If you can step far enough back from the noise and chaos of current events, you can see a long-term trend that needs our attention. Key leaders in business, culture, and politics are wringing their hands about “jobs” and the rate at which people are employed. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth about jobs “disappearing” due to automation or offshoring or simply the elimination of obsolete industries. “Job creation” is the watchword of those who hope to make friends and influence people.
What nobody seems ready to consider is how this shift reflects a step in human evolution, and how that evolution will change not only the nature of work, but the amount of it that is necessary!
Technological advancements and automation have made it possible to produce more food, more clothing, and more shelter, faster than ever before. This means that more people around the world can fulfill Maslow’s basic needs than at any time in history. Indeed, the only thing preventing us from feeding, clothing, and housing every person on the planet is a lack of political will to make it happen. In wealthy countries, the vast majority of citizens can largely take this bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy for granted. In countries with stable governments, the next level up is also mostly handled — the majority of citizens feel safe.
The amount of effort required to fulfill these needs now is easily handled by an historically minuscule percentage of the working population, along with their amazing machines. And the people who have those needs met are seeking to fulfill higher-level needs: connection, esteem, and self-actualization. For this reason, the future of “work” is moving from a “thing” focus to a “person” focus — in other words, away from products and toward services. This is apparent in the trend of once-dominant companies like Sears filing bankruptcy even as those like Facebook achieve record profits.
Our view of the job market needs to evolve with these trends. In wealthy countries, we are rapidly heading for a day when there will be more people than there are jobs that need doing — and contrary to doomsaying popular belief, this is not going to be a problem — IF we update our attitudes about work to match the reality of our economic prosperity. Our “work ethic” — this notion that only long hours of toil and suffering will yield success — is obsolete. What matters now is the results, not the effort. Our workplaces, our methods, our definition of “full time”, our compensation packages, all must be updated to reflect the reality that collectively, we have the means to fulfill the basic needs of every living person. We can comfortably ensure that everyone has food, clothing, shelter, and safety without anyone needing to make a sacrifice that they would even notice, much less feel. When those basic needs are met, people can focus their energies on learning, identifying their personal passions, and turning those passions into products and services that other people want. This is not some crazy utopian socialist dream. This is the natural outcome of a paradigm shift from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality. The scarcity mentality does not hold up to scrutiny in 2019 — there is nowhere near sufficient evidence of scarcity to justify the belief! Indeed, the evidence of abundance is, well, abundant! And it is high time we examined the facts of our situation, and updated our attitudes to match it.
When we shift away from a mindset of scarcity and fear, we can move toward a mindset of abundance and love. Far from being an impossible utopian fantasy, this is an impending reality that we must acknowledge in order to build a new economy. If we continue to deny the evidence, we will only widen the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. This isn’t just a karmic bummer. This is a fatal drag on the economy, involving increased crime, political unrest, and astronomical opportunity costs. An abundance mindset is not incompatible with capitalism — far from it. Capitalism, and people, thrive in an economic culture of enlightened self-interest. We’ve nailed self-interest. Now we need some enlightenment.