Full Employment - Putting hydrocarbons back in the ground  

Posted by Big Gav

Interesting proposal from Cory Doctorow on how to soak up all the excess labor post pandemic - Full Employment.

Look: when the pandemic crisis is over, 30% of the world will either be unemployed or working for governments.

This isn’t after an Artificial General Intelligence Singularity in the distant future.

It’s next year.

Governments will get to choose between unemployment or government job creation. Governments that choose unemployment – that leave 30% of their population out of work – will collapse. Possibly their nations will collapse with them. Nations with 30% unemployment don’t function. More importantly, nations with 30% unemployment can’t do the capacity-creation work that will make them resilient to the next crisis, leading to a civilization-threatening death spiral of collapse-disaster-collapse-disaster.

One side effect of this is that it thoroughly forecloses on the dream of a General AI. Societies whose primary industry is digging through rubble for canned goods while drinking your own urine to survive do not make fundamental AI breakthroughs.

The 30% unemployment ”solution” solves nothing, but what about a jobs guarantee?

The 30% who are working under federal jobs programs will have working lives completely decoupled from the workings of the market. The movements of markets – particularly financial markets – will be irrelevant to everyone except for a group of weird, chart-watching, twitchy nerds who fulfill the boring job of capital allocation to an increasingly irrelevant section of the economy.

Banking will once again be a safe sinecure for the unambitious, none-too-bright children of wealthy families, the kind of people who want four weeks paid vacation a year, to clock out every day at 4:45 p.m., and never want to work weekends.

Can we imagine a jobs guarantee? You might find it hard to believe that we will find the political will to simply procure the labor of people who have no jobs. Even in the face of a climate crisis that desperately needs that labor to prevent the destruction of our cities, our civilization and our species, it’s hard to imagine that kind of ambitious program.

But honestly, if we’re going to dream, let’s dream big: I can see a path from here to a federal jobs guarantee. I don’t see a path from here to a General AI. If we’re going to imagine a General AI future, let’s imagine that one of the changes we make along the way is to abandon the toxic austerity worship of the neoliberal era. If we can manage that one simple trick – the trick of adding zeroes to a spreadsheet in a central bank computer – then we have no automation employment crisis.

Which is really good news, because that will free us up to address the actual crisis that we face.

Keynes once proposed that we could jump-start an economy by paying half the unemployed people to dig holes and the other half to fill them in.

No one’s really tried that experiment, but we did just spend 150 years subsidizing our ancestors to dig hydrocarbons out of the ground. Now we’ll spend 200-300 years subsidizing our descendants to put them back in there.


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