After getting exposure to the work of Federico Pistono on the C-Realm Podcast, I decided to dig into his book Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK, or at least the portion that’s been published online, stopping at Part 9, Unemployment Tomorrow.
I agree with most of the trends he’s discussing, namely that exponentially improving technology will take over jobs faster than they can be created. It’s already been happening for years, and one of my own mantras during the recent financial “recovery” is that those jobs aren’t coming back. Productivity per person has been improving for years. Why aren’t we only working 1/10 as much as we did in the pre-industrial age? One reason is that our expectations for quality of life are much higher. A larger explanation that he’s implied by not explicitly stated is that the vast majority of the extra wealth being created is simply going to the top 1% of earners. When I hear people whining about taxes (especially in a country where taxes are so low) what I’ve often wanted to do is make a chart that compares the amount of a person’s total income that is taken by taxes, compared to the *much* larger amount that is paid to the CEO of the company they work for, as much as *1795* times as much as an average employee.
Let me put that another way just to be clear. The CEO of JC Penney makes enough money in one year to pay the salary of 1,795 average workers at the same company. If those workers are paid an average of, say, $15/hr, the CEO is making $26,925/hr.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
An even better way to do this would be to set up a little plug-in graph where it shows the amount of pay and numbers of different employees in a large company, filled in with the actual data. We could see what percentage of a company’s total profits goes to each employee. Then, I’d allow the user to change those numbers. What if, *gasp* the CEO made only 200 times as much as the average employee? How much more money would each employee be making then? How much more motivated and fulfilled would they be? I think seeing this in an interactive way would really change how people feel about our current economy.
There’s a name for a employee-run company without all this CEO bloat. It’s called a co-op, and thousands of them exist as we speak. Is it possible that a company that pays its CEO 1795 times as much as an average employee could out-compete a worker-owned company where management payment is kept to some kind of sane ratio, maybe 10 or 20 to 1 on a level playing field?
I doubt it.
So back to Federico’s book. The trend he’s discussing is really happening, but I have the feeling things will be slower than he’s guessing. Moore’s Law is already running into some bottlenecks, and although I truly believe we will see reality-distorting technological change within our lifetimes, I’m skeptical that computing power alone can solve the worlds problems in the way many techo-utopians think. Technology is also becoming a lot more democratized, which means that the average person will be able to use it to reduce their own need to work. There’s no reason that advantage will continue to be in the hands of a few as it has been previously. Cheap computers are already everywhere, and 3-D printers are just the tip of the iceberg of what we’ll see in home manufacturing in the future. The pace of technology is already outrunning the elite’s ability to control things, and this trend will only continue with time. Although I’m certainly powerfully concerned with the damage our current system is doing to our life support system, at this point I’m more interested and worried about what the ability for people to make whatever they want at home will bring. Our current model that funnels the vast majority of wealth to the top is based on systems that are hopelessly outdated, bureaucratic, and slow. People only put up with it because they had no choice, and that’s changing rapidly. When we can all grow our own food, make our own homes and appliances, coordinate our activities, provide our own security, and make the technology to do all those things ourselves without permission from the government and big companies, why will we need them anymore? Will it bring enormous chaos? Of course. I’m worried about resource shortages, the armies of untrained middle-aged people who can’t change fast enough that Pistono mentions. I’m worried about what happens when there isn’t centralized coercive power to combat large corporations or environmental destruction. I’m worried about all the Orwellian oversight and destruction of privacy that’s currently happening. Believe me, I’m worried.
What to do? Finish reading the book would be nice. I’m not quite willing to pay $9 for that privilege at the moment, I’ll simply read more chapters as they emerge. But for me the path forward is clear. Work to create a lifestyle that’s not only less dependent on The System and more self-and-world-sustainable in as many ways as possible, but do it with enough fun and flair to motivate others to do the same. The sooner we find alternative ways to get our needs met, the sooner we can dis-empower The System and slow, halt, and eventually reverse the damage it’s done to our future. The only thing standing in our way is our own doubts. We live in a time of unprecedented connection, power, knowledge, and opportunity. The tools are in our hands, and more of them are coming down the pipe. Re-connect with those near you with similar interests and goals and *do* something. Eventually patterns of solutions will emerge from the ground up that are so obvious and compelling that no amount of propaganda from those on top will be able to convince people not to use them, and so distributed that even violence and physical force will be impotent. And to prevent the use of force in the first place, work around the edges of the law rather than breaking it whenever possible. Selling a larger house with a mortgage and building a smaller one with the equity is a good example. No laws were broken, and it can start a trend. Buy eggs from your neighbor, whether the FDA likes it or not. And it will be *way* more fun, challenging, connecting, and satisfying than your day job. By downsizing my life, re-defining my relationships, growing my own food (or at least trying to 🙂 ), reducing my time spent in a fuzzy box, living for months (but not full time!) in a yurt, and escaping my mortgage, I’m providing *one* of *countless* examples of ways to do it that are possible for many people right now. As each of us finds our own path, and has the courage to take it and make it work for us, the System will be transmuted from the bottom up. If you’ve had a lot of advantages like I have, find ways to use those advantages to help others. And have fun along the way!
I certainly am.