Makers and takers
My favourite teacher in art school would confront unexpected and disruptive happenings in his class by saying "This is a wonderful opportunity to . . . .", learn or re-think or re-imagine what we were doing. So if somebody had an accident in the darkroom that produced an interesting effect he'd get us to actually SEE what had happened and think about what we could do with it.
But since we face severe social and environmental problems; maybe this is a wonderful opportunity too.
We must rebuild. Do we want to re-establish what we had before?
Lots of people do. They were doing quite well before.
Lots of people don't. They weren't doing that well.
But the way things were working before already had many visible cracks even if you were doing well.
I've written for years that automation has caused a problem of over production. Automatic production can produce vast amounts of material goods with relatively little human intervention. The 'little human intervention' means that the production of goods in itself won't provide enough income to enough workers to buy up all that is produced.
But it also means huge profits to the factory owners if they can sell what they make. In the recent past service industries provided that income. Long story short - it seems to me that service industries are basically supported by rich people buying services of some sort from less rich people. And now, automation in the form of artificial intelligence is taking over service industries of all sorts too. Imagine you're a lawyer serving people who can afford to pay. In the last 30 years you've reduced expenses by automating stenographers and receptionists.
Next it's the law clerks.
What'cha gonna do when the client can just buy lawyer software like they buy tax software now? So we have looming before us this huge problem of not enough good jobs for all who need them.
And it's coming on fast: I've read projections are saying lots of trouble from that in 5 to 20 years I started talking about the UBI about 10 years ago (I called it a stipend) At the time people thought no way that would fly in America. And by this year it was a popular idea that was a central plank on a presidential candidate's platform.
And now, in the face of the pandemic, governments all over the world are handing out money to alleviate the economic damage of the pandemic. And that damage involves massive unemployment and so everyone getting cheques from the government that looks a lot like the UBI.
The lockdown in response to the pandemic has brought the idea of 'essential industry' to the fore. Bingo - a bunch of industries were shut down. Everything from gift shops to restaurants to movies and theatres and on to concerts just went poof for the foreseeable future. Airlines reduced service a lot due to a complete lack of customers. And cruise ships couldn't even find a port to land at.
But lots of work was deemed essential. The idea is that if that work is not done then it's impossible to keep people alive in a locked down economy. The list is long; health care workers, first responders, bridge tenders, workers in many supply chains. In fact, the list is a large majority of workers. We may get 25% unemployment because of the lockdown but that means that 75% are still working somehow.
Let's have a look at the industries that employ those unemployed workers. They are basically living (even at the best of times) off the surplus produced by the necessary workers. My focus so far has been just on production and of course that's not the whole story. In our society (especially) if it's profitable to do something then it will be done. And that works if it's profitable to produce material goods that are useful. But it's hard to find things that are profitable that can grow exponentially. Sports and mass entertainment are good examples of this. If a musician can get 50 people to pay $5 for a gig he may eat that night. But if it's 50000 people for 50 nights a year he get's rich. And those riches support a big crew and supporting industry.
I do think that musicians that can entertain millions are quite worth the money they earn.
I think it is important to distinguish between profit and material production.
The problems we face in the future that stem from automation and the lack of work will be, if we are not careful, is that people will live in poverty in the midst of plenty because it's not profitable to serve them. And maybe the pandemic will help us drop the scales from our eyes when it comes to profit. The pursuit of profit is a mindless endeavor. Whatever is profitable will be tried by someone or other with no concern at all for broader social implications.
Maybe it would be better to focus more on production and just distribution of that which we need to survive and happy and try to do what is best
What do you think?