Society is increasingly automated. For most of us, we pump our own gas. That used to require a job. No longer. A majority of the population need not devote their lives to farming. Our economy is mostly a luxury economy. That meaning most of the work that everyone does here, or has ever done, is not necessary for the functioning of society. Fast food is a luxury. You can get food at the supermarket. Those jobs technically need not exist for the survival of society. Retail workers are just as superfluous. The rise of companies like Amazon demonstrate how humans are being cut from the equation. They still need warehouse workers, but a large amount of the labor pool has been cut, and a computer is handling the logistics and doing the work of people now.
Economic development has had a history of people fleeing from one expired sector to a new sector of technology. But does anyone think we can innovate endlessly? Think about the behemoths of today that come to your mind. Google. Apple. Facebook. Note how digitally based these companies are. Note what they did to the industries they've replaced - a phrase made famous is "trading analog dollars for digital dimes". Online advertising is nothing revenue-wise compared to TV advertising and product placement. Newspapers make nothing online compared to their print value. We are also trading analog jobs for digital jobs. A century ago, our behemoths employed large swaths of the nation. The modern behemoth has no need for mass employment. This is not an anti-corporate tirade. They don't need the labor. But it is a worrying trend of our future economic outlook. Many people are now sitting in school until around the age of 30 just to be in a high-skill high-wage job. The high-wage low-skill job is gone. The high-wage medium-skill job is vanishing. The high-skill high-wage jobs are becoming high-skill medium- or low-wage jobs.
New industrial sectors are still bubbling up. Biotechnology for instance. All that good science stuff. Many jobs are expected to be created, and great benefits for mankind to ensue. But there won't be enough jobs to replace the ones we've lost. It's a continuous rat race from one depleting job pool to another. Every job that is lost is a person out of work looking for another job - the pool shrinks but the hungry mouths grow.
Eventually, automation means we can live in a post-scarcity society. People only work if they want to. No one has to work to live anymore. But that doesn't happen overnight. At first you will have encroaching, unbudging unemployment that only continues to grow and fester. But we will still live in a society that defines you by your job, that asks that you work to live. And these people will have no recompense. It will no longer be the lazy and unable who can't work. It will be people desperate to make ends meet, who know they have done nothing wrong, who feel betrayed by a society that shuns them for being jobless while not having any jobs for them. It's possible this may be even be beginning today, but it is impossible to tell until it's over. We may find another sector that is labor-heavy that provides plenty of jobs for people to scurry on over to. Crisis averted, but only delayed. Many people have traded down to service-sector jobs, but even these are increasingly automated. Imagine how employment would look if nearly all service-sector jobs were innovated out of existence. Those people still need jobs. They still need money. So even as society progresses to the utopia that a post-scarcity is, we risk falling into chaos and dystopia.
It is a metamorphosis. We will emerge beautiful and free. But it is not without peril. We may die in the transition. The road to utopia will be paved with the bodies of the malcontent. But we cannot stop. If we stop we die, but if we go on, we may die. All we can hope to do is to minimize the unrest and the body count.