In my post “The Jobs of Tomorrow: Part 1 of 2,” I wrote that I expect the global economy to transition from the Industrial Age to the “Virtual Age” over the next 25 years, as illustrated in the diagram below. This transition should take place in two parts, the “Remote Control” period (from ~2016-2030) and the “Virtual Public Jobs Programs” period (from ~2031-2040). I will focus on the latter period in this post.
I expect that after experiencing the economic difficulties of the “Remote Control” period, people worldwide will be clamoring for financial assistance from their governments. Technological unemployment is likely to be so widespread by 2030 that many employment relief measures that may seem viable today will be clearly unworkable. For example, mandatory furloughs, reduced hours and minimum wage raises will be pointless if jobs are nearly impossible to get or keep anyway. It will also be too socially costly for governments to abolish technologies that have led to job losses, and mandate that they be replaced with older technologies. Domestic companies that try to revive obsolete technologies will quickly fall behind their international peers, likely forcing them to shed even more jobs.
A large fraction of the population will thus desperately need financial relief, at a time when it’s clear that the available pool of “real world” jobs is both insufficient for everyone and rapidly shrinking. Furthermore, even though the cost of living will probably be lower than today due to technological progress (including the effects of the virtual reality spiral), people will still need sources of income to survive. With private sector sources of income irreversibly disappearing, they will turn to their governments for help.
Governments will then be faced with a very important choice. They will have to choose to either pay their citizens for doing nothing (since jobs will be nearly impossible for them to get and keep), or to pay their citizens for doing something (by providing them with new jobs). The former option, known as a “basic income,” is a relatively old idea that has gained a lot of traction in recent years. Yet, the latter option, hiring citizens to do “public works” projects, proved to be very effective domestically during the Great Depression.
I am confident that public jobs programs will be far more beneficial to future societies than basic income schemes, but only if they are first upgraded to reflect the times, which I discuss below. Once this is done, I expect public jobs programs to be implemented by most countries that are capable of doing so. This will enable them to put many of their unemployed citizens back to work, while simultaneously upgrading their national infrastructures and preparing their populations for the Virtual Age.