Opinions expressed by Minority Mindset contributors are their own.
When, about a century ago, ordinary citizens were finally able to buy and have access to cars and gain mobility independence, vehicles revolutionized mass transportation and began replacing horses, donkeys and cattle who were subjected to forced labor. Their work would now be done by tractors, trucks and other vehicles. At that time, the animals used for forced labor were emancipated from slavery to the human race–at least in the industrialized world–and this was seen as an act of compassion, of consideration towards other species. Is it possible that we won’t have the same compassion for the members of our own species, now that the machines are replacing us? I believe that this is one of the most serious moral problems that we will face in future generations.
We are beginning to see machines replacing human labor, particularly in the most tedious, most boring, less meaningful types of work. All this innovation is great, but thousands of jobs are lost. Robots are building cars and other machines. Pharmacies and supermarkets now employ one supervisor, who is assigned 6-10 automated cashiers, to help in case the machine produces an error. Although human cashiers also need supervisors, an automated cashier can work three full-time jobs if it works 24 hours a day, and does not need a salary, pension or benefits.
Next are the self-driving vehicles. Up to now, it is possible that a person without a college education can earn more than $60,000 annually as a truck driver. This was one of the few industries in which, with little education, it was possible to enter the middle class. Soon, ubers and taxis may drive themselves. Self-driving vehicles, if they become the norm, will create a labor disruption that will generate serious tensions and existential crises in modern automated capitalism.
Another industry whose working class is going to suffer is construction, now that people are beginning to use 3-D printer technology to build houses at a cost as low as $4,000. This is thanks to the efforts of non-profit agencies that hope to serve marginalized communities in El Salvador, Haiti and other poor communities, although in China this technology already has a more encompassing history. These machines need human personnel with some preparation to supervise them, but the construction work will no longer be necessary.
There are also robots in medicine, and artificial intelligences with access to large amounts of information about markets that act as financial advisors. These artificial intelligences (AI’s) are going to replace more and more people in technical jobs, where human intelligence, agency and sociability were previously essential.
It is clear that as innovation and efficiency increase, there will be less jobs available for the growing human population. What is the solution–or rather the many possible creative solutions to the problem? Nobody knows with certainty, but intuitively it makes sense that, in order for this labor paradigm to work:
1. It would need to be possible for most people to live comfortably while working fewer hours per week, and / or
2. Instead of these machines being in centralized hands, there must be a way to make it easier for the majority of the population to own the means of production. That is, insofar as the replaced workers can profit from the work of the robots, the value these machines create will be less disruptive for the working class.
In an idealist world, the automation of labor could be a blessing, by eliminating the need to work too much and by giving us more time to be with family, for creativity and for leisure: more time to live. Each society or community that successfully manages to use robotization to reinvent both our labor model and our retirement and early-semi-
Suppose we want the majority of our citizens to become owners of means of production, and thus profit from the work of the robots as they continue to replace us. This could be more easily achieved if we create a culture where we are all educated early on to think like investors, in which the government and / or public education initiatives promote the idea, and in which private and / or public incentives are offered to ordinary investors–like matching contributions to a 401K, but allowing for a model that provides income from dividends throughout our lives, and not just in retirement. For instance, parents and other relatives–instead of, or in addition to giving toys–may give seed investments to their children from a young age with some frequency, while educating them and teaching them to follow the value of their investments from time to time.
Another way to survive in a future society where labor is perpetually scarce is by investing in real estate, and this model can also be transferred to future generations. When I translated a commentary on “The art of property management”, a scroll by 1st Century philosopher Philodemus of Gadara–who taught Epicurean philosophy to wealthy Romans–I learned that one of his recommendations to gain autarchy (self-sufficiency) was to live off rents paid by tenants. This 2000-year-old piece of advice is still relevant!
Risk comes with any investment, so we can imagine that only those who are educated before investing, and who diversify, will be able to prosper in the times ahead. But the danger associated with not reinventing our labor and semi-retirement cycles is the economic marginalization of a growing part of the labor market–and the potential for societal upheaval as a result–as robots continue to make human labor obsolete.
Without adaptation, ambition and economic creativity, it will be difficult to survive the dangers and opportunities that lie ahead in the coming decades. Becoming an owner of means of production, of goods that appreciate in value, or of businesses, and having multiple streams of income instead of one job–which was the old model–should be incorporated into the modus operandi of the entrepreneurial citizen who seeks to adapt to the 21st Century.
There are several other possible experiments that could be implemented–worker coops–to neutralize the effects of automation. The bottom line is that it is time for individuals and families to think about this. Automation will be like lemons to the working class, and it is up to each citizen to make lemonade from them and to decide whether the age of robots will look like a dystopia or a utopia.