In his lengthy essay on a world without work, Senior Editor Derek Thompson takes us on a journey from the 1977 shuttering of a major steel mill in Youngstown, Ohio, to the present day advancements in technology. While the Luddites of the 19th century protested technology as the demise of their livelihoods and work, each new wave of technology revolution repudiated their arguments by increasing the number of jobs.
But Thompson gets us thinking in his piece that things could be different in our own century.
He points to several stats:
While the U.S. economy is improving, the inactivity rate for men is the highest that it’s been since the 1970s. One in six prime-age men (25- to 54-year-olds) is not working or looking for work today.
Secondly, he cites an Oxford University study that suggests 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. could be replaced by artificial intelligence and software in the next two decades.
Another sobering statistic: Nine of 10 workers are in occupations that existed 100 years ago.
The most common jobs in America are cashiers, retail salespeople, office clerks, and drivers, and it’s not hard to fathom these positions being replaced by robotics, self-driving cars and other technologies.
At the heart of Thompson’s piece is whether work is inherently good and necessary. For the people of Youngstown and other cities in the 1970s, the absence of work was devastating. Depression, spousal abuse and suicide increased.
Could things be different this time around since the capabilities of computing power continue to increase while the costs decrease? Life’s necessities could become much more affordable, and there could be great wealth amassed at a national level at least, according to the author. A new era of personal freedom and creativity could be ushered in, as people have time to pursue community service, their personal interests or become artisans.
The essay does an excellent job of exploring various perspectives on the issue of work and what it means to one’s self-worth. I highly recommend taking time to read it in its entirety.
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