Record High Unemployment
I need not waste many words arguing that soon factory jobs will all be outsourced to machines, though convincing others that even thinking jobs will be outsourced is sometimes too inconceivable and scary to accept. The fear of a job crisis is quite a reasonable one when we think about these developments.
I’ve been talking quite a bit about the collapse of the nation-state recently, or at least on subjects relating to that transition, and this subject is no exception to that. I suppose I could also phrase this as the collapse of industrial society, which goes hand in hand with the nation-state (I still hesitate in using the word “collapse,” there is a certain roughness and decimation implied in it. Perhaps I should just say “transition away from”). Anyway, concern over jobs and employment levels is a pretty distinctly industrial/national concern. Think about how we conceive of our unemployment on a national scale, as if our nation is one coherent factory which must employ workers to maximum effectiveness or lose revenue fast. This system has some perverse qualities to it: entire towns can be put out of work and suffer poverty when economic interests shift for any of hundreds of reasons. One reason why people suffer such unemployment is lack of mobility (which can be a problem of mindset too): there are certainly jobs in the world. If communities were more self reliant (which should happen after the transition from the nation state), unemployment would be less of a concern. Certainly a town may not grow as fast if an export loses favor in the global market, but if everyone is fed and sheltered and have something to do, it’s not really a big deal.
I was reading an article in the Washington Post recently written by a woman who believes college students should be thinking more about how their major can be applied to a lucrative career. Now I admit I come from a slightly different perspective than most here, having grown up on a farm. I have never seriously worried about how I will make money in the future because I know I can always farm. But it’s not just me who thinks that we should be worried about our future careers, pretty much everyone I talk to– granted, in my small liberal arts college—agrees that it’s somewhat silly to think that an undergraduate degree will mean anything serious in terms of a career. College is the new highshool: you have to go to it to have a nice job, but by today’s standards a college level job is not a specialized one.
This all seems somewhat desperate in terms of career prospects, things are certainly getting pretty competitive, and the situation seems even more dire as all of our jobs are being outsourced to machines… but we need to relax and pull ourselves out of this industrial mindset. Jobs are ending because industrialism is ending, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all going to starve to death, it just means that we will need to realign our values. The end of Jobs doesn’t mean a worldwide plunge into poverty and an extremely wealthy 1%, it means the eradication of poverty (…and an extremely wealthy 1%). The problem will not be how to support ourselves, the problem will be what to do with ourselves.
I know it’s hard to believe that there could be an end to scarcity soon, that things won’t go on as we feel they always have, but that is precisely what is happening right now. The world is changing drastically and there is great reason to believe in an optimistic future, one that is quite different from our current pessimistic outlook. Perhaps the only thing I can do to convince many of you is to wait.
In addition to the idea of a post-scarcity world, the idea of intellectual jobs being outsourced is inconceivable to some. I know that the authors of The Sovereign Individual and many libertarians give far more credit to ingenuity and thinking than menial work, though both have been necessary for our continuing success as a species. They fail to realize that even thinking isn’t going to be special anymore. I don’t think any of us can really grasp how we will relate to each other and keep ourselves going after this point.
Posted on January 20, 2012, in Ethics, Technological Singularity, Values and tagged automation, career, college degree, economy, information age, jobs, unemployment. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.