Not enough jobs?
All over the world, people are loosing their jobs, being "downsized" or
"rationalized away", as their companies fight to stay competitive, which
usually means producing more goods at even lower cost than before, while
employing fewer people and still making enough money for the owners
or shareholders. The now jobless workers face severe problems, ranging
from feeling useless, all the way to starving, depending on what policies
for the jobless their countries have in place. At the same time, the "fortunate"
who still can keep their jobs, tend to work day and night, weekday and
weekend, like mad and crazy, because they believe that this is their
only chance to stay productive enough to be retained by the company!
For almost all the history homo sapiens has seen, people had to
work, and work a lot, just in order to produce enough goods so they
could eat, cloth themselves, and have some shelter. Often there was not
much in terms of a pension fund: If you stopped working, you would die,
because others won't be feeding you for very long. Old people starved,
sick people starved, and children who lost their parents also starved.
For those who could work, life consisted basically of just that: Work.
Little or no time was left for most people to cultivate arts, knowledge,
social relationships, or simply relax.
With the beginning of industrialization, many philosophers finally saw
an end to this misery! Thick books were written, advertising the
new society that would be formed by the machine era: With countless numbers
of machines doing the repetitive, hard work, humans would finally be completely
free to pursue arts, science, creative work and leisure! Machines would
do so much of the work that people simply wouldn't need to work a lot.
They would just have to care to keep the machines in good condition, invent
and build new machines, do the little work machines cannot do, and the
rest of the time would be free! The economy would be re-organized, so that
everyone would get what he needs without a need to work much, and everyone
would contribute his knowledge to improve this society of leisurely philosophers
even more. It sounded like a dream come true.
Why hasn't this happened?
Well, it has happened in great part, but not completely enough! Paid vacations
were the first evidence of this development. Never before in history could
any person stop working for several days or even weeks every year, while
still getting paid just as if he was working! Also, the working week has
been shortened. Two-hundred years ago, people worked ten to twelve hours
a day, six days a week. Sometimes they could take saturday afternoons off,
or at least go home earlier and take their well-earned weekly bath! Overall,
people worked maybe 60 hours a week, in average. Nowadays instead most
of us work only five days per week, no more than eight hours per day, with
some people adding some work on saturday mornings. Depending on the country,
the standard weekly worktime now varies from 32 to perhaps 50 hours. This
reduction in worktime is a direct consequence of machines doing much of
the work! At the same time, our average income is much better than
it was 200 years ago, which is also a direct consequence of the productivity
increasing so dramatically, thanks to machines.
But why isn't the reduction in worktime even larger?
I see basically two reasons. One is that homo sapiens is greedy
by nature. We want more, more, even more, all if possible! So, instead
of working only five hours per week, and letting machines do the rest of
the work necessary to give us food, clothing and shelter, we want more.
This is where homo ludens comes in! Basically we want toys!
Things we don't really need, but which we want to have, for playing. This
is perfectly fine and good! After all, what use would a lot of free time
be, if we didn't have anything to play with in that time?
The problem is one of keeping proper measure. We need to find a proper
balance between the time we spend working to make things, earn money, and
the time we leave to enjoy the things we make or buy. All around me, I
see people working much more than really necessary, in order to
pay for the newest plasma TV (which doesn't show any better resolution
than their 20 year old one that uses a picture tube), to pay the mortgage
on a home much larger and luxurious than they really need, or to buy yet
another new car, because the existing one is all of five years old and
looks shabby in the street, next to the neighbors' newer cars! This consumerism
is destroying the largest improvement that can be brought to us by industrialization:
The possibility to work less of our time, and spend more of it doing creative
The other reason I see is that the existing work is not being properly
distributed among all people who are able to work. And this is where the
title of this page comes in: It's not that we don't have enough jobs for
all people! It's simply that we are stupidly lumping jobs together, so
that one person might be doing the work of two or three, getting totally
exhausted, despaired, and in many cases earning a lot more money than he
truly needs, while at the same time some other people are desperately looking
for a job, don't find any, and have to suffer the consequences of having
little or no money, but a lot of empty time!
How to fix the problem
It's trivially simple, really. By laws, regulations, public pressure or
whatever, we have to reduce the work time for each individual so much that
there is work left over for those who are jobless now. Of course, the income
also has to be re-distributed with the work. That means, someone who today
works 60 hours a week, and earns five times as much as he really needs
for a basic, modest life, would have to share work and income with someone
who is jobless now and only gets an assistance that barely allows him to
survive (taken from the taxes the first guy must pay!). When the sharing
works, the first guy will see his workload reduced from the inhuman 60
hours per week to a very reasonable 30 hours per week, giving him lots
of time to relax, think, enjoy, be with his family, play, learn, etc. The
other guy, who was jobless before, will now have an equally light, 30-hour
week to work, and stop feeling like a piece of trash thrown away by society.
The first guy, whose work time was cut in half, might fear that his salary
will also be cut in half. Not so! He might not have been really aware that
before he was paying the other guy's assistance money too! So, after adjusting
laws, taxes, etc, the first guy will get 60% of his former salary for 50%
of his former work. Not a bad change, if you ask me! He will still be earning
three times as much as needed for a minimum existence. With all the time
he has at hand now, he should be able to achieve a much better quality
of life than when he earned more, but had no time to use the money in any
nice way! The other guy instead will infinitely appreciate that now he
has risen out of poverty, has a useful job to do, plus enough spare time
and spare money to pursue his interests.
I fail to see why our politicians have been so slow in adopting laws
that would implement this change in the regulation of society.
The modern, machine-driven world is not short of jobs. The fact
that machines are replacing workers in many tasks is not a problem.
Machines don't earn a salary, and people want mostly the salary and not
the work that usually goes with it! Machines and people are ideal partners!
We need to advance toward a society in which machines do as much as possible
of the repetitive, boring, hard, and dangerous work, while the creative,
specialized work is still being done by people, properly distributed among
the people, and the income is properly distributed among the people too.
In addition, we need to carefully think about exactly where the proper
compromise between income and free time is. A life consisting just of working,
eating and sleeping makes no sense, while a life with no income doesn't
work. Somewhere between these two extremes we must find the golden balance.
The exact balance point will of course differ for different people, and
so we need laws that accommodate this difference in tastes but also limit
it enough so that the workaholics among us cannot hoard all work there
is, and drive the rest of society into poverty!
Back to homo ludens philosophicus.