Vocation or job


Starry night – priceless

In part two of our look at the future of employment, #FullUnemployment, we will look at how we get to a future that aspires towards utopia rather than one which descends into dystopia.

If I’m right, the future holds the possibility that automation will be able to replace many tasks that make up our everyday life. Last time we saw how autonomous vehicles will become the standard replacing as many as 4 million jobs.

Here’s another example.

The age of ‘bots that schedule meetings for you, diagnose illnesses and fight parking tickets is already here. More AI-based solutions are coming and they will replace clerks in the DMV, tellers in the bank, agents at the hotel and airport check-in and  even the maître d’hôtel at your favorite restaurant.

So if the future is one where jobs are replaced by automation, what are people going to do instead and how are we going to compensate them for the contribution they make?

Early in my career I was given the advice that “If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.” The next generation will have to embrace this idea and find their vocation first and then find a place where they can practice their vocation. As a way of life, practicing your vocation will need to be rewarded so that individuals can shelter, feed and clothe themselves and their families.

Society is going to have to develop the means to reward individuals for their contribution. Increasing the value of raw materials by turning them into products or services is usually how we measure contribution. Yet we place little monetary value, except in rare and exceptional cases, on the contribution of artists, poets and musicians but they bring considerable value that increases the well-being of society. That needs to be rewarded.

Some of the most poorly paid workers are teachers, nurses, home-help, hospice carers, day-care workers and social workers. Their contribution to our society, providing much needed care and support to the most vulnerable of us, is incomparable in that they make lives that are often broken and sad into ones that are enriched and joyful. The value they create nevers appears on a balance sheet nor is it reflected in the stock price, but is real societal value and needs to be rewarded as well.

Pure research is often derided as an unnecessary expense and countless, seemingly nonsensical, examples of wasted public funds are cited to prove just how pointless this is. The advancement of human knowledge is incremental, glacial even. When Newton said “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” he was acknowledging the science and mathematics that had preceded him and steered him towards his great discoveries. So, while I might agree that studying if one gets wetter when running in the rain than one would if one walked seems frivolous, it does increase the wealth of knowledge and may provide the link for the next great achievement, the next profound discovery, the cure for cancer or the creation of endless free energy.

The gross domestic product of the USA is about $18 trillion – by any measure a remarkable achievement. But what about value that cannot be counted in dollars?

The United Nations Human Development Index ranks the USA 8th in the world. This shows we have a real investment in our people. Some would argue that it is just not enough and some would argue it’s already too much. What if we set our goal to be 1st in UN HDI? How would that change how government invests in people and projects.

The World Happiness Report, indeed there is such a thing, ranks the USA 13th happiest population. What if we set our goal to be 1st in the WHR; would it change how we compensate creators of societal wealth and how we treat them?

A day is coming when one will be able to choose to invest our financial capital in the stock market or invest our human capital in our neighbors and neighborhood. We should expect returns on our investment whichever path we choose.

Next time; Why Philosophers will rule the world.

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