Flipping the Employment Table

Everyone knows the biggest problem today is unemployment. Them greedy capitalists and the cheating Chinese are stealing all our good jobs, leaving us unemployed.

Unemployment isn't even the whole "problem", when you factor in underemployment (people who want more work than they can get) then the rates rise even higher. Australia's total unemployment + underemployment is currently 13.9%

Even worse is that this doesn't factor in people who are no longer for work because they feel discouraged (these people aren't counted as unemployed since they are not seeking work).

Even worse, is that the world is collapsing and we're all going to die.


We need to stop

The thing is that these us-and-them narratives aren't helpful and also miss the bigger picture.

People tend to mistake their local experience of reward/punishment with what is right/wrong in the whole system.

This article makes a great point; in an attempt to mobilise motivation in ideological battles, we are making grander and grander exaggerations which erode peoples trust in official data and scientific studies, as well as desensitise people to the issues that need attention.

Searching for efficiency

Capitalism is an efficiency-optimiser fuelled by the profit motive. Wherever possible, it will look to find the cheapest labour to produce goods.

So it's less about jobs being stolen, rather than jobs being shifted to poorer countries. So on one hand, the fact that all of your jobs have been stolen by poor countries is good news for a few reasons:

  1. It means you are much better off than billions of people.
  2. It is helping to lift billions of people out of poverty.
  3. The jobs will be "stolen" from those developing countries by even poorer countries in the future as quality of living increases.
  4. Local companies will be making more profits due to lower labour costs and hence should be improving your local quality of life (if your government is taxing right).

Flipping the table (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

I think the most important changes we are going to see over the coming decade is not going to be systematic, but cultural.

We currently value work as something extremely important in our lives. It feeds heavily into our sense of self, our sense of worth, our social standing, and hence our overall happiness.

Ironically, countries that score higher on the happiness index, like Denmark, seem to be countries with a better work/life balance.

In these countries, there is a stronger social belief that while work is important, it is not as important as the West makes it out to be.

But why does this matter?

A post-work future

As work slides off the pedestal it opens us up to different ways of thinking. It opens up the possibility for different ways of structuring society.

The highest success of any society should be its ability to provide for as many of its citizens while minimising the number of required work from its citizens.

When we are able to decouple work from worth we could introduce things like:

  • Universal basic income (UBI) – where everyone gets a non-conditional income from the government large enough to live off. This frees people up from the need to work, allowing them to follow other pursuits, work less, or work for less (Not for profits, NGOs, etc).
  • Automate everything – rather than pushing back against automation of jobs, we could demand it. Ideally getting to a point where all required "labour" for our basic needs as a society is fulfilled by machines. This would free up humans to live more.
  • Non-market goods – when people no longer need to work, this enables more people to be contributing to producing free goods. This includes everything from art, to software, to knowledge.
  • Shorter work weeks – for the majority of people who would still work even with a UBI, a shorter work week would provide a healthier balance, while possibly even increasing productivity.

An inverted graph

If we were able to move towards the above, then the meaning of our "unemployment graphs" would invert immediately.

We currently look out our rising unemployment graphs and think "Shit the world is coming to an end."

Whereas with universal basic income, full automation, and more free (non-market) goods, our unemployment graph would become the ultimate measure of success.

Rising unemployment would mean that more people are being able to live without needing to work. That more people can pursue non-profitable passions and contribute to non-profitable causes.

And that sounds like a thing worth fighting for.


Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on sebastiankade.com

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