Thursday, March 27, 2014

Enough Work to Afford Play

A note on that four letter word: 'WORK".

In 1700, four of every five jobs, about 80 percent, were on the farm. You know, digging in the ground from before dawn to after dark six-and-a-half days a week. Today, thanks to automation, fewer than 1 in 50 people work on the farm. By 1850 most jobs were in manufacturing. These jobs were for the most part 10 hours a day 6 days a week. Thanks to automation, today, that number is only 1 in 7 and we are looking at 8 hours a day 5-days-a-week with lots of time off.

Technology has disrupted work patterns throughout history. New technology has resulted in less work and an increase in wages but at the cost of short term hardships for some.  A few examples were the followers of Ned Ludd (the Luddites) who did not like the new technology of the weaving looms and smashed them in acts of uncivil disobedience and Captain Swing and his followers who smashed threshing machines.

What will we see in the future? Will more automation result in more people losing their jobs? Will these people find a leader and will they smash the robot order-taker or automated burger flipper at the local McDonald's?

Considering the past, we see that there is a short term cost but can we convince people that the cost is worth the future benefits. Keynes predicted that society would eventually produce more stuff than it needed and would have to start to ration work. Today we work fewer days a year and fewer hours a week than in Keynes day and that is without making allowances for the time we spend in school and in retirement. We spend a lot of time not working and our grandchildren will have even more free time to develop more ways in which their grandchildren will have even more free time.

As Arthur C. Clarke wrote "the goal of the future is full unemployment so we can play." 


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