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The future of work

Diane Hall


crowd of robots stood still in lines

Disclaimer: this article explores a common premise in a basic sense. I’m just theorising here; I’m not insisting the following willhappen. It does make you think, though…

There’s a theory that, in the future, our economy will be predominantly based on the currency of time and how we spend it.

Advances in technology and the rise of automation will eventually see more humans out of work than in work. Just take the adoption of self-driving vehicles; once this is second nature, the majority of staff across entire industries will become redundant—from the distribution of goods to public transport, from taxis to doorstep deliveries. It may take another 100 years, but this is not that far-fetched a concept to take on board.

If this did prove the case—that more of us would be redundant than in high demand for our skills—there would need to be a shift in our thinking. One idea, which has been trialled already in Finland and other places, is the concept of a universal basic income (UBI) for every adult in the country. The benefit system wouldn’t exist with UBI, as everyone would receive the same basic income, regardless of their situation, background or existing wealth. If people didn’t wish to work, they would simply stay as they are with their UBI; however, others may wish to go to work to top up this amount—the onus would be on the individual and not on the state.

If you were content to have a simply, basic life, no problem. Your ‘job’ would simply be to spend your money, which, in turn, would create work for other people to deliver/fulfil. It’s not a million miles away from how we live now, but in this scenario, people may wish to work fewer hours, knowing that their basics were covered by UBI. If they worked fewer hours, there would be more roles/positions to go round the mass of people without work.

There would still be an incentive to gain skills and a good education, as technology and workforces would need to be managed. Innovation would still occur. Taxes would still be paid in line with earnings. Jobs would still be advertised, but a 40-hour role for one person today would be four ten-hour positions for four separate individuals at some point in the future.

woman sat meditating on a beach with beautiful sunset behind her

woman sat meditating on a beach with beautiful sunset behind her

We would have so much family/leisure time that our personal commitments and hobbies would take centre stage, rather than our work. We’d have much more time to raise our children and care for the elderly in our communities. Many societal issues would reduce as a result, from mental health problems to elderly care provision, and more.

I’m not predicting a perfect world. There would likely still be crime and negative human traits, such as greed and corruption; however, if people had more autonomy over their lives and how they spent their time, rather than being a slave to work and their employer, there would be less vulnerability and desperation for the powerful to exploit.

It's an interesting concept, isn’t it? I can imagine that a lot of you reading this think it’s unrealistic and pie-in-the-sky thinking, but at some point, machines will overtake the work we create for ourselves. It’s inevitable. At that point, we will need to change something; our current economy and way of life will no longer be appropriate.

We’re already a ‘service’ country, as we make/manufacture only a small amount of the products we consume within our shores. This issue could become part of the same seismic shift UBI would bring—with less focus on productivity, we’d have more time to create what our population actually needs, ‘in house’, so to speak. We may even get to a position where we universally acknowledge that we have everything we need—which could dilute the urge in some ambitious people to always strive for more, more, more.

Experiences, intelligence/information, and time will form alternative currencies to the financial system we have now. In life, we would strive to be things, rather than to have things, as our basic needs would already be fulfilled.

This theory is not without its flaws, of course—such as higher taxation to fund this shift, which could put people off working altogether. However, work, for many people, is not currently fulfilling. It’s just a means to an end. If you received a basic income without having to do anything, if the pressures of earning money to pay your bills was lifted, wouldn’t work be more enjoyable? If you only worked two days a week instead of five or six, wouldn’t your life automatically have more meaning and balance?

What are your thoughts?

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