It’s interesting to think about all the different trends happening at the same time right now:
This is obviously not a complete list.
Those are the big ones for me, but if you add the spike in young people’s depression, the tendency for young people to stay home and not go out, not go to parties, and instead to live much of their life via social media and their smartphones—well, it’s going to get interesting.
There are obviously too many variables to make any hard analysis here, and you shouldn’t trust anyone who says they can. But I can’t help but think about these things and wonder how the factors will interact with each other.
We have more and more people leaving abject poverty worldwide. One way to see that is to say that they’ll obviously be doing better than before, but another way to see it is that they’ll now become aware of how screwed they are. It’s like going from the pain of true poverty into the pain of knowing how much better other people have it. Politically that will cause more tension, not less.
Then in the Western countries (or let’s stick with the US) you have people having less children, fewer people even looking for work, and more people content to just live at home and play video games. All the while the distance between the top 10% and 1% in terms of income and wealth continues to grow.
As I’ve written about before, you’re basically going to have a superclass at the top that has the good tech and other jobs, while the bottom 90% will get automated out of their positions and relegated to service and administrative work that algorithms and machines cannot do. Yet.
Testosterone is dropping. Crime is lower than ever. But how long does that last when the jobs go away and the top 10% of the country are bussed around to work at amazing jobs, while everyone else takes care of their kids, serves them food, and get treated like absolute garbage at work. Unpredictable schedules, screwed out of benefits at every turn, and basically treated as expendable bodies.
How long can that last before the bottom 90% just say:
And that’s where the other factor comes in. Gaming.
As more and more people are taken out of the job market, and the real world gets less and less enjoyable, I think massive numbers of people are going to retreat into the better worlds inside of games.
Their relationships will be in the games. Their main skills will be in the games. And their value to others will be within the games.
That last part is key. If you can’t do anything better than an algorithm or a robot on the outside, you can still offer something inside. And that’s where most people will find their worth.
But meanwhile, on the outside, you’ll have the top 10% still thriving. Of course many of them will also be spending a lot of their time in games as well. And it’ll be crucial that games don’t allow people to pay-to-win to such a degree that it ruins the meaning structure of various games.
What does that look like, though?
The bottom 90% spend 8 hours a day doing a menial job in the real world, taking care of a top 10% person’s food or laundry or childcare, and then uses that meager money to pay for their game subscription?
It seems obvious that universal basic income has to be part of this equation. The bottom 90% simply aren’t going to have jobs. As Yuval Harari calls it, many of them will simply be in the Useless Class. Basically people who cannot offer value at anything in the real world that an algorithm or robot can’t do better.
The percentage of the world that belong to that class will rise quickly starting in the next few years I think. How fast? Nobody knows.
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Automation will destroy jobs, but it will also create new ones. It seems obvious that it will ultimately destroy far more than it will create. But at what pace? The adding and subtracting will clearly be lumpy, not linear.
There’s no way to know exactly how it’ll proceed, but we can think about the variables and at least consider some possibilities.
Let’s do that, at the longer timescale:
The top 10% continues to pull away from the bottom 90% (and maybe that becomes 5/95 over time), and they basically see gaming as the way to keep the masses happy and quiet. They invest massively, in some sort of semi-organized campaign, to keep them enthralled in the virtual world, so that nobody notices how little they have in the real one.
Another option is the same as #1, except it just happens naturally, without any conspiratorial planning. I’m inclined towards this option, and that’s what seems to be currently happening.
The bottom 90%, through a combination of economic hardship and horrible left and right political leaders, stay focused on the real world and finally figure out how little they have compared to the top 10%, and they simply decide to table flip. This will likely come with the help of information warfare from Russia (if they’re still a player at the time), but there could be another political actor doing the same thing either way. In this scenario we have lots of riots, some serious mayhem, for a period of weeks or months (hopefully not years), and the result is either a very hard shift left towards redistribution and UBI and labor unions (which will be highly artificial and silly at that point), or some sort of fascist totalitarian control by the military and an oligarchy that sets up red and green zones and only allows “productive” people (the top 10%) to move freely and enjoy society. Everyone else is stuck finding their meaning in games and/or being persecuted by the gestapo.
We figure out how bad inequality is for long-term stability, and we find a way to implement universal basic income. We start manufacturing millions of pre-made homes with solar, which we give to people to keep their small, non-violent families safe, secure, and happy. People transition from being workers to being creators and consumers and seekers. Universities move away from being tech schools alone, and add liberal arts back in (say 2040 or so). We have universal health care. We have safe streets. We have safe places for people to become entrepreneurs and influencers and in-game celebreties. The worlds of in-game and out-of-game celebrity mixes, and it’s no longer considered lower to be an in-game hero or famous person.
I’m hoping deeply for #4, obviously.
The problem is that income redistribution and socialism and basic income and universal healthcare can easily fail if not implemented correctly. It cannot be a handout to able people who don’t want to be anything, or do anything. That will produce a growing underclass that exacerbates the problem rather than making it better. See the last few decades of welfare policy.
What it has to be instead is enablement for personal growth in a world where the people receiving it cannot hope to compete with algorithms or robots for “regular” work. It needs to be starting capital for people becoming scientists, in-game influencers, teachers, mentors, and other useful occupations that have value in the human world but not necessarily in the legacy, external business world.
So the value moves virtual.
But we have to encourage and incentivize education, and self-discipline, and a knowledgeable population. We have to grow that along with the universal lifting of the bottom, otherwise we just grow a source of our overall suffering over time.
What variables am I missing?
What would you add to this analysis?