... from 1932 echos part of your point: http://harpers.org/archive/193...
"First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earthâ(TM)s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two different bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising. Throughout Europe, though not in America, there is a third class of men, more respected than either of the classes of workers. These are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might, therefore, be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is rendered possible only by the industry of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example."
The key part agreeing with you being: "The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders but those who give advice as to what orders should be given."
You make another interesting point on equal distribution of material wealth in the USA essentially in terms of mass. To support your point, it's true that a lot of "money" controlled by the wealthiest 0.1% is now in the "casino economy" of the stock market and so on (FIRE sector) and so unavailable for use by most people to signal demand for material goods.
Still, I can doubt your point on equal distribution of goods and services is true overall, even if it is no doubt true for, say, beverages. I'd be curious to see more substantiation of that point.
It seems to me in the USA that wealthy people own a lot of land (and control corporations and politics, see: http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesa... ), they have in general better quality products and services (including education and food), as families they have more potential free time and self-determination, they have better access to medical care, and they face less financial precarity in their day-to-day lives. In general, they are not forced to take on risks that poorer people are (unsafe cars, unsafe neighborhoods, unsafe food, unsafe jobs, etc.). Those are enormous benefits towards a happier life. Still, as you point out, by strictly material standards, most people in the USA are better off than even the wealthy of 100 years ago. That is an important point. However, there is more to life that material goods. Things like face-to-face community, craftsmanship, general literacy, time spent by mothers with their young children, and time spent in nature and in sunshine seem to have declined per capita in the USA -- as have birth rates. A whole bunch of illnesses, including mental illness, seem to be on the rise.
There is a deeper issue here if we put aside the controversial issue that robots and AIs could do most jobs soon (and in a way, robots etc. just crank up a trend that has been going on for decades) . The fact is, most human labor is already not needed for use to live near to our current standard of living. Bertrand Russel pointed this out in that 1932 essay: "Modern technic has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor necessary to produce the necessaries of life for every one. This was made obvious during the War. At that time all the men in the armed forces, all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or government offices connected with the War were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of physical well-being among wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance; borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The War showed conclusively that by the scientific organization of production it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world."
So much of potential US productivity has been squandered in competition:
"But our [women's] rebellion was simultaneously based on thinking that went something like this: If a family can live comfortably on one full-time worker's income, then a family can live comfortably on two half-time workers' incomes. So rather than dad being gone from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday with mom stuck at home, mom and dad would each work 20 hours a week, and divide home and childcare equally. Women working meant income and childcare equality, and more home-time for dad.
I will pause here to give you the opportunity to stop laughing.
What in fact happened is that when we were done smashing the barriers that kept women out of the Ivy League and managerial positions, the Gen-Xers came rushing in with a very different idea in their heads, namely, now my partner and I can both devote our lives to climbing the corporate ladder. Market research executives have a name for them: DINKS, or double-income, no kids.
Here is sobering statistic from "The X Factor: Tapping into the Strengths of the 33- to 46-Year-Old Generation," a study from The Center for Work Life Policy in New York: About 43 percent of Gen X women and nearly a third (32%) of Xer men do not have children at all -- nor do they intend to.
With all that extra income, these wealthy (primarily white), highly educated Gen-Xers could afford to buy bigger houses, more luxurious cars. So, of course, housing and other prices followed suit. Eventually, we needed two incomes just to maintain the same quality of life that the Boomers and Silent Generation enjoyed from just one. And after the fad of downsizing, globalization of the workplace, and two economic downturns (in 2000 and 2008), we are now all running as fast as we can just to not fall behind."
Elizabeth Warren also talks about this in "The Two Income Trap":
"Of course, the notion that mothers are all going to run pell-mell back to the hearth and turn back the clock to 1950 is absurd. But that aside, a big part of the two-income trap is that families have basically bid up the cost of living. Housing is a big example. A generation ago, an average family could buy an average home on one income. Today you can't do that in three-quarters of American cities. We all know that housing prices are going up, but what most people don't realize is that this has become a family problem. Housing prices are rising twice as fast for families with kids.
A lot of that has to do with public schools. As confidence in the public schools has dwindled, people are bidding up the prices on homes in those school districts with good reputations; so for a typical family, the only way to afford one of those homes is to send mom to work. Average mortgage expenses have gone 70 times faster than the average father's income, and the only way families are keeping up is by bringing in two incomes.
Of course that's where you see the trap. If families were simply sending Mom into the workforce and using that money to build their savings, or to have more fun, or to go on more vacations, you wouldn't see the same kind of financial trap. If Mom or Dad got laid off, heck, they'd stop going on vacation. But that's not the case. If mom gets laid off now you can't say, "Well, we'll just stop paying the mortgage for awhile." One of the things we've heard over and over after our book was released was mothers stepping forward and saying: "You're telling my story. You know, maybe I prefer to work and maybe I don't, but I tell you I have no choice financially. The only way we're getting health insurance and the only way I'm sending my kids to a decent school is for me to work and work some more." ...
Yes, there's this great myth out there that we call the "Over-consumption Myth," which goes: If you earn a decent income, and you're in trouble financially, it must be because you're blowing all your money at the Gap, and TGIF. The myth is so powerful, it almost seems like heresy to question it. But when we actually looked into the data on what real families actually spend, it's just not true. An average family of four actually spends less on clothing than their parents did a generation ago, adjusted for inflation. That includes all the Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirts and all the Nike sneakers. How does this work? Well we forget all the things we don't spend money on anymore -- how many kids have leather shoes for Sunday school anymore? How many people dress up in wool suits for work everyday?
The point is that families today are spending their money no more foolishly than their parents did. And yet they're five times more likely to go bankrupt, and three times more likely to lose their homes. Families are going broke on the basics --housing, health insurance, and education. These are the kind of bills that you can't just trim around the edges in the event of a downturn."
Germany shows a different ways forward on this.
"How did Germany become such a great place to work in the first place? The Allies did it. This whole European model came, to some extent, from the New Deal. Our real history and tradition is what we created in Europe. Occupying Germany after WWII, the 1945 European constitutions, the UN Charter of Human Rights all came from Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Dealers. All of it got worked into the constitutions of Europe and helped shape their social democracies. It came from us. The papal encyclicals on labor, it came from the Americans."
As does the Netherlands:
"Still, de Bruin's observations suggest that glamour, hospitality and charm may not be essential ingredients for female happiness. Living in a wealthy, industrialized society plays a huge part in the Dutch woman's sense of contentment, she said, given the benefits of a social net that allows for balance between work and family life. She backs that claim with statistics: 68 percent of Dutch women work part time, roughly 25 hours a week, and most probably do not want a full-time job."
I listed several pathologies that can chew up productivity here (including endless schooling, lack of preventive health care, and so on):
Now, it may well be true that a marketplace is a better way to organize useful labor than central planning Russell was enamored of (assuming the market is policed by government regarding externalities, monopolies, wealth concentration, and systemic risks).
But Russell's general point from 1930 is still valid and has been made by others and is even more valid today -- that we already are at the point where most of us don't have to work to provide a decent life for most. But instead, much human energy is frittered away in competition, war, boring schooling, guarding each other, and then addictive pursuits stemming from the craziness of it all. As Bob Black suggests:
"Only a small and diminishing fraction of work serves any useful purpose independent of the defense and reproduction of the work-system and its political and legal appendages. Twenty years ago, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just five percent of the work then being done -- presumably the figure, if accurate, is lower now -- would satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing and shelter. Theirs was only an educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control. Right off the bat we can liberate tens of millions of salesmen, soldiers, managers, cops, stockbrokers, clergymen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, landlords, security guards, ad-men and everyone who works for them. There is a snowball effect since every time you idle some bigshot you liberate his flunkies and underlings also. Thus the economy implodes."
It's true that material expectations are higher now than in the 1930s. But so too are our abilities via robotics, AI, and a better knowledge of materials and design.
As I think Kevin Carson or someone else on the p2presearch list suggested, what would our economy look like in an intermediate state if this process of implosion was going on? Perhaps it might look much like today -- with rising unemployment, falling GDP, and various short-term social distresses?
Yes, we could perhaps create a world where people were providing endless services to others, such as the person who watches the person who watches the person who watches to ensure your dog is guarding your house (see also Dr. Seuss on bee watching). We could create a world where almost everyone is a maid or gardener to a few ultra-wealthy people like in some third world nation. Some liberals have even joked that it looks like the goal of most US Republican leaders is to remake the USA into Pakistan (no strong government, little publicly supported infrastructure, privatized education, huge rich/poor divide, etc.).
But is that really the world we want? I guess is does come down to an assessment of human nature and what most people want. Also, if most of those services could be provided by AIs and robots, which you reasonably question, then even if people want more services, there is no need to have people provide them.
While I agree in the current value of tradeskills, many trades are tough on the knees, and it is hard to be a tradeperson past 50. And in any case, we would soon see falling wages if everyone rushed to the trades right now. They could absorb more people than now, but not everyone who needs a job to survive in our current economy. Again though, robots and AI don't have to replace all humans to make a big dent in the economy. They just have to allow, say, one skilled human welder to do the work of ten welders by supervising ten robots who do the mostly routine welding.
There have been several articles on the development of 3D printing for homes, so even the trades are going to be facing automation. In general, better design, made easier by better computers and the internet, can eliminate many jobs in many trades, by making products last longer, making them easier to DIY install or repair, or by making products in automated factories. For such an example, and maybe it was not perfect, but there was Bucky Fuller's Dymaxion Bathroom:
"The four, stamped sheet metal or molded plastic sections are each light enough to be carried by two workers. They'll fit up tight staircases and through narrow doors, allowing retrofitting in existing structures. All the appliances, pipes, and wires are built-in, limiting on-site construction to mere hook-up. With the sections bolted together, the interior has no germ-harboring nooks, crannies, grout cracks or anything that can rot. Large-radius corners make germicidal swabbing easy and complete. Downdraft ventilation draws fumes and steam to the undersink vent. Both sink and (deep) bath-shower are arranged to ease the care of children and seniors. The mirror doesn't steam up, the sink doesn't splatter, and the toilet paper stays dry. Dymaxion Bathrooms are to be equipped with "Fog Gun" hot water vapor showers that use only a cup of water to clean hygienically without soap. ..."
I'd encourage you to look at Bertrand Russel's essay (overlooking some 1930s-era comments on Russia), or stuff by others like Bob Black on work:
Humans seem adapted to a certain amount of daily physical exercise. We can either get this through some form of manual "work" (including gardening and caring for young children) or by going to the gym. It seems like gardening etc. might be preferable to boring repetitive gym "work"? Again, when going up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and given a lot of AI and robotics would we really want to turn to a paid human for most services? Would you really want a "personal shopper" to find your next DIY-installed faucet for you instead of turning to Amazon and looking at the reviews?
One can make the case for general "work" by all, but within these limits like EF Schumacher does:
"The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure."
Still, as Bertrand Russel points out, it takes some degree of education (and not like modern Prussian-derived schooling designed to dumb most people down) to understand the potential of "idleness". The basis of much of modern science came from a small subset of the idle rich of Europe.
I don't think most people see the end of scut work as bad. What they see is that the end of menial work means a lot of people starve or otherwise suffer in our current economy where the right to consume for most people (and their families) is based on offering personal labor for sale. While there a lot of things wrong with using IQ as a measure, as someone else on Slashdot mentioned years ago, half of all people have an IQ of less than 100 (by definition), and IQ correlates somewhat with the type of skills we are talking about for a 21st century economy. These may be people who are loving parents, hard workers, highly knowledgeable about some tasks, good friends and neighbors, generous volunteers, good joke tellers and story tellers, and so on. But what does the future hold for them when so many low skill or menial jobs are being automated and when 24X7 video entertainment is available cheaply? Is it fair that all these people will be disenfranchised from receiving the fruits of the industrial base and larger society they and their ancestors helped create? And to what end, given the possibilities of automation to produce essentially endless material abundance relative to human needs and even most wants?
Marshall Sahlins claims hunter/gathers has a lot of leisure time and did relatively little work by modern standards, and what work they did was skilled and relatively enjoyable (given humans became adapted to a certain niche for a long time):
"Hunter-gatherers consume less energy per capita per year than any other group of human beings. Yet when you come to examine it the original affluent society was none other than the hunter's - in which all the people's material wants were easily satisfied. To accept that hunters are affluent is therefore to recognise that the present human condition of man slaving to bridge the gap between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means is a tragedy of modern times."
As I see it, the *need* for a lot of work relative the the easier days of our hunter/gatherer past came from a few things. One is rising expectations (which may be a good thing, depending) and that is what you point to for the future demand for work. However, the "voluntary simplicity" movement questions this. Another is humans making work for each other in often pathological ways, generally related to turf wars and social status -- although not entirely questionable depending on how one views group selection vs. individual selection regarding evolution and mate selection. However, the peace movement, cooperative movements (see Alfie Kohn), and other social trends question this level of competition. Another key reason is the need to work harder because of increasing populations relative to the Earth's carrying capacity pushing people onto marginal lands. While a sandy beach in the tropical Caribbean or by an African lake may make for easy living from the water's bounty, there was only so much warm beach front property to go around. Everyone else had to work harder on more marginal lands. However, we've become so potentially good at making food and stuff from so little (even figuring out how to make useful aluminum from otherwise useless rocks). Our population growth is slowing, and in any case, if population grows again, there is the promise of outer space including perhaps living in self-replicating space habitats that can duplicate themselves from sunlight and asteroidal ore like JD Bernal envisioned in the 1920. My OSCOMAK project hoped to help with all that. So, new options in each area are opening up for alternative ways of thinking about all this. Bertrand Russell saw that in 1932. It is only more true now.
Again, perhaps this comes down to different expectations of human nature in different settings. Also, at some point quantitative changes can become qualitative changes. Sure, people can formalize the exchange of social favors in a retirement community using some form of tokens or currency (including a LETS system), especially if they grew up in an exchange-oriented economy. But at some point, such social interactions around exchanging mainly optional services may lend themselves more easily to a "gift economy" approach like common in North American economics several hundred years ago (among the Native Americans, including via "Potlach"). Again, I like James P. Hogan's 1982 novel "Voyage From Yesteryear" for illustrating one possibility of what might happen as a scarcity-based world view encounters an abundance-based worldview. Like Bucky Fuller said, whether it will be utopia or oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race to the very end...