Last October a measure called the basic income referendum was put on the ballot in Switzerland. What this measure sought to do was pay every adult in Switzerland $2800 just for, well being alive and living in Switzerland (see reuters.com article).
The Swiss have one of highest standards of living in the world and a stunningly beautiful country. They are a smart well educated people, evidenced by their ability to stay out of two very destructive world wars. This may sound like some kind of Utopian fantasy, but it is not, and it is noteworthy it is happening in a country that was once the home to hell and brimstone thinkers like John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli.
Nevertheless, the Swiss maybe onto something, in January 2014, The Labor Department issued figures showing that the number of people working or looking for work was at the lowest levels since 1977 (see washingtonpost. com article). Economists argue over why, some say it is an aging workforce, other say students finding no work are staying in college. However, those figures cannot account for the total loss of people from the workforce.
There is a reason not often mentioned, but evident, labor saving technologies have eliminated so many jobs, there are simply no jobs for these people to apply for. This was amplified in a recent post on ZdNet titled “Hell no, we won’t pay: How technology transformed our perception of value” (see zd.net article). Technology is undermining the traditional concepts of value. Not surprising as many in that arena are libertarians.
What is slowly dawning on economic policy-makers is that technology may signal the death knell to free market capitalism.
What we need to start thinking about as innovators and entrepreneurs is a future where populations have to work less, where like the above mentioned Swiss referendum people get paid for just being alive. This may shock many free market believers, but it is becoming evident in country after country, the global free market system is not serving the best interests of the largest number of people. It is worth remembering that liberal capitalism first enunciated by Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations was published in 1776. The world of men in wigs wearing big buckled shoes riding to ye Olde Tavern for a glass of ale, are long gone, and the system he laid out has very little to do with a global economy connected by instantaneous communication and robotic assembly lines. In Smith’s day labor was valuable, in classical economic theory, it is the labor put in that creates value, but we live in a world where more and more machines are doing the work.
Soon, machines will do most of the work. Consider the following, farms are increasingly being run by GPS guided machines and drones; they require little or no human supervision. (see pbs.org/wgbh/nova) The time is coming when getting the food from the farm to the supermarket will involve no human hand. The automated farm harvesters will load onto self-driving vehicles, like what Google is developing, the produce will be taken to factories where robots and automation will process it, then back onto the self-driving vehicles, finishing up at the supermarket. Today, many markets allow you to order on line. Shoppers just pick up at a drive through and pay at an automatic teller, soon the deliver could be by unmanned drones . This is not some future fantasy, this is happening today. The end result is everyone needs to get ready for the work-less society.
That is why the referendum put on the ballot by the Swiss, is a bellweather of things to come.
Editor’s note: See Peter’s companion article Personalized Innovation in a Workless Future; and also from Vivek Wadhwa We’re heading into a jobless future no matter what the government does
image credit: poisedtotriple.com
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Peter Doyle is an award winning media marketing, news and documentary producer using rich media to accelerate innovation and commercialization. Check me out at http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterjdoyle