As debt-riddled nations impose austerity measures and technical automation replaces human labor, joblessness continues to worsen around the world. In the United States, yet another “stimulus” package of $447 billion in government spending has been proposed to create jobs. Economist Paul Krugman even proposed manufacturing an extraterrestrial threat to create a surge in unified defense spending, which he claims will pull the world economy out of recession in 18 months. Clearly, these are desperate attempts to keep a failing paradigm alive.
Already, Western economies are propped up by jobs that are nonproductive and, in many cases, are destructive. For example, the war on drugs employs countless people in positions that have proven to be very harmful to society, far more damaging than the drugs themselves. And yes, ending the foreign wars will save trillions in government spending, but it will also bring millions of unemployed vets and contractors back into the workforce. Furthermore, if all of the complicated games were halted on Wall Street, we’d likely face an extinction level event for “traditional’ jobs. The system is destructive and it’s time to question the paradigm of employment for the sake of employment.
Douglas Rushkoff, author of Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, recently asked if jobs are becoming obsolete? Rushkoff uses the financial woes of the US Post Office as an example of a sector in decline. He points out that 600,000 jobs and 400,000 pensioners are in danger. Rushkoff correctly dismisses the political blame for the post office downfall and blames it on Internet communication; “People are sending 22% fewer pieces of mail than they did four years ago, opting for electronic bill payment and other net-enabled means of communication over envelopes and stamps.”
Rushkoff goes on to cite other examples where technology is replacing human labor like EZ-Passes and self-driving cars. I recently pondered the impact of 3-D printers in every home, printing a cup, bowl, wrench, or toys when they are desired. Imagine the jobs lost when this becomes a reality among countless other technical advances. What would happen to jobs if you had a printer like the one in the video below?
Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer from Taiwan with about 40 percent of the global electronics market by creating things like iPhones and computer components, announced it will be replacing much of its staff with one million robots. So it’s not just Western jobs being lost in the high-tech revolution. Video of robots that will replace these assembly line workers can be seen below.
Rushkoff astutely questions the current paradigm of “jobs”:
I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?
We’re living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That’s because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.
Rushkoff stops short of advocating an acceptable welfare state. However, he bravely questions the current paradigm where unemployment is unlikely to get better given advances in technology and the expendable nature of most tasks. With nearly one quarter of Americans unemployed or under-employed, and countless more prisoners to occupations they detest, we must begin to ask if this is how we want society to be shaped.
Employment for the sake of employment instead of innovation or production has infested our system for too long and is now clearly unsustainable. No one should feel useless because a corporation or the government won’t give them a job. Similarly, no one should be forced to waste their lives flipping burgers or working at a retail box store if that is not their desire. It seems no better than slavery and we must begin to acknowledge that.
What if we simply allowed people to follow their passion no matter what it is? It couldn’t cost more than maintaining the current warfare/welfare state, could it? Given the broad knowledge available on the Internet of nearly every subject, the cost of allowing someone to self-educate in pursuit of their dreams would be minimal compared to the current paradigm of the college bubble.
It’s clear that traditional jobs will never return and, in fact, a large majority more could be done away with. Society wouldn’t skip a beat as long as the people had food, shelter, and the freedom to follow their dreams. It’s time to rationally discuss how to develop a new system that benefits everyone who wishes to participate.