The value of man in the unemployed society

A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond
Forfatter: Daniel Susskind
Forlag: Allen Lane (Storbritannia)
LIFE / How can we manage to live a meaningful life in a world without work, where everything is automated and education no longer leads to work?


Author Daniel Susskind is an economist at the University of Oxford where he teaches and researches. He has also worked in the UK Government as an analyst and advisor.

In this book he illustrates with credibility that countries where automation is high also have the greatest output.

But how does this affect the population? He writes: "A world with less work, then, will be a deeply divided one: Some people will have vast amounts of valuable capital, but others will find themselves with virtually no capital of either kind."

He points out that economic and technological inequality is related: Such a development occurs as a result of some having capital that does not have the conditions to grow, since it is not worth the market, while others have a type of capital that has the potential to rise infinitely.

He points out that economic disparities in the United States increased drastically after 1980: The rich's income accelerated, while the poor's became lower. The same has also happened in the Nordic countries: The income of the one percent richest has risen in both Norway, Sweden and Finland.

A fair distribution

Such a development can be avoided through a more equitable distribution of taxes and fees. High taxes must be levied on the income of people who benefit from technological progress, the author states. Even those who make big money on traditional capital must be heavily taxed. This means that the work of the machines must also be taxed. Susskind calls it "robot treasure." Since the trend is towards large companies replacing employees with machines, it is important that the income that results from this does not fall into the hands of a few capital owners.

We are moving towards a world with an ever smaller workforce, and this the state must compensate for by imposing higher taxes on companies where the proportion of manual labor is small.

We must call a life without work something other than "unemployment"

The question is not whether production will be large enough in the future, but how to distribute the wealth so that it benefits everyone. Distribution, not production, will be society's new and important task, according to the author. How should the growing financial gain from automation be distributed?

As the work is streamlined, the overall financial gain becomes greater. Previously, those who lost their jobs became impoverished, but this does not have to happen in the future, writes Susskind. Those who do not have work must get their share of the financial gain, so that society is not divided into two classes. He calls it "The Bigger Pie Effect".

What does life make sense?

We are used to believing that work is meaningful to life, and studies indicate that people's health deteriorates when they stop working. But maybe that's because we don't find anything meaningful to do?

Is the cause the stigma that comes with being unemployed? Or is it simply due to lower income?

Will the machines make us redundant? Susskind points out that many have worried about similar problems in the past, right from the beginning of the industrial revolution.

But the machines have failed to destroy humans. On the contrary, a great deal of time has been freed up for each individual, so that we can engage in meaningful pursuits instead of being slaves to work, without reducing the financial gain for each individual participant, and without the work as such having been given lower status.

A new identity

The last chapter of the book, as the author himself writes, is the most speculative, but also the most interesting: People must find a new indentity or a new meaning through the formation of a new, non-working identity. Maybe people will find more meaning in volunteering? Get more time and more room for meaningful activities, yes, maybe we will be able to contribute more to social, cultural activities?

It sounds a little too rosy in my opinion. After all, we have not been more formed in the last hundred years, we have been reduced to even more pure consumers, and we are manipulated by forces that merge state power with capitalist forces.

Of course, the development of a friendly and helpful Big State is a possible scenario, but another is that we become passive participants in a society that connects liberalism with control and monitoring, a problem the author does not touch. Some signs in time suggest that it may go that way.

People have a value

Sudden changes can cause the way we think about to be outdated. Susskind draws parallels to the so-called horseshit problem: Before the car arrived, many thought that the amount of horse muck in the streets would increase, an obvious misconception caused by a lack of knowledge of what the car would mean for future transport.

Susskind also points out that the genuinely human will always have a value: Although coffee made by machines tastes better, people actually prefer coffee made by humans, simply because there are people who made it.

World championships are still being played in chess, even though everyone knows that computers are unbeatable in chess. In the future, maybe bad coffee made by humans will have a sentimental value?

Will education become redundant when it does not lead to work?

Education that does not lead to a job. One question I am left with is: What will people think about education when there are no jobs? Will education become redundant when it does not lead to work? The book contains a long chapter on the education of the future: Education will not be an education for work, but for that reason also not an education for unemployment. When work no longer exists, unemployment will no longer exist either.

We must call a life without work something other than "unemployment". The education must have an intrinsic value. There will be a need for education for reasons other than the purpose of getting us work. We must look at it as "human capital," a capital that no longer has as its primary purpose to provide us with income.

The author envisions that the machines will not take over all human work, but that the work of the machines will work as one supplement to human work.

What Susskind is doing is basically nothing more than building on the forecasts that have been a part of Western society since the industrial revolution. The book is interesting, readable and credible, and is also an obvious defense for citizen pay.

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