QuestionWhat will people do if they don't have to work for a living?
Hopes&Fears answers questions with the help of experts. Today, we asked economists, media theorists and authors to predict what our lives will look like in a post-labor world.
It’s not impossible to imagine a future where jobs as we know them are a thing of the past. Headlines like, “Here are the jobs automation will kill next” and “How Technology Is Destroying Jobs” are portending a doom brought on by the rise of labor automation. Meanwhile, the Netherlands is trying out experimental basic income, teasing us with the idea that people don't have to work to survive. We wondered, how will we spend our time when we no longer have to clock in every day?
Hopes&Fears asked economists, media theorists and authors to predict what our lives will look like in a post-labor world.
Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at CUNY, Queens, author of Life Inc., Present Shock, and more more
There's a mismatch between the job market and the meeting of human needs. There will always be work to do; there just won't be paying jobs for it.
Old people need young people to spend time with them; the topsoil needs to be managed; kids need to be supervised and toilet trained; food needs to be prepared; spaceships need to be built so we can explore other planets and create settlements before this one dies. People will still have work to do.
There may not be enough for everyone to have eight hours of stuff to do each day, but they can share what work there is so that everyone can have some feeling of satisfaction.
School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University
The Greeks distinguished between the labor we did for someone else and the work we do as family members and members of our community. I anticipate that when I retire, I will no longer have to work for someone else, but I will still have work to do as a member of my community, tutoring young people, spreading information to friends and neighbors, organizing on behalf of programs that I believe will be beneficial.
I will also be doing family work, shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking care of my grandchildren, taking them on trips, watching them play sports, etc.
There is plenty of work to do, whether we are paid by an employer or by our social security checks and retirement funds.
Jobs by chance of automation in the next 20 years
Fast food cooks
Paralegals and legal assistants
Chief Technology Officer, Federal Communications Commission
In a sense, we know the answer to this hypothetical situation: retirees are pretty much in the category you describe, at least if they are lucky enough to have a pension or other sources of sufficient retirement income to give them options other than minimum-wage jobs in retail or hospitality (and are healthy enough to exercise those options). I suspect that you'd see the same range of activities you see in that group today, from largely consumption and recreation-focused lifestyles to people who continue to do things that others are paid for, or they may go participate in formal educational offerings. For example, in my line of work, many retired (emeritus) faculty continue to teach, lecture, advise students, perform professional service and do research, just maybe at a more leisurely pace.
We also know that people who are still in the labor force do lots of unpaid work that looks very similar to paid labor, whether that's caring for children, teaching, or creating art.
Number of American jobs that are at "high risk" of being taken over by robots in the next 20 years.
Technology writer (New York Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Wired), editor, programmer, Director at the strategy consulting firm Activate, startup advisor
I know people who don't really have to work but still work, or who do things in the arts where they scrape by on very little money. I think that even if we don't have to work human behavior will continue to involve everyone doing too many things and feeling very anxious about them.
We will spend more time talking about what it means to be happy, which will make us miserable. We will say, "I don't know about you but I can't really deal with people who decide not to work. You need to stay motivated." Because we will still want nice apartments and expensive rugs so that we know we are worth something. And then we will go to work, but it will probably just be a gym and a bunch of iPads and we'll come home and mop our brows and go, man, what a day.
of U.S. employees working in manufacturing
of U.S. employees working in manufacturing
André Daniel Vital da Silva Coelho
Editor at Basic Income News
People will work... on tasks of their choosing, not on paid jobs with which they only barely identify with, if at all. Now that cannot happen if people don't have the means to get the basic resources they need to
live with dignity. That's where basic income comes in.
If technology replaces human labor in an ever growing number of tasks, then only some kind of social contract which says we all get a fair share of those machines work will actually reap the benefits of it.
Parasitism and sloth are only human characteristics in particular conditions, not related with freedom and dynamic creativity. Humans are naturally born curious, dynamic and in a variety of shapes and talents. We can see that best in our children because they are less bound by culture and social norms. Humans can be seen a bit like flowers: when given certain conditions of light, water, and organic supply, they will blossom...otherwise, they will wither and die.
A basic income experiment
In the 1970's, the Canadian town Dauphin tested a basic income for residents. During the four years it was in place, graduation from high school went up, pregnancy in young women went down and hospital visits decreased by 8.5%.
Additional reporting: Kelsey Lawrence