In my 17 February 2016 blog, I mentioned the expected disastrous impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotisation on human jobs. I outlined two extreme scenarios: (1) In the absence of tax credits by governments, humans are likely to raise money through criminal activities; and (2) with tax credits again two extreme scenarios may develop: (2a) humans dulled by entertainment and (2b) humans focusing on art and science (a new Renaissance).
I did not address the question if humans can survive a future without jobs.
People with jobs often use the excuse that they must work. For people without jobs – like me – the word must is entirely misplaced. For jobless people, working people are entitled to work. It’s a right rather than an obligation. Not having a job raises a feeling of “We don’t need you“.
To most people, having a job brings a purpose, a sense of belonging, or being needed. That feeling is far more lasting and important than its remuneration – the dollars or euros. Most people will only realise this once they are out of a job. The dollars or euros provided by welfare feel very different than the ones paid to you by your employer.
To me being unemployed felt like being a loser and I was convinced that people could see the “L” on my forehead when doing errands. My home became more and more a hiding place. Ongoing financial commitments made me increasingly desperate for a new job. Once I got my new interim CFO assignment, it turned out to be my worst nightmare ever. Since that moment, I know that having a job can even be worse than not having a job. An important lesson learned.
Today, my writing brings me purpose but no euros. Being a self-employed contractor, or freelancer, implies that I am not entitled to Dutch welfare despite decades of paying social premiums as an employee. Usually I don’t mind too much as it also gives me the freedom to do what I (don’t) want to do. Mostly, I have come to see my period of unemployment as an overdue sabbatical.
At times, I do miss the appreciation and recognition that comes with a job. Sometimes, the worries for not finding new income return again although I do have a fallback scenario in mind. Finding a part-time job may already be a long-term solution given my cost cutting skills. It’s amazing how quickly avoidable expenses can grow, once you do have income.
I fear for a society and a future without jobs. Jobs are essential for dignity, friendships, relationships, self-confidence, and – most of all – social contact. A population consisting of many have-nots and a few who have-it-all may be unsustainable. Perhaps entertainment can dull people but I am afraid for the (disputed) Abraham Lincoln saying: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
Hope keeps individuals and societies alive. Without hope everything disintegrates and chaos will rule until a new balance is found. Recently, the UAE appointed a Minister of State for Happiness (eg, Fortune, RTL). If we no longer need Ministers for Employment then we certainly could use Ministers for Hope. In the absence of Hope, we don’ t even need governments.