If the goal of the economy is to provide decent-paying work for everyone, that economy clearly isn’t doing a good job at the moment. Real wages for most Americans haven’t increased in 40 years. Real unemployment—which includes the “under-employed”—is above 10%. Many jobs are now part-time, flexi-time, or “gigs” with no benefits and few protections. And, we spend a lot of money to subsidize so-called “bullshit jobs“: more than 50% of fast food workers receive some form of public assistance, for instance.
And, even for people who are employed, work often isn’t that fun. For all the talk of the meaning and purpose of our jobs, most people see them merely as a means to an end. Only 29% of employees in North America say they’re engaged (worldwide, the number is 13%). And the reality is that a lot of work will soon be done by computer. Processing-type technology has already eliminated many “routine manual” and “routine cognitive” activities, notably in factories and offices. And new artificially intelligent machines are likely to take away more, even within professional occupations. Forty-seven percent of jobs are at risk over the next 20 years, one study showed.
Of course, there are many conventional ways we could deal with this, including improving education and training (so more people can work up the wage-scale and beyond the ability of robots) and raising minimum wages. But, over the long term, it’s questionable whether even these approaches will be sufficient. The fundamental problem could be that work is losing its value. The thing that provided—that allowed families to prosper and individuals to build a sense-of-self—is under attack.