I’ve always loved great writing.  Many of the most interesting books for me were centered around considerations of large shifts in society.  My last post considered farming and gardening–Animal Farm by George Orwell is a symbolic look at communism (though as I’ve written before I think it can be expanded to multiple types of governance.)  Farhenheit 451, A Brave New World and others also fall into this category.  It is in my nature to look forward, and these books do well to paint a picture of what society could look like given certain circumstances.

Recently on Reddit, posts on Basic Income have come up fairly often.  Basic Income is an idea that every citizen should be provided a livable amount of currency to afford basic necessities of life; there are varying thoughts on how much this should be.  This concept is interesting today for the simple reason that the middle class is disappearing despite unprecedented growth in wealth creation.

Below find a graph that illustrates this.  Productivity continues to grow along with GDP, whereas employment and median income have stagnated.

Decoupling

In realistic terms this means it’s going to be harder and harder for your average kid growing up to find work.  And the work they do find is going to be, on average, paying less on an inflation based measure of currency.  This will vary in local economies but be steadily true long term.

Technological advancement is a good thing, but governance and policy will need to adapt to it in one way or another.  The idea of a extremely small upper class that controls the vast majority of wealth with a monumental serfdom of folks struggling to get by is likely not healthy in the long term.  The potential for political instability becomes very high.  I am not advocating for basic income now or in the future, but consideration of alternatives to social programs can and will be at the forefront of political discussions in the future.

Automation of work is going to continue.  New jobs are created with technology, but the question is if new technology produces more jobs than it takes.  I do not believe it does, or at least will not in the future.  Yet our population continues to grow.

World Population

The confluence of increasing population and decreasing jobs eventually stresses an economy to the point of necessary change.

What will those changes be?  I’m not sure at this point.

Many people get very upset at the idea of a handout such as Basic Income, or other forms of socialism and safety nets.

I understand why.  Every successful person I’ve ever met worked their tails off for decades to achieve their current situation.  And more power to them!  Teresa and I have both worked our way through both undergrad and graduate degrees, slowly and steadily paying off loans and getting to a point of stability.  Our parents both worked at smaller local companies to provide for their families.  We’ve grown up as part of the middle class.

What’s concerning is that the opportunity to find work and provide for a family will become more and more difficult with jobs being automated.  My grandfather worked as an assembler in Brooklyn Park, MN after getting out of the navy for a long time prior to retirement.  That job simply doesn’t exist any more.  And ever increasing numbers of jobs will go away.  This is not inherently bad.  It’s just the natural progression of our species and society.

I expect to see large alterations to our social programs in the next 2-3 decades.  It will be slow but I cannot envision a future where automation does not drastically alter our existence in terms of work.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote about the automation of societal roles in Player Piano in 1952.  In the book, most every job has been automated and only a small few persons were chosen as engineers for the factories.  Out of all the novels I’ve read concerning drastic societal changes, his may be the nearest.