Return of the Luddites?

I’m trying out a new way of posting. While I post on here most days, I’ll often give up meatier posts in favour of sleep and a quick interesting link. This is fine for a few days, but after a while it starts dragging down the quality of my blog.

Instead of posting this gorgeous video of a marmot disrupting research into glacier formation, I’m using this post to have a quick poke at a topic that’s caught my eye, with the intention of straightening out my thinking and getting comments to improve my research for a later post.

The inspiration behind all of this is a video Jack sent me – which I’ve not yet seen, but intend to watch before the follow-up post. I’ll trust you to kindly overlook any of these early thoughts if they’re also covered in the video.

The video promises a look at a topic that’s been lingering on the edge of my awareness recently: the impact of technology on our economic systems. Specifically, I’m interested in how it will affect the employment system, and how it will affect the political system. I’m thinking about it in an Australian context but expecting to extrapolate to and from other mostly rich, mostly western countries where it seems relevant.

It seems we’re heading for a future where work is more likely to be automated, both for physical jobs (e.g. with robots) and more information based jobs (e.g. with big data). People will still be needed in the system, but they will be a smaller part of it.* Taking that as a given – and yes, it’s a big one – there seem to be two extremes for the economic implications:

  1. High unemployment, a shift to a haves-and-have-nots economy.
  2. A new economic structure which redefines our understanding of what’s required for payment/basic living expenses.

Of course, the implications of either of these changes wouldn’t be limited to economics. My guess is that the first point above would lead to rebellion – a literal resurgence of the Luddites.

From Wikipedia:

 The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-saving machinery from 1811 to 1817. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace the artisans with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work.

I’m less sure of what to predict for the second point. One friend suggested cottage industries could be the future of labour. There would be an employer/employee divide, but it would be far more granular, and much less divided. The idea of a base state-paid wage that’s been lingering in certain circles could also make sense in this scenario.

For now, I’m planning to step away from this question to do more research and thinking. While I do, I’d be keen to hear your thoughts. Do you think your grandchildren’s children will have a job in the current sense of the word? How do you think work in the future will…work?

—//—

**Yep, these are some sweeping generalisations. This is very much the testing-an-idea post, not the publishing-with-research-and-a-considered-theory post.

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2 thoughts on “Return of the Luddites?

  1. JEM says:

    Maybe with the scenarios you suggest, along with our environmental problems and poor over-processed diet more people will return to past practices of growing and processing their own food, making furniture, clothes etc., (mending and making do) and being much better off for it instead of being sucked into the insidious marketing trend of trying to brain-washing us into thinking that what we have is inadequate and that we need to throw away what we have, to buy what is bigger and better to be happy.

  2. That would be great to see. I’m often surprised by how much my wants – or at least my impatience with saving for them – stem from seeing people around me get to the point I’m reaching for.

    But I also have people who help me stay grounded, including my smart and frugal friends and family. Interestingly, one of the other strong voices there is Sacha Chua, a young woman living in Canada who I’ve never met, and only swapped blog comments with a few times. She’s experimenting with semi-retirement (at 30ish years old), and is supporting her household by cooking in frugal ways, growing veggies, etc. I’ve learned an enormous amount from reading her posts. There’s a quick piece on her experiment at http://sachachua.com/blog/experiment/ if you’re interested in reading more.

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