Should People Have to Work?
What AOC got right and wrong about automation and the need to work.
According to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we should be excited about automation, but “the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.” Is she right?
Many hunter and gatherer societies enjoy a lot of leisure time. Modern humans seem to spend more time working than our cousins who experience a more elemental lifestyle. But even in those societies, a lot of time is spent working. It’s just that working and living were far more intimately connected in the past, and still are in more elemental societies. We didn’t work to work. We worked to survive and thrive. And so to be blunt, in these societies, if you didn’t work and could, then survival was unlikely.
In the modern era, we have our work, and then if there’s any time left, we have our life. It’s this paradigm that perhaps needs to change. Now of course, AOC likely wants to see universal basic income as the solution. And maybe it is the solution, but absolutely not in the sense that she wants: government run universal basic income.
Admittedly, I’m not convinced that automation will get us anywhere close to removing the need for work in the traditional sense. There will be more traditional jobs, even as we see further automation and a shift towards a gig economy.
Changing Work Lifestyle
People will still have jobs in the future. It’s just that jobs will be quite different. I’m not sure what they’ll be like, but perhaps far more people will be content creators, “working” for companies like Medium. I also do think the gig economy is going to take off in a much larger way in the future.
But the larger issue is that we need to be able to monetize more of what we do. If we can find a way to live and generate wealth for ourselves, simultaneously, we could do a lot better. We need to eliminate this distinction between making a living and actually living, a distinction that is in many ways a modern phenomenon.
Given a personal example, numerous times I’ve been told that people have learned something new from their discussions with me, or from reading my articles. Why shouldn’t that be rewarded? I’ve had people tell me that they’re glad to see that I wrote an article explaining a point that they were wondering about. Why shouldn’t that be rewarded?
Basically, there are a lot of things that we do for other people, but which aren’t fully appreciated and which aren’t treated as work. But why shouldn’t we be rewarded for these things? I think we could integrate this idea into my idea on Agora Coin, to be perfectly honest. With Agora Coin, or even with Ethereum, we could build a lot of social platforms that monetizes, or at least does a better job of monetizing, a lot of what we already do.
This discussion also ties in heavily to my question of how many hours of work is enough? Like I said towards the beginning of this discussion, in the past, there was little distinction between working and living. Much of it blended together, and I think that this way of living will become the norm again in the future. Life and work will become one. Our life will be our work, but our work will also be our life, and that’s not a bad thing.
Cost of Basic Living
There’s one final point I’d like to make: we need to lower cost of basic living. A few different factors are involved in our high cost of basic living. First, energy prices are still too high. The cost of build a home, maintain it, heat it, and so on is very high. Part of the cost comes from the high cost of available energy. If we can drive the cost of energy production down sufficiently, and reduce the basic cost of living, we could more easily support ourselves with far less labor.
Second, the way in which we live is killing us. Sprawl especially has hurt the cost of basic living. As I mentioned in my article on government and climate change, the government taxes cities, and uses the money to pay for rural infrastructure. While this re-balancing somewhat reduces the cost of living out in the middle of nowhere, it increases the cost of living in cities, and overall. More efficient cities, unburdened with being forced to pay for the luxury of living in a rural environment, will help reduce overall cost of basic living.
Various luxuries will probably still cost a lot, and in some cases may cost much more than they do now. Living out in the middle of nowhere, but having access of transportation, high speed internet, and other benefits that connect us to the rest of society will likely become far more expensive without subsidization. But that’s fine, because people can then focus on working to get things they want rather than things they need. And we shouldn’t be acting in such an unsustainable way anyway.
A final point that I’d like to make is that I find it rather ironic that the same people who believe in the social contract are also the people who are offended that we have to work to survive. These people believe that it is okay to actively threaten someone’s freedom and life in order to ensure that they obey a contract that they never willingly entered into, but think that it is inhumane for nature to take its course if someone doesn’t work.
I don’t believe in the social contract, because as I said, we don’t enter into it voluntarily. That’s not how contracts work. I also don’t believe that those who cannot work should die. I just don’t think that we should be threatening other peoples’ very lives in order to force them to pay for the lives of others. That’s why I prefer voluntary approaches such as charities and blockchain based solutions.