A World Without Work

We all have those days – days when we dread going into work. But what would happen if work actually went away? That’s the topic of a recent article from the Atlantic: A World Without Work.

It’s a bit of a fear-mongering piece mixed with some thoughtful commentary on technological progress:

What does the “end of work” mean, exactly? It does not mean the imminence of total unemployment, nor is the United States remotely likely to face, say, 30 or 50 percent unemployment within the next decade. Rather, technology could exert a slow but continual downward pressure on the value and availability of work—that is, on wages and on the share of prime-age workers with full-time jobs. Eventually, by degrees, that could create a new normal, where the expectation that work will be a central feature of adult life dissipates for a significant portion of society.

I work in technology, so this stat surprised me:

Nine out of 10 workers today are in occupations that existed 100 years ago, and just 5 percent of the jobs generated between 1993 and 2013 came from “high tech” sectors like computing, software, and telecommunications. Our newest industries tend to be the most labor-efficient: they just don’t require many people.

There’s a brief section on the trend towards part-time or temporary work, which does have the benefit of being able to work as much as you want, and use your free time to focus on your passions:

But on-demand apps [E.g. Uber] also spread the work around by carving up jobs, like driving a taxi, into hundreds of little tasks, like a single drive, which allows more people to compete for smaller pieces of work. These new arrangements are already challenging the legal definitions of employer and employee, and there are many reasons to be ambivalent about them. But if the future involves a declining number of full-time jobs, as in Youngstown, then splitting some of the remaining work up among many part-time workers, instead of a few full-timers, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad development. We shouldn’t be too quick to excoriate companies that let people combine their work, art, and leisure in whatever ways they choose.

It’s a bit idealistic, but maybe the world is moving to some form of this. I lived this lifestyle for a year – I made about 75% of what I used to make in a year, but worked about 50% of the time. It was a good balance at the time – 20 hour work weeks are the way to go in my opinion! It’s something I’ll likely explore again in the future.

This leads me to the ultimate paradox of work:

The paradox of work is that many people hate their jobs, but they are considerably more miserable doing nothing.

Work gives us a sense of purpose, and like all things, it is changing. The more we can prepare for this psychologically and culturally within cities, I think the better off we’ll be as a society.

This is a lengthy article, but well worth a read.

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