Technology, the Grinch who Stole Christmas
This is the time of the year for giving. Unfortunately, a growing number of Canadians have little to share.
In ever greater numbers workers are becoming redundant due to widely marketed technological change. Just one example, on-line banking has eliminated thousands of jobs and is continuing to do so.
We know that advances in technology are accelerating at an unprecedented rate. This is having a dramatic impact on human society and is also transforming us into a global village.
Over 100 years ago, the economist John Maynard Keynes used the phrase “technology unemployment” in an essay suggesting that technology may be advancing at a much faster pace than society is able or willing to accommodate.
More recently, economist Thomas Piketty, in his best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-first Century, discusses the concentration of wealth and inequality and how and why this is happening.
However, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee in The Second Machine Age place a whole new perspective on this phenomenon. They describe a world, with the help of technology, where a few winners take all and can become millionaires in a matter of days. The rest of us are left with little to share during the Christmas season.
This is serious stuff. What is needed now is a paradigm shift in both our attitude towards work and towards how wealth is distributed. This is a tall order, not only for business and governments, but also for the rest of us.
Traditionally we have a mindset that work for pay is a “real job” while other activities are not. To avoid increasing unemployment, all activities that contribute to our society will need to be recognized and rewarded as “work”.
And, all those things that we take for granted, i.e. the physical, economic and social infrastructure used to create products and services, should be calculated and paid for by those making use of them for profit.
Equally, individuals with high incomes who enjoy higher consumption rates will need to contribute more to pay for the abundance of goods and services they enjoy.
Some of the extreme wealth needs to be redistributed through fair wages and benefits and supplemented by programs such as a Basic Income. Only then can all members of society purchase the goods and services being produced.
Although some might find this approach initially distasteful, there is a growing body of knowledge that shows communities whose members have a livable income are more likely to be actively engaged both in work and in their community. Such communities also have a lower health cost and a reduced crime rate.
This is not a Santa Claus approach for solving poverty but a calculated way to have greater economic and social stability. If society is to be sustained, then the attitudes towards work and wealth will also need to change.
But this will take courageous leadership. Maybe we should stop long enough this holiday season to make a New Year’s resolution to demand that our politicians make the necessary changes to accommodate a new attitude towards work and extreme income inequality.