In the life simulation game The Sims 3, anyone can live off painting, sculpting or writing books, if they have the patience, although the talented will earn more. In real life, few would trust such a hobby to feed them. But what if they already had food and a roof over their head? Might they be tempted to try to add to their income through art then?
The age where paid work is the measure of a man, that age is coming to an end. What will we do to distribute money after jobs?
It has been going on for a while already. In most of the western world, unemployment is high and chronic. Here in Norway, unemployment is low, but disability pension is widespread. This may be a more realistic take on it, for the old jobs will never come back, barring a disaster of horrifying dimensions. I am not sure we would even physically survive such a disaster. So disability it is, in a matter of speaking. But many of these men and women are not in pain or bearing visible scars. In fact, a study a few years ago told us that the disabled rated their health on average as better than those who were still working!
Rather, it is generally assumed that if a person cannot be gainfully employed, they must have some kind of illness that prevents it. As pretty much all of us have some kind of illness or weakness, especially after years of constant stress, there is usually some hook to hang the coat on. But in many cases, people simply don’t have the intelligence and concentration needed to work in the Information Age.
We may need a stupidity pension, and we may need to make it almost universal. For every year and a half, computers double their processing power. Artificially intelligence remains out of reach, it seems, but we are still able to automate more and more tasks. And machines that we don’t think of as robots, still contain more and more computing technology. And don’t be sure you can always get a job as a taxi driver: Self-driving cars are now allowed to drive on roads in Nevada and California.
The office assistants who used to fetch documents in file cabinets and file them away after use are long gone. I started my adult working career as such an assistant (although I got into a different job at the same place a year later). Today, I would probably have needed to stay in school for another three or four year to get into what is the new entry-level job. Some years from now, today’s entry-level jobs will most likely not exist either. People may need to stay in school till they are 30, and only work at highly specialized jobs. On the other hand, the profit from those who work will be very high. We may discuss whether they ought to keep that money or whether the owners of the businesses should keep most of it (in so far as these are still different people). But what about those who are patently unable to study for 25 years? And what about those who educated themselves for jobs that disappear?
An unfair but practical solution is to give a small “living wage” to everyone, whether they work in the traditional sense or not. The idea is that a human life probably has a value even if you are not employed in the traditional sense. You probably have relatives and friends who appreciate your existence, for instance. We might take the conservative approach and tell those relatives and friends to keep you alive if they think you are worth it, but this will likely cause even more resentment than taxation does. Given that those who are employed will earn a lot of money even after tax, it may be easier to give a “living wage” to everyone, and leave it to their own inventiveness if they want to earn more money. Of course, some of that inventiveness may take the form of crime. But not having food and a place to sleep is no less likely to lead to crime. And if we are not going to let people starve on the streets anyway, we may as well give a modest amount to all instead of a larger amount to those who are good at imagining illness. (For instance, whiplash symptoms tend to fade within a few weeks after compensation is paid.)
There is a lot of economic activity already that does not take the form of jobs, exactly. People make various goods and sell them, or perform services against payment without a regular employment. I hope to see much more of this in the future. Many humans are quite creative.
So I expect jobs and freelance supplemental income to coexist for a long time, but the jobs becoming fewer and more specialized, while the informal economic activity grows. But I may be wrong. I may have to confer more with the voices in my head to know for sure. But for now, they are telling me to hang onto my job. ^_^