Post-scarcity economics approaching?

01/26/13 20:49:00    

By Michael Mealling

A Techcrunch article that has made the rounds and even hit some mainstrem sites discusses whether America Has Hit “Peak Jobs”. The general idea is that some of the unemployment and possibly most of the shrinkage in the total labor force are due to efficiencies in business and manufacturing negating the need for those workers to begin with. Extrapolating that into the future you hit a point where technology requires less and less employees to do more and more stuff. That point is called “peak labor”.

Much of the post scarcity economic discussions assume that the various aspects needed for such an economy arrive at the same time and that the transition is done with some knowlege and intent. In many singularity scenarios the major issue is whether its a hard or soft landing. Is the transition smooth and manageable or is the societal impact so fast and drastic that its considered catastophic for most of humanity.

My thoughts are that, like most things human, it is an uneven fractious muddle full of both sadness and hope. What we are seeing even now is that certain parts of our society simply cannot cope with how quickly things are changing even now. Some turn Luddite. Some simply turn into survivalists/hippies (the only difference between an organic communcal farm and a prepper survivalist camp is the presence of a few guns).

One can academically debate whether comparative advantage exists in a post-singularity economy or the definition of value and whether it can be invented. But the reality is that the transition is going to leave many with no job. Even if the cost of goods is so low that the cost of being on the dole is to cheap to worry about, there is still a lack of purpose. In much of this country and Europe there is a growing sense of “getting mine before the getting is gone”. That its OK to milk the system because there's just nothing else to do.

One extremely concrete example is the significant increase in the number of people exiting the labor force by moving to permanent Social Security disability. If many of those jobs are not coming back because wholly new jobs requiring neural plasticity that many simply don't have, are we indeed heading for a world where more than half of the population never has a real job but still assumes it needs one to be of value. Will that part of the population resent the other half out of jealousy of purpose? What happens to virtue when there is no hard work to do?

At some point stability around a new normal will appear. But will the process of getting there be one where entire populations lose purpose?

Was Agent Smith right?

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