One of the most central ideas to human civilization is the concept of work. You work for a company that is profitable, you put in a day of effort, and you are paid for your time and contribution.
It’s a system that’s been working for thousands of years, and I think we’ve come to think of it as immutable infrastructure, kind of like nature.
But it’s not.
The entire premise is actually quite fragile because of one point: businesses don’t owe people jobs—they provide jobs because they need people to make their own money. If and when that ever changes, the jobs simply go away overnight.
It’s breathtaking to think about. Think of everything a regular family does with their employment income:
Entertainment / Vacations
This is core of not just the economy, but the core of the family. It’s the absolute soul of a civilization.
But it’s not safe. It’s not protected. It should not be assumed. It is not permanent in any way.
Imagine going up to an artist who paints on the street, lives cheaply, and who has recently started making lots of money because their paintings have become popular.
YOU: Hey, so I see you are making good money now. When are you going to start hiring?
ARTIST: Oh, actually I’m not really going to be hiring. It’s just me and things are going really well. I had someone doing my taxes, but I just taught myself so I’m good. Thanks for asking.
YOU: Well, I don’t have a job. And you’re making money. So, how do you think we’re supposed to run an economy if people who are making money are self-sufficient and aren’t hiring?
ARTIST: I don’t know. The only thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that what you’re talking about is not my problem.
The artist is right, and so too will be the millions of businesses who start laying off their human workforces because they can do their work with a combination of software and droids.
The problem is not so much that they’ll do this; the problem is that nobody is realizing that it’ll be perfectly expected and normal for them to do so.
The purpose of a business is not to have employees—it’s to make money for the owners and investors. Period. If the top 10 employers in the world could fire everyone tomorrow and make more money they’d absolutely do it. We should not be surprised by that.
So the entire concept of work is in danger. The entire concept of millions of people in the United States (and everywhere else) having an income to live their lives and raise families on. It’s all in grave peril because for the first time in history, businesses are about to start not needing humans.
It’s catastrophic. It’s like an earthquake that’ll happen over the course of two decades that will completely liquify the ground we all walk on. Except, it’s an earthquake that we know is coming.
So if private companies don’t owe us jobs, and they’re about to fire everyone in order to make more money, then where are the jobs going to come from?
Charity? Are companies going to give out jobs and pay people to do them? Maybe. At a small scale. But not nearly enough to support an economy.
What about government?
Can the government require companies to employ people?
Sure, they could. And that’ll probably be one of the contortions we bend ourselves into while going through this transformation, but it ultimately doesn’t work. Forcing a business to hire people it doesn’t need is like forcing the Artist to hire someone to hold the easel when it’s already sitting on a stand.
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So now the artist has a stand that moves too much, needs to take bathroom breaks, and wants you to pay it.
That’s not sustainable.
What if the government just gives people jobs?
Well, first of all, what jobs? If the government needed humans vs. software and droids those people are already employed. Just as in the private sector, you can’t just hire for the sake of it. Not if you care about efficiency, fiscal responsibility, etc.
Even if you didn’t—even if you’re willing to be fiscally irresponsible and hire a bunch of people you don’t need—you can’t do that at a national or global scale. You could hire thousands, or even millions in this way, but it’d be wasteful and it wouldn’t be enough to maintain the old model economy.
All solutions become radical
So we’re left with no good options. The very foundation of human civilization is at risk here, with billions of people about to have no income on which to live, and the answer isn’t forcing companies to hire, or having the government produce jobs from the ether.
The global economy, which is based on employers paying employees, simply disappears within two decades.
This is an economic asteroid, and nobody’s looking at the sky.
Our only options seem to be extreme, with the most serious one being a Universal Basic Income, where people are paid to basically exist and be good citizens.
That has all sorts of its own problems. Where’s the money going to come from? How do you keep the population from expanding out of control and outpacing the ability to provide income?
The economy is based 100% on employers paying employees for work
That relationship has existed for thousands of years, and it’s assumed to be unalterable
It’s about to go away due to software and droids replacing human work
Once that happens, there is no easy answer for where billions of people will receive money
It can’t be employers doing it out of charity or nationalism because the’ll go out of business
It can’t be the government because it’s inefficient in the same way
The only option seems to be to change the model completely and provide income to people directly
But this solution comes with its own flaws, such as where the wealth comes from, and population control
It’s a mess, but the asteroid is on the way, mess or not.
Let’s at least start thinking about it.
Some like to argue that employers will be ABLE to fire everyone, but they won’t, because it’ll be bad for the economy. This is foolish thinking. Companies cannot competitively afford to make less profit by paying more for an inferior workforce. There will of course be exceptions, where small numbers of non-essential people are kept on for whatever reason, but the numbers will be small enough that they won’t matter. Serious businesses will do what they have to in order to compete, and that means eliminating unnecessary employees, which are actually supremely expensive.