What makes this all doubly scary to me is the prospect of the workless future. It’s crazy to me that we’re having conversations about a Universal Basic Income and the potential for AI and automation to disrupt entire industries on the one hand, while we’re talking about the side-hustle economy on the other. It seems like we’re encouraging people to find ways to scrape by for as long as possible until the system collapses under its own weight.
We really need to have a conversation at the societal level about where human meaning comes from. If it’s defined by what you do, we’ve got to find better ways to give people meaningful jobs that can pay a livable wage, whether it’s “good” for corporate quarterly earnings reports or not. If human meaning comes from the pursuit of knowledge or personal investment in family and community, we need to stop telling people to work for money every minute of every day. Side hustles used to be called hobbies, and they were fulfilling whether they made you money or not.
We’ve got such a schizophrenic view of what’s important that we can’t build systems to help people get there. Politicians are saying that having a pre-existing medical condition is a moral failing. Silicon Valley carnival barkers are saying that everyone can be the next Steve Jobs by monetizing every second of every day. Religious leaders have downplayed personal responsibility of the flock so that they can point the finger at the “outside world”.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how can we make human life more fulfilling. Different communities may have different answers on what’s “fulfilling”, but it would keep us from having these masturbatory policy debates over what’s good for society as a cover for what’s good for someone’s earnings statement.