Okay, WOWO is facing one of those energy/attention shortages that he experiences from time to time. So assuming the world of Asian American culture doesn’t either explode or collapse in the next week or so, WOWO is taking a vacation. I’ll probably be on here from time to time, but I may or may not post. Add me to your reader or sign up on Facebook. Apologies if this blog post is somewhat disjointed and rambling…that’s what happens during these mental burnout periods.
Anyway, Ross Douthat posted an article about jobs: A World Without Work, in which he talks about how there may not be enough jobs for people in the future. I’ve posted about this before–in particular about Douglas Rushkoff’s theory that we don’t really want jobs. Check out the video above with Rushkoff. I also have posted about Tyler Cowen’s theories about how big companies these days don’t create jobs. Douthat’s article is interesting, however, because it posits that we can actually afford to keep people not working. He says that we’re fine without jobs and that we can probably afford handing out food stamps (although we haven’t solved healthcare):
Many of the Americans dropping out of the work force are not destitute: they’re receiving disability payments and food stamps, living with relatives, cobbling together work here and there, and often doing as well as they might with a low-wage job. By historical standards their lives are more comfortable than the left often allows, and the fiscal cost of their situation is more sustainable than the right tends to admits. (Medicare may bankrupt us, but food stamps probably will not.)
It’s not just America either. In Spain, there are more young people who are unemployed than are working. Britain has a million unemployed young people. This could very well be the new normal. People just don’t need that much, and machines produce most of what people need. The demand just isn’t there.
I think it’s interesting. It would definitely upend our whole focus on education and (ultimately) employment. In the same NY Times, there was also an article about the surplus in veterinarians. We’ve already heard lots about the surplus of lawyers. What a different world we would live in if, instead of being taught that we have to get an education so that we can work, we were taught to get educated so that we can just be smarter, and that we could rely on government for handouts or friends/family for basic necessities.
Of course, it changes our value system. As Douthat correctly notes, personal fulfillment doesn’t come easy when you can’t apply your talents in a meaningful (and hopefully profitable) way. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Scary stuff.
On a side note, the current second book on my reading list is Shop Class as Soulcraft, which is a book by a PhD who owns a motorcycle repair shop about why skilled manual labor is valuable and how not everyone should be funneled into the “knowledge economy.” From Amazon:
Called “the sleeper hit of the publishing season” (The Boston Globe), Shop Class as Soulcraft became an instant bestseller, attracting readers with its radical (and timely) reappraisal of the merits of skilled manual labor. On both economic and psychological grounds, author Matthew B. Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a “knowledge worker,” based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing. Using his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford presents a wonderfully articulated call for self-reliance and a moving reflection on how we can live concretely in an ever more abstract world.
This is skilled manual labor, i.e. knowing how to fix stuff. I’ve started fixing stuff around the house, and I agree that there’s a lot of pride in having that ability and know-how. (It’s a whole lot different from some of the jobs I had early in my career, which were soul-crushing and pointless–young people, take note!)
Feel free to read this book. Expect a review in the near future.
Signing out for now.