Friday, August 19, 2016

Why the Future is Workless, by Tim Dunlop

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Tim Dunlop explains why in the future we will have more leisure time and less financial stress.

Tim Dunlop is a writer and academic who holds a PhD in political philosophy. In his new book, Why The Future is Workless, he looks at the history of work and its possible future.

The book’s opening chapters discuss in some philosophical detail how work has been viewed in the past. Going back to ancient Egypt and the times of Plato and Aristotle, employment was divided into two types, one noble and one not-so-noble. Labour was something done by slaves or women in the privacy of their own homes. It was ignoble and base. Public work, such as that of a politician or city official, was public and hence commanded respect. By the time of the Protestant Reformation, work and labour had pretty much merged into one. Today’s modern economy sees strong traces of this, as work overwhelmingly defines identity.

All of this is about to change with the advance of automation. According to most experts, over the next two decades we can expect to see close to 50 per cent of all jobs taken over by machines. Whether these jobs will ever be replaced by other jobs is yet to be seen. Some economists think they will be, others don’t. In a worst case scenario where there was mass unemployment, Tim Dunlop suggests that governments would be prompted to pay a universal basic income. Besides the obvious benefits of providing a social safety net, it would potentially change the lives of women and poor workers, as they would have more autonomy over their lives. A woman in a bad relationship would no longer be dependent on her male partner. A worker being exploited could leave a bad job.

If you think such a scheme is madness, perhaps think again. Dunlop provides research to show that it would be economically viable. Governments could afford to do it, and they would save on administrative costs that go with running a complex welfare state. There is also impressive research that shows people who receive such a basic wage do not squander the money: they spend it on health, better food and even invest it in creating small businesses.

Why the Future is Workless make an appealing case, although critics could argue Dunlop has an almost utopian vision of the future. The book doesn’t look at the dark side of this technological takeover: the concentration of so much internet power in the hands of a few tech companies, government digital surveillance, the mental health effects of people being addicted to technology, loss of skills etc. Having said that, Workless is impressively argued, intelligent and features some brilliant analysis. A book that deserves a wide readership.

Why the Future is Workless, by Tim Dunlop. Published by New South Books. ISBN: 9781742234823 RRP: $29.99

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