The future of work
People who celebrate the monthly jobs report getting better nowadays often forget to mention a few facts:
- the new jobs are often temporary or part-time, with low wages
- the old lost jobs, which we lose each month, were often full-time with higher wages
I could go on, and I have, and mention the usual complaints about the definition of the unemployment rate. But instead I’ll take a turn into a thought experiment I’ve been having lately.
Namely, what is the future of work?
It’s important to realize that in some sense we’ve been here before. When all the farming equipment got super efficient and we lost agricultural jobs by the thousands, people swarmed to the cities and we started building things with manufacturing. So if before we had “the age of the farm,” we then entered into “the age of stuff.” And I don’t know about you but I have LOTS of stuff.
Now that all the robots have been trained and are being trained to build our stuff for us, what’s next? What age are we entering?
I kind of want to complain at this point that economists are kind of useless when it comes to questions like this. I mean, aren’t they in charge of understanding the economy? Shouldn’t they have the answer here? I don’t think they have explained it if they do.
Instead, I’m pretty much left considering various science fiction plots I’ve heard about and read about over the years. And my conclusion is that we’re entering “the age of service.”
The age of service is a kind of pyramid scheme where rich people employ individuals to service them in various ways, and then those people are paid well so they can hire slightly less rich people to service them, and so on. But of course for this particular pyramid to work out, the rich have to be SUPER rich and they have to pay their servants very well indeed for the trickle down to work out. Either that or there has to be a wealth transfer some other way.
So, as with all theories of the future, we can talk about how this is already happening.
I noticed this recent Bloomberg View article about how rich people don’t have normal doctors like you and me. They just pay out of pocket for super expensive service outside the realm of insurance. This is not new but it’s expanding.
Here’s another example of the future of jobs, which I should applaud because at least someone has a job but instead just kind of annoys me. Namely, the increasing frequency where I try to make a coffee date with someone (outside of professional meetings) and I have to arrange it with their personal assistant. I feel like, when it comes to social meetings, if you have time to be social, you have time to arrange your social calendar. But again, it’s the future of work here and I guess it’s all good.
More generally: there will be lots of jobs helping out old people and sick people. I get that, especially as the demographics tilt towards old people. But the mathematician in me can’t help but wonder, who will take care of the old people who used to be taking care of the old people? I mean, they by definition don’t have lots of extra cash floating around because they were at the bottom of the pyramid as younger workers.
Or do we have a system where people actually change jobs and levels as they age? That’s another model, where oldish people take care of truly old people and then at some point they get taken care of.
Of course, much like the Star Trek world, none of this has strong connection to the economy as it is set up now, so it’s hard to imagine a smooth transition to a reasonable system, and I’m not even claiming my ideas are reasonable.
By the way, by my definition most people who write computer programs – especially if they’re writing video games or some such – are in a service industry as well. Pretty much anyone who isn’t farming or building stuff in manufacturing is working in service. Writers, poets, singers, and teachers included. Hell, the future could be pretty awesome if we arrange things well.
Anyhoo, a whimsical post for Thursday, and if you have other ideas for the future of work and how that will work out economically, please comment.