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Dreher got into the idea of the post-scarcity, post-work world in his own gormless fashion, so I figure we can do it too.

 

I've thought about this one a lot and have written some hard and soft fiction on the topic (which I am threatening to unleash on this thread as a punitive measure), but have no real answers beyond "how it will play out will seem completely deterministic and intuitive after the fact". Before I let you all hash the concept out, though, I thought I'd post one of the comments from the above article that hits pretty close to the mark by my standards:

 

The reason people will be superfluous is that there will be a river of goods and services pouring out of automated systems, or systems that require only minimal human input. So now we have to identify who will be the “elite” of this future world. It surely won’t be the guys who own the factories, the factories will be worthless. If nobody has a job, who’s going to pay you for your goods and services?

 

We can already see this sort of thing happening with journalism. There is more journalism than ever, in the sense that there is a river of words and images gushing from our monitors and phones every second of every day. But it is harder and harder to make a living as a journalist. “Journalist” and “Reporter” are already obsolete jobs in 2015, not because nobody reads or there’s no more news, but simply because since we can access everything written there’s no need for 10,000 writers all writing the same article for 10,000 local newspapers. We just need one guy to write the article one time, and then distribute it to the 7 billion people around the world.

 

So in the future, as in the present, it will be impossible to make a living being a journalist. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be people who write all day every day, and whose writing is read by millions of people. It’s just that those people will have to have some other way of earning their daily bread.

And in fact everyone will be in the same boat. You can’t make a living sewing clothes when t-shirts from China cost a dollar each. You can’t raise and sell wheat cheaper than ADM. Entire categories of white collar professional jobs will disappear. And my hunch is that things like “banker” and “investment manager” and “venture capitalist” will be among those jobs automated out of existence.

 

But in this world a comfortable middle-class lifestyle will be essentially free. All the worthless clothes, all the worthless consumer electronics, all the movies and songs and games, all the drugs, all the toys and gadgets you want will be free or near enough free.

 

And so what will people do with their time? Do we really believe that the only possible source of meaning is to scratch a living out of the dirt by the sweat of our brows? Does Bill Gates curse his life, simply because he doesn’t have to grind out a mortgage payment in an office cubicle every day?

 

I have to work for a living. My work isn’t onerous, but if you offered me the exact same salary but I’d never have to come to work again, I’d take it in a second. And what would I fill my time with? Taking care of my kids. Even if I had a robot maid that could clean up the mess at my house, my kids still need a lot of care, and I enjoy being with them.

 

What do hunter-gatherers do with their time when they’ve gathered enough food for the next few weeks and there’s no point in hunting further because the food will just spoil before they could eat it? They hang out with their families, they sing, they dance, they tell stories, they fight. But they don’t kill themselves out of boredom.

 

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Here I also have to point out some hard limits to the resources we can generate in our hypothetical future:

 

Food

There is only so much sunlight, so much soil and so much land with the right climate conditions. Barring massive energy production (and extensive production of underground farms or something) we will have hard limits on the amount of food we can produce.

 

Space

There is no real solution for this, so long as people prefer to live in private dwellings under an open sky.

 

Energy

This one is somewhat elastic, but even in a world where LockMart isn't talking shit and gives everyone a 100MW fusion reactor by 2020 there will still be some bottlenecks in terms of available energy.

 

Matter

There will always be some limiting factor which your machine/whatever cannot do without. With current electronics, it seems as if one of those factors is rare earth metals. Thus, the guy holding/selling rare earth metals (or its equivalent) will be the guy with power.

 

A concept from ecology which may be useful here is the idea of a limiting factor (see: Liebig's law). Essentially, a 'post scarcity' economy will really revolve around whatever it is that is still scarce. Guessing the form of the future, then, revolves around guessing which things are not amenable to improvement by technology and which of them will become the low stave in Liebig's barrel.

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Not having to do any work for our necessities is a glorious pipe dream.

 

A much more worrying and near prospect is a world where we generate enough resources for comfortable lives for us all and we don't have enough meaningful work to keep everyone busy doing meaningful work. How do we deal with parceling out work? Do we just cut down hours progressively and accept the inefficiency? What about the necessary jobs that only have so many people who can do them well in that case and how do we get people to do them when we're trying to get people in other places to do some work but not too much? Do we just let people starve and be abjectly poor so we can keep the current system going and not have to contemplate a change?

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I think modern offices/government departments are pretty compelling proof that people can invent as much busy-work as necessary.

 

That said, the risk of the worst possible system taking root (ie: a massive surplus of goods can now be produced, but people are still stuck working long hours and living in poverty) is pretty high given humanity's collective track record so far.

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I think modern offices/government departments are pretty compelling proof that people can invent as much busy-work as necessary.

 

Yeah. That's basically literally exactly what the whole idea of Arab socialism was, and while they didn't have scarcity worries they were doing reasonably okay at making a total mess work, and doing a decentish job of translating export wealth into a busy and not desperately poor populace.

 

Which is pretty good for hideously corrupt tyrranical states and inefficient solutions. Once the numbers stopped working though... hoo boy.

 

Wonder if they'd have been able to make things work better if they'd tried to siphon off the excess college graduates with guaranteed government jobs into tech industry work or it was too early for that sort of thing?

 

 

That said, the risk of the worst possible system taking root (ie: a massive surplus of goods can now be produced, but people are still stuck working long hours and living in poverty) is pretty high given humanity's collective track record so far.

 

I'm not entirely sure that isn't the current state of affairs in the first world.

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It has been argued that parts of the first world are post-scarcity lite.

 

That said, some first world issues (stagnant economies, declining birth rate) are exactly what you'd expect in a world where food/space is not infinite and people respond rationally to their lack by delaying or avoiding breeding.

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