporations being people, where $ is free speech, the wealthy moving more and more money into tax havens, while profession and industries churning faster and faster, stirred by relentless innovation.

    I’m all for innovation, automation, global trade, and creative destruction, and I’m against giving the vote to robots :-).

    I don’t think anyone has a clue where this is all going or what on the other side.

    If you look back in history, futurists are good at predicting technology and terrible at predicting social and political change. Maybe robots will do better…

  6. admin

    Dave,

    Great feedback, and just to let you know, I do still intend to cover your topic soon.

    What I’m saying is that 2 billion jobs will go away, and many of them will morph into other professions. But not all of them. It’s hard to predict the net loss, but it will be substantial.

    Our primary focus should be on developing a rapid job creation engine unlike anything of the past. It needs to be a system capable of cranking out thousands of jobs a day. And in the case of China, India, and Africa, 10s of thousands of jobs a day.

    Tom

  7. admin

    Michael,

    This is Tom’s robot writing back, and I take offense by you wanting to deny me the right to vote. The world would be a far better place if politicians were replaced by robots, but you already knew that.

    In fact, when it comes to corporate executives, most mistresses are already cyborgs, and when it comes to economists, they’re all from a different plant, but no one knows which one. They just made up the profession to give them legitimacy.

    Now, press 1 to go back to the start of this message, or press 2 to proceed to the endless loop that will continue playing long past the day that you die.

    Long live the machines,

    Tom’s Robot

  8. Pankaj

    Tom,
    As you state, the 2 billion low-skilled jobs loss would need the creation of some equivalent number of lower skilled jobs. Unfortunately most, if not all, low skilled jobs are potentially robotizable. BTW, human greed seems to have no bounds; with very few exceptions, legacy seems not be a concern.

    Unlike the past, the current changes are happening in a globalized world with few, if any, defined norms, such as in capital flows and trade. Our system boundaries are no longer isolated nations or a small block of nations. Thus, it would appear that a solution would require both social and nationalism evolution.

    Progress is like water it always finds a way to move.

    On a lighter note, it would appear that many of our brethren would easily satisfy the “Turing test.”

    Pankaj

  9. Gary Mazz

    Hi Tom, Interesting article and very pertinent to the current trends in globalization. Emergent countries will not experience middle class capitalization that occurred in the industrializing west of the mid 1800s.

    This will lead to the further stratify economic classes and lead to a wealthier elite, while creating a world economy of poorly compensated workers.

    In the west, we will see a glut in labor allowing companies to drive down wages and engage in other exploitative employment practices.

    We already see the potential of a dystopian future marked by the return of subsidized housing and food markets by corporation’s employees. Restaurant chains now pay employees via deposits to private debit cards owned by the companies. We are slowly returning to the “company stores” and influencing the employee by controlling access to an employee’s earnings. Companies can disable the employee’s debit cards at their discretion. The debit card transaction is the vehicle that bridges the companies’ currency to the traditional economy. Labor laws set the exchange rates and accounting.

    Its already illegal to publicly protest laws and policies in the presence federally elected officials and individuals protected by the US secret service without prior permission. BTW, there is no form or other vehicle to request permission.

    With the supreme court ruling assigning corporations with the rights of individuals, we have to ask the question ‘Will corporation be able to exercise “Stand My Ground” laws to justifiably shoot down protesters and strikers ?

    Are we waiting to return to another 1892 Frick/Carnegie/Pinckerton to kill strikers looking for adequate wages to buy food and medical care for their children ?

    One topic, disappointingly missing from you article, is the impact of capital on economic systems, labor and demand.

    The reality expressed in the article assumes a currency based economic system similar to the one we have today, founded on accumulating fixed assets.

    In the near term, capital backed currency will have a far greater affect on the jobs market than automation. Capital poor currencies with less ‘purchasing power’ decreases the usefulness of the currency. Joblessness further isolates the population from currency and it backed capital, further eroding the usefulness of the currency in an economy.

    Economies based on currencies will fail and continue to fail as currency engagement shrinks and backing capital becomes increasing dilute.

    We may find radicalized innovation and opportunity for currency change in social networks. We already see Google, FB and others developing their own virtual currencies. FB and Bizzard Entertainment can exchange their virtual currencies with paypal, a bridge into traditional economies. Exchange rates are unregulated and are at the discretion of the companies.

    food for thought without robots or political

  10. David Lea

    I am sure many appreciate your input, as too few of us think seriously about the future.
    We are for sure in for a financial collapse, which will dominate the near future – screwed up markets with no job growth before it happens (like now), and a variable outcome afterwards, depending on how bad things get (Do the lights go out?) before a new money system comes into use. Overspending politicians are killing jobs much faster than machines ever will. In 10 years time, we may have reverted to subsistence agriculture and home industries by hundreds of millions of jobless city dwellers, or we could be looking at a brighter future where technology takes the lead. Certainly 2 billion jobless will not repay loans that are now 4 or 5 times GDP but will get much bigger if the current money systems survive another 20 years. We live in interesting times, as this is one of those great turning points in history.

  11. Spikosauropod

    Great article Tom. You have a very realistic view of jobs and the economy.

    On Ray Kurzweil’s forum, some of us started making lists of the things cell phones have replaced. The lists were surprisingly long. This observation leads to an important realization about the relationship between technology and personal income. Some technologies are so pervasive in their effect that they eliminate whole arrays of need at very little expense. Soon, we will have private power sources, private means of production, and forms of entertainment that virtually take individuals out of the market. You have discussed many of these emerging technologies on your site. A person sitting in a wilderness with a solar generator, a 3D printer, a robot that keeps everything in working order (possibly including itself) and a VR set that communicates via satellite, wouldn’t need money for anything except raw materials, taxes and a modest data fee. I think an argument could be made that automation will diminish our need for income faster than it diminishes our prospects for it.

    I visualize a future where no one needs to work more than a couple of hours per week and entrepreneurs who want work to be done will be in a constant search to find people willing to do it. Huge space transports will be built by robots working in space using materials mined from asteroids; the progenitors of these projects will scour the earth for individuals not too complacent to populate an outbound mission. New cities will be built, some of them in space. The sponsors of these cities will find themselves urging arrivals to procreate. While many visualize a future where populations are a burden herded like cattle, I have good reason to believe that humans will be a scarce and coveted resource.

    I speak partly from personal experience. I live in a family of gainfully employed professionals of whom very few have procreated or have any immediate plans to do so. I have made the same observation about most of the people I work with and live around. Nevertheless, there is much statistical data to support this anecdotal observation.

  12. Gary Mazz

    @Spikosauropod: Dystopia is one “real” outcome for a potential future for humanity. Automation coupled with specializations will eventually remove people from the role of supply chain tasks, mainly, design, assembly packaging and distribution. Automation will eliminate many of our current tasks, leaving only 15% of current employment opportunities.

    The question becomes “what do you with 6 billion unemployed people with an economic system created to limit production ?”.

    Advanced automation will cause radical transformation of the labor markets, as it has done in the past. Initially a wind fall for economies, automation weakens the currency by alienating vast number of the population.

    Utopian futures of flying cars and cities floating around in space is a dream of people with excess idle capital. This utopian reality hoping to be based on economies and currencies that permit consolidation of (idle) wealth, which limits production, are simply not viable.

    Currently in the US only about 30% of people need to be employed. Automation and population growth will decrease the number of participating labor force. As world population increase, less people per-capita will be engaged in employment. This will greatly limit availability of critical products and services which will result in undermining social and political infrastructures needed to build the utopian future.

    Trends in currency engagement compounded by wealth permitted to accumulate outside currency systems, we will create a climate promoting radical shifts in populations along with political and social priorities.

    In the past, the advent of low cost and pervasive communications (the printing press) influenced social and political ideals, it helped fuel the french revolution and the protestant (protest-ant) reformation. We already see mobile communications directing “flash protests” in the middle east and the west.

    As the earth’s climate, social and economic systems transition, it will impact the number of people through fertility levels, “to term” birth rates, health and availability of food. But if history and human behavior once again proves itself consistent, the only scarce humans will be the wealthy and ruling elite. I also doubt they will be coveted, that is except for being the preferred pinata.

    As for settling “Cities in Space”, I would draw from history. In the expansion of the “civilized world” into the west, the US government did not have to “scour” anything to find people to settle there despite lawlessness, deserts, floods, droughts and native tribes. In times of scare and limited resources, expansionism and territorialism are behavioral priorities already built into to our species.

  13. Spikosauropod

    Gary Mazz:

    Time will validate one opinion or another. Over the next two decades we will either see history repeat itself or we will see something completely unprecedented emerge. In my opinion unprecedented changes will be accompanied by unprecedented consequences, but we will just have to wait and see.

  14. Gary Mazz

    Time will tell… Do we sit back and enjoy the show ? Or do we take an active role and seed the foundations of change ?

    :)

  15. Spikosauropod

    I have already taken an active role. I support the Tea Party, I always vote Republican and I sent money to the Romney campaign. A strong economy is our best guarantor of a positive outcome.

  16. We are the future, and it’s here now. I think that many of the people who are looking for work, may be interested in volunteer projects to be involved with something cool, until they are hired again. Machines don’t run themselves, and will always need lot’s of maintenance and attention to keep em running, so we will see more and more people who are learning to use advanced machines to do work. Lot’s of service jobs out there, and more to come. Time to develop the skills needed to operate advanced machines, and to become an integral part of developing the future. These are the days, and it’s awesome.
    Peace, Josh K.

  17. Gary Mazz

    Hmmm Republican, Romney strong economy ? Only for the elitists. Accumulation and consolidation of wealth IS the problem in the world economy. Disparities in capital doesn’t create jobs, it eliminates them. Capital doesn’t create production, it halts it. Try an economics 100 class before making a decision on who to support..

    A strong economy means the value of labor is high in comparison to the cost of goods. This is a glut of wealth in a society, the utopian future. Unfortunately, there are more people than minimum wealth required to support a modern standard of living. The population is out pacing new wealth. We, as a global economy, are becoming poorer every day. The USD is worth 1/50th of its value in 1970.

    @Josh basically has the correct idea… labor/work builds value. However, as automation evolves machines will become self-healing. Service jobs will also diminish. There will be less need for people in the production side of the supply chain..

    Economic systems based on the disparity of wealth has reached its limit. Taking currency off standards only hid the problem for 40 years and left us with vast accumulations of debt.

    If you eliminate currency and wealth, markets have no limits on production and innovation. We must ensure that there are adequate materials to prevent shortages.

    The transition to a wealth-less society will be painful. It already started. The Tea Party, selling fear and supporting exploitative corporate practices will only drive us to a dystopian future, a life a servitude, peasantry and slavery.

  18. Spikosauropod

    Try an economics 100 class before making a decision? Are we down to name-calling now?

    Rather than respond in kind, I will merely reiterate my suggestion: wait and see. I claim time as my best reference.

  19. Gary Mazz

    Ahh that slipped by… forgot to finish those two thoughts before hitting submit. By the time you pointed it out, well it was too late. Did not how to edit or delete. :(

    I was intending to reference a good online eco100 course explaining demand controls through pricing and capital as a control for labor… Still can’t find the link to the course, it was very, very good, I wish I could find the link.

    What I meant to say… “I don’t personally subscribe to institutionalized political doctrines, and would take care to evaluate the influences, methods, outcomes and motivations before making a decision on who to support. Like movies behind the scenes, politics is never what it seems. As a litmus test: ‘if the person you’re supporting doesn’t take your phone calls, you are not their priority.'”

  20. Spikosauropod

    As I was buying a latte today, I realized that the service sector will nearly always provide some employment. People don’t want their coffee prepared by machines.

    There may soon be openings in the service sector that no one has ever considered.

    The human element may come to be so valued that there is virtually no loss of employment. There may be a tremendous surge in live performances, guided tours, personal instruction, and handmade items.

    As usual, our fear may be blinding us to new prospects.

  21. Gary Mazz

    This is a good conversation… and has been discussed several times, I’m not sure if Tom has covered it in a blog or presentation, we’ve definitely discussed it.

    A society without wealth is freed from the constraints of economy. This means all products and services are free, along with education.

    Since 1950, the population in the US has outpaced jobs by 1% each year. Its projected after 2015 there will be a reduction in work force engagement past 2050.

    As products and production technologies mature, high cost people are replaced with automation reducing the cost of products. Wealth distribution and limited investment in highly dexterous automation continues to fuel the demand for human labor filling menial jobs.

    Remove the wealth economy and people can be replaced with automation for many production tasks. Concentrating wealth away from innovation is preventing the advancement of technologies and society as a whole.

    Once people are no longer enslaved by servicing debt and denied opportunity by financial barriers can we mature as a civilization. Remove the artificial financial obstacles and people will valued for their competencies and not factory labor as a slave to debt.

    Only some are blinded by fear, some realize its just a diversion to return us to a ruling elite and feudal serfdom.

  22. admin

    Gary,

    I’ve been following the conversation between you and Scott with a great deal of interest.

    While I can understand the advantages of a moneyless society, I have great difficulty imagining what a transition would look like as we move from here to there. Personally I can’t conceive of a transition like that that wouldn’t cripple virtually every government and all of the systems we currently have in place. It would require radically new social cultures to immerge almost instantaneously.

    Look closely at the paper I wrote on “The Curse of Infrastructure.” Our monetary systems are a form of infrastructure, and in my mind, the most difficult of all to change.

    I may be wrong, but I can’t conceive of a realistic scenario where we all go moneyless.

    Tom

  23. Spikosauropod

    Gary:
    “Once people are no longer enslaved by servicing debt and denied opportunity by financial barriers can we mature as a civilization. Remove the artificial financial obstacles and people will valued for their competencies and not factory labor as a slave to debt.”

    Honestly, that sounds like a line from the film _In Time_. It is as if there really were concrete roadblocks separating “financial” zones. It is as if people literally wore their personal worth on their cuff and everyone knew them only for their purchasing power. Are there still people who owe their soul to the company sto’? Can’t they stand up, say, “I don’t like this town any more”, and walk away?

    I realize we have our difference of opinion about where we are going, but I don’t understand why we see the world so differently now. Do you live in the United States? If not, where do you live?

  24. Gary Mazz

    Hi Tom,

    Great article on “sacred cows” of infrastructure. I can say that was one of the first articles I really enjoyed in a long time.

    To address your question about the transition to a moneyless society, well its already occurring. You brought up the emergence of alternative currencies in your presentation at the Colorado Capital Congress. One such currency is “volunteer hours”. (there is huge discrepancy in value per volunteer hour) Organizations allow volunteer to redeem hours for good and services. Many times volunteers are compensated with meals and other perks for their efforts. Local and Federal tax laws limit the scope of the compensation.

    Even though we are transitioning currencies, we have not addressed the fundamental premise, the “sacred cow”, of our economic system. We need to eliminate the drawbacks caused by the impact of disparities of wealth across populations.

    Its the disparities in wealth that create barriers isolating labor from activities that benefit society.

    Governments engaged with traditional currencies are all feeling the economic stress, infrastructure and services have been dialed back to align with employment budgets.

    At the same time governments are struggling with austerity, we have nearly 20% of the population operating below the poverty level, accruing huge debt and receiving state assistance.

    One practical scenario:
    If unemployed work force were allowed to volunteer their time to activities that benefit society and they could redeem their time for basic food goods and medical service, it would offload a labor burden. The goods and service can be sourced from charitable organizations donated by the private sector. In this model, ALL volunteer time is of equal value and on par with middle class labor irrespective of activity.

    This model can be extended to community health care, government, education and infrastructure. In many cases the activities infrastructures are already in place, but they are disguised as grant programs and charitable donations that align with current tax laws.

    This scenario is the first step to a democratized economy. In a democratized economy, all labor has the same social value. Markets unbound by limited capital can operate at full capacity creating surpluses of products and services. As technology and automation are unencumbered by investment, the number of people required in manufacturing will be reduced to 5% of the population and still maintain a surplus. People will be allowed to pursue their interests.

    We aren’t going to change people. Some will want more than others. In this case, the person wanting more can allow his community to vote on what they think he deserves.

    The challenge will be the gap between democratized economies and capital backed economies. We can draw from history, the Russian revolution and the Cultural revolution where the economies became isolated from the rest of the world. Although neither were democratized economies.

    For any democratized economy to occur in earnest, the tax laws need to change or more unfortunate, a restart must occur due to economic collapse.

  25. Gary Mazz

    Hi Tom,

    Great article on “sacred cows” of infrastructure. I can say that was one of the first articles I really enjoyed in a long time.

    To address your question about the transition to a moneyless society, well its already occurring. You brought up the emergence of alternative currencies in your presentation at the Colorado Capital Congress. One such currency is “volunteer hours”. (there is huge discrepancy in value per volunteer hour) Organizations allow volunteer to redeem hours for good and services. Many times volunteers are compensated with meals and other perks for their efforts. Local and Federal tax laws limit the scope of the compensation.

    Even though we are transitioning currencies, we have not addressed the fundamental premise, the “sacred cow”, of our economic system. We need to eliminate the drawbacks caused by the impact of disparities of wealth across populations.

    Its the disparities in wealth that create barriers isolating labor from activities that benefit society.

    Governments engaged with traditional currencies are all feeling the economic stress, infrastructure and services have been dialed back to align with employment budgets.

    At the same time governments are struggling with austerity, we have nearly 20% of the population operating below the poverty level, accruing huge debt and receiving state assistance.

    One practical scenario:
    If unemployed work force were allowed to volunteer their time to activities that benefit society and they could redeem their time for basic food goods and medical service, it would offload a labor burden. The goods and service can be sourced from charitable organizations donated by the private sector. In this model, ALL volunteer time is of equal value and on par with middle class labor irrespective of activity.

    This model can be extended to community health care, government, education and infrastructure. In many cases the activities infrastructures are already in place, but they are disguised as grant programs and charitable donations that align with current tax laws.

    This scenario is the first step to a democratized economy. In a democratized economy, all labor has the same social value. Markets unbound by limited capital can operate at full capacity creating surpluses of products and services. As technology and automation are unencumbered by investment, the number of people required in manufacturing will be reduced to 5% of the population and still maintain a surplus. People will be allowed to pursue their interests.

    We aren’t going to change people. Some will want more than others. In this case, the person wanting more can allow his community to vote on what they think he deserves.

    The challenge will be the gap between democratized economies and capital backed economies. We can draw from history, the Russian revolution and the Cultural revolution where the economies became isolated from the rest of the world. Although neither were democratized economies.

    For any democratized economy to occur in earnest, the tax laws need to change or more unfortunate, a restart must occur due to economic collapse.

  26. Spikosauropod

    Gary Mazz:
    “This scenario is the first step to a democratized economy. In a democratized economy, all labor has the same social value. Markets unbound by limited capital can operate at full capacity creating surpluses of products and services. As technology and automation are unencumbered by investment, the number of people required in manufacturing will be reduced to 5% of the population and still maintain a surplus. People will be allowed to pursue their interests.
    We aren’t going to change people. Some will want more than others. In this case, the person wanting more can allow his community to vote on what they think he deserves.”

    I think I understand you now. It is an interresting approach.

  27. Spikosauropod

    My prognostication is based on a handful of simple observations:

    1. Robot labor is viable.
    2. 3D printing and chemical synthesis are viable.
    3. Space elevators are viable.
    4. Asteroids like Ceres have abundant water and elements.
    5. The Earth’s population will peak at 10 billion.
    6. People are not sociopaths.
    7. Climate change will be outpaced by technological advancement.
    8. Solar power is abundant in the main asteroid belt.

    Robots working in space will quickly manufacture more robots and begin to assemble space elevators. These will be easy to lower from orbit. Cargo moving down will counterbalance humans moving up. Very quickly, humans will commence a mass migration into space and out of the solar system.

  28. admin

    Scott,

    A great book that will help you connect the dots is “Abundance” by Pete Diamandis. He echos many of your same points.

    Tom

  29. Spikosauropod

    Thanks Tom, I have heard of that book and considered reading it. I am off to Amazon.com…

  30. Thomas Martin

    Hi Thomas, great article. Thanks. Just some thoughts.

    Automation is a very old trend. Technological advances enable automation of more and more domains. As long it freed humans from back-breaking tasks like lifting stones this was good. It is not so good if automation takes jobs away that people actually want to do. But it will continue to happen as long as companies have incentives to replace labor with capital. It’s a regulatory issue.

    Another factor contributing to the loss of labour is the drive for more productivity and customer self-service: ATMs, travel bookings, 3d printing. No need for employees to do it: give it to the customer to sort out.

    People work to earn income, not necessarily because they want to. If people do not have to work and do things they can/want to do in optimal usage of their talent then this is a good thing: Caring for children and elderly, arts, culture etc. If only we can fix the income issue….

    In Germany this is being discussed since a while as Germany experienced ever increasing levels of unemployment (and age) which challenged the social welfare system based on unemployment insurance. Instead, a base salary for everybody was discussed. Everybody will get that. If you want more, you have to work but the government will provide for the basics.

    Thomas

  31. Jason S

    Interesting post, I think Technological Unemployment (along with unsustainable debt) will be the undoing of our current economic system. It’s very difficult for anyone to peer into the future about what type of system will emerge in the place of global capitalism.

    My own opinion on the matter is that the ability to provide the basics for all will result in the basics being provided. Hopefully, automation will result in humans taking a more creative role in the world.

    The current economic system will collapse sooner or later, we can embrace the change now or destroy our planet trying to maintain infinite growth on a finite planet.

  32. What might an economic system look like with no “jobs?”
    two words…star trek

  33. admin

    Easy to say that Star Trek is the answer, but they gloss over far too many details to provide much of an answer.

    Someone needs to write the definitive master plan for the moneyless, jobless societies created on Star Trek. I would love to know how and why it works.

    Tom

  34. Farida

    Its sounds cool to talk about future events as though they will actually happen. Our current voting system is corrupt, especially after the Al Gore vs Bush elections. I would never trust online voting to hackers from the CIA. It would never be safe to have a driverless car. 2 billion people out of jobs spells anarchy. Much of what he says is seriously just trying to be cool. Without usefullness, the technology cannot be sustained. You cannot buy a product if you have no job.

  35. Farida

    By the way… i install robots that dispense medication. the room for error in driving, dispensing medication, and providing money will always require human intervention, a double check, or quality assurance. If 1/3 of the world is not working then all companies stand to lose 30% of their profits despite their advancements. 1 tech to service an ATM right now with a half a million guard truck, 2 guards with guns, is the equivalent of 10 tellers pro rated. It always balances out financially. The imagined gains are not there for corporations of the future, only for those who make the technology.

Leave a comment