If we manage to maintain something similar to the complex, energy-based economy we have now in the coming decades and even centuries (assuming our future energy comes from renewable sources), we will have to change the entire structure of work and how people are supported in their existence.
Why? Because automation will make most jobs unnecessary. Maybe we will be able to move to a workless economy altogether, providing something like a universal basic income, supplemented by income from creative and helpful services or products. Or even something like the “whuffie”-based economy envisioned by Cory Doctorow in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. (Though sometimes I think that may not work for most humans, whose brains seem to be wired to find happiness in stability and regular hours, and meaning in consistent work. Is everyone cut out to be a self-motivated artist?)
Assuming there are any jobs left for people to do despite automation, major swaths of work will be gone. All the truck- and car-driving jobs will go away (lost to autonomous vehicles), just as many manufacturing jobs have already gone away (lost to robots), and even more of farming and food-growing will become automated.
The jobs that remain are likely to require a pretty high level of education. For instance, there may be jobs in maintaining and expanding the new electric grid and all of its sources, but those jobs will need a level of education and intelligence that some people along the bell curve of humanity are just not going to have. And even some of the “intellectual” jobs will disappear as computers learn to program themselves.
So what jobs will there be, or could there be? I think the answer is: jobs based on helping other people.
Personal care for people as they age or become disabled. Teachers and professors. Social workers. Nurses, physical therapists, doctors, psychiatrists and cognitive behavioral therapists. Lawyers (yes, seriously), especially public defenders and legal aid. Attendants who ride on buses and trains to provide security and positivity (not policing) — more like conductors.
And even front desk people and door people — people who make everyone feel like they’re in a human space when they arrive somewhere, whether at a business or a residential building. I’m thinking of them like the greeters at Walmart, only better (both for workers and the people they greet). All of these people at doors and in entryways provide eyes on the street, increasing safety and the perception of safety, and just generally improving the experience of everyone who comes by.
I was recently in an area of St. Paul that’s becoming increasingly dense, with five- or six-story apartment blocks and a few large office buildings. I wanted to put up a flyer about a community event nearby. But there were two problems:
- Every door of every residential building was locked, front and back.
- Every door of every office building off the main street was locked, referring me to the parking lot door. When I reached there, I would find a small lobby and some interior locked doors.
- Even if I had been able to get into a building, there wouldn’t have been an unlocked community space with something like a bulletin board to hang a poster.
The solution, it seems to me, is people working at the street level. There could be lots of jobs in human contact. There used to be jobs like this, and there still are in some parts of the country (Manhattan, for instance). But they’re currently premised on an economy of tipping, with the money coming from rich individuals.
My system would be more egalitarian, funded through a new economy that recognizes work isn’t only making or moving things, it’s making human connection and culture.