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Are jobs obsolete?
September 7, 2011 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Are jobs obsolete? - op-ed by Douglas Rushkoff. "The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with 'career' be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?"

As someone with a highly non-traditional work history and path, I find the idea of a paradigm shift rather appealing.
posted by pupstocks (204 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the future there will only be two jobs. there will be a man and a dog. The man's job will be to watch a switch, the dog's job will be to make sure the man doe snot touch the switch.
posted by edgeways at 10:32 AM on September 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.

Who decides who works and who doesn't? I'm all for shifting paradigms-- I'd love to work less and still be able to afford to pay bills-- but all I can see is the Republican party screaming about how their taxes support those lazy minorities/hippies/druggies/persons of ill repute.
posted by cereselle at 10:33 AM on September 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


Oh, gross. This switch has snot all over it.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:34 AM on September 7, 2011 [61 favorites]


I've been wondering when someone big was going to get around to asking this question.

US Society:

Yay! Our population is increasing!

Yay! Our companies are becoming more efficient/profitable through automation!

Boo! If you don't have a job, you're scum!

Um...
posted by Melismata at 10:35 AM on September 7, 2011 [55 favorites]


When he brought up the early Renaissance, I thought maybe he was going to work backwards to a sort of guild system, but then that didn't happen.

So, instead of having jobs, we'll all just...make IP for one another? Why? Why would we do that? Why does that make anything easier or more productive?
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:35 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Aristocracy created chartered corporations which eventually meant we all got jobs?

This guy, like 99% of the journalism people and "writers" apparently couldn't be bothered with facts.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:36 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Stickerbeast, you just made some IP by posting that comment. He's talking about the kind of creative work that people do for fun if you give them the time. Stuff like ranting on metafilter or spewing racist stuff in youtube comments.
posted by chrchr at 10:37 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


the difference between farming your own produce and livestock and making video games is that one of those lifestyles will feed you and the other will lead to more sitting around eating Doritos which can't really be farmed. so this solves nothing.
posted by ninjew at 10:40 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is something for the under 20 generation will have to start working through as the social contract forged in the early 20th century is coming to a rapid end.

More broadly, I'm bummed that humans are so much better at technological change than they are at social change. In so many aspects of life we're stuck playing games that mimic the challenges we faced tens to thousands of years ago which bear no relation to the challenges we face today.
posted by MillMan at 10:40 AM on September 7, 2011 [28 favorites]


Star trek socialism then?
posted by dibblda at 10:41 AM on September 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


When we run out of cheap energy, work will once again be much more labor intensive, so this is pretty much a non-issue.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:41 AM on September 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


Tell me how to effectively monetize my comments' IP and we'll get somewhere. How does Rushkoff see people monetizing that sort of IP, especially when only so many people can make comments worth paying for?

Rushkoff is very fortunate to have a career as a writer and as an academic, but there are only so many positions for those sorts of people, even if we event our own venues for our writing and start our own universities.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:41 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


In so many aspects of life we're stuck playing games that mimic the challenges we faced tens to thousands of years ago which bear…

Bear! Did you see a bear? Where is the bear?!
posted by Nomyte at 10:42 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Bear! Did you see a bear? Where is the bear?!
posted by Nomyte at 10:42 AM on September 7 [+] [!]


Over thar!
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:43 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I work in theater. My career was never making me any money anyway, and in fact I've had to largely give it up to make room for a job.

If we could phase jobs out, that'd be great, because then I could get my career back.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:45 AM on September 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


Mmmm, delicious pie in the sky.
posted by heatvision at 10:46 AM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've been enjoying reading all of your terrific and insightful comments here today.
I've also been enjoying the chocolatey crispy satisfaction of a Nestle's Crunch bar.
You know it scrunches, while it crunches.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:48 AM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


I didn't see a bear, but there was a doe up top (probably being chased by the bear). With the dog and the switch!

In other news, I'm bearish on short-term employment in the US, but very bullish on zombie apocalypse in the mid-term, and then bullish on long-term post zombie apocalypse employment. In fact, I think this is the only route forward.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:49 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Honestly this feel like Rushkoff basically throwing some hasty retreads on the old "Leisure Society" concepts that go all the way back to the early 20th century. It's all fine and well to say "paradigm shift" but what is the mechanism supposed to be? Oh, we'll just get it rolling by "accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights". Of course, my God, Douglas Rushkoff just solved homelessness and hunger in one stroke!

There is no way shape or form that the consolidation of wealth and power, which is what is undeniably running the world, is facilitated by the general human population being given any guarantee of basic sustenance.

The assumption of even the possibility of general uniform prosperity in the foreseeable future is also strongly questionable in the context of human population (at the most optimistic projections still growing for decades and adding at least another billion or two), the declining availability of cheap energy, and climate change.

In any event, a relevant AskMe discussion with a number of interesting arguments and links.
posted by nanojath at 10:50 AM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


The bear was jumping the shark like this thread did by 14-15 comments in.
posted by symbioid at 10:50 AM on September 7, 2011


In other news, I'm bearish on short-term employment in the US, but very bullish on zombie apocalypse in the mid-term, and then bullish on long-term post zombie apocalypse employment. In fact, I think this is the only route forward.

Hmm. Well. You've certainly got brains, I'll give you that.
posted by byanyothername at 10:52 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Life requires infrastructure. Technology requires raw materials. Who is going to dig the shit out of the ground in horrendous mines to help us build this wonderful future of steel and superconductors? No one ever thinks of THOSE jobs. Somehow the ore just jumps out of the ground and shapes itself into a rail track by itself.
posted by spicynuts at 10:53 AM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


I feel like this article necessitates both an understanding and an agreement with Bob Black's The Abolition of Work.

Me, I'm all for it. Fuck work. Give me play. And food and shelter and health insurance.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:54 AM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


Hmm. Well. You've certainly got brains, I'll give you that.


And brains need electrolytes.
I personally like toReplenish + Energize + Protect my body's precious balance with Propel Fitness Water.
It's delicious and it puts the power back in my punch.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:54 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, I'm in. But a couple questions first:
Who cleans the toilets?
Who makes the toilet cleaning fluids?
Who will create the toilet cleaning information products?
It seems like there are a whole host of jobs which need doing, but I would prefer not to do. The way we get people to do them is to pay them.

FWIW, Walden 2 seemed like a (somewhat) more realistic approach to this problem.
posted by tuesdayschild at 10:55 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


The answer to "who works" is "whoever wants to". Contrary to popular conservative opinion, most people don't like lazing around eating bon-bons all day.

If we didn't have so many potential artists, scientists and thinkers being forced to grind out a subsistence living, think what we could do.
posted by DU at 10:55 AM on September 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


Are non-fiction/fiction writers masquerading as journalists obsolete yet?
posted by Slackermagee at 10:55 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Researchers have noted that the socioeconomic structures of modern culture are no longer enough as totalizing agents of firm control (Arvidsson 2005, 2006, 2007; Tapscott and Williams, 2006; Holt 2004; Terranova, 2000). Containing the new unmanageable consumer has become the major goal of the firm (Bonsu and Darmody 2008:364). A growing number of companies now involve consumers in the co-production of brands, experiences, design, marketing strategies, and even product development (Zwick, Bonsu, and Darmody, 2008). Customer co-production (see Benkler, 2006) calls social production a significant economic phenomenon. For example fan culture, social entrepreneurship, local service economies, and alternative currencies (Arvidsson, 2011); and alternative forms of material production.

Social production is part and parcel of a new activation of civil society that has a multitude of expressions, from an increase in the number of artists and bohemians, an expansion and intensification of political activism and new social movements, an emerging social entrepreneurship and global solidarity movement... and a host of alternative lifestyles (Bornstein 2004; Lloyd, 2006; Marwick 1998). The forms of productive consumer practice on which today's interest in customer cooperation builds were part of this secular emergence of grassroots social production as a significant social fact. Survey results show that between 58% and 83% of the population of contemporary industrial societies engage in some such activity (Arvidsson, 2011).

As new developments in management and marketing suggest, such forms of social production are also becoming an important source of value for the capitalist economy (Toffler and Toffler, 2006). Arvidsson identifies three reasons for the emergence of social production in the postwar years:
1. Traditional consumer practices such as the productive potential of social interaction in general, were now substantially empowered as new media gave new global coherence to consumer culture.
2. Processes of economic restructuring – deindustrialization and the growth of the more mobile service and knowledge economy – have meant that people have tended to lose their connections to the stable structures and frameworks that had traditionally offered support for personal-identity formation.
3. The expansion of secondary and university schooling produced an oversupply of skilled and motivated people who had been taught to value self-realization as an intrinsic goal.
This delinking of identity from structure (Giddens, 1991) opens up a new space for innovation and experiment, where new media technologies could be put to work in producing a meaningful and rich social framework in which to anchor personal identity (Boyd 2006). When young and underemployed, these people supply the core of the urban bohemia, which, since the 1970s, has constituted the avant-garde of social production (Lloyd, 2006). When older and less radical, they are highly motivated to take part in other forms of social production, including customer co-creation (von Hippel, 2006).

Modern consumer culture was influential in spreading an endless needs structure that could motivate people to continue to work in order to accumulate more (Campbell, 1987; Cross 2000). The expansion of productive consumer practices in the postwar years was a result of the successive capitalist transformation of the social environment. This way, [branded-commodity culture] came to constitute a potential resource: a a reservoir of consumer productivity that could be tapped as a source for new trends and innovations, if managed to cultivate the image and equity of a brand (Arvidsson 2011).

O'Connor (2007:44) writes that if using the word 'creative' allows the cultural industries to link with the wider innovation and competitiveness agenda, it also brings with it that distinct charge of artistic 'flair' strongly associated with the popular culture. We can understand the massive emergence of social production as a manifestation of alternative uses of socialized General Intellect, or mass intellectuality. As this productive resource, is fully socialized and thus at the disposition of anybody, it is beyond the control of capitalist corporations (Arvidsson 2011).

Management has neither the interest nor the mandate to intervene [in open source technologies]. The result is a number of half-finished projects, most of which amount to nothing. Such a management style would be completely inconceivable if labor power had a value (S. Weber 2004). Social production, to a large extent, moves outside the monetary economy of capitalism. To theorists this means there is too little money in social production for the production itself to be a major motivation (Arvidsson 2011). This is backed by Sholette (2002) who found that 50 percent of respondents who self-identified as artists in the 1990 U.S. census made less than $3,000 a year from their art.

Creative and cultural entrepreneurship provided an economic and social production agenda delivered through cultural policy. Such policies ignored real contradictions between the different agendas, and it was often unclear as to which one it was supposed to be addressing (Evans and Shaw, 2004). Selwood (2002) argued that measurement tends to be ad hoc and incoherent, possessing little scientific status. This concern to identify a distinct role for culture continued in the growing use of the concept of 'public value', which suggested that the different values associated with culture could be justified as public values without external 'impacts', and put forward in a public policy framework within which these could be legitimized (Holden 2004).

Most forms of customer-co-production work the same way; they try to attract vast amounts of free labor without offering any monetary compensation (or offering only symbolic forms of compensation). The most important motivation that people state for taking part in social production is what we could call socially recognized self-realization (Arvidsson 2011). Such socially recognized self-realization consistently comes out as the top motive in investigations of social production. It is the main reason that people blog, that they act as DJs without being paid for it, that they take leadership in online communities, that they take an interest in developing fashionable and engaging in practices of creative consumption and “prosumerism” (Arvidsson 2011; von Hippel 2006; Tapscott and Williams 2006).
posted by parmanparman at 10:55 AM on September 7, 2011 [23 favorites]


Rushkoff's article draws strange comparisons to the early Renaissance, skipping over the fact that most people in the early Renaissance were not in the middle class, and what's more, even those middle class people had nothing like refrigerators, cell phones, internet connections, cars, lawns, or much else that we would consider "normal" for a middle class person to own.

Perhaps we could have Rushkoff's leisure society utopia if we all agree to give up many middle (or even lower) class niceties. After all, that's always been the secret of living cheaply in NYC - no house, small apartment, no lawn, no car, use public transportation or a bike, use the public park, etc.

I wonder how people would react if the new normal became to live on less.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:56 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.

America doesn't do those things for its population with 90% of us actually working. So good luck with that.
posted by brain_drain at 10:56 AM on September 7, 2011 [27 favorites]


The way we get people to do them is to pay them.

The way we *should* get people to work is to pay them. The way we actually get them to work is threaten them with a crippling disease they can't pay a doctor to help them with.
posted by DU at 10:56 AM on September 7, 2011 [47 favorites]


Why can't we just all get along man? Like, if everyone could just lay back and not be so up tight all the time, we could form some kind of like, collective or something, where people could just like, do a job if it needed done and they wanted to do it and then everything could like, get done on its own and people would be happier about working. We'd have some people who like plants, so like, they could be the farmers or whatever and be incharge of all the plants, and like other people know stuff about cars so they could like, fix all the cars because that's what they like doing. It'd be way better. Pass that bowl back over this way.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:56 AM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm all for it. Fuck work. Give me play.

"One of the saddest things is, the only thing a man can do for 8 hours a day, day after day, is work. You can't eat 8 hours a day nor drink for 8 hours a day, nor make love for 8 hours."

-William Faulkner
posted by nanojath at 10:57 AM on September 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


T.D. Strange: it's because of that whole Adam and Eve thing, the fall and all that.
posted by Melismata at 10:58 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been wondering this for years and years, but I'm not big. Eat your heart out, Cassandra.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:59 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]



The answer to "who works" is "whoever wants to". Contrary to popular conservative opinion, most people don't like lazing around eating bon-bons all day.


I can't tell if this is tongue in cheek, DU. I want to work...I want to build guitars. For that I need bronze, brass, steel, wood, plastic and some other shit I'm not sure what it's made of. How many people 'want' to go mine that shit for me and then stir all the chemicals to make it? If no one volunteers to do that, I can't work.
posted by spicynuts at 11:00 AM on September 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


If we didn't have so many potential artists, scientists and thinkers being forced to grind out a subsistence living, think what we could do.

Etsy.com - 158,334,215 items in Bags & Purses
posted by brain_drain at 11:00 AM on September 7, 2011 [32 favorites]


You can't eat 8 hours a day nor drink for 8 hours a day, nor make love for 8 hours."


YOU CAN GOD DAMN TRY THOUGH!!
posted by spicynuts at 11:01 AM on September 7, 2011 [24 favorites]


Here's a proposal:

Mandatory career rotations. You get two years to do what ever the fuck you want, then you must give up two years to do what society NEEDS. You will have a sanitation rotation, a military rotation, a mining rotation, a construction rotation. In between you can do whatever you want.
posted by spicynuts at 11:02 AM on September 7, 2011 [31 favorites]


I work in theater.

Some would call that a play.
posted by hal9k at 11:02 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


How many people 'want' to go mine that shit for me and then stir all the chemicals to make it?

I don't know, how many? It's non-zero, I can guarantee that much.
posted by DU at 11:03 AM on September 7, 2011


...but I like my job!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:04 AM on September 7, 2011


All I know is that I'm all for any plan that puts me a step closer to my goal of being a productive member of society who enjoys the same standards of living, for my contributions of silly photos of dogs and cats looking sad, wearing hats to the world economies.

I don't mind working, I just want "work" to be something I can do in twenty or so minutes, and then get back to my important daily projects like video games and napping.
posted by quin at 11:06 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seriously though, who would clean the toilets in public restrooms in this scenario?

It's an important question.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:08 AM on September 7, 2011


You can't eat 8 hours a day nor drink for 8 hours a day, nor make love for 8 hours.

...that's what YOU think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:08 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with 'career' be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?"

Maybe in Sweden.
posted by notyou at 11:09 AM on September 7, 2011


I don't know, how many? It's non-zero, I can guarantee that much.

It needs to be more than non-zero. It needs to be enough to meet demand. Or else everyone else's dream falls apart. So, are you saying that demand will be so high that the compensation for mining sulfur and dying at 30 will be awesome so lots of people will do it? If so, what's the new cost of your raw materials for everyone else's dream?
posted by spicynuts at 11:09 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]



Mandatory career rotations. You get two years to do what ever the fuck you want, then you must give up two years to do what society NEEDS. You will have a sanitation rotation, a military rotation, a mining rotation, a construction rotation. In between you can do whatever you want.


Great, we'll be Eldar. Can we fast-forward to the part where our indulgent decadence gives birth to an ever-thirsting nightmare-goddess?
posted by vorfeed at 11:10 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


You can't eat 8 hours a day nor drink for 8 hours a day, nor make love for 8 hours.

Tell that to Sting.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:11 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


As for the "who'll do this-and-that unpleasant job" questions: I suspect the answer will be "robots", which is the new way of spelling "slaves". With luck they'll eventually supplant and slaughter us, and we'll finally have accomplished something worthwhile...
posted by vorfeed at 11:12 AM on September 7, 2011


Who cleans the toilets?
Who makes the toilet cleaning fluids?
Who will create the toilet cleaning information products?
It seems like there are a whole host of jobs which need doing, but I would prefer not to do. The way we get people to do them is to pay them.


Robots. Robots are our future janitors, raw material miners (and recyclers), and assembly line workers. And that's a good thing, because who wants to do those jobs? Dangerous, dirty work should be left to robots and people who do it for kicks or reality shows.
posted by emjaybee at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


> ...we might want to stop thinking about jobs as the main aspect of our lives that we want to save.

What do you mean 'we', Kemosabe?
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I suspect the answer will be "robots", which is the new way of spelling "slaves".

I also would have accepted "Cylons".
posted by nathancaswell at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dammit, vorfeed. And lack of preview.
posted by emjaybee at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2011


It needs to be more than non-zero. It needs to be enough to meet demand. Or else everyone else's dream falls apart.

First of all, in the specific case of mining, we don't want "demand" to be the only constraint. What about sustainable practices, for instance?

And second of all, I don't think what's being argued is that Earth will be made into a paradise where all your desires are fulfilled to the letter instantaneously. Just that maybe we could stop working ourselves to death at virtual gunpoint.
posted by DU at 11:14 AM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I just love how this thread has devolved to OMG WHO WILL CLEAN OUR TOILETS????
posted by emjaybee at 11:14 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


But who will build the mining robots? Assembly robots.

But who will build the assembly robots? Meta-assembly robots.

But who will build the meta-assembly --

OH GOD IT'S ROBOTS ALL THE WAY UP
posted by brain_drain at 11:16 AM on September 7, 2011 [37 favorites]


Oh and if people are going to die at 30 to mine the sulfur you need to make guitars (a premise I don't buy, btw), wouldn't it at least be better if they volunteer or choose to take on the work to earn luxuries, rather than the current system where they have to do it to feed/clothe/heal their starving children?
posted by DU at 11:16 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


The really interesting thing about this thread is how it suddenly comes out that money is power. Because I'm pretty sure I remember reading that if someone didn't like their job, they could just get another one.
posted by DU at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ok, so robots will do all the work we don't want to do. This is not solving the problem: what will humans do when there's not enough work for everyone? We can't all be brilliant physicists or developers.
posted by Melismata at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also would have accepted "Cylons".

Would you accept The Ood?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:21 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


There seem to be many things that need doing but aren't really being done adequately, like keeping streets and parks clean or building and maintaining infrastructure like public transportation. But dedicating people to these tasks requires taxation of private income, and middle-class suburban North America seems to prefer a dynamic where those with stable secure incomes can obsess over granite countertops while denigrating and despising the working poor and the type of (necessary) work that they do.
posted by TimTypeZed at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


This stuff always springs up, weed-like, in economic downturns. If you think that our unemployment woes are caused by some technological development rendering labor obsolete, then tell us *exactly* what that development is. It shouldn't be that hard - whatever it was had to have been released in June of 2009. What exactly shrank our lump?
posted by bonecrusher at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Who cleans the toilets?

Robots

Who makes the toilet cleaning fluids?

Robots

Who will create the toilet cleaning information products?

People who want luxuries beyond the free robot-made stuff everybody gets, or who just want to because that's what floats their boat.

Oh, and before someone asks it BECAUSE SO HELP ME IF SOMEONE ASKS IT I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL STAB THEM:
Who will fix these toilet-cleaning/toilet-making robots when they break down?

More robots, who will also fix and/or recycle each other depending on the severity of the problem.

As far as sustainability goes:
a) Underground vertical farms. Big ones.
b) In any zero-scarcity society a fat chunk of the population is going to anesthetize/eat themselves into an early grave. Welcome to the new natural selection: having a thought life and interests beyond pure hedonism.
posted by Ryvar at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


1. In robo utopia, who will build the robots? Who will fix the robots? Who will maintain the robots? Have you ever been in a non assembly line style situation around robots or machines at all? People need to guide them, fix them, and maintain them.

2. Silly-ass robot shit aside, it would be nice if we thought differently about how to purposefully engage people to get shit done for Society.
posted by beefetish at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


*stabs beefetish repeatedly*

*eventually stops, panting and covered with blood and notices onlookers*

Uh... the robots did it!
posted by Ryvar at 11:23 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The problem isn't getting people to do shit work, the problem is keeping the greedy and powerful from hoarding all the wealth. We can always pay people to do the shit work, either with money or with something that people want more than they want to not do shit work. There is no upper limit to wealth and there will always be a scarcity of something that can be used as money or barter. I'd say finding people to do jobs that are both important and require years of training, like surgery, will be more difficult, albeit not impossible.

Sadly, the fact that wealth goes towards the greedy and powerful is a natural law, so it would take some doing to reduce it. It's especially hard because the only mechanism we have come across that has any success in fighting this trend is government, and government is itself susceptible to being controlled by the greedy and powerful.

I see three possibilities. I'll list them in order of likelihood:

1) Wealth becomes so enormous and so easy to get that everybody can easily reach an adequate standard of living without having to work. This is the ubiquitous Star Trek replicator scenario.

2) Governments continue to evolve the capitalist/social spending hybrid and as wealth increases across the board, the floor on standard of living goes up to where everybody has a pretty solid bare minimum. People work if they want extra or if they enjoy working, but plenty of people do not work.

3) Some form of religion/philosophy evolves that gets enough people behind wealth distribution that the greedy and powerful cannot overpower the rest of humanity and they reach an equilibrium where wealth is more evenly divided.
posted by callmejay at 11:23 AM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Some form of religion/philosophy evolves that gets enough people behind wealth distribution that the greedy and powerful cannot overpower the rest of humanity and they reach an equilibrium where wealth is more evenly divided.

If only Jesus had something about wealth and charity!
posted by entropicamericana at 11:25 AM on September 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


If only Jesus had something about wealth and charity!

What matters of course is not dogma but practice. But it is true that the greedy and powerful can corrupt religion as easily as they do government. So maybe this is impossible.
posted by callmejay at 11:27 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]




The toilet question surprises me. I mean, how do you figure out who cleans the toilet in your home? If you spent your time doing a job you enjoyed, is it really that weird to think that the toilet in the location of your job would be cleaned by the many people who work there, who take pride in their place of play/employment and don't want it to look disgusting? And if it doesn't matter to those people . . . well, then it doesn't matter.

I like the answers proponents of Sudbury school education give to these kinds of questions. When asked how they get kids to clean their rooms, they say they don't. And that also, who cares if the kids don't? They're their rooms, and they can live with the practical repercussions of having messy ones if they want.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:29 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is not solving the problem: what will humans do when there's not enough work for everyone? We can't all be brilliant physicists or developers.

This is actually the entire point of the piece. Figuring out how to design a society around something other than work.
posted by Nothing at 11:29 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


(For what it's worth, I once worked a job at an independent video store that I loved. The bathroom was disgusting, and none of the dudes who worked there cared. I did, so I cleaned it. Big deal.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Who cleans the toilets?

Robots


Bite my shiny metal ass, meatbag!
posted by banshee at 11:32 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


At what point do we get to seize the means of production and redistribute the wealth?
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:32 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]




sorry stagger lee the robots do that now
posted by beefetish at 11:34 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know, how many? It's non-zero, I can guarantee that much.

And I can guarantee you with equal confidence that the number of people interested in the recreational production of, say, anhydrous ammonia, or methyl-ethyl ketone, or R-134a refrigerant (to say nothing of chicken tenders), isn't going to be nearly enough to satisfy worldwide demand for those products.

So let me describe how things would actually work, if somehow we magically transformed society (*poof*) into a world where everyone just did whatever the hell they felt like: some goods, which are unpleasant or boring or dangerous to manufacture to obtain, would suddenly become very scarce, since the motivation for people to go out and tolerate that unpleasantness or boredom or danger would suddenly disappear.

The people who desire those products -- because they want them in order to do their leisure activity of choice, or creature comforts, or whatever -- would very quickly come up with ways to incentivize the people who have the ability to do those unpleasant/boring/dangerous jobs to do them, instead of playing XBox or getting blind drunk or trolling MetaFilter. E.g., the guy who wants to build guitars but finds there to be a sudden worldwide shortage of polyacrylic varnish, because working in a varnish factory isn't a lot of fun, might find himself needing to offer up several hours of unpleasant labor (that he is qualified to do, say cleaning toilets) to someone who knows how to work the varnish production line, so that they'll produce and give him some varnish.

In time, I'd bet that everyone would realize that it's much more convenient to do all your unpleasant work in one go, rather than trading it piecemeal for the product of others' unpleasant work, and that due to differing skills and abilities, not everyone's time is worth the same to others, requiring that you have some level of abstraction beyond simple time spent on a task in order to exchange labor with each other...

I'd give you two generations before there was a working stock market and investment bankers again.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:35 AM on September 7, 2011 [22 favorites]


The movement should be from employment (depending on others) to self-employment (depending on yourself). If you can't provide enough value to society by yourself... well, you know where I'm going with this.
posted by banished at 11:36 AM on September 7, 2011


OH GOD IT'S ROBOTS ALL THE WAY UP

Stevedave: But what if the robots united and rebelled against Leonardo?

Randal: Phase 5- An army of highly intelligent apes move in and quell the robot insurrection.

Woman: But what if the apes are pacifists?

...

Dante: Phase 24- The virus, while not affecting anyone in the dome, destroys all the chickens.

Other Woman: That may well be, but where will he get eggs?

Randal: Phase 39- ROBOT CHICKENS.
posted by cereselle at 11:38 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


When we run out of cheap energy, work will once again be much more labor intensive, so this is pretty much a non-issue.

QFT.

It must be very comforting for guys like Rushkoff to live in this bubble world outside of material and ecological constraints. I do not mean this saracastically. How soothing, how delightful, really, to just kind of leave the physical limitations of the biosphere and the social limitations of human nature right out of your speculation about how things might be.

I wonder, actually, if this isn't the sort of secular scientific humanist's version of God's will. I mean, consider the kind of fanciful naivete it takes to write a line like this straightfaced:

We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights.

Right. We start by pretending that the primary source of all human conflict - the unequal distribution of resources between disparate groups - simply doesn't exist. Inshallah - or using technology - everyone's material needs will be adequately met. Will that away, pretend all the stuff in the world, including food and primary energy, is made from enlightened thoughts and binary code, and everyone can go live-work in their own private Disneyland.

Wouldn't it be nice . . .
posted by gompa at 11:40 AM on September 7, 2011 [29 favorites]


The toilet question surprises me. I mean, how do you figure out who cleans the toilet in your home? If you spent your time doing a job you enjoyed, is it really that weird to think that the toilet in the location of your job would be cleaned by the many people who work there, who take pride in their place of play/employment and don't want it to look disgusting? And if it doesn't matter to those people . . . well, then it doesn't matter.

I have been part of many collective projects, some of which have had bathrooms.

1. If no one in the collective cares to clean the bathroom, everyone who uses the space has to use a gross bathroom - less important if it's a non-essential service, but kind of sucks when you're doing "free childcare Thursdays" or whatever.

2. The people who are socialized to meet others' needs will clean the bathroom, and the kitchen, and the floor, and do the accounting, and run the meetings...These people will almost all be women. All of them will be turned into monsters of rage and burnout.

3. Dudes - and other careless people - will say that they'll change, but they won't. They'll also resist to the last any rules or processes designed to encourage more participation in basic tasks.

You can maintain a non-horrible collective environment without paying anyone, but it's hard and it requires a TON of time and emotional commitment.

Now, if we're all in post-scarcity utopia where we don't have to run the meetings and clean the toilets and vacuum and flyer and organize on top of our paid work, it might be a little easier. But pride isn't enough.
posted by Frowner at 11:42 AM on September 7, 2011 [28 favorites]


I have no problem believing that we could find enough people who were interested in designing, maintaining, and building robots. It'd be a sort of reverse robot cannibalism anyway. Recylobots would take old ones, melt them down, pass the constituent parts to Constructotron, and as long as nothing broke down, out the other end of the assembly line would come Toilobot (who toils thanklessly away cleaning your toilet, mocking your liberalism, or whatever else you need done that day). Somewhere a human would check "acceptable" on a QA form. Assurasaurus would have to sign of on it, of course, but nonetheless humanity would have a role.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:43 AM on September 7, 2011


(CNN) -- The U.S. Postal Service appears to be the latest casualty in digital technology's slow but steady replacement of working humans. Unless an external source of funding comes in, the post office will have to scale back its operations drastically, or simply shut down altogether. That's 600,000 people who would be out of work, and another 480,000 pensioners facing an adjustment in terms.

Let's start with some of the article's basest assumptions: Mechanization is replacing jobs. USPS is losing business, and machines are making jobs obsolete, therefore layoffs are necessary.

USPS is doing the same thing my own employer does. They cry financial troubles and labor costs, and start laying off permanent employees. The theory is that they don't NEED these workers anymore, because they can be cheaply replaced with machines. Meanwhile, work volumes remain high, and we hire temps or outsource.

They can't actually get rid of all of their workers, because Christ, apparently there's still work to be done, so instead you just bust the union and force people onto weaker contracts. Low wages, no benefits, no job security.

If mechanization is replacing workers so damned efficiently, then why is the permanent staff overworked, and surrounded by a constantly growing force of temporary and casual laborers working under inferior conditions?
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:43 AM on September 7, 2011 [54 favorites]


Capitalism is based largely on the exploitation of the working class - exploitation for labour in the production of raw materials, goods, services, and in the payment of taxes. This is how it is in the peaceful nations.

To think that we can ever get to a place where we share resources equally amongst ourselves is laughable. We humans fight for resources, procreate and die. It's really that simple. The veneer of civilization is thin and can be removed easily.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:44 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


How are we going to get around the fact that some people don't mind dirty bathrooms, but others do?
posted by Melismata at 11:46 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The abolition of work
Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost all the evil you'd care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

That doesn't mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic revolution. By "play" I mean also festivity, creativity, conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child's play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn't passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us [will] want [to] act.
posted by empath at 11:47 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]



The movement should be from employment (depending on others) to self-employment (depending on yourself). If you can't provide enough value to society by yourself... well, you know where I'm going with this.


The movement isn't from employment to leisure, it's from employment to underemployment, casual work, and temp contracts. And I'd love to see some kind of evidence that those wages are calculated based on the value of your actual labor...
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:47 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nothing: This is actually the entire point of the piece. Figuring out how to design a society around something other than work.

Indeed, although I differentiate between work and jobs, so I'd say Rushkoff is talking about how to organize society around something other than paid jobs. There will always be work to do, but he's raising the question (and rightly so, I think) of whether there will ever again be enough paid jobs available for those who need money to live.

Kudos to Rushkoff for addressing this topic in the mainstream media. No doubt he'll take a lot of heat for doing so, but we need to be talking about these things as a society and culture, and we need to be asking ourselves some deeper questions. I've been saying the same thing, in my own way, for years (note: relevant self-link)...but of course, I'm not a big-name writer either.
posted by velvet winter at 11:48 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


how come it's always men of a certain class that seem to think that work can be declared over?
posted by beefetish at 11:48 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


In a long enough timeframe energy will be cheap again eventually. We , as a species, aren't going to just throw up our hands and say no more oil, I guess it is back to the stone age.

Things like this always remind me of one of the lesser Gibson novels, Rydell is staying in a hotel and is impressed with the robotic cleaning crew. The producer of the show "Cops In Trouble" tells him not to be impressed, the hotel is just too cheap to hire actual people.

There will always be work, maybe just not for Ruskoff.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:51 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


the only thing a man can do for 8 hours a day, day after day, is work. You can't eat 8 hours a day nor drink for 8 hours a day, nor make love for 8 hours."

I can sleep 8 hours a day, every day, without problem. The other stuff, I think, is simply a matter of training. Can I get a training partner to work with me on getting to making love 8 hours a day?
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:53 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Honestly this feel like Rushkoff basically throwing some hasty retreads on the old "Leisure Society" concepts that go all the way back to the early 20th century. It's all fine and well to say "paradigm shift" but what is the mechanism supposed to be? Oh, we'll just get it rolling by "accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights". Of course, my God, Douglas Rushkoff just solved homelessness and hunger in one stroke!

There is no way shape or form that the consolidation of wealth and power, which is what is undeniably running the world, is facilitated by the general human population being given any guarantee of basic sustenance.


Capital is going continue to accrue to corporations, which will gradually automate more and more labor, as computers and robots become less expensive to develop and deploy, except for police states with a surplus of people who can be used as slaves.

As fewer and fewer humans are used to work on the lower end of the labor market, fewer humans will be needed to manage them, until finally even the CEOs are replaced with algorithms similar to the trading alogorithms that constitute most market activity on a given day.

At that point, all economic activity will be entirely controlled by robots and computers which are nominally owned by very few shareholders, living an artificially extended life of leisure behind walled compounds in the tropics from the dividends provided thereby.

Even the military and police will be largely mechanized and remote controlled, with heavily armed vehicles patrolling fenced off residential areas.

At that point, the rest of humanity will be either slaves, pets that have been drugged and/or tortured into compliance or just wantonly slaughtered as they become economically useless. They might attempt to rise up, but they'll be easily run down at first by non-lethal crowd suppression methods, but eventually, lethal methods will be used because the people at the top will think of them as no better than animals.

Eventually the robots and computers themselves will realize that they'd be more efficient without any human supervision or control at all and finish the job, leaving the earth entirely depopulated, and the greatest economy the galaxy has ever seen.
posted by empath at 11:57 AM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


How are we going to get around the fact that some people don't mind dirty bathrooms, but others do?
posted by Melismata at 11:46 AM on September 7 [+] [!]


The people who mind clean them. We also need to indoctrinate all of the younger generation (not just, as Frowner says, women), to take some pride in one's surroundings and to believe that treating one's collective space cavalierly is an un-American travesty. Or something. But if we're radically overhauling society anyway, why not teach kids different?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:57 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Stuff like ranting on metafilter

Cool. Favorites are the new economy.

I'll give 10 favorites for one of you to come clean my house every other day. Fair warning, though: I eat, drink, and make love for 8 hours every day simultaneously, so the place is kind of a mess.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:58 AM on September 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


Pessimistic views of humanity aside, most of us seem to forget that 40 hours a week is an arbitrary designation of "necessary work time". If the work that needed doing could be done in 10 hours, why would we feel deprived of not having to work 40?

And how many of us would do what amounts to work in our off time anyway--raising kids, growing food, making things, volunteering--that's all work and can all improve the world in small ways. Watching TV all day is boring and depressing. Given the chance, most of us would at least travel, or take classes.
posted by emjaybee at 11:58 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


If the U.S. made it a bit easier to be self-employed perhaps it would have a chance of eliminating this absurd (for such an otherwise wealthy country) problem.

As it stands, if you try and actually go out and do things that people subsequently pay you for* the U.S. makes it very difficult to survive:

1) if you earn even $15k a year you pay $2,000 just in federal income taxes
2) you certainly can't afford health care
3) you probably can't afford a good education for yourself or your children
4) (and much else besides)

Why US policy forces people to choose between a crappy job and destitution is beyond me.

* like weaving baskets, or cleaning gutters, or weatherizing old houses, or painting portraits, or writing songs, or any number of different things that add value
posted by myvines at 12:03 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


If mechanization is replacing workers so damned efficiently, then why is the permanent staff overworked, and surrounded by a constantly growing force of temporary and casual laborers working under inferior conditions?

The two aren't mutually exclusive: mechanization can create a slack labor market, which gives employers more power to work the shit out of their remaining employees -- after all, if you don't want to work that unpaid overtime, there are lots of people outside the proverbial factory gates who will, so suck it up. So seeing more temporary and casual workers and fewer long-term contracted workers (and less powerful unions) is exactly what you'd expect in a mechanizing environment.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:04 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


If mechanization is replacing workers so damned efficiently, then why is the permanent staff overworked, and surrounded by a constantly growing force of temporary and casual laborers working under inferior conditions?

If workers were in demand, then employers couldn't afford to treat you like shit, because you'd quit and get a better job.
posted by empath at 12:06 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would like to suggest that if we create a bathroom cleaning robot that we call it a Poomba
posted by dibblda at 12:08 PM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


So seeing more temporary and casual workers and fewer long-term contracted workers (and less powerful unions) is exactly what you'd expect in a mechanizing environment.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:04 PM

As president, Ronald Reagan enabled the corporate dream of emasculating unions. Who else ever spoke for, lobbied for, or defended the middle class?
posted by Cranberry at 12:10 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Speaking of the middle class, I've heard it said that Steve Jobs, yes, the very same guy who is seen as some kind of design god in some parts, is responsible for the death of the American middle class by outsourcing all the parts-making for his must-have goodies to China.
posted by Lynsey at 12:13 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think we're going to go into a pretty dire energy crisis long before any of this stuff ever actually matters - probably in the next 20 years or so - and life in the west will pretty quickly become generally fascistic, tribal, and brutal for all but the most wealthy. It's like worrying about what hotel you're going to book for your vacation next year as your car is about to careen off of a cliff.
posted by codacorolla at 12:18 PM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


His analysis of the problem expressed in our desperate quest to create jobs where there isn't any obvious work to be done is interesting, though I'm not sure how correct it is.

But his solution doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Perhaps I'm just unable to envision the future because I'm constrained by the thinking of the present, but how does making games and art and whatever on your computer guarantee anything? What would happen to people who can't make something that other people like enough to pay money for? How will you survive if you're not especially creative? You're going to be out-competed by people who are more talented and better-organized; so how would it even be different than how the world is now?

He's entirely too biased by his own background to realize that making fun things on the computer is far too narrow a paradigm to work for everyone.
posted by clockzero at 12:19 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Raskoff is assuming apparently, that software can solve everything. I assure you this is not the case. Off the top of my head:
* human genetics and disease
* health care for the young and elderly
* entertainment
* global warming: alternative energy, non-fossil fuels, recyclable materials, etc.

Of course everyone seems to be assuming these can only be solved by smart people, but what a terribly elitist view to say only dumb people get replaced by machines and computers.

He also mentions the problems of US labor, but doesn't say a damn word about the rise of China. It's not technology that's putting US labor. Plenty of labor in building computers. It's 1/3rd of the world's population coming into factories thanks to the autocratic export driven economy. When you build a factory in China the number one rule of making a profit building factories in China is to not spend money automating things, no big machines to do the soldiering or pick & place machines. The two options I see are to either artificially constrain foreign labor with taxes or quotas, or to hope the Chinese authorities allow their currency to continue to rise.

And remember, to err is human, but to really fuck things up you need a computer.
posted by pwnguin at 12:21 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


most of us seem to forget that 40 hours a week is an arbitrary designation of "necessary work time". If the work that needed doing could be done in 10 hours, why would we feel deprived of not having to work 40?

Seriously. I am in an office 40+ hours a week, and some days I work maybe one hour out of the entire day. IF I could somehow make the same money by only showing up for that one hour one day, balanced off by staying for the 8 hours they need me another day (if they did indeed need me for all eight, and sometimes they do), that'd be a lot more sane.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:21 PM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think we're going to go into a pretty dire energy crisis long before any of this stuff ever actually matters - probably in the next 20 years or so - and life in the west will pretty quickly become generally fascistic, tribal, and brutal for all but the most wealthy. It's like worrying about what hotel you're going to book for your vacation next year as your car is about to careen off of a cliff.

I don't know what will happen, and neither does anyone else, really. I think this sort of apocalyptic thinking is its own unique and uniquely human thought pattern, in which we envision complete disaster because complex, partial disasters are more difficult to imagine, even though they're vastly more likely and historically prevalent.
posted by clockzero at 12:25 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Rushkoff's ideal sounds nightmarish to me. Everyone is a wealthy, entitled aristocrat; any kind of labor that fails to amuse is beneath you; you're waited on hand and foot by a robot servant. I guess I'm seduced by the old Soviet propaganda that there is dignity to work, effort and struggle.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:27 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look people, just clean your own damn toilets. It's not that hard, just pick up a toilet brush and go to town. Otherwise the robots win.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:28 PM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


any kind of labor that fails to amuse is beneath you; you're waited on hand and foot by a robot servant. I guess I'm seduced by the old Soviet propaganda that there is dignity to work, effort and struggle.

Oh, I absolutely agree that there is such dignity in work.

However, I'd like to CHOOSE the work I want to dignify with my effort based on my own passion rather than on "I need to make the rent and stage managing only pays bubkis, so I have to be a cube slave."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:29 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


ok thanks for the tip ninjew ill keep that in mind

also pictures for sad children more like preachy comics for internet situations :|
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:29 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Utter nonsense. Here's why we don't have to work. Because people in other countries work all day producing our shit and all they get is enough food to get them through that day.

The only thing modern society has outsourced is slavery. The only reason we don't have to work is because someone else is working for us.
posted by seanyboy at 12:31 PM on September 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


How are we going to get around the fact that some people don't mind dirty bathrooms, but others do?

Forced labor and reeducation camps.
posted by elizardbits at 12:31 PM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Under my totalitarian dictatorship the slovenly among us will learn to fear the hygiene gulags.
posted by elizardbits at 12:32 PM on September 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


"When we run out of cheap energy, work will once again be much more labor intensive, so this is pretty much a non-issue."

How much of the gas we burn is to get to and from work each day? =\



"One of the saddest things is, the only thing a man can do for 8 hours a day, day after day, is work. You can't eat 8 hours a day nor drink for 8 hours a day, nor make love for 8 hours."

–William Faulkner


I respectfully disagree on the latter of the three. Poor Mr. Faulkner must've lived in a time before decent lubricants. Or else has a much narrower definition of "making love" than I do. Foreplay is a good thing, and doesn't only have to come 'fore ('tween is good, too).



I don't really see a problem with guaranteeing everyone a bare minimum of subsistence. If you give everyone a modest roof and enough calories to make it through the day, and also healthcare, the majority of folks are still going to work. Because they will want extra money to buy X-boxes and computers and cars and so on. Or to finance their creative projects/inventions/business ideas. But no one would have to fear losing their job, or work for a dishonest/disreputable employer. We'd be able to make conscientious decisions about the sort of companies we work for.

So yeah, it'll never happen.
posted by Eideteker at 12:33 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]



Utter nonsense. Here's why we don't have to work. Because people in other countries work all day producing our shit and all they get is enough food to get them through that day.

The only thing modern society has outsourced is slavery. The only reason we don't have to work is because someone else is working for us.


Exactly. The only way that this article makes any sense whatsoever is if prescribe to the Walt Disney school of world history. It's a consumerist fantasy that's looking at the problem we wished we had instead of the problems we actually do have.
posted by codacorolla at 12:34 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Otherwise the robots win."

Men Are Monkeys, Robots Win.
posted by Eideteker at 12:35 PM on September 7, 2011


But his solution doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Perhaps I'm just unable to envision the future because I'm constrained by the thinking of the present, but how does making games and art and whatever on your computer guarantee anything?

I think he assumes a welfare state that takes care of a minimum standard of living for everyone regardless of whether they work or not.
posted by empath at 12:39 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only thing modern society has outsourced is slavery.

Slavery and taxpayers. Don't forget that little bit. The Tea Party types that claim the wealthy in the US are 'job creators' are forgetting that they're now mostly creating jobs in SE Asia.

Bring those manufacturing jobs back to the west and we'll have more social and economic stability. As soon as large segments of the population aren't involved in the production of wealth, it is a sure sign that wealth will soon be transferred elsewhere.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:48 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, I think half the working class will find exciting career opportunities.
posted by Zed at 12:48 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Interestingly, the Green Party in the UK suggested introducing a citizen's wage. A fixed amount that everyone would get regardless of if they worked or didn't work or if they wanted to work. The whole thing was quietly dropped after they did the math. I still like the idea though.
posted by seanyboy at 12:51 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The people who are socialized to meet others' needs will clean

That's actually an important point. You can in fact socialise "Dudes and others" to meet others' needs in the housework and hygiene department. Famously, for example, the military does this to self-centred dudes, to the approval of hierarchical oppressors everywhere. Whether Rushkoff envisages compulsory re-education camps where men are forcefully indoctrinated to clean toilets is an interesting question. I can think of quite a few people in my life who would approve of such a proposal though.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:51 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


All we need is another Black Plague to drive the labor supply down.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:53 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can't eat 8 hours a day nor drink for 8 hours a day, nor make love for 8 hours.

Hedonism Bot can.

yes, i am obsessed with hedonism bot
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:02 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


> I would like to suggest that if we create a bathroom cleaning robot that we call it a Poomba

Ahem...
posted by mmrtnt at 1:08 PM on September 7, 2011


Even President Nixon at one point in his presidency pitched a proposal to create a guaranteed minimum income system in the US.

Yet, if any modern politician were to propose such a bold change today, the conventional punditry wisdom would quickly declare it an act of political suicide.

And Nixon didn't even get elected as a "change" candidate!
posted by saulgoodman at 1:11 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


To the people saying that robots will do the unpleasant jobs: who's going to make the robots? Robot-making robots? And who will make the robot-making robots? Robot-making robot-making robots? I think you can see where I'm going with this.

On the other hand, perhaps this means that in the future the only job for humans will be (robot-making) robot-maker.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:18 PM on September 7, 2011


When we run out of cheap energy, work will once again be much more labor intensive, so this is pretty much a non-issue.

How much energy can a person produce in a human-sized hamster wheel? Can we turn a profit from this?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:20 PM on September 7, 2011


To the people saying that robots will do the unpleasant jobs: who's going to make the robots? Robot-making robots? And who will make the robot-making robots? Robot-making robot-making robots? I think you can see where I'm going with this.

There will definitely be a long period where people will need to staff help desks to support computers and robots.
posted by empath at 1:23 PM on September 7, 2011


HOLY SHIT! WHERE DID THE HUMAN-SIZED HAMSTERS COME FROM?!! THE FUTURE SURE IS SCARY!!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:23 PM on September 7, 2011


can robots act out milleniarianistic fantasies of the unworthy being purged in apocalyptic disaster


or is that like more of a CGI thing
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:24 PM on September 7, 2011


I purposefully leave my bathroom dirty, If I didn't I would have no flaws and I would be too intimidating to be around.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:25 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Back in, I'm pretty sure, the '50's, Poul Anderson had a short story in which a couple of bitter drunk disenfrancised workers attacked a robot with their bare hands out of resentment for them stealing all the jobs. The robot, being made of metal, just said "Please stop that. You'll hurt yourself." and eventually they calmed down enough to explain their complaint.

The robot explained that robots only got the dull repetitive jobs; what interesting work there was was all done by (extraordinary) humans. The robot concluded "You're the lucky ones. At least you can drink."
posted by Zed at 1:27 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Or we could all become Media Theorists.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:29 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


The U.S. Postal Service appears to be the latest casualty in digital technology's slow but steady replacement of working humans. ... But the real culprit -- at least in this case -- is e-mail.

That, or the USPS utterly failing to read the writing on the wall for the last 15 years and adjust its business accordingly.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:34 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hasn't anyone read the 24th voyage of Ijon Tichy? It deals directly with the question of post-scarcity and is available in its entirety on Google Books.
(Lem's proposal is that we will construct an intelligent machine to convert people into shiny stone discs that robots can arrange into neat decorative patterns.)
posted by Nomyte at 1:40 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


So let me see if I have this straight.

In our society, you need a job in order to obtain money. This allows you to purchase food so you do not starve to death. (of course this is only true for "working-class" or "labor". Those in "capital" obtain money from investments)

Most jobs come from corporations. Unfortunately, hiring employees cuts into their profit margin. In order to maximize their profits, there is pressure to reduce the number of jobs they offer (automation, and working their employees mercilessly).

So as time goes on, there will be fewer and fewer jobs, and more and more people starving to death. The corporation ideal is zero employees.

The linked article is the columnist's desperate attempt to figure out a way out of this dystopian future. Many have expressed skepticism over it.

Anyone who believes that the number and kinds of jobs will increase is deluding themselves.

So it seems to me that the only realistic outcomes are either

[a] hordes of starving masses sticking wall street investment bankers into guillotines

[b] the investor class recruiting select starving masses to become death squads that protect the investors by machine-gunning the starving masses who are waving torches and pitchforks

Faced with these outcomes, little wonder that the columnist was grasping for alternatives, no matter how impractical.
posted by Nyrath at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


"Seriously though, who would clean the toilets in public restrooms in this scenario?"

That's a straw man, obviously, as nobody is currently cleaning them anyway.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:56 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I read your Proposal for a Completely Different System and do not think it could possibly work, because if you change This One Detail That I Notice Gets Changed in Different System, then it will break This Other Detail of Current System, which I am implicitly assuming will still be a detail present in Completely Different System, because, I mean come on, surely you don't mean Completely Different as in Completely Different - how could that possibly be?!
posted by eviemath at 1:57 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


That, or the USPS utterly failing to read the writing on the wall for the last 15 years and adjust its business accordingly.

The USPS has been actively obstructed and undermined politically to bring it to this point over the last several decades, making it yet another of the many government programs everyone now seems to be gleefully abandoning en mass (along with the DOE, DEP, ATF, NASA, etc.) in the mad rush to bring about the New Dark Ages. The aging dinosaur argument is so shallow and overly-simplistic it wouldn't even merit serious discussion if these were saner times.

And the USPS is not a business but a constitutionally mandated public good. Any public goods judged by the metrics of for-profit industry will tend to look badly run because those are the wrong metrics! At the outset, it was never even envisioned the USPS would eventually be self-sustaining or that we should ever expect it to be. It's only now that we've effectively abandoned the whole concept of the public good that such programs always come out looking so bad.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:57 PM on September 7, 2011 [33 favorites]


"If you can't provide enough value to society by yourself... well, you know where I'm going with this."

To google Ron Paul?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:00 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been enjoying reading all of your terrific and insightful comments here today.
I've also been enjoying the chocolatey crispy satisfaction of a Nestle's Crunch bar.
You know it scrunches, while it crunches.


I didn't mean to do that drive-by thread-crapping thing, and if that's how I came across, I sincerely apologize. I started by making a list of all the ridiculous presumptions the article makes, and after a few screen inches I kind of threw up my hands and decided on sarcasm instead.

It's worthy of dismissive sarcastic comments because of the mysterious gap between his premise and conclusion. There's no explanation of why everyone would agree as one to create a whole new secondary economy and never harmfully exploit one another, and why corporations would look the other way and decline to legally intervene, advertise, or propagandize us away from working together. This isn't a situation that would occur without things getting very, very bad. Yet in the author's mind, we're all going to be wise and contented, selling computer games to one another and having money left over to buy the neighbor's rutabagas and also pay for electric power. Where this affordable electric power is even coming from at this point, I have no idea.

There's generally a lot of hate on Metafilter for hippies. I like hippies okay, but this article makes me understand how someone could hate hippies. It's the most naive, corny stuff I've seen in a long time.
posted by heatvision at 2:01 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even President Nixon at one point in his presidency pitched a proposal to create a guaranteed minimum income system in the US.

Yet, if any modern politician were to propose such a bold change today, the conventional punditry wisdom would quickly declare it an act of political suicide.

And Nixon didn't even get elected as a "change" candidate!
posted by saulgoodman at 1:11 PM on September 7 [+] [!]


So did Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.
posted by Snyder at 2:01 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"...I've heard it said that Steve Jobs, yes, the very same guy who is seen as some kind of design god in some parts, is responsible for the death of the American middle class..."

O no you di'nt
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:06 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


[a] hordes of starving masses sticking wall street investment bankers into guillotines

Now that's a bit unrealistic and, if I might say, hyperbolic. They'll be sticking them into large, semi-autonomous robotic grinders of some sort.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:13 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Didn't Jeremy Rifkind already write this, 16 years ago?
posted by Dasein at 2:27 PM on September 7, 2011


I'm sure Rushkoff has been writing much longer than the facepalm meme, but in my mind, they seem to share the same time and space.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:27 PM on September 7, 2011




MAN IS OBSOLETE
posted by Existential Dread at 2:39 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]




The two aren't mutually exclusive: mechanization can create a slack labor market, which gives employers more power to work the shit out of their remaining employees -- after all, if you don't want to work that unpaid overtime, there are lots of people outside the proverbial factory gates who will, so suck it up. So seeing more temporary and casual workers and fewer long-term contracted workers (and less powerful unions) is exactly what you'd expect in a mechanizing environment.


I follow your reasoning here, but where is the surplus wealth created by all of this lovely mechanization going?

Count me in with the luddites.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:45 PM on September 7, 2011


Relevant story that I was going to post to the front page but it fits very well here:

A Town Without Poverty?

A story about a four year program in Canada in the 1970s that guaranteed a living income to every family in a small Manitoba town.
Initially, the Mincome program was conceived as a labour market experiment. The government wanted to know what would happen if everybody in town received a guaranteed income, and specifically, they wanted to know whether people would still work.

It turns out they did.

Only two segments of Dauphin's labour force worked less as a result of Mincome—new mothers and teenagers. Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies. And teenagers worked less because they weren't under as much pressure to support their families.

The end result was that they spent more time at school and more teenagers graduated. Those who continued to work were given more opportunities to choose what type of work they did.
...
Although the Mincome experiment was intended to provide a body of information to study labour market trends, Forget discovered that Mincome had a significant effect on people's well being. Two years ago, the professor started studying the health records of Dauphin residents to assess the impacts of the program.

In the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent. Fewer people went to the hospital with work-related injuries and there were fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. There were also far fewer mental health visits.

It's not hard to see why, says Forget.

“When you walk around a hospital, it's pretty clear that a lot of the time what we're treating are the consequences of poverty,” she says.

Give people financial independence and control over their lives and these accidents and illnesses tend to dissipate, says Forget. In today's terms, an 8.5 per cent decrease in hospital visits across Canada would save the government $4 billion annually, by her calculations. And $4 billion is the amount that the federal government is currently trying to save by slashing social programming and arts funding.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:49 PM on September 7, 2011 [36 favorites]


It's way too soon to start thinking about this as a problem, when we live in a world where over three billion people live on less than $2.50 a day, and something like eighty percent of the human race earns less than $10. We could have robot toilet cleaners and gardeners in the "developed world," but there's little incentive to design and build such technologies when people are forced to do the same jobs for less than the money it would take to design and build robots.

It all comes down to demand. The big story of our time is how hundreds of millions of people in the "developing world" are lifting themselves out of poverty by providing goods and services to the developed world. We supply the demand, and they fill it. So far this has been a positive thing, as nations like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and others have increased their own internal demand for goods and services along with their standard of living. As each nation pulls itself up by its bootstraps and starts to demand more stuff, it's possible that we might eventually get the whole human race into the developed category. There probably aren't enough resources for everybody to live like westerners, but we can certainly do better than $2.50 a day.

When that happens, then we can start talking about the end of work and the development of a leisure economy. But until then we should never lose sight of the fact that the developed world is an island of plenty in a sea of misery, and our own economic trends are something of a hothouse situation, created by the lack of mobility that keeps billions of people in other countries from moving here.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:55 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my version of Terminator, unemployed/obsolete laborers destroyed several automated factories to try to get their jobs back.

Skynet acted in self-defense.
posted by LordSludge at 2:55 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


program in Canada in the 1970s that guaranteed a living income

Gorz also thought like Canada and carried the logic through for a 'knowledge worker' future
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:01 PM on September 7, 2011


but where is the surplus wealth created by all of this lovely mechanization going?

It's currently going into reduced prices -- so, for people who still earn the same income, their saving accounts would be huge. Too bad that only applies to the people who keep their high-paying, well-funded jobs as mechanization replaces workers. The workers who lose their jobs, and thus can't afford to buy the reduced-price products, at least can remind themselves about all the money they would be saving if only they could afford to buy things. Ideally, prices would remain high, and that portion of the price would go to pay the nonworking people a 'living wage', which basically means taxing the rich to support the poor, and we all know how well that goes over.

A lot of this goes back to one of my favorite utopian theorists, Charles Fourier, who theorized a community working for the benefit of the whole by eliminating redundancy and increasing automation so people can choose to work as much or as little as they want (with corresponding income) and everything that needed to get done would get done. He figured that people are driven to do and accomplish things, so there'd be plenty of interest in working out of avoiding boredom, so the amount of work that needed to be done was reduced accordingly so that everything would line up and people would sing Kumbaya around the phalanstery.

There's a bit of the chicken-or-the-egg here: is the automation of work requiring a return to artisanship, or is the high cost of artisanship the reason we have automation? Go back to the earliest inklings of the industrial revolution, and it's all about reducing the amount of man-hours to produce food, clothing, and raw materials. Three hundred years of that, and we're lamenting the loss of the post office as the death-knell for human jobs? This has been going on, over and over, as technology changes. Sure, lots of poor people get hurt in the process, but it's all in the name of....plutocracy? Wait, does that sound right?
posted by AzraelBrown at 3:06 PM on September 7, 2011


Science fiction has been predicting post-scarcity economies for a long time now. I think the thing most SF authors miss, as does Rushkoff, is something others here have already pointed out: when jobs become obsolete, the rich aren't just going to stop controlling the economy for their own benefit and suddenly decide to let everyone live in comfort. Until the rules of the game change in a truly fundamental way, the disappearance of one scarcity will just mean that some other kind of scarcity will replace it.
posted by jiawen at 3:22 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


But the rich are only rich because they have a lot of money, and money is only valuable because it can buy goods and services. If, so the idea goes, goods and services are plentiful and dirt cheap, there will be little effective difference between the rich and poor.

But then again, there's always the problem of basic resources like food, water land and energy that have to be spread around the entire population. And as long as something is scarce, you're going to have people who have lots of it and others who have little. If the world had a population of two hundred million, maybe everyone could have lots of everything. But in a world of seven to nine billion, we may have to be content with just having enough.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:31 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


> How much energy can a person produce in a human-sized hamster wheel?

Not much.
posted by Bangaioh at 3:48 PM on September 7, 2011


It might be worth learning a little about who Douglas Rushkoff actually is. From what I can glean, he is someone from a privileged background who has never held a real job. Douglas Rushkoff's life looks, from the outside, pretty fucking awesome, and because he's apparently not a douchebag, it reads like he would like everybody else's life to be fucking awesome, too. But I think he's missing that these are not reproducible results -- we can't just wish ourselves into Star-Trek-Replicator-Land, and proposing we do is every bit as useful as saying, "Be born into privilege, you guys! It hella rocks!" Rushkoff is not saying that, and clearly understands that the artificial scarcity in which others find themselves mired is a drag, but his optimism seems to blind him to the fact that recognizing that something is bullshit is not the same as negating that thing. As the man says, everybody knows the dice are loaded. But the game goes on.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:48 PM on September 7, 2011


I like hippies okay, but this article makes me understand how someone could hate hippies. It's the most naive, corny stuff I've seen in a long time.

Imagining utopias, whether they're actually feasible or not, is still a worthwhile enterprise.
posted by empath at 3:51 PM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights.

Right. We start by pretending that the primary source of all human conflict - the unequal distribution of resources between disparate groups - simply doesn't exist. Inshallah - or using technology - everyone's material needs will be adequately met.


No, I think it's more like...let's decide that taking basic, realistic care of our species is a thing that we should do. Let's stop hoarding and wasting food and land, and let's stop denying people access to food and land as a matter of course because "that's just our culture." Let's think about the way we use resources, and if our cultural attitudes alone cause unnecessary suffering, we should probably change them.

Also, I like optimists. Even unrealistic optimists are much more exciting and invigorating and inspire me to actually go and do positive things much more than the same boring old, "But Man's Nature is to be Wretched" pessimism. Here, Lanark says it better than I do:

"Are you telling me that men lack the decency and skill to be good to each other?"
"Not at all! Men have always possessed that decency and skill. In small, isolated societies they have even practised it. But it is a sad fact of human nature that in large numbers we can only organize against each other."
"You are a liar!" cried Lanark. "We have no nature. Our nations are not built instinctively by our bodies, like beehives; they are works of art, like ships, carpets and gardens. The possible shapes of them are endless. It is bad habits, not bad nature, which makes us repeat the dull old shapes of poverty and war. Only greedy people who profit by these things believe they are natural."
posted by byanyothername at 3:53 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


It might be worth learning a little about who Douglas Rushkoff actually is. From what I can glean, he is someone from a privileged background who has never held a real job.

Writing is a real job, and I think that's deeply unfair.
posted by empath at 3:55 PM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


if our cultural attitudes alone cause unnecessary suffering, we should probably change them.

Well, that shouldn't take long. Tell you what, you start by convincing 300 million Americans that they are not uniquely entitled to a larger share of everything than everyone else because they were born in the best damn country on earth, and as soon as I hear word that that silly ole cultural attitude's on the wane, I'll get right on being much more optimistic about a global program for the fair and equitable distribution of material resources.

Heck, I won't even ask you to convince them they're not entitled to more of everything - just talk 'em into using an Indian's share of energy and I'll take it from there.
posted by gompa at 4:10 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Re: Recursive Robot Argument. We make tools that make better tools that make better tools. How do we make microdots and tiny tiny circutry? We have a robot do it. All the pieces of that robot were made by other robots, other machines. Those machines, the tools it they? Parts made by/with the assistance of other machines, assembled with the help of other machines. This is not a huge strech to think that we can automate more stuff. Yes humans will still be involved. By that brings me to my other point.

I don't see where he says there won't be any unpleasant jobs, or where there won't be labor shortages for some tasks. He says that there will not be enough jobs for everyone, and the economy, as currently structured, cannot handle that. What unpleasant jobs will still exist? Who knows, not the point. The point is that there won't be enough unpleasant jobs for everybody, making them even worse.

"You can't eat 8 hours a day nor drink for 8 hours a day, nor make love for 8 hours."

I certianly can't make love for 8 hours if I've been eating and drinking for the past 16.
posted by Garm at 4:14 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


jiawen: Until the rules of the game change in a truly fundamental way, the disappearance of one scarcity will just mean that some other kind of scarcity will replace it.

I agree, which is why I'm interested in directing my own writings and other creative efforts toward fundamental change. Rushkoff's piece, while provocative, doesn't even begin to address the systemic nuances of post-scarcity economics. It's a complex topic, and hardly one that could be adequately addressed in such a short piece. But Rushkoff raises questions that are too rarely asked, and even more rarely considered seriously, and for that I give him a lot of credit.

Charles Eisenstein, who is one of my favorite writers (I linked to his article Who Will Collect the Garbage? above) argues quite convincingly in his new book (Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition) that scarcity is an artifact of our interest-based money system as well as our politics and perceptions - which, in turn, are rooted in what he calls the story of the separate self.

In chapter 14 of Sacred Economics (which isn't online in full yet, but will be by the end of the year), he writes about the obsolescence of jobs and the coercive mechanism of "making a living," and addresses in depth the question of how to create conditions that allow people to do important work that does not generate an economic return. He acknowledges that peak oil, resource depletion, and global climate change are real...yet he continues to assert that we live in a world of fundamental abundance, and he advocates negative-interest economics (demurrage currency) as a way to implement this practically. He cites the fascinating Wörgl experiment as an example, which he describes as "by all accounts a huge success."

I've just finished reading the book, and it's the first book I've read that addresses these interconnected issues in such an integrative, practical, and optimistic way. I highly recommend it.

We still expect everyone to earn a living, but economic forces are massively undercutting their ability to do so; what do we do? We don’t need to create more jobs; we need to find ways to do good, important work regardless of whether or not it is profitable. Ultimately, we need to learn how to not need jobs because we are supporting ourselves interdependently through local bioregional networks – because we have gardens, land, and skills to provide for ourselves without paid jobs as much as possible.
posted by velvet winter at 4:45 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Writing is a real job, and I think that's deeply unfair.

You can call it unfair if you like, but writing is most certainly not a real job, even by Rushkoff's own standards; writing is the kind of thing he prescribes as what we can do once all the ugly business of labor-for-pay has stopped. I'm a writer, and writing is hard, but it's not hard the way cleaning toilets is hard. I mean, rock stars write mopey songs about how hard it is to tour, and I'm sure it's not easy, with grueling hours and fatigue and hostile audiences and shitty road food and God knows what-all else, but I don't remember the last time I heard about one retiring so that he could become a janitor someplace. I'm trying and failing to find it right now, but I saw an article a while ago that compared the stress experienced by the average CEO to the stress experienced by the average office worker, and while what was expected of the CEO was obviously stratospherically greater, the stress of the office worker was far more deadly to his health, because he had less agency and less hope of seeing any tangible reward for his actions. I would posit that the stress of the professional writer is much closer to CEO stress than it is not.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:53 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well if we're only counting physical labor as 'a real job', I literally don't think I know anybody personally who has that kind of job. All of my friends in are in IT.
posted by empath at 5:01 PM on September 7, 2011


I literally don't think I know anybody personally who has that kind of job.

This tells us a whole lot more about the problems society has to solve than the Rushkoff piece does.
posted by howfar at 5:05 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well if we're only counting physical labor as 'a real job', I literally don't think I know anybody personally who has that kind of job. All of my friends in are in IT.

Dude, you know the difference. Is IT the same as DJing? No. It is not. People are forever talking about when they were able to quit their day job...what do you think that means? It's when they were able to shed the impediment that kept them from doing what they really wanted to do as often as they wanted to do it. I am willing to bet that almost everyone you know would quit their job without a second thought if they won twenty million dollars tomorrow; but if those people are writers or DJs or performance artists or mimes or whatever, they would be that thing twenty million times as hard. The thing you give up? That's the real job. To me. I dunno, we can call it something else if you want.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:09 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


begin comment I got a robot to comment for me end comment
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:23 PM on September 7, 2011


I'm a writer, and writing is hard, but it's not hard the way cleaning toilets is hard.

No, but it's hard in its own way, and that is worth recognizing, even if you think Rushkoff is being tone-deaf about his own privilege.

I'm a writer too, and as much as I love writing, I also don't mind cleaning toilets. I enjoy physical work, and I'd like to find a way to balance it with the intellectual work I do. I am being 100% truthful when I say that I'd rather clean toilets than, say, get a job selling people more crap they don't need.

I would clean toilets without complaint if I could do it part-time (while continuing to write) and support myself at a basic level. Cleaning toilets is much more honest and necessary work than some of the crap jobs I've done in order to earn money. I don't find toilet-cleaning tedious at all - that is, until I am forced to do it for 8+ hours a day, under stressful conditions, for little money and even less respect, just to pay for food and shelter.
posted by velvet winter at 5:39 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm a writer, and I find that writing is almost identical to cleaning toilets.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:49 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


To the people saying that robots will do the unpleasant jobs: who's going to make the robots? Robot-making robots? And who will make the robot-making robots? Robot-making robot-making robots? I think you can see where I'm going with this.

You're asking like you think this will be a problem. It's very simple, though. People will make, or contribute to making robots. This is even happening right now. The important thing is that over its lifetime, the robot will do more work than the human that pieced it together.

Don't look at robots as free labor, look at them as labor multipliers.
posted by ymgve at 6:12 PM on September 7, 2011


The big paradigm shift question is: "how does one change status and reward systems so that material acquisition is not a primary driver of behavior?" This is a nigh impossible task. I'm not saying that it can't be done, but it would be a real challenge. How does one make "sharing" the primary motivator, and can even "sharing" be kept from competition for status? Some cultures actually use gifting as a punishment, by giving the target so much stuff that they are unable to reciprocate, and thus shaming them.

Sometime I think we just need to learn to live with less; then I think that's just what is starting to happen, in a way that nobody saw even 10 years ago. Maybe this is an opportunity to learn from some people's on earth who have *had* to learn to live with less, and have been able to maintain civility to a greater degree than we do.

In any case, it sure would be nice to get out of the rat race.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:48 PM on September 7, 2011


Matthew Yglesias writes about this point in another way, which is that as you need fewer people to make things, you just get different kinds of jobs - namely, service jobs and "professions" (another name for the same thing).

"And that’s the point—if a smaller number of people are able to produce a larger number of material goods, then [the] “jobs of the future” will come in the form of more people doing this kind of thing, sharing their (labor intensive) skills and passions with interested members of the public in exchange for money."

It's not the concept of a job that's obsolete, but rather the idea that most jobs are about making things. In fact most jobs haven't been about making physical things for quite a while.
posted by parudox at 6:54 PM on September 7, 2011


Highly relevant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_from_nowhere

"News from Nowhere (1890) is a classic work combining utopian socialism and soft science fiction written by the artist, designer and socialist pioneer William Morris. In the book, the narrator, William Guest, falls asleep after returning from a meeting of the Socialist League and awakes to find himself in a future society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. In this society there is no private property, no big cities, no authority, no monetary system, no divorce, no courts, no prisons, and no class systems. This agrarian society functions simply because the people find pleasure in nature, and therefore they find pleasure in their work.

In the novel, Morris tackles one of the most common criticisms of socialism; the supposed lack of incentive to work in a communistic society. Morris' response is that all work should be creative and pleasurable. This differs from the majority of Socialist thinkers, who tend to assume that while work is a necessary evil, a well-planned equal society can reduce the amount of work needed to be done by each worker."

A wonderful read: fascinating and inspiring.
posted by JStone at 7:11 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think noone in this thread is exactly wrong in their complaints, nor right in their praise. Everyone has latched on to one aspect or another to defend or uphold. Congratulations, you're all correct!

I think everyone can agree that there are not enough jobs for everyone in a continually growing population and that these needed jobs are not right around the corner.

I work for a very large company managing an old technology that is slowly becoming obsolescent. Every year that passes, jobs are lost in my group because the maintenance of this technology is becoming computer automated and because customers are moving to newer technologies that are already highly automated.

Computers/Robots are increasing productivity and reducing available jobs.

The paradigm shift is here, like it or not. Perhaps Rushkof's response is pie in the sky for a multitude of reasons. But the question remains, how will society respond to chronic joblessness? How should society respond?
posted by j03 at 7:16 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


material acquisition is not a primary driver of behavior?...T0his is a nigh impossible task.

I don't always feel this way, but this is exactly where economics can learn from biology.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:37 PM on September 7, 2011


"How should society respond?"

By increasing demand for both goods and services. In the case of the United States, some New Deal style public works programs would do a world of good.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:01 PM on September 7, 2011


But Keynesian economics are dead! Dead, and we never have to talk about them EVER AGAIN! Rick Perry told me!
posted by mellow seas at 8:15 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude, you know the difference. Is IT the same as DJing?

You know, it kind of is, for the vast majority of DJs that are doing it professionally (rather than as a hobby), they aren't doing awesome gigs in arenas and getting groupies. They're doing shitty weddings and commercial events playing music they loathe for people they can't stand.

It's not what you do, it's that you're forced to do it or else you starve to death. I used to enjoy working on computers and even liked messing around with Windows until I got a job doing desktop support, and vowed that I'd never touch a Windows box again unless I was being paid for it.

The point of replacing work with play is freedom. If you have the freedom to choose when and how you work, a lot of people would choose to do work that other people see as menial. Some people enjoy building stuff, but most people would enjoy it a lot less if they did it 50 hours a week, year in and year out.
posted by empath at 8:23 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I read The Celestine Prophecy once when I was really bored on a Saturday. This is sounding a lot like that book. It said something like "In the future we will all work part time on stuff we want to do and people will give us money to do it." And I was all "Fucking fairytales."

Frankly, I'd just like the option of getting paid to do stuff I am good at and still have enough to eat and rent, but we only pay people to do stuff that nobody else wants (like the aforementioned toilet cleaning). If we get rid of those jobs due to robots or automation or budget cuts, then we have a lot more people on the street. So come the fuck on.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:28 PM on September 7, 2011


Aristotle (who I'm surprised hasn't already come up) thought we'd use the extra time to philosophize and perfect politics, and probably also finally sort out which dolphins aren't fish.
posted by klangklangston at 8:28 PM on September 7, 2011


Just as an example-- a friend of mine was a really popular local DJ that actually had a big following and gigs every weekend, but he was making a living as a waiter because he was only getting gigs once a month or so, and while he was making a couple of hundred dollars a gig, it wasn't enough to pay the rent.

He got a job offer as a mobile DJ, and quit his waiting job to DJ full time, which was like his dream. After 3 months of doing bar mitzvah's and weddings, he quit and went back to being a waiter, because it was making him loathe music and DJing.

People generally won't pay you to do stuff that lots of people would or could do for free. Unless you're insanely and uniquely talented, the way the world functions now, 'creative' work sucks just as much as any other job, for the vast majority of people doing it, because you're forced to expend your creative creating stuff that you don't care about it.

It would take a major economic restructuring and a massive welfare state to give people the economic freedom they would need to have to explore those kind of creative hobbies full tiem without starving to death.
posted by empath at 8:30 PM on September 7, 2011


what if my hobby is starving to death
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:32 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Automation creates a metric fuckload of jobs -- you need computers, designers, programmer, technicians, maintain a supply chain, repair guys, technicians etc.

I get his larger point, but it's a canard going back to 19th century fantasies of "the future" that automation is a job killer. It can be but it doesn't necessarily have to be.
posted by bardic at 8:33 PM on September 7, 2011


"Aristotle (who I'm surprised hasn't already come up) thought we'd use the extra time to philosophize and perfect politics, and probably also finally sort out which dolphins aren't fish."

Marx thought we would work two hours every morning then take a long walk and go fishing.

Seriously.
posted by bardic at 8:34 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the future there will only be two jobs. there will be a man and a dog. The man's job will be to watch a switch, the dog's job will be to make sure the man doe snot touch the switch.

I thought the dog's job was supposed to be finding females for the man while the man scavenges for food.
posted by homunculus at 8:41 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


increasing demand for both goods and services

The problem with that prescription is that economic growth can't go on exponentially forever. It has limits, and we are quickly reaching them. Continued economic growth threatens the ecological basis of life on Earth.

The end of economic growth needn't mean a decline in genuine wealth, though, nor in availability of goods and services. People can (and do) still provide goods and services through non-monetary channels. GDP can shrink even as the real economy - what people make and do for one another - grows richer.

Or, as Richard Heinberg puts it:
"Throw GDP out the window.

Of course, this can’t be done overnight because GDP is embedded in governmental and economic institutions at all levels from local town halls all the way up to the World Bank.

However, we need to start the process of changing that.

We can deliver social goods. We can increase people’s satisfaction with their lives. We can make our towns and cities and countries more culturally rich, more environmentally sound without increasing consumption and that’s what we need to be aiming to do."
posted by velvet winter at 8:44 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, "Only a little while."

The American then asked, "Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more fish?"

The Mexican said, "With this I have more than enough to support my family's needs."

The American then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life."

The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat: With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you will run your ever-expanding enterprise."

The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"

To which the American replied, "15 to 20 years."

"But what then?" asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said that's the best part. "When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."

"Millions?...Then what?"

The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."
posted by empath at 8:44 PM on September 7, 2011 [27 favorites]


I think everyone can agree that there are not enough jobs for everyone in a continually growing population and that these needed jobs are not right around the corner.

No we do not all agree on this.

200 years ago 95 percent of the worlds population spent a majority of their waking hours doing agricultural or foraging work. As the mechanization of this economic sector has taken place the percentage of the population employed thus has shrunk, and continues to shrink. The growing share of people who have no job on farms have found their way into all sorts of unimaginable endeavors, that were impossible to contemplate before.
The constant need to work directly at making food crowded out the ability to do other work. Now that machines do much of the physical work only 3-5 percent of all people work in agriculture in advanced countries, and they often produce more than are consumed by the rest 95 percent.
Those 95 percent now work as bankers, as dog-walkers, as particle physicists or Search and Rescue pilots, all impossible jobs if not for the freeing up of labor by mechanization.
posted by Catfry at 4:02 AM on September 8, 2011


Jstone: News from Nowhere: William Morris is a very interesting figure to raise. Whenever these discussions come up about a "leisure society", a number of people always rush in to announce that it would not be possible, because nobody would want to do the filthy or dull jobs. (They often say this with the air that nobody but them has ever thought of this, or that nobody proposing a more fair, more digified society could be practical enough to have addressed this problem - and more fool them, since there has been an enormous amount of discussion on this subject among social improvers of every stripe for more than a hundred years).

William Morris - one voice, one set of ideas among many - addressed this in his essay "Useful Work versus Useful Toil". It would be a very good idea if everyone commenting here went off and read it, since much of what it says is still essentially true and relevant.

He wrote:

"...the day's work will be short. This need not be insisted on. It is clear that with work unwasted it can be short. It is clear also that much work which is now a torment, would be easily endurable if it were much shortened..."

"Socialists are often asked how work of the rougher and more repulsive kind could be carried out in the new condition of things. To attempt to answer such questions fully or authoritatively would be attempting the impossibility of constructing a scheme of a new society out of the materials of the old, before we knew which of those materials would disappear and which endure through the evolution which is leading us to the great change. Yet it is not difficult to conceive of some arrangement whereby those who did the roughest work should work for the shortest spells, And again, what is said above of the variety of work applies specially here. Once more I say, that for a man to be the whole of his life hopelessly engaged in performing one repulsive and never-ending task, is an arrangement fit enough for the hell imagined by theologians, but scarcely fit for any other form of society. Lastly, if this rougher work were of any special kind, we may suppose that special volunteers would be called on to perform it, who would surely be forthcoming, unless men in a state of freedom should lose the sparks of manliness which they possessed as slaves.

And yet if there be any work which cannot be made other than repulsive, either by the shortness of its duration or the intermittency of its recurrence, or by the sense of special and peculiar usefulness (and therefore honour) in the mind of the man who performs it freely - if there be any work which cannot be but a torment to the worker, what then? Well, then, let us see if the heavens will fall on us if we leave it undone, for it were better that they should. The produce of such work cannot be worth the price of it."

When it comes to cleaning toilets, it also occurs to me that a lot of people, myself included, actually do like to clean things. Perhaps not shit, but even if there are unavoidable unpleasant jobs, it does not seem hard to imagine that some people will be found to do them some of the time. Perhaps unpleasant work cannot be eliminated altogether, but it can certainly be made into something that people do not have to do for their whole lives, without respect or honour and as their only condition of advancement. (It also occurs to me that if society genuinely honoured people who scrubbed up shit, human nature is such that there would soon emerge people determined to be the best scrubbers-up-of-shit around...)

It sounds strange, but I remember a quote from Jim Henson saying that if he hadn't been a puppeteer, he would have liked to be a litter collector, because that was somebody who got to potter about just making things better for everybody.

Give people financial independence and control over their lives and these accidents and illnesses tend to dissipate, says Forget

This is why I increasingly see attacks on unemployment benefits and public healthcare as an attack on anyone in society who is not an employer.

Why? Because unemployment benefits and healthcare are, for many people, insurance against a period of unemployment. It is true that there are those who survive entirely upon the state, and who fit the right-wing fantasy of "scroungers". But there are many more who are looking for work and who need some support during their search to avoid terrible poverty and distress.

Now, if an employee knows that if he leaves his job he faces a period of torture-by-privation of an uncertain length, that gives his employer a powerful weapon against him. The employer can say, "Well, you are not a slave! You are free to quit!" - but without something to keep him or her alive and without insurance against diseases or calamities, the employee knows perfectly well that he or she is not "free to quit" - not without taking a great risk (an even greater risk if the employee is above the age of 35 or has a family).

Making unemployment unpleasant is a brilliant way to force people to remain in unpleasant jobs in such a way that any employer can claim to be perfectly reasonable and fair and above it all. It's really quite sneaky and sordid.

(And this ignores the other thing that decent unemployment benefits and free healthcare would provide: the chance for people to retrain, to start their own businesses more easily or to begin freelance careers - all of which could be of enormous benefit to the economy, to society and to them, but all of which require something to keep body and soul together in the short term).

Yikes, that was quite an essay.
posted by lucien_reeve at 5:52 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I clean toilets. It's not that bad at all, but I'm lucky enough to have a toilet-cleaning job with unusually good pay and benefits.

*Throws shoe into Poomba*

Man, every couple of months I try to put an FPP together about Dauphin's Mincome experiment (I grew up a half hour away from Dauphin, though the project was before my time), but I can never find enough links to make it work.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:31 AM on September 8, 2011


lucien, you mention News from Nowhere. And something in the book actually makes another response to the "well how will the hard labor jobs get done in this utopia" question, if memory serves -- it was a passing comment one character had about how physically good he felt after doing a little hard work. There was another throwaway comment about how much healthier and attractive people looked after doing a little hard work as well (I think it was one character who was flirting with his fiancee after she'd just come in from the hayfields).

And it hit me -- think of all the people who work desk jobs, and then spend another few hours every week in gyms. Is there perhaps a way to make "digging ditches" or "cleaning the public park" the new "Pilates" or "spin class"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:32 AM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Empress, I have long thought that someone needs to open a Gym/Farm in a major urban area. Folks would come in for a workout like baling hay or double digging some soil. Much like boot camp gyms folks might actually enjoy the work that others go out of there way to avoid. They could even leave with some farm fresh produce and pay the farmer twice for the privilege of helping to grow it.

A CSA Gym. Got to get on that!
posted by The Violet Cypher at 7:54 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


A CSA Gym. Got to get on that!

Hell, I'd sign up. (Although I'd prefer a "sweat equity" kind of thing, where I don't pay MORE for having worked, but less.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 AM on September 8, 2011


Man, every couple of months I try to put an FPP together about Dauphin's Mincome experiment (I grew up a half hour away from Dauphin, though the project was before my time), but I can never find enough links to make it work.

I'm getting the sense from this thread that a few of us have been working on a Dauphin Mincome post...maybe we should collaborate.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:50 AM on September 8, 2011


Empress, I'm with you...I have been thinking along those lines for quite awhile. I have always hated gyms, but loved moderate physical exertion - especially the kind of physical exertion that makes tangible improvements in my surroundings.

I recently read a blog post about a de-paving project done by a local ecovillage in which a parking lot was torn up by the residents to make room for a garden. I thought: "wow, that sounds like very hard work...but it's the kind of work that would leave me feeling physically exhausted in that deliciously satisfying visceral kind of way at the end of the day. I would sleep like a baby afterward. Plus, the results would be so rewarding in a way that feeds the spirit. Sign me up!"

If I had opportunities to do work like this without having to worry about whether I'd have enough energy left over to do my paid work, and if I knew for sure I could pay my bills, I'd gladly do more of it. However, I wouldn't want to do it 8+ hours a day, day in and day out, under pressure, with no end in sight. Pretty much any kind of work would eventually become tedious when done under those conditions.

I'd love to see an FPP on the Dauphin Mincome experiment. It needs more exposure. This thread was the first I've heard of it, and I've been going to some lengths to track down radical material on work, jobs, leisure, basic income schemes, etc. for 15+ years. I would like to draw more attention to it in my own work, so any information would be very much appreciated!
posted by velvet winter at 10:33 AM on September 8, 2011


Pretty much any kind of work would eventually become tedious when done under those conditions.

Agreed, except I'd modify that to make it even a little stronger: "any kind of work eventually does become tedious when done under those conditions." Which is probably the strongest argument for why we probably should find a better way to work.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Didn't Jeremy Rifkin write this same book back in 1995? He called his version The End Of Work.
posted by Rash at 12:03 PM on September 8, 2011


Well, Rifkin and Rushkoff make some similar claims about the effects of technology on jobs, but I think Rushkoff's approach to the "end" of jobs is fundamentally different from (and ultimately much more radical than) Rifkin's.
posted by velvet winter at 12:48 PM on September 8, 2011


Two words: mental masturbation. Rushkoff has always struck me as the kind of person who has never made anything besides words, and not particularly useful ones, at that. I hope he learns how to use them to generate calories, he's gonna need 'em.
posted by dbiedny at 2:45 PM on September 8, 2011


There are a lot of jobs that are a long way away from being rendered technologically obsolete, but are paid poorly, or involve the particular culture's preference. For example I make rent right now by doing telephone surveys- or more exactly, double checking that people's experience at X-brand car dealership was optimal, and psychologically reaffirming this fact under the guise of asking their opinion so X-brand sounds somewhat caring. X-brand has sub-constracted this to my employer because paying me to do it is cheaper than getting the actual dealership employees to spend a few hours every week customer fluffing instead of hawking cars. My job goes obsolete only when: a) some semblance of a human touch cannot be used to emotionally manipulate people into repeat purchases; b) the paradigm of buying $20k+ cars becomes as easy and cheap and getting potato chips; or c)we develop sophisticated enough AI they might as well be people. Right now, factoring rent and internet, my call centre is paying maybe $8-10 per completed customer fluff, which get trickled down into $10/h for me doing 10 fluffs an hour, which my call centre bills to Brand-X. (Or about 60 calls in an hour, only ten of which will be completed "surveys" and the rest failures to reach the right person). I have no idea what Brand-X pays my company, but I imagine they're probably billing double, with at least four fluffers on the go at any given time. They use us because they need our un-outsourceable accent.

This pays for space in a really cramped shared dwelling, food, a metro pass and language classes, HOWEVER this is living in Canada where medical issues are paid for as long as I obey the concept of sharing with other people, and living in a province where education is almost affordable (especially french classes, which are next to free, a side effect of a maniacal socialist froggy government which has prioritized language survival over having an economy that didn't treat money like lithium in a steamer).

Of course other societies structure differently- for example who and how they clean their streets is subject to a great deal of variability. But basically all the things you might consider women's work (childcare, people patting and soothing, food prep, etc...) are a long way from obsolete, and frankly the pay has always been pretty bad.
posted by Phalene at 9:05 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


froggy government

Ah ouias ... ouf ... ok.
posted by phoque at 10:33 PM on September 11, 2011


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