• Eugene McGarrell

The Future of "No Work" (or the private thoughts of a Luddite?)

The emerging future needs a nudge. Technological breakthroughs in machine learning, quantum computing and blockchain will have an impact on our society within the next decade. “The future of work” is already being monetised by big consultancies like Deloitte who claim to understand the future and how they can support organisations to adapt for that future.

The concept of “work” is relatively new in the history of humankind. The Agricultural Revolution created the concept of work and monetised land ownership. Landowners collected the profits and the rest of us worked 12 hours a day every day. The Industrial Revolution created work and poverty for the “working class” and riches for property and landowners.

Robotics, artificial intelligence and quantum computing are all going to contribute to reduced reliance on people to work. The power of the worker will be inversely proportional to the reliance of organisations of actual people to do the work. This is already leading to the casualisation of the workforce and the diminishing of workers’ rights across jurisdictions.

We can go back to 19th Century Britain when the wool and cotton industry was rocked by workers known as Luddites, rioting and breaking the new power loom machines in protest at the loss of jobs attributed to the new technology. The term “Luddites” is now a disparaging term used to describe a person unwilling to take on new technology. We are warned from history that those rioters were wrong and technology of today and tomorrow will create more work just as the new power looms did.

But is that the reality?

I don’t think the invention of the power loom can really be anywhere near as disruptive as the exciting new technologies we are seeing emerge. We need to get ready so that we can all enjoy the fruits of new technology.

The impact of the future of work will be a disaster for most people unless the social system that we live is turned inside out and upside down. When people in power don’t have to rely on the people to deliver their profits then we all become unnecessary. When we become unnecessary there is no need to sustain our current quality of lives, there is a risk that social insurance will be a thing of the past and the gap between the “few with much” and the “many with little” will grow exponentially.

So, what needs to happen?

We are seeing an emerging insular nationalistic paradigm characterised by Trump, Brexit and Boris Johnson. But are centralised governments working in isolation the paradigm needed to tackle climate change and world hunger? How can developing countries emerge from poverty and hunger while the big economic powers consider economic policies that serve them at the cost of international aid and support.

The neo-liberal policies adopted by most political parties in OECD countries is not delivering on the trickle-down promise. Homelessness, addiction, mental illness, suicide, child abuse, domestic violence, diabetes and poverty continue to characterise the underbelly of these rich countries.

Why is that?

So, it’s time for a conscious change in the way we live in our communities. We all need to change the way we think, change what we value and change our attitude to people experiencing poverty.

To get rid of poverty we need to put money in the pocket of every citizen. We need to stop thinking that work is the only way we can earn. Work will be limited; we need another way. The rich earn money without working, so why can’t the rest of us?

We also need to re-think our desire for annual economic growth and rethink what constitutes money. Money is a tool for governments and sustains the notion of country and nation. Technology is creating a decentralisation of money, a currency that doesn’t require central control of banks and a currency that can be used across borders. Bitcoin and other crypto currencies are going to disrupt the control of government.

So, the tools are available for local communities to create their own micro economy. A micro economy based on a digital barter system. A micro economy that values more than “traditional work” including caring for community members and “volunteering”. A micro-economy that supports local food supply and shared energy solutions. A micro-economy that ensures everyone belongs, is included and has self-agency. A micro-economy that is “off-grid”, supports inter-dependency and recreates the village.

We are at a potential tipping point. Social entrepreneurs and innovators walk among us but have yet managed to connect and network in a way that can leverage change without government funding or big corporation philanthropy. Change needs to take place without the agenda of government or the public relations needs of banks and companies. Change needs to be driven by the people experiencing poverty.

The agricultural, industrial and digital revolutions serve the rich and the powerful. How can we disrupt the emerging future so that is serves each and everyone of us? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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