DB – 2/8/2012 The Future of Work….

Well, if it isn’t clear, DB will….in this case…refer to Daily Bread posts!
In tech speak, of course, it means database, those ubiquitous yet invisible banks of information which drive our modern world.

Which brings me to the thought of the day……that being one of the big questions of all time…..How hard does each of us, or humanity as a whole, have to work in order to survive, thrive and prosper? Certainly the answer could be the subject of many books, yet I’ll attempt to present the issues in one daily post!
The issue crossed my mind after reading about the economic troubles in Greece. The country may be going broke because of their excess spending on public wages and pension payments. These sectors alone make up 51 percent of its budget! Yet many European countries have gotten used to these levels of government largess. They count on the state for paying university tuition, health care for all and many other services.
It reminds me of that old saying we have in the States about who is actually working……I can’t find the quotation, but it goes something like “there are x number of Americans, this many work in the post office, this many in the military, this many are in school, this many are employed in government….and that leaves just YOU and ME”.

It seems that, in Greece and elsewhere, there is a lot of truth in that statement….at least when you define “work” as actually making something, digging a ditch, etc.

However, all these stats and facts mean very little unless we study the mindset behind ALL of them…that being “What does it take for each of us to make our Daily Bread”. Certainly we know that our forefathers had to spend a large part of their day chasing food and building shelter. Today we hold fast to this idea of a 40 hour or longer work week…as if that was somehow set in stone by our maker, and if we work less than that we will all slide back into poverty or the stone age. IMHO, this a myth – and more and more of a myth every day!
Technology has made it so that one farmer can feed thousands of people, one robotic spot-welder can weld thousands of points per hours and miracle medicines and food can heal and nourish people as never before. Increases in productivity are now intersecting with reduced desires of many people to own a bigger house or car. After all, as they said in Wall Street (the movie) “How many yachts can one water-ski behind”.

Putting aside the questions of sustainability….no doubt we are NOT on that path yet…it would seem to be very possible for our society to flourish while at the same time people work MUCH shorter hours. If this seems hard to believe I would ask you to undertake this simple exercise. Look around at what many people do for a living these days and ask yourself if it actually produces a benefit to the society as a whole…..or is it more a matter of something to chase after money and a piece of the pie, which often has to come from someone else? On the far end of the spectrum, look at this picture of a WWII-era typing pool.

Typing Pool

So, all of these nice ladies worked hard, bought clothes for work, dropped their kids at preschools and otherwise caused a lot of economic activity. Today they have all been replaced by some silicon chips and a laser or ink jet printer AND the database. The work is still getting done, yet fewer and fewer human beings are needed to do it.
Another good example is the recent housing bubble. Many millions of Americans were employed in the mortgage and financial sectors – often doing nothing except flipping and refinancing mortgages! Each time, like a troll, they took a piece of the action which went over their bridge. But did they actually help more people eat or stay warm? Much of it seems like false economic activity and free money.
An overriding problem is our reliance on GNP and GDP as a measure of success on the economic front. We can now celebrate that our GDP is once again rising, but deeper thought will show that a lot of the reason is those increased health care costs and deductibles we are paying! When oil prices and housing prices rise…..the GDP gets even higher, as ALL purchases are counted into the sum. Build a large number of military machines and leave them in the desert when they break down……another INCREASE in GDP.

Certainly this is no simple issue, and my decision to handle it in one post on one day is definitely a bad one. Rather than settling the issue, I fear I have just raised some of the questions involved. However, let me leave my kind readers with this……no need to worry if people are unemployed. No need to celebrate if GDP goes up. In the end, it is allocation of our “miracles” to the population which will create or destroy our attempt at a civil society. The real “number” of hours that we each have to work might be 2 hours per day. It might be 5 hours per day. We can explore later, but in many ways that number is a moving target which technology is constantly lowering.

One thought on “DB – 2/8/2012 The Future of Work….

  1. Pingback: The future of work, part II | Craig's Writing, Tall Tales and Stories

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