Dec 152016
 

The rules of the post-WWII economy are becoming less relevant. Ben Thompson offers a view of what we could hope will replace it:

…instead of trying to recreate a 1950s fantasy of employment for life on an assembly line, the goal should be to create a far more dynamic labor market with a defined floor and significantly greater upside than the old system.

We are already seeing a hint of the opportunities offered in such a world with the rise of the “gig economy.” People sell crafts on Etsy, raise money for charities on Twitch, and drive for Uber.

But taking this to its extreme sounds pretty scary without some “floor” on income. You mean, I’m going to have to sell on Etsy and drive for Uber just to be able to afford food and medicine?

No. The idea is that, free of the need to struggle for basic subsistence, you can pursue different ceilings:

…a universal basic income alone offers some degree of financial security, but it does not offer dignity to the recipient, or any return for society beyond a reduction in guilt. What is most important, and what offers the highest return, is enabling more and better ways to work and ultimately create…

…who knows what sorts of products and services might result from an emboldened and secure middle class?

This reminded me a lot of the RSA Animate of Daniel Pink’s “Drive.” Specifically the findings about incentives for post-industrial work:

For work requiring rudimentary cognitive skill, people are motivated by Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose — once you take security off the table.

Ben encourages those of us in the technological elite to focus less on using our tech to become (pardon the phrase) uber-rich and comfy, and more on helping bring about the world he describes:

To that end, technology executives and venture capitalists should lead the campaign for the type of reforms I have listed above. More importantly, they should match their rhetoric with actions: companies like Apple and Google should strive to be technology leaders, not tax avoidance ones…

He goes on to list a number of specific things that tech execs and VCs should support. Really, read the article.

I’m not hopeful, myself. In my own work, I’ve observed a strong temptation in tech leaders to apply old-world thinking to the new world of technology. “Well,” goes the (ir)rationale, “I went to school and worked hard, I deserve to make as much money as I can from it. It’s unfair for me to pay more in taxes.”

And baked into some of these conversations that I have is this undercurrent of “besides, it’s not like people can do without their Twitter/online banking/videogames. Anyone who blames technology is just a Luddite.”

Ben cautions

…people are not always rational, especially when they are desperate. It is absolutely in the industry’s best interests to not only participate in but lead the creation of a new system that works to the benefit of all…

The alternative is far worse: once automation arrives, guess who is going to be the scapegoat?

Ah, what does he know? It’s the 21st century. And we upper middle-class technologists have never had to fear a Reign of Terror.

But America is still young, as a nation goes.

There’s still time.

 Posted by at 4:04 pm