Friday, October 12, 2012

A trenchant analysis

E. M. Caldawar has a particularly insightful (and long) post on automation here:Automation, Service Economy, and the Welfare State. I think he gets all the facts right, and I like his discussion of "non-productive" work - although I disagree with his conclusion.

I have longed explained to people who complained about the Welfare state that 100% employment is easy - just ban farm machinery (I forget who I originally heard that from). Once you lower the required skill set to poking in the ground with a stick, everyone can be profitably employed. But who wants to live like that - or even live in a society where anyone lives like that? So the problem with deriding the lazy unemployed is that, as automation increases, sooner or later your job will pass under the bar.

Eventually work will become a privilege; the chance to engage in a corporate exercise and become part of something greater will be a reward, not a requirement. Eventually a life well lived, with loves and passions, with joys and personal triumphs, will be justification enough for sustenance. Each life will be a work of art, valuable for its own sake.

Yes, I know, from our perspective, such a level of wealth seems farcical; but to some extent we are already there. We live in the only time in history in which poor people are fat. The problems posed by such a technological achievement would seem equally absurd to the ancient Greeks (or indeed, any ancient philosophers). Homer could never imagine that someday the "demon in men's bellies" would be defeated (not that it has, everywhere, yet).

Such a place would be the existentialist's nightmare, as well as the religious zealot's hell; people who have no fear or needs have no religion, but neither do they have convenient distractions from the innate meaninglessness of their lives. But for the rest of us, who just want to make our friends smile and our children healthy, it would be Paradise.

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