Who here remembers the economic crisis of 2008? I do, even though I was still in school at the time. For me, it just meant that my decision to stay in school until I was 18 was a smart decision. For those already in the workforce, it was a bit more, well, awful. In the US alone, nearly 8 million jobs had been lost by 2010. Now, that article is quite old now, so the unemployment figures are a bit off. However, there are still several jobs which have gone and will never come back, not matter how many empty promises politicians make.
The loss of employment is nothing new, especially in industries like mining. I grew up in a post-Industrial Britain, where the traditional employers in the north of England had gone the way of shoulder pads and Queen, and while those two have made a comeback to mixed responses, the jobs haven’t (even though they keep trying). This is happening again, and this time there isn’t a simple solution of making new jobs. The truth of the matter is, we are all moving towards living in a socialist utopia, where we have access to everything, hopefully equally. Not convinced? Here is why.
Most Jobs are disappearing
A couple of days ago I was speaking with someone quite high up in the gaming industry (yeah, my job’s pretty awesome) and we started talking about autonomous cars. He then told me that the first major truck delivery was made autonomously . And Jesus Christ he was right. Uber and Anheuser-Busch, the company behind some of the best piss-water in the world, delivered 45,000 cans of Budweiser to a warehouse last month. There was still a driver for the off and on ramps for the highway, but most of the driving was done by the autonomous truck. Combine this with Elon Musk’s rather ominous insistence that all Tesla’s will have autonomous driving features, and you have a ticking time bomb in the form of Transport jobs.
Right now, in the United States, there are 3.5 million Truckers in the United States. There are also 233,900 Taxi drivers, and God knows how many Uber drivers. Those jobs will be gone before we see the second Infinity War film. Add to that the other 5 million or so involved in trucking as a whole, anyone who has a job in the many truck stops across the States, and you’re looking at millions of jobs gone.
It’s not going to just stop at transport jobs, though. Last year the BBC made this kind of cool test to see how safe your job was from automation, which you can have a look at here. Have a look, even though salaries and numbers are based on UK figures, they’re an excellent guide for most other developed nations. If you’re in a service job, your job is going to be lost to a robot in a matter of years.
Hell, even the journo gig isn’t going to last much longer, because science has been resolutely proving for the last decade that robots can do everything better than us. And unlike previous times we’ve been replaced with machines, there will not be enough jobs created to replace those lost. Rather than list every single job under risk, have a look at this video, which describes the phenomenon better than I possibly could:
Scary isn’t it? How about this for some extra chills. Robots have an excellent chance of getting rid of the oldest profession in the world: doing the dirty for cash. So unless you are the CEO of a firm, you are very likely to lose your job within the next 30-40 years, and even then that isn’t a certainty. And without jobs, you get…
Billions will have no income
Unless you live in a country with a good social security safety-net (Hi Scandinavia), you are looking at a future where you have no means of income. Remember, all the jobs you used to be able to do to make a quick bit of cash will be done by a robot, who never sleeps, eats, takes a vacation or spends valuable work time spoiling The Walking Dead on Facebook. Yes, some businesses might still have an emphasis on the ‘human touch’, like fancy restaurants or corner-shops, but good luck securing that job when thousands are trying for it.
So you have no job, and unless you have connections or wonderful service talents, you’re never going to have a job, ever. Seems great until you realise that means you have no means of making money. No money means no rent, no food, and nothing to distract you from how much your life sucks.
So what do you do, if you don’t have any unemployment benefits? You can beg, but that isn’t going to get you anywhere. You can steal, but good luck getting past those new security robots all the rich people have. Maybe you’re the frontiersman-kind who can eke a living out of the wild by catching fish with your hands and cutting down trees with your beard. If so, good for you, but that doesn’t help the vast majority of city dwellers.
If you live in the rural parts, especially in the States, you probably already have experience living without an income. Those who live in the city, who have no survival skills whatsoever, will not be able to hack it. After all, not everyone can make a living cooking meth.
We will need a Universal Basic Income (not for the right reasons)
The Universal Basic Income (otherwise known as the ultimate socialist policy) is basically you getting money for existing. It’s what Elon Musk thinks is necessary, and I would be inclined to agree with him (even though I’m very sure that he is a White Persian away from being a Bond Villain). It’s being trialled in several countries and has appeared a couple of times in Swiss plebiscites.
Americans are likely to hate the very concept of the UBI (I don’t know if this is a real acronym, but I’m going with it), and it makes sense why. Free money for doing nothing goes against the idea of hard work and earning your keep. It’s also really expensive and would require an increase in taxes, and good luck getting that past the US Congress.
Here’s the rub, though, we aren’t going to have any choice, especially if you want to keep the capitalist dream alive. Switching all production and sales to robots will likely be fantastic for productivity and return on investment, but if the unbelievable majority of people can’t afford to buy your stuff, then you are just going to have a lot of junk lying around. That tends to be expensive, ask Atari about that.For you to make money, workers need to have money. It’s a realisation that we keep on coming up with every few years or so, but it bears repeating over and over again. No money means no goods means no money etc.
It’s the same argument used when making a case for the minimum wage, but here it’s even more important because we are looking at just about everyone. Hell, even some of the 1% of the 1% realise how important it is to let people buy stuff. For their own private interest, businesses will have to lobby governments for the UBI, because there is another possible scenario which could happen.
A massive worldwide civil war could be on the cards
Here’s the thing about the loss of transport jobs in the United States. You’ll have millions of unemployed, angry people with guns. That won’t be easy to deal with, even for the foremost military power worldwide. And that group of people is going to grow with every job that disappears to the machines. Before you know it you are going to have millions of unemployed, angry people all across the world.
At first, the anger will likely be at the machines that have replaced the human workers. That is also the most likely target for populist politicians (we’ve seen similar things happen before). Maybe there will be policies to protect jobs, but that will last as long as it takes for another economy with fewer gripes to take the robot plunge, and we’ll be back where we started. Then the violence will start, against the machines and whoever owns them. Hell, anyone who ever bought a Roomba would probably become a target as well.
However, there would be another solution, which is just to stop trying to pursue capitalism as a means of making the world go around. If you had to choose between a costly series of clashes and potential conflict or living in peace, nine times out of ten you would choose the latter. Just to save their skin, the universal basic income would be the only option.
And people will accept it. Yes, many many people believe in the principle of working hard to earn your keep. It’s a core element of a lot of our entertainment as well as political and economic sentiment. The thing is, hardship has a way of making you abandon your principles. Not everyone has to agree, but enough have to demand change to make it unavoidable. We have done it before, and it will happen again.
After that, then maybe we’ll move away from the concept of money full stop. After all, if machines are performing every necessary service, what do we need money for? Apart from bragging rights, but that would become as meaningless as having the high score on a browser flash game. Once we reach that stage, that is when we will arrive at a real communist paradise.
We would have utopia (or complete annihilation)
Seems like a stretch right? This future is riding on a lot of assumptions; that is true. Considering the recent reactionary election results that have occurred in many parts of the world, it’s easy to believe that this endless march towards automation might be put on hold. Also, hoping that those in power will make the best decisions for everyone is a lot to ask for.
Here’s the thing: we really do not have any choice. As the video above showed, we have started down a path where we are just too monetarily invested to stop. Yes, we could halt the march of progress, but history hasn’t been kind to those that tried to do that. If we do not drastically change how we approach economics, we are doomed to failure by our own progress.
On the bright side, economic changes have previously led to political changes. There is a reason why we aren’t all still tied to our lord’s land, asking for permission even to leave our village. There is a reason why warfare isn’t our first diplomatic recourse when we have a problem with our neighbours (at least, most of the time). Pragmaticism should and will win out in the end.
The only concern is how long it will take us reach that point. Will we have a painless transition to the utopia, or have years of turmoil, hardship and death? Well, humanity does have a history of both, so we really can’t tell. One thing for sure is that if we don’t change, it will be the end of society as we know it and maybe even the extinction of the human race.