A new industrial revolution is coming. In 20–30 years, light industry and assembly will require only a few machinists and heavy industry and milling will require a smaller number of skilled workers. Manufacturing, if it continues to be a mass-scale phenomenon, will no longer provide enough jobs, and even now they have some “lights out” factories with no humans in the assembling process. The service sector is not immune either; while bartenders and baristas and cooks at higher-quality restaurants may not get fired (mostly because robots on public display would ruin the atmosphere), and plumbers and long-haul truckers will keep their jobs, Walmart will find robots who can find items at their stores and McDonalds will find robots to flip their burgers. Aside from banning technology, there isn’t much to be done to stop it. What we need to do is adapt.
There are many models for a future society that has automated most low-skill jobs. The most common proposal is a universal basic income (UBI.) If you don’t know what a UBI is, it is where every citizen (regardless of their socioeconomic status) gets a certain amount of money from the government every year. The idea of a UBI would be so that when no one has a job, people can still live. It has been proposed by the Finnish government and by Elon Musk.
On the surface, it would be immensely beneficial; not only would it mitigate the effects of mass unemployment, it would make it so people don’t even have to work. It also is quite possibly that the only serious proposal as to how to deal with the new economy we are heading into that has been made, and thus the natural reaction from Silicon Valley types that already anticipate this new industrial revolution and would not be affected in the slightest by its effects is to support what is in their opinion the only workable solution to the problem that doesn’t involve banning innovation.
A UBI, however, would (in the context of providing for mass unemployment due to automation) devastate humanity. It would either be too low to actually live off of, causing massive poverty while the rich get richer and richer, or so high that the rich would never pay it. Unless you are planning on giving every citizen $60,000 a year (and thousands more year by year due to the massive amount of inflation this would cause), most people would be depressed, unproductive and poor with little aspiration, potential and ability. By restructuring society in this way, human potential and culture would quickly die, except for the very rich. It is arguably better than mass starvation, but not much. And if you do plan on having everyone get a $60,000 check every year, it would be so costly that the rich would just outsource their production (or, for that matter, retire) and stow away their money in a tax haven and everyone would starve. It is not the solution.
This is why I propose a paradoxical return to a (partially) pre-industrial society, combined with a mutualist socialist worker’s democracy. Now that we have automation, we can return to cottage industries, which are industries democratically owned and ran by small numbers of skilled workers (machinists, pipe fitters, technicians, etc) in smaller workshops, on a mass scale. If we allot high numbers of people small workshops that are physically too small to mass produce that are full of robots and CNC machines, we would
- Find everyone a job and
- Be innovating extremely quickly.
Due to the fact that a high number of small factories employ a lot more than a low number of large factories, a lot of people would have jobs. Now, some things would have to be mass produced. For example, cars cannot be efficiently made in a small workshop and milling has always been done on a large scale. However, most things would be made on a small scale by small groups of innovative, skilled workers. Meanwhile, a high number of people would become coders, and I think it would be beneficial if a lot of rural people returned to agrarianism. Not to the scale of the 1800s, but at least to that of the 1950s. In addition, I think we should use this opportunity to create worker-owned markets, many small businesses and banks that charge a minimal interest rate.
The advantages are numerous. For one, rich corporations and the entire wage system would crumble apart; the businesses would be worker owned, and the yearly income for workers would be far more than under any other system (including a communist gift economy; goods would still have to be rationed in a gifting system and because hard work is not rewarded the amount of goods would not be as plentiful. A UBI would only preserve the status quo). Also, if a high percentage of people are working daily in small groups and trying to innovate, imagine how fast new technologies would be created?
The new industrial revolution is coming, and we are going to need a real answer, one that will make the world a better place, and not a worse one.