Here is a topic that is near everyone's heart. The Jobless Future. Alfred Lord Tennyson said, "The old order changeth, yielding place to the new." That was my 1963 high school class motto. Of course, I was a young, green, heading to college kid full of piss and vinegar, ready to take the world by storm. HA, I thought, I'm one of those "new" that Tennyson spoke about and I was going to replace all those "old order" people.
Of course, this has been happening since the beginning of human existence. The reality, in 1963, is that I had no clue what the world would be like in 2015. In so many ways, we have literally embraced aspects of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984 and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged along with others. One thing is for sure, while much of the infrastructure still looks like it did in 1963 (and that's regrettable since it's crumbling and turning into ruins), it sure isn't the same world it was back then.
So, what's this about a jobless future? Actually, it's been coming for a long time. My belief is that the turn of the century, 2000, was a defining line. There was much to do about nothing with the fear of all the computers in the world crashing at midnight as the world left the 20th Century and entered the 21st Century. But, uh, not so much. It came and went with few, if any, noticeable glitches. But, prior to the turn over to the 21st Century, the digital age was making serious changes in the world. I believe, due to some of the millennium crash fears, a lot of digital implementation was held in holding status to see what would happen.
The U.S. and, I would imagine, all the, so-called, industrialized and developed nations in the world had been implementing computerization and robotic automation for at least a couple decades. Occupations like stenographers and secretaries, to mention a couple, were disappearing. A new term, administrative assistant was now used and referred to a much smaller pool of workers with more computer skills. The old telephone operator job, personified by Lily Tomlin in her comedic skit as a character named Ernestine the telephone operator was also replaced by computers. The traditional draftsman and architectural draftsmen were replaced by computer programs known as CAD and CAM or CAD/CAM with new, young people operating the computers.
So, jobs have been both changing and diminishing over the past few decades. Another example is the auto industry. The United Auto Workers union membership topped 1.5 million in the 1970's. In 2013 the membership was about 400,000 and thousands of those workers were not working in auto assembly plants. Add to this the decline of the steel industry, the mining industry and the petroleum industry. Literally millions of jobs have disappeared, never to reappear.
This is a trend and not a fad. The financial collapse of 2008 was the catalyst for a series of major changes. Since that time we've experienced the loss of millions of other jobs. That financial event was actually, what I believe, a long overdue workforce adjustment. That's a nice way of saying, industry and professions in general were looking for a way to off load a huge inefficient workforce of people costing way too much money.
The industrial and most of the professional jobs that were eliminated could be and were replaced by computers and automation. It required a period of "retooling," if you will, to change over from human labor to computers and robotics that could do the same jobs faster, more efficiently, more precisely, with less downtime, no massive payroll and without benefit programs, etc.
Was this fair? Well, no one ever said life is fair. Was it moral or ethical? What does morality or ethics of this nature have to do with running an efficient and profitable business? Even China where labor is very cheap because they have at least four people for every one U.S. citizen, has been implementing more computerization and robotics. India, again with a population that is nearly 4:1 over the U.S., has more college graduates than the entire population of the U.S. And, of course, nowhere near enough jobs to employ all these people gainfully.
Tennyson's words, "the old order," in modern terms, meant not only the human factor, but also the societal factors of employment, technology and social structure. As an example from my own industry, back in the 60's, 70's and 80's analog recording and huge, expensive recording equipment was required to operate a commercial recording studio. There were lots of big studios especially in the recording capitals of the country including New York City, Nashville, Los Angeles and Chicago. All the serious music and motion picture industry music was recording in these "Temples of Sound" as documented in a book by the same name. Today, most of those studios are either museums, closed, torn down or barely busy enough to keep them open. That was my industry. Those were places I visited and hung out.
The digital and robotic age has changed almost everything. There are even driverless cars being beta tested on the roads of the U.S. New industries like Uber, Lyft and similar are contemplating replacing the living, breathing human drivers of these services with driverless cars as soon as they are viable. Businesses like Air BnB are coming online (literally) and providing economical travel housing in people's homes where spare rooms are available. The traditional bed and breakfast model is coming of age and being expanded. Eventually, this could displace untold thousands of hospitality workers in hotels and motels from luxury to budget. The agriculture industry has eliminated millions of jobs because with modern farm equipment, people aren't needed.
Traditional jobs are going away. There is no doubt about it and no stopping it. It is the "new order."
What is the Future?
The future is going to be a lot of educated and skilled workers, more and more over the next few decades, who will have less and less job availabilities. There will likely continue to be certain kinds of unskilled and low-skill level work for a fairly large number of people, but these will not be or never be high paying jobs. Manufacturing jobs may change and disappear as the 3D copiers become more and more capable. I understand there is already in development, a 3D food replicating system that will be similar to what we witnessed on the 1960's Startrek TV series. You punch in what you want to eat and within a few seconds or minutes, you have a prepared meal that seemingly appears from nowhere.
Professionals and those with specialized skills will potentially work, probably from a home office or work space, 10 or 15 hours a week. Some positions may be filled by multiple employees operating like this. Even today, much of the customer service representative and technical support service representative work is conducted by employees working from their homes. The incoming calls are routed to them, digitally, of course, by a central computer.
I actually had this kind of system operating for my own business as long as 10 years ago. I had a phone number in Las Vegas, I had assigned extension numbers to members of my contracted team and the incoming calls were routed to them all over the U.S. We could even transfer calls between one another and instantly create a conference call. The client never knew we were a thousand miles or more apart.
The "new order" in the work world will have far more leisure time and have to learn to use all this time that's now spent commuting, working in a factory, mine, office or wherever, for other avocational pursuits. Those of us who, in 1963 were the "new order" are now the "old order." We won't be directly impacted by as much of this change since we're all crossing over the hill, so to speak. The current generation of "new order" and especially the next two generations will be heavily impacted by this transition. But, they will probably adjust to it fairly easily because they will grow up in the digital world, be educated remotely online and do more and more of their everyday living in their digital cocoons.
The really big question in my mind is, how will the finances of not working operate? In other words, will the U.S. and the world become one giant welfare system? Everyone will still need access to the basics of housing, clothing, food, medical care and medicine, heating and cooling, etc. Will services like Bitcoin replace our current monetary system? Will each person in society simply receive an electronic ration of spendable digital money? If so, will everyone receive the same amount and if not, how will it be apportioned and who will make that determination? It's an interesting idea that may already becoming reality.
If this subject interests you I would suggest, if you haven't already read the classic book, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and similar books, you pick up copies and read them. Also, there is an interesting article that caught my eye, "Sorry, but the jobless future isn’t a luddite fallacy," in the Washington Post (which is now owned by Jeff Besos, founder of Amazon.com).
If you're wondering how this has anything to do with living free, just think about it. If eventually there are few or no jobs, that means everyone will effectively become wards of the state (a nicer way of saying everyone will be on welfare) and everything will be provided by the government meaning food, housing, medical care and so on. Imagine how much personal freedom anyone will have then when everyone will be dependent and accountable to the government. Even at this time, according to a Pew Research study, an estimated 50% to 55% of the U.S. is receiving some kind of government benefit (paid for by the recipients - Social Security and Medicare) or entitlements including welfare, SNAP, Medicaid, Unemployment, etc. funded by taxpayers.
For those of us from the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation, we'll likely not be too impacted by this. That is, other than hoping our Social Security and Medicare benefits continue until our passing (but, that's not guaranteed). Of course, I'm hoping it will last at least until I celebrate my 100th birthday in 30 years. I am not a prophet or fortune teller. I don't know the future. But, I do know when I was part of the "new order" in 1963, I didn't have a clue what the world would be like when I was part of the old order some 50 years later.
Other books to refer to: Animal Farm and 1984 , Orwell, Atlas Shrugged, Rand and books by Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov and many others who, though mainly considered science fiction, gave us a peek into the future. It's a bit disconcerting to me to see how close so much of their fiction turned into reality.