Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Post-Work Society: Limits and Possibilities

This piece by that came out in The Atlantic, is a long, but very worthwhile read.  It came out in 2015 and I think speaks to the angst that drove support for both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. 

"The U.S. labor force has been shaped by millennia of technological progress. Agricultural technology birthed the farming industry, the industrial revolution moved people into factories, and then globalization and automation moved them back out, giving rise to a nation of services. But throughout these reshufflings, the total number of jobs has always increased. What may be looming is something different: an era of technological unemployment, in which computer scientists and software engineers essentially invent us out of work, and the total number of jobs declines steadily and permanently."

So an important takeaway is that instead of scapegoating immigrants, we need to take an unblinking look at what has truly been an elimination of jobs largely due to automation. 

In a surprisingly hopeful way, this thoughtful piece engages theoretical frameworks and empirical data pertaining to employment trends to explore different ways that a post-work society could work.  It also marshals alternative visions of a post-work society pertinent to consumption, communal creativity, and contingency. 

What this piece fails to do is articulate what these macro-level shifts in production mean for women and minorities at the micro-level and their corollary impacts on how we are to relate to each other in a post-work society, not only within our intimate social relationships, but also across our social, racial/ethnic, and socioeconomic divides.  

Nor does it fully take on the capitalistic rhetorical drumbeat ("promise") that capitalism equates to happier and more fulfilling lives (otherwise called "the American Dream") despite evidence of growing pathologies related not just to job loss, but to the system itself—emphasis here on "the drumbeat."  These include, but are not limited to, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, constant stress, mental illness, and so on.

With the idea of a "digital WPA," it presents a nuanced look at the role of social policy that uses technology while hearkening back to the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s that helped rebuild the nation’s infrastructure in the wake of the Depression.

It nevertheless point to an emergent alternative value system in the wake of disappearing jobs and a fundamental economic restructuring of society that could serve as a starting point for conversations throughout the U.S. that are either plagued by under-employment and unemployment on how to create new vistas for fulfilling and rewarding lives in a post-work society.

Much food for thought at an important moment in our history.

Angela Valenzuela


A World Without Work

by/ The Atlantic

July/August 2015 Issue
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?

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