Why do we have to work?
I’m not talking about the need to work; the economic underpinnings are clear –it costs money to live. Since the advent of agriculture ten thousand years ago, human capabilities and productivity have grown exponentially. In 1900, agriculture employed 41% of the American labor force; now it’s under 2%. This trend, fewer creating more, continues throughout the economy. It has worked out quite well for most of us. Over that time, individuals were able to keep pace with the ever developing but slowly changing needs of work.
More recently the increased rate of change, and job growth mostly in areas requiring advanced education, has left a growing number of people unable to keep up. With the advent of computers machines have become smarter, replacing millions of human jobs. Add robots and you obsolete workers at a rate unimaginable only a few years ago. How many jobs will still be done by humans 25 years from now?
Why is (remunerative) work still considered sacred? In New England we cite the Puritans and other early settlers who extolled the necessity of hard work. They had good reason. Do we? Politicians promise to boost retraining programs. Training for what? With the amount of wealth produced in the world, especially in the economically advanced nations, why should work be necessary for those who opt out? Is guaranteed food, shelter, health care, and education too much to expect?
Suppose we changed our social contract, removed the stigma unemployed, and supported all humans, working or not? What might change for the better? Worse? Potential unintended consequences?
What if? A seed tossed onto your furrowed brow. I’d love to receive your comments.