Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Artisans' Revival

Bad News Robot

A 2014 Gallup report of worker satisfaction found that as many as 70 percent of Americans don’t feel engaged by their current job. Psychology has shown us that purpose, meaning, identity, fulfillment, creativity, autonomy are all things necessary for personal well-being. Yet, they are absent in the average job.

Imagine self-driving cars snaking through the streets, and Amazon drones dotting the sky. They are replacing millions of drivers, warehouse stockers, and retail workers. The capabilities of machines continue to expand exponentially, while our own abilities remain the same. Rows upon rows of Cloud servers are replacing armies of corporate and IT infrastructure service workers. Knowledge Workers can work everywhere, access any application, obtain any information, from any of their devices of choice, and all outside of the corporate IT service landscape.

A constellation of Internet-enabled companies matches available workers with quick jobs. Most prominently disruptions include Uber (for drivers), Seamless (for meal deliverers), Homejoy (for house cleaners), and TaskRabbit (for just about anyone else). Online markets like Craigslist and eBay have likewise made it easier for people to take on small independent projects, with access to tools, materials and instruction almost anywhere (Udemy). 

Although the on-demand economy is not yet a major part of the employment picture, the number of “temporary-help services” workers has grown by 50 percent since 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since 2000, the number of manufacturing jobs has fallen by almost 5 million, or about 30 percent in the US. Six years into the 2008 recovery, the share of recent college grads who are “underemployed” (in jobs that historically haven’t required a degree) is still higher than it was in 2007 or, for that matter, 2000. College degrees are not what they used to be.

More people are pursuing higher education, but the real wages of recent college graduates have fallen by 7.7 percent since 2000.

In 2013, Oxford University researchers forecasted that machines might be able to perform half of all U.S. jobs in the next two decades. Nine out of 10 workers today are in occupations that existed 100 years ago, and just 5 percent of the jobs generated between 1993 and 2013 came from “high tech” sectors like computing, software, and telecommunications. Guess, which jobs are taken over by machines? Yes, the 9 out of 10! If you are doing a job today that can be done by a robot, consider yourself a robot, soon to be replaced by a better model.

Is any job truly safe? What work will people do (WWPD)?

A birdseye view over the above, and the various articles circulating the web, is making it abundantly clear, for those that have not discovered it yet for themselves. The world we know is about to change. Your job is going to be a casualty, and it is happening very, very fast.

The Future of Work

What would happen if technology permanently replaced a great deal of human work, and related jobs? The widespread disappearance of jobs would usher in a social transformation unlike any we have seen.

The sanctity and preeminence of jobs lie at the heart of the country’s politics, economics, and social interactions. What might happen if jobs go away? Computer scientists and software engineers essentially invent us out of jobs, and the total number of jobs declines steadily and permanently.

In the midst of the Great Depression, the economist John Maynard Keynes forecast that technological progress might allow a 15-hour workweek, and abundant leisure, by 2030. President Lyndon B. Johnson arguing that “the cybernation revolution” would create “a separate nation of the poor, the unskilled, the jobless,” who would be unable either to find work or to afford life’s necessities.

Technology is exerting an accelerating continual downward pressure on the value and availability of jobs, on wages and on the share of prime-age workers with full-time jobs. The share of U.S. economic output that’s paid out in wages fell steadily in the 1980s, reversed some of its losses in the ’90s, and then continued falling after 2000, accelerating during the Great Recession of 2008. It now stands at its lowest level since the U.S. Government started keeping track in the mid‑20th century.

The share of prime-age Americans (25 to 54 years old) who are working in jobs has been trending down since 2000. Among men, the decline began even earlier. The share of prime-age men who are neither in jobs nor looking for a job has doubled since the late 1970s, and has increased as much throughout the recovery as it did during the Great Recession itself.

Do these people choose not to work, or is there simply not a job for them? Society’s values are bound to be rocked to its very foundation, regardless of the answer to the question.

In 1931, James Truslow Adams defined the American dream: "Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth”. Yet, in all the pursuit since 1931 a great many things have gone off the path to corrupt this vision.

We are confronted every day in the media with supposed richer and fuller lives, based on a broken and corrupt set of values:
  • Consumption Driven Economies: More stuff. You need this or that, to be happy. If only you had three bedrooms instead of two, or 6 cylinders instead of 4, then you will be truly happy. More stuff creates wealth, and is wealth.
  • Medicinal Health: More pills, patches and injections (with a few incomprehensible minor side effects) will set you up for beauty, perfection, exhilaration, great sex, social acceptance, and ever lasting youth.
  • Fabricated Equality: Ability and achievement went flying out the door in favour of equality and inclusion. Now everyone that Tweets is an expert, yet no one has expertise. The collective is considered responsible for our circumstances, which leaves no one accountable. The “I” is disappearing from our vocabulary with our liberties in toe, as “the Government” gladly fills the void “for the greater good” of all. Personal responsibility and achievement is going extinct by the minute, as society turns to the “authorities” to safeguard our welfare, secure our pensions, do our healthcare, give us our jobs, and deliver to us our newly minted “rights” in exchange for our liberty.
  • False Opportunity: Credit buys you your future, and gives you, your dreams. You can borrow to be educated, borrow to be housed, borrow to be transported, to eat, and even borrow to have children. And what credit doesn’t take from you, the government gladly finishes off through taxes for their part in securing you, your “rights”. Even Governments can borrow to delivery on their “dreams” and newly minted exorbitant electoral promises.

All this is founded on one simple assumption: There will be jobs!

With a job, you can access credit for your dreams, and your Government can tax you for securing your “rights”. Without jobs, the system falls apart. With the human robots in the jobs wheel, it will keep turning. Without the jobs wheel, what will the obsolete robots do?

The only way we as society will be able to confront the imminent arrival of the robots taking our jobs, is through a fundamental re-think of our value system. This will require a fundamental rethink of the value of work, instead of the proclaimed and false benefits of having a job.

The Artisan’s Revival

Work provides purpose, meaning, identity, fulfillment, creativity, autonomy, which are all things necessary for personal well-being. If 70% of workers miss these benefits from their jobs, then it can be fair to assume that what they do in their jobs, isn’t really work. So, who is doing this wonderful fulfilling work?

Artisans made up the original American middle class. Before industrialization swept through the U.S. economy, many people who didn’t work on farms were silversmiths, blacksmiths, or woodworkers. These Artisans were ground up by the machinery of mass production in the 20th century when they were relegated to "good jobs" instead. Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard, sees the next wave of automation returning us to an age of craftsmanship and artistry. We will be able to return to meaningful work.

The Internet and the cheap availability of artistic tools have already empowered millions of people to a production culture from their living rooms. People upload more than 400,000 hours of YouTube videos and 350 million new Facebook photos every day. The demise of the "formal" (rather former) economy could free many would-be artists, writers, and craftspeople to dedicate their time to creative interests, and to live as cultural producers, released from the shackles of the the traditional job.

Such activities offer virtues that many organizational psychologists consider central to satisfaction at work: Independence, the chance to develop mastery, and a sense of purpose. It also offers an immense contribution to communities and social value where these artisans do their work to benefit those around them through what they produce, and the knowledge they impart to learners or apprentices.

The big question henceforth will not be how we in society will be affected by the disappearance of our jobs, but it will rather be how we as society will have to adjust our values to accommodate a new world that questions the prevailing consumption driven liberalised dogma. And, will we be able to do it in time to save our world from the brink of economic collapse.

Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. 

For this Artisan’s revival a return to a classic set of values will be required:
  • Production must drive the economy, for personal and community benefit.
  • Health should not be medicated, but achieved through informed decision and dedication.
  • Ability, achievement and personal responsibility must be recognized and liberty restored. Rights must be earned, and recognition given, to those achievers that contribute the most.
  • The fruit of a person’s labour and his or her property should be his or hers to own, and to share or exchange, with whom he or she pleases.

In the coming months, I will be seeking out these Producers that are re-inventing themselves, and who are changing their circumstances in line with this new set of values. These are the people driven by the dignity of work, of production, and of creativity. I aim to tell their stories and show the value they bring. Where they are willing, I hope to showcase their work, so that others can also learn from them, how to produce.

These are the Artisans’ that will leading the revival.

Reference Material

Derek Thompson

By Erik Brynjolfsson (@erikbryn) and Andrew McAfee (@amcafee)

Tim O’Reilly
https://medium.com/the-wtf-economy/the-wtf-economy-a3bd5f52ef00

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