By William Markiewicz
In my article "Tidbits -- Unemployment" (July 96, Vagabond), I referred to "Le Monde Diplomatique's" discussion of an issue that will be crucial in the not so distant future: technology will oust humans from the vast majority of 'smart' and 'dumb' jobs. Two main problems will then have to be dealt with: 1) How to keep people busy -- those who have too much free time on their hands know that indeed it is a very important problem -- and 2) in a world with no jobs or salaries, on what basis should wealth be distributed? Should there be a world megawelfare system or should a new set of values be established so that the consumer has something to offer in exchange? At the time I wrote the article I found no answer to these questions.
A few weeks ago while driving I turned on the radio and heard a conference in progress. Since I didn't hear the beginning and my drive ended before the conclusion, I don't even know where the conference took place nor the name of the speaker. He was talking about the change in social values; the decreasing importance of fancy diplomas because more and more of the 'smart' jobs are done better by smart machines than by humans. Only the jobs involving human values -- often at the most modest level - are done better by humans than by machines. Jobs in kindergartens, cooking, etc. cannot be performed by a machine. The audience clapped their bravos. At the time I had other priorities and I didn't make the right connections so days passed before it dawned on me that the speaker had proposed a sound, probably unique solution to the problem that seemed to me insoluble in July. He sees a future for humanity in involvement in non-profit organizations financed by taxes. He said that the more we are taxed for the benefit of non-profit organizations, the less tax money will go to the building of prisons. If my memory is good he said that after the year 2000 every 25th American will be in jail and that trend may be reversed only by non-profit organizations for counselling, teaching, improving environmental conditions etc... Countless individuals may be engaged in this alternative to welfare and unemployment and if it really reaches the grassroots and stays away from bureaucratic paternalism, it can give birth on the global scale to a net of cooperatives and small businesses in self-sustaining communities (see "Meek...." Vagabond, November 95 ). So, everything links in a coherent ensemble.
Futurology, whatever it is -- science or philosophy -- is a fascinating subject. We have no data for predictions, but speculation is always permitted. One philosopher in ancient Rome invited other philosophers to discuss what the religion of the future would be. They came to the conclusion that humanity's future lay in Scepticism. How could they have predicted that Christianity, with its modest start in the Middle East, would conquer the world? We are like those Roman philosophers trying to predict the future. The thing to bet on is, in my view, this proposal for non-profit organizations on a huge scale.