If you accept the utopian (or is it dystopian?) view of a future where robots will take over our jobs, the next set of questions you must begin to ask is what will we do? Assuming there is nothing for we humans to do, how will we earn the necessary income required to satisfy our daily needs?
There are extremely clever people applying their minds to this as the rest of us run mindlessly into a future we largely expect (and hope) will look very much as it looks today. I’ve written before about whether our education system is failing our children in this regard? Are they really preparing today’s children for a future that we’re told is going to look radically different from our current reality? And different doesn’t mean better. It means radically different.
In a post on the Janus Capital Group blog, policymaker Andy Stern is quoted as saying:
existing government policies have “built a whole social infrastructure based on the concept of a job, and that concept does not work anymore.” In other words, if income goes to technological robots whatever the form, instead of human beings, our culture will change and if so policies must adapt to those changes
As one measure, in the US over the last 16 years, there are 6 million fewer jobs available for the eligible workforce between 25 and 54 years old. In South Africa, according to Statistics South Africa, our unemployment rate was just over 25% in 2006 and is just under 25% in 2016. A small drop, but certainly no significant growth. To change this creeping trend new jobs must be created. To create more jobs we need to see economic growth. But there’s no sign of it anywhere. Not significantly across the board. We keep moving forward, in the hope that a new paradigm shift will occur in the world, and growth will materialise. Even if it does, what do you do with the increasing mechanisation and robotisation taking place at the same time?
Of course, the big item often raised in this conversation is around better education and ensuring people have the right skills. Here’s a quote from the Janus Capital post again…..
Retraining and education sound practical and are at the head of every politician’s promised ticket for the yellow brick road, but to be honest folks, I doubt that much of it will be worth the expense. Four years of college for everyone might better prepare them to be a contestant on Jeopardy, but I doubt it’ll create more growth; for the Universities perhaps, but not many good jobs for the students.
If People Can’t Earn Money Then Give Them Money
One solution that’s on the table is Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) which is defined by Wikipedia like so….
An unconditional basic income (also called basic income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income, universal demogrant, or citizen’s income) is a form of social security system in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.
The biggest challenge facing us is, who pays for it? There aren’t many governments in the world who can adequately support their current welfare systems. What happens when you grow that base of people significantly? Merrill Lynch predicts 47% of jobs are at risk for replacement in the next 20 years, with positions in the manufacturing and services industries being at the greatest risk. Of course, this number will differ around the world, but it’s one of those ‘when’ not ‘if’ scenarios.
Here’s a video that speaks to this issue