Thoughts about 'work ethic', the (dis?)advantages of automation and digitalization, and my plea for being lazy more often! :)
Thanks to a very interesting article of @infovore about the "Future Of Work" I got inspired to write down some of my own thoughts about 'work', its future and the way how most humans consider it as a value in itself, whereas I see work as a 'means to an end' only. (As quite some time has passed since @infovore wrote his text you can see how slowly my brain is working until an idea will finally be transformed into an article :-) ).
Are 'we' replaced by robots soon?
Does automation kill jobs or offer the chance to work less? :)
As the caption shows there are different perspectives to view current and future changes.
The fear that and the question if automation and digitalization may annihilate jobs (most politicians, media and people are focusing on this aspect). Also @infovore formulated it in a similar way:
Although there is a never-ending debate as to whether automation kills or creates jobs ...
The hope - my hope ... :-) - that people will have more free time and need to work less in future. I always wonder about the warnings that automation, utilization of robots, digitalization, AI, ... could (and will) 'kill' jobs! Instead of that (also with the aim to provoke you a little bit and encourage further discussions) I will actually call it the hope that this revolution will 'kill' jobs and offer many people the chance to work less in future! Why do so many people tend to focus on the risks instead to see the opportunities? :)
Originally machines were invented to make our lives more pleasant!
Originally machines were invented to make our lives more pleasant and to give us more time for family, education and hobbies. However they are used to make a few people richer and richer, whereas some others have to work more and more (without earning more money) and the rest has no work anymore and thus no money and recognition.
Consider the enormous heightening of productivity during the last decades!
The immense increase of productivity (by using computer technology and robots) means that the same amount of work can be done in a much shorter space of time. Sooner or later that will inevitably lead to the fact that in average we humans will have to work less (or more exact: will spend less working time to reach the same or even better results than before). Thus society should change in a way that it will be completely normal if not everybody is working in every life phase and especially not so many hours per day anymore. In addition much more people should be able to work at home (which saves energy, relieves transport infrastructure and helps environment). There should be much more freedom for learning new things or just enjoying life. These progressing automation should be considered as a great chance as opposed to a menace.
The question will be if society is already mature enough to recognize and adapt to the consequences of this inevitable transformation which would help to make the process less painful or if people struggle against and try to delay the necessary changes as long as possible (by keeping to the idea of full employment for everybody).
Self-esteem of many people depends on their work.
Discussing that topic with friends their main argument against working less usually is to ask how people could earn enough money if they work less? I will come back to that point later, because in my opinion that's not the biggest problem to solve (due to the rapid increase of productivity I think we can very well allow ourselves to work less hours per day and year).
In my eyes the highest obstacle is more of psychological nature: self-esteem of so many persons is based on their work. In society there is kind of a 'work ethic' that only working people are valuable. Actually I have nothing against hard working people. Always if 'working' has a more positive effect than 'not working' would have, I think it's completely fine to work, but I don't share the thinking that work has a value in itself by definition ... What counts is the result and not the process of working. Sometimes it can be much better not to work instead to work just for the sake of pretending to be 'active'. :-)
One of my preferred examples of work, which better wouldn't be done, are these jobless people who have the order to run around with leaf vacuums because otherwise they don't get any money from the state anymore ... These machines are not only infernally noisy, which damages the ears and evokes stress, but also blow up fine dust (mixed with bacteria and diesel soot), kill useful soil organisms and emit nitrous gases as well as other pollutants, whereas the cleansing effect is very lousy most of the time. Always if I see one of them I am tempted to give him some money under the condition that he stops making noise. :-) Either give these people any useful job or accept that they are just not working for now - but please don't let them work just to keep them busy ...!
Whenever 'not working' has a better (or at least equal) effect than 'working' I would decide not to work, different than people who consider working as kind of a 'moral duty'.
Media and 'work ethic'.
In my opinion media contribute a lot to spread the mentioned 'work ethic'. Not long ago I read an article in "Zeit Online" with the title "Deutsche wollen durchschnittlich länger arbeiten" (Germans would like to work longer in average) as if working itself was the aim. No, they want to earn more money and therefore have to work longer ... Another claim was that French people work "more" than Germans because they have longer working hours ... yes, maybe they work longer but that is not synonymous with more. Actually it seems that the shorter people are working the more motivated and effective they are.
The art of doing nothing. :)
In evolution these organisms succeed which reach their aims (to subsist, to procreate) without wasting too much energy ... Furthermore doing just nothing from time to time is a precious source of relaxation but actually also of creativity: I noticed that the best ideas are coming to my mind when I am apparently completely inactive, for example lying on a beach and letting my thoughts flow freely without any predefined direction or concentrated thinking.
On the contrary to the 'work ethic' around me I am convinced that being lazy from time to time should be an essential - and not shameful hidden - part of our lives. :-) In case you don't like the word 'lazy' just replace it by 'economic behavior'. By the way from a biophysical point of view it is not possible not to work anyway: even if we don't move, our heart is pumping, our brain is 'burning' glucose and a vast number of biochemical processes are running in our cells. We should be aware that not working for a company doesn't mean not to work at all. I am just working very hard at this moment to compose an understandable text in a foreign language for all my loyal and patient readers on Steemit. :-)
Because of working all the time many people actually have forgotten what to do if finally given free time for themselves: they are not accustomed anymore to be creative, to learn new things on their own and to lead interesting discussions. Instead they are habituated to follow instructions of others ... and if they are free to decide themselves they are feeling bored, have no clue how to kill their time and finally often end up switching on the TV ...
But how to earn enough money if working less?
In my opinion progressing automation of the society will require an 'unconditional basic income' for everybody. Even if that causes additional costs we should bear in mind that already nowadays the state is supporting many unemployed people (and, due to low salaries also a large number of working people, too). However apart from this unemployment assistance there are extra expenses for administration (which is very complicated, bureaucratic and expensive, especially in Germany) and surveillance (for example because of possible clandestine employment) of the recipients of the dole. With an unconditional basic income these costs would disappear.
As @jrcornel already brought to our attention even Mark Zuckerberg pleads for such an universal basic income.
You may legitimately demur that the additional expenses still would outbalance the savings, that means I have to come up with some more ideas:
Firstly if machines are the new 'workers', then one idea would be to introduce a robot tax as suggested by Bill Gates which helps to support temporarily non-working people. Companies which are replacing workers by computers and robots are maximizing their profits (the profits of the upper management) by doing so, and I see no reason not to cede a modest amount of this profit to compensate people who lost their jobs or in general to support the society by this robot tax.
- Secondly the increasing productivity which enables to perform more work in a shorter time leads to higher winnings where part of it could reflow into community.
Would a basic income prevent people from working?
I am sure that even in case of a basic income for everybody most people would try to find an interesting job sooner or later again, because in the long run most humans are not satisfied with a rather low living standard. The advantage would be though that they could afford to wait, to further educate themselves, until they found a job which really suits them instead to be forced to accept just any job because of financial pressure.
At the end I would like to apologize that this time I didn't name many sources, for example concerning the estimated costs of a basic income for everybody or the consequences of a robot tax. The reason for that is, that my aim was to collect some ideas and offer hopefully interesting thoughts which need to be further discussed.
Automation, digitalization as well as life-changing technologies like advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, renewable energies, blockchain technology and crypto currencies will come anyway, if we appreciate that or not. So the question won't be if things will change, but how to handle these changes in the most appropriate way.