June 28, 2016

"When people ponder the nature of a world without work, they often transpose present-day assumptions about labor and leisure onto a future where they might no longer apply..."

"... if automation does end up rendering a good portion of human labor unnecessary, such a society might exist on completely different terms than societies do today," writes Ilana E. Strauss in "Would a Work-Free World Be So Bad?/Fears of civilization-wide idleness are based too much on the downsides of being unemployed in a society premised on the concept of employment" in The Atlantic.
So what might a work-free U.S. look like?... School, for one thing, would be very different. “I think our system of schooling would completely fall by the wayside,” [says Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College who studies the concept of play]. “The primary purpose of the educational system is to teach people to work. I don’t think anybody would want to put our kids through what we put our kids through now.” Instead, Gray suggests that teachers could build lessons around what students are most curious about. Or, perhaps, formal schooling would disappear altogether.

[Randolph Trumbach, a professor of history at Baruch College] wonders if schooling would become more about teaching children to be leaders, rather than workers, through subjects like philosophy and rhetoric. He also thinks that people might participate in political and public life more, like aristocrats of yore.....

Social life might look a lot different too. Since the Industrial Revolution, mothers, fathers, and children have spent most of their waking hours apart. In a work-free world, people of different ages might come together again.... In general, without work, Gray thinks people would be more likely to pursue their passions, get involved in the arts, and visit friends....

41 comments:

tim in vermont said...

“The primary purpose of the educational system is to teach people to work.

No, its to indoctrinate them as to how to vote and to tell them what to think. It used to be about that.

Paul Snively said...

tim in vermont: No, its to indoctrinate them as to how to vote and to tell them what to think. It used to be about [teaching people to work].

Actually, the U.S. public school system was based upon that instituted by Otto von Bismarck in Prussia. That is to say, it's always been both.

cubanbob said...

I like Star Trek with its replicators and no economics philosophy, its fine entertainment but that is all it is; entertainment (which begs the question of whether or not robots can be entertainers to insure all work is done by machines). Work will always exist even if somewhat further removed.

Hagar said...

All chiefs and no Indians. Riiight!

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...

Hell, we don't have to guess what the world would be like without work. Just look at the north side of Milwaukee. Plenty of idle hands there. He is correct in that education has gone by the wayside. However, artists, leaders and philosophers are in short supply. Instead, we have car jackers, drug dealers and gang bangers o-plenty.

Hagar said...

Those fantastic starships had to be built by someone. They just were not part of the intellectual elite and so kept out of sight beyond the mountains.

Paul Snively said...

Back to the main point: all experience with human beings so far supports the thesis that idle hands are the devil's playground. The only people you'll hear saying "people would be more likely to pursue their passions, get involved in the arts, and visit friends" are people with some sort of political protection from the dog-eat-dog conditions of market economies (e.g. government workers, tenured professors, etc.) and who essentially already are "pursuing their passions, getting involved in the arts, and visiting friends (down the hall at the university)."

People tend to feel a lack of purpose without work, and that lack of purpose is very often expressed in socially negative ways. Don't take my word for it: pick up any book on retirement, and see how much time it spends actually discussing financial planning and how much time it devotes to reinforcing the psychologically obvious point that retirees must establish a purpose for their lives—preferably before retiring.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

The future will not be some giant bonobo-like sex party, apparently.

wholelottasplainin' said...

In this "world without work", who will be the doctors; who will develop the medicines they will use; and who will decide what inventions ought to be made? A bunch of robots?

If Robots do everything, but don't have the incentives humans do, then who will incentivize and tell them what to do? Centralized planners?

Haven't we been down that road already, and seen the disastrous results?

Bob Ellison said...

Isaac Asimov speculated at length, over several books, about the sociology of a world without human work. His main conclusion was that hedonism would prevail, with mono-sexuality and extreme individualism.

MikeD said...

There was an old A.C. Clarke short story premised on only the elite were allowed to work & all others were forced into an endless round of consumption.

Paddy O said...

Someone who doesn't know about people talking about people.

Work is essential to human psychology.

In contexts where there is no need to work, it is surprising how either vapid or depressed people become. We need to be needed. We have to contribute.

One of the key disciplines for early monastics was to work at something. They saw productivity as both providing a useful function and as a key antidote for a number of psychological and spiritual ailments.

Very few people self-motivate enough to add value to their inner and social selves. What is the percentage of trust-funders or otherwise extremely wealthy people who have more vibrant relationships or contributions to this world?

We incline towards dysfunction if not pressed into service. Or distraction. People wouldn't become great philosophers, they'd level up in candy crush.

n.n said...

Either society will be founded on shared labor or no labor, or a minority leadership will arise to exploit the leverage of unproductive individuals to enslave the productive in pursuit of wealth, pleasure, leisure, and narcissistic fulfillment.

That said, perhaps progressive corruption, liberal indulgence, and a dysfunctional society can be mitigated through a finer work schedule.

StoughtonSconnie said...

The primary purpose of the educational system is to teach people to work.

No no no. Education has nothing to do with preparation for work, because the Wisconsin Idea doesn't say that, and the Wisconsin Idea is unalterable. It is the sanctum sanctorum, handed down at the beginning of real knowledge. To try to argue otherwise, you must be a dumb uneducated extremist evil right-wing loser. And if you happen to be Governor, then double hate-crime.

Mark said...

StoughtonSconnie fails to understand the difference between the University system and primary education.

Pathetic.

Clayton Hennesey said...

How much of putting up with other people a matter of necessity, because one needs them economically, rather than a matter of empathy, or ethics, or altruism?

In other words, if large populations become economically unnecessary, how hard will others be willing to work to keep them alive?

tim in vermont said...

People will sit around, collecting their dole, plotting ways to blow up the factories that make the stuff they need. Bill Ayers grandkids will be doing most of the "thinking."

tim in vermont said...

Since the population of the planet is thought by most demographers to be close to beginning to fall, maybe this isn't really a problem? Naah! We're all gonna die!

Sebastian said...

"The primary purpose of the educational system is to teach people to work." Part of the purpose, maybe, but not the practice. [Late to the party, I know.]

"pursue their passions" For self-medication.

Char Char Binks said...

It's what we hope and wish for the most, and fear the most.

Richard said...

A world with out work. What a brave new world we would have.

Danny K said...

If you need something done, ask a busy person.

rehajm said...

Obviously never watched The Jetsons...

The fatal flaw with the theory is assuming present day productivity will be considered adequate and machines will meet that need freeing humans for leisure. History demonstrates we move the bar for 'productive' once the machines are there to assist.

Nonapod said...

I have a lot more optimism about the future than most people. I completely agree that people tend to sloppily transpose the current way of doing things when speculating about the future.

One perhaps more useful way to think about a workless society isn't that it's actually workless, just that it's generally free the more traditional tedious and/or physically labor intensive forms of work we have today. As to what people may actually do in such a society? One possible way to look at it is to ask yourself what you would with yourself if you were fully independently wealthy (if you had so called "FU money"). For a lot of people such a scenario means basically that you don't have to do anything that you really don't want to do.

Jake said...

Who's going to service and develop new automation tech? Are those people then the new leaders?

mikee said...

Teach an entire generation to be leaders, and they will fall behind the worst totalitarian around, who obviously is the best leader. See Harvard as an example of how this works.

Terry said...

What would you do with the large number of people who would just sit around eating Doritos, huffing spray paint, and watching porno?

buwaya said...

There are historical examples.

The City of Rome in the age of the grain dole for instance, mostly later in the Imperial period.

People on welfare in various countries over the last 50 years.

Neither seems promising.

jr565 said...

"The primary purpose of the educational system is to teach people to work"

It is? THat's news to me.


"I don’t think anybody would want to put our kids through what we put our kids through now.” Instead, Gray suggests that teachers could build lessons around what students are most curious about. Or, perhaps, formal schooling would disappear altogether."

he's describing the gender studies program.

dbp said...

Hopefully this is not off-topic: I work for a company that makes things. Only a tiny fraction of the workers actually participate in the making of things. Even if we fully automate production, what about the people who spend most of their time talking and sending emails to each other? I don't see that part being automated.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

You mean we won't all just sit around reading each other's blogs and writing snarky comments?

RJ said...

In general, without work, Gray thinks people would be more likely to pursue their passions, get involved in the arts, and visit friends....

This is so removed from reality that it is just silly. We know what people without work and with money do. Most of them vegetate or get into trouble. Examples: long term welfare recipients, 3rd or 4th generation scions of wealth.

Lost My Cookies said...

There will always be schools to teach people to fight. To build and maintain the machines and fortifications needed for fighting. There may be no more work, but there will always be war.

Jupiter said...

In 1900, well over half the US work force was engaged directly in the production of food. The current figure is somewhere around 4%. It does not appear that the economy has had much difficulty taking up the slack.

John said...

This is just so much bullshit. We have a 200+ year history of automation starting with weaving and continuing to robotics and more today.

We also have a 200+ year history of people saying this kind of bullshit. I remember as a kid in the 50s the expression was "You can be replaced by a button".

We see automation replace all kinds of jobs. Cottage weavers were replaced by textile mills. Horrible as those were back in the early 1800s, they were still an improvement over the life of most cottage weavers. In the 50's it was a big deal when we got direct dial for local calls. No more did we have to go through an operator to call next door. We still had to go through one to make long distance calls to the next town.

As recently as the 90s I was paying 75 cents/minute for long distance calls during business hours.

Lilly Tomlin built a whol career around Ernestine the operator.

Anyone seen an operator recently?

Or typists. Businesses had platoons of typists, clerks, secretaries and the like. How many of these jobs disappeared with first word processing then big time with PCs.

Plants that needed 20 people running a production line now need 2-3

So how come people are still working? Up to about 2008 we had an ever increasing percentage of our total population working than ever.

A very large percentage of the population used to be involved in farming. Starting with Henry Ford and the Fordson tractor this has become highly automated. We have very few farm workers today producing way more food.

As one job disappears other jobs, usually better, open up.

We are not going to have a world without work. Not in 2040, not in 2140.

And even if we did, some of us would keep on working just for the pure joy of it. I get asked why I don't retire. My answer is: What could I possibly find to do that would be more fun than what I do now and get paid for?

I know that is a bit rare but I also talk to other folks my age who did retire. Most of them tell me "Never retire, it is a miserable life." Many of them are basically just sitting around waiting to die. Even a mediocre jobs is better than the alternative.

John Henry

John said...

Automation didn't begin with weaving, it had been happening long before that. What we had in 1800 was an explosion of power with Boulton and Watt's steam engine. For the first time factories were not dependent upon mother nature for power. This opened up limitless horizons.

Speaking of Boulton, why does nobody know about him? We have 100 watt light bulbs because James watt invented the steam engine. First practical one, anyway.

So what? Without Boulton, who owned a factory and was a serial entrepreneur, it would have been just a laboratory curiosity. Boulton is the one who made it commercially available and successful.

We should be talking about 100 Boulton light bulbs insteat of 100 Watt.

As much credit as Watt deserves, and he deserves a lot, Boulton deserves even more.

John Henry

Quaestor said...

Instead, [Peter Gray] suggests that teachers could build lessons around what students are most curious about. Or, perhaps, formal schooling would disappear altogether.

The most entertaining forms of stupidity comes from people with letters after their names.

Quaestor said...

Jupiter wrote: In 1900, well over half the US work force was engaged directly in the production of food. The current figure is somewhere around 4%. It does not appear that the economy has had much difficulty taking up the slack.

When I read Ann's post this historical fact came to mind. I was in the midst of assembling the statistics when I noticed Jupiter's cogent comment.

How do people get on the faculty of Boston College and not know this stuff by rote?

tim in vermont said...

Maybe it will be like Ancient Greece, but without the slaves. We could have wars to pass the time, but it would have to be considered "dishonorable" to destroy robots or their factories.

raf said...

Instead, [Peter Gray] suggests that teachers could build lessons around what students are most curious about

So, porn, then?

Nichevo said...

Did I miss the part where this works? Okay, robots can do all the work, but how do people get money to pay for the work/stuff, is everything free, can I have a Bentley or a swimming pool or a facelift for the asking? How are the resources allocated except by paying g with money earned from work?