Work is an outdated value!

May 14, 2015 0 By Michel Santi

Humans have always had to work to support themselves. However, in its current form, work is a very recent concept in the course of human history. Until the advent of the tradable joint stock company (Dutch East India Company) towards the end of the Renaissance in 1602, human beings had indeed worked for themselves. Creative craftsmen, farmers and herdsmen bartered their goods for other needed goods and services. We owe the appearance of the unskilled and easily replaceable worker to the arrival of the industrial age. Dazzling technical breakthroughs inaugurated a new world dominated by faster and lower-cost production.

In today’s digital age, history repeats itself because society’s objectives are always the same. Namely, to leverage the latest technology in order to increase human labor’s efficiency and productivity using ever less financial capital. For example, we make 25% less use of the public postal service than only four years ago, increasingly opting for private overnight shipments and electronic payments. The computer of 2015 can easily perform work in a much faster and more reliable manner than if that work was outsourced to human labor. And without employer payroll taxes or unemployment insurance! Since the appearance of the industrial machine followed by the computer and today’s emergence of the robot, humans have naively thought that this would logically lead to a life performing more noble and intellectual tasks. In any event, they would at least stay busy monitoring and repairing these machines.

Yet the reality is very different because technology’s sophistication demonstrates unequivocally that economies need less and less human labor to manage their growing robotics-driven industries.  In short, progress is ‘”killing” work precisely at a time when unemployment is the major concern of the West. The Keynesian economists (myself included) are calling for a policy of funding major public works in order to reduce unemployment. Politicians in the U.S. and Europe, who base their re-election hopes on falling unemployment, make employment their top priority. The private sector is stigmatized for not ‘’playing the game’’ by not favoring increased hiring. But, what really is the purpose of technology? And why do we rejoice in its breathtaking progress if we do not even enjoy the fruits of that progress?

We have completely forgotten the main goal of these technology breakthroughs, which replaced human labor. Today, Western societies have become so productive and we are drowning in so much abundance that we can house, feed, educate and treat all our population with the work of a relatively small number of men and women. Meanwhile, the manner in which society is organized has reached its “expiration date”. The crucial issue tormenting us is not whether we have enough goods and services. It is how we are going to be able to provide work for everyone so that they receive a fraction of the huge amount of financial assets available in our society. According to the current established order of things (which should belong to the past), one who does not have a job is condemned to every privation and humiliation.

Now what? Everything modern society requires is capable of being produced through digitalization and massive robotic automation? Unlike the Middle Ages, our human labor is no longer needed to manufacture goods in order for us to live? Does it not then become imperative to restructure our society’s values around something other than “employment” since human labor has gradually, but inevitably, become obsolete by our dazzling technology?