Is work still valuable? Does it still have value?
Trade and, more generally, cross-border transactions between nations have considerably improved our living conditions. But what would we do without trade? In other words, if we had to do everything ourselves without calling on other lines of work, other companies and other nations offering specialisations that are barely available in our country?
One experiment on this was conducted by a student, Andy George, who attempted to make a sandwich starting from scratch, that being by making and growing the necessary ingredients himself. Viewable on Youtube, this experiment, the whole point of which was to not conduct any commercial transaction in the making of the sandwich, was quite the ordeal! ndy George in fact had to make his own bread himself, grow his vegetables, make his cheese, but cheated a bit actually since he was using cooking utensils that, according to the logic, would also have had to be created within the framework of an autocratic economy. The result of this experiment was striking since he needed six months and 1,500 dollars to make his sandwich…when nowadays a few dollars and a few minutes to go to the supermarket are enough to get hold of a sandwich!
It is therefore precisely the total liberty to trade that allows us this luxury, and many others. In the same line of thinking, an hour of work used to produce ten minutes of artificial light in 1800 and 300 days of light today. One kilowatt of electricity generated every five minutes in our year of 2017 required a whole hour of labour in 1900. A McDonald’s cheeseburger – that needed 30 minutes of work in 1950 – is now ready in 3 minutes! And there we have it: economic development and progress reduces manufacturing and production times for the foodstuffs that are necessary to our daily lives. It is by this yardstick that we measure society’s progress.
But don’t get distressed – please! – over the disappearance of certain professions, or the obsolescence of certain lines of work since the current developments are wiping precisely these jobs off the map, jobs that once enslaved whole swathes of workers. Émile Zola basically wouldn’t know what to write anymore today since the working conditions of 2017 and indeed the years to come are drastically different. The idea of work itself now finds itself being challenged since an economy like ours, based mainly on services, offers dreams and opportunities that were once unimaginable.
Let us therefore warmly and optimistically welcome the decline of yesteryear’s industrial jobs since – in the era of robotisation – they belong to the past, a past that required its share of human flesh, or the “human beast” as Zola put it. These spectacular gains in productivity benefit all of society – the rich but also the poor – via the transmission belt of constantly declining prices. This makes precious gains in time, time that we can now dedicate to activities that we hold dear. Finally, these gains in productivity are streamlining the use of precious resources for our planet and for other activities.
But let’s go even further in this rationale since this new paradigm also requires a new approach to the idea of work. Why stay fixated on job creation statistics at a time when work is no longer necessarily the be all and end all? While, for all of time, it was obviously necessary to work to live – and to live better –, it would seem that unemployment and human labour will, in the near future, no longer be an inescapable component of economic policy. Humanity is now reaching such a level of wealth. Progress allows us such a level of comfort. May it become uncouth to dawdle on a now-outmoded idea of work, and one that hinders progress. Let us accept this destruction that is already turning out be a fertile creator.