I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?
We’re living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That’s because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, there is enough food produced to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 kilocalories per person per day. And that’s even after America disposes of thousands of tons of crop and dairy just to keep market prices high. Meanwhile, American banks overloaded with foreclosed properties are demolishing vacant dwellings to get the empty houses off their books.
Our problem is not that we don’t have enough stuff — it’s that we don’t have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.
But there might still be another possibility — something we couldn’t really imagine for ourselves until the digital era. As a pioneer of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, recently pointed out, we no longer need to make stuff in order to make money. We can instead exchange information-based products.
We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights. The work we do — the value we create — is for the rest of what we want: the stuff that makes life fun, meaningful, and purposeful.
People like to work on their own projects, not just work for the sake of work. We have the ability to provide all the basic necessities for every citizen, thus enabling them to choose personally meaningful work without having to worry about whether it pays the bills. There are thousands of great musicians, novelists, makers, hackers, builders, painters, sculptors, innovators and doers out there who have to put their passions aside and do some menial job, just to buy the necessities that are their right. Sure, a lot of people aren’t any of these things and they would just sit around watching TV and masturbating to internet porn. But so what? Eventually,they’d get bored and find something meaningful to do with their time. Maybe it would just be building birdhouses but it could also be volunteering at their local library or soup kitchen.
Of course it will never happen so long as we let the rich lead us into Economic Calvinism and demand that the poor and working class live in abject poverty and depredation. It will require rewiring society as it is currently built but that wiring is old and in need of replacing anyway.