Welfare, and the Relevant Conversation We Need to Prepare Ourselves For

I like to try to approach things with an open mind, and learn and adapt when confronted with new data. It's a human foible to want to cling steadfastly to an idea, and I try to release myself from it whenever possible. In the last few years, I've realized that I need to adapt my way of thinking for a different human scenario that we are likely to be confronted with sooner than we think. And that has to do with the welfare state, and, as so much that I talk about, technology.

A theme that I harp on quite a bit is trying to live a balanced life in a world that is increasingly aslant. I've written several posts that revolve around that idea, and I'm sure I'm not done yet. Give me a topic and I'll yammer on, trust me. But essentially a few of the ideas for leading a fulfilling life in a world that is doing everything it can to distract us from that are: 

  • Try to move around every day. Depression hates a moving target. Do some pushups, do some squats, walk and run, jump rope. Any motion is better than no motion.
  • Create something physical whenever possible. You don't have to make a masterpiece, and as any artist can tell you, creation is mostly about failures. But the satisfaction of having something tangible will satisfy something in you that nothing else will. Hence my candle business for example.
  • Avoid creating an echo chamber that reinforces your own opinions. Seek conflicting information and try to learn. 
  • Read! It doesn't matter what. Read cookbooks if you want. Read science fiction (we all know I love it), find history books that engage you. Just read. It engages your mind, as does exercise, and helps fight off mental apathy.
  • Keep moving forward! Set goals and work towards them. If you don't, all of a sudden you'll realize 20 years passed without accomplishing anything. It's never to late to start making goals and growing. Make sure not to only set large ones, either. Set small ones as well so you are always seeing progress somewhere; that way you don't get frustrated and bored on the way to meeting large ones.
  • Move with kindness and compassion. Stand for your convictions, but remember everyone has arrived at different points in life due to a lot of circumstances, and be compassionate. No one ever looked good by berating someone who was in pain. Help others whenever possible, both through charity contribution and through charitable acts.
  • Surround yourself with intelligent people who motivate you and do good things. Understand that no one is perfect, but having people that inspire you to live a better life will help insure that you live a better life. I'm blessed to know some of the most inspiring people on this planet, and I'm not being hyperbolic. 

That's just a partial list, but it's a good starting place. It doesn't take a lot of reading between the lines to see that I'm someone who believes in working towards things. And as such, as you might imagine, I believe that government handouts and welfare are a two-edged sword. I absolutely understand that there are circumstances in which people are thrown off-kilter and can't get back on their feet alone. This life is not easy on any of us, but it's also harder on some. While I believe that it's essential to help others and be compassionate, I also think that large government offices established to fulfill that role are not ideal. First of all, I've been working in the government for the last decade, and can fully reinforce how much waste of funding there is when there's no capitalism involved. I've seen plenty of chairs filled for the sake of securing funding. 

The other problem with large government offices doling out....well, the dole...is the atrophy to the recipients over time. It's a truism of human nature that if we don't have to work for something, eventually, we don't appreciate it. Even if at the beginning we did. We start to see it as something that we deserve, and desire to give nothing back. That feeling is really a poisonous one, and I'm not blaming the people who fall into it. I'm not shirking the responsibility of the receiver here, but I really think it's just a symptom of depression, when we don't feel we're contributing. And it can make us selfish and petty. So I'm a big fan of welfare programs that also give the recipients a purpose. The New Deal building programs changed over time into something that I applaud less, but the initial programs that gave us dams, parks, schools, and much more, built by citizens who were crushed beneath the Great Depression, had a lot that I liked. People didn't atrophy due to lack of motivation; they could see that they were doing something for their community while they got off their feet. That was huge.

So where am I going with this? Well, I've realized something. I'm not the first or only person to think about it, but I like to talk here about things that are rattling around my brain. The last several years have had extremely heated conversations about "handouts" and welfare state behaviors. Belief that work and the feeling of contribution is essential to mental well-being obviously puts me on a certain side in the current conversation. But that conversation is about to go through a fundamental change. 

Within the next decade or so, humanity is going to go through another fundamental upheaval. The population of the earth has ballooned since the 1730s from less than 1 billion to more than 8 billion. As that change has occurred, simultaneously there has been a huge leap forward in nearly every aspect of life due to technology changes. We are quickly approaching a nexus yet again. Within the next one to two decades, most jobs are going to be able to be taken over by AI programs or robots of some kind. That's not just true of the assembly line and customer service jobs that we already see (and as we talk about raising the minimum wage, the rush is coming faster to replace lower skill jobs with cheaper robots that don't require things like healthcare). That also applies to many of the higher level jobs too. Drones will soon be in everything from package delivery, piloting aircraft, driving trains and our own cars. Even now programs are intelligent enough to write NEW programs that can outperform programs written by humans. There are programs that are intelligent enough to design and create music, too. AI is going to be able to out-human us in nearly every human endeavor. That's frightening, but quickly coming closer. Brave New World, indeed. Although a perk that I see is that the outsourcing problem America has had will most likely quickly go away. While human personnel in India and China have taken many production jobs from the US, that will become an obsolete problem. While currently paying an overseas worker much less to than an American to do a job has undoubtedly affected production stateside, the price difference between an overseas robot and a US based robot likely won't be much different (at least not for long), so perhaps we'll see a lot of production return home. I hope so anyway.

So the "welfare" conversation is about to change. Suddenly, instead of requiring people to "find work", even those who would seek work of their own volition, are going to have a hard time finding a role. And in that scenario, we can't just allow millions of displaced workers to starve to death because they refuse to find a job. There just literally won't be enough jobs. It won't be a matter of cross training or getting a new field. Workers won't be needed. So what do we do? Humanity will fundamentally change. It will be necessary to have a basic universal wage for all the displaced people.

What I HOPE is that we will essentially end up in a "post-economy economy", of sorts. In the utopian view, it would be a situation in which people figure out how to adapt and happily live when their work isn't "necessary". My recommendation is that we all look into how the nobility of England occupied themselves in the 18th century. Learn languages, learn to draw, take exercise...maybe the waters at Bath, haha....read and write. Engage ourselves. But what I worry about is that we'll basically just stay heads down and argue on the internet even more. 

The stigma of "not having a job" is going to be much more universal before we know it. And we'd better learn how to adequately prepare ourselves for that era. Learn to be happy and make work for ourselves that doesn't result in wage, but satisfaction in other ways. Because those days are coming. Hopefully we can adapt and become more balanced, rounded, and embrace that change. The conversation will need to.


Post script for further reading: If you'd like an interesting book to read about rapid technology change and its implications for what it means to be human, I highly recommend "Future Shock" by Alvin Toffler. It was written in 1970 so it's not 100% accurate anymore (there have been even more leaps since then), but it's a good jumping off point for contemplation. "Brave New World" is a good cautionary tale about how to be the wrong sort of leisure class, but it is disconcertingly easy to think about it going that way.