Right now, our culture is obsessed with teaching kids to code. But look at the two megatrends that are ageing populations and automation, and a more powerful alternative becomes clear. We should be teaching kids to care.
The most important and available work for billions of people in the 21st-century will be care work. Care for young children. Care for elderly parents and grandparents who can no longer look after themselves, and for whom the state has no provision. Care for other family members or friends.
If we’re wise, we’ll swim with that tide rather than against it. A great way to start doing that would be to begin sending a revolutionary message to our young people:
‘Your societies are changing. They are not the societies your parents grew up in. Many of you will never have a traditional job. Your primary value as a human is not the value you bring to the economy. Our economy is supposed to serve us; we are not supposed to serve it. If you spend your life making the lives of those around you worth living, we promise we will recognise you as being engaged in one of the highest forms of human activity there is.’
A universal basic income (UBI) would also help ease this massive shift in human attention away from the economy and back towards one another. Political resistance to the idea of a UBI is considerable. Perhaps the best available way to puncture that resistance is to highlight the growing need for an army of human workers to care for our elderly. We can help individual people turn back to their own relatives via a UBI. Or we can fund state care for all those elderly people.
Which would we rather?
Our put it another way: what do we need more of in the decades ahead? Parents engaged with their young children? Elderly people able to live with dignity and surrounded by those they love? Or a new set of bullshit jobs to replace those about to be automated away?
We keep talking about how automation will steal our jobs, as though being a minor functionary in the sprawling machine of Late Capitalism is the most precious thing ever. But automation technologies have the potential to liberate us into a world in which we — ourselves, our family, our friends, the people we need to care for — are how we spend our best days and direct our best efforts.
Whenever I think back to my grandmother’s care home, the direction we should head in seems pretty obvious.