Rise of the Working Jobless

Patrick Tucker's picture

The American political elite are obsessed with jobs and how to make them, whether through direct government investment (stimulus), which is the cornerstone of the Obama Administration's recently released "American Jobs Act," or through indirect government investment (tax cuts to the supply side) which is the Republican response... and also a big part of the Jobs Act.

This concern on the part of our elected representatives should come as no surprise. The U.S. unemployment rate is hovering above 9% and actual unemployment, a more accurate number which includes people who are underemployed in part-time work or who have been out of work so long they've given up the search, is closer to 16%.

Some expect that problem to get a lot worse, and fast, as every year millions of college kids graduate holding a pile of debt and few options for employment. My friends at 1x57 point out that "a recent Rutgers University survey of 571 Americans who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010 found that only 53% held full-time jobs."

Demography is destiny, as they say. Hordes of roving young people out of work is a recipe for social unrest. This weekend, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg predicted Egypt-style youth riots if more jobs aren't created soon.

But there seems to be no good solution to the question of how to create paying positions for these people, which is what makes Douglas Rushkoff's recent essay on CNN.com such a welcome addition to the debate.

Says Rushkoff, technology creates efficiency and makes systems more productive; the result, more value but fewer jobs. No reasonable person can argue otherwise. Yet both the U.S. Congress and President Obama are trying to do just that. This suggests a huge disconnect with reality and poor foresight on the part of our leaders. In the next ten years, as technology and innovation accelerate, a lot more jobs are going to be rendered obsolete says Rushkoff. We can't plan for this reality until we accept it.

What's not obsolete in Rushkoff's view? Service to community, value creation, peer to peer transactions, markets made up of people exchanging goods freely, and work, which isn't the same as a job although we often treat it as such. The above are all things that we associate with formal employment but that actually exist independtly of having a job. The Internet is giving us new ways to have those other things without dealing with a big box employer who tells us what to make, how to sell it, and for how much. It's a hypothesis that Rushkoff broached in THE FUTURIST magazine a couple of years ago.

He explains it in more detail in this sit down with the Wall Street Journal below.

A lot of young people I know work hard, create a lot of value, and exchange that value freely in a myriad of ways. They contribute to open-source freeware projects, launch social media campaigns around issues they're passionate about, write music, film movies, and produce wonderful art. They make up the "freeter" class in Japan and the freelance class in the States. The problem with this lifestyle is that it lacks the security and the benefits that go with formal employment, like health insurance, retirement matching funds, a ton of tax write-offs, etc. Being a freeter isn't easy, but we can help.

What's your take? Are jobs obsolete? If so, should we shift at least some of our focus away from creating them toward making the futures of the working people who are jobless more secure and productive?


An Illustration

Here's an illustration of the post-job, post-currency phenomenon: The site http://www.weekendhacker.net/ is a
"A boutique network of developers & designers. Find help for your (very) small projects. Trade your skills with others, earn 'I owe you's'"

People trade coding skills for SEO work and what not. What do you call this corporate model? I call it the "Mayfly Model" (TM), companies and projects with short lives but big replicating potential.

About the author
Patrick Tucker is the senior editor of THE FUTURIST magazine and director of communications for the World Future Society.

I just wanted to say that

I just wanted to say that this is brilliant.
This is what the world needs and the direction that we will, one way or another, start to go in.
I have spent my whole life wondering why people are so easily manipulated, so easily whipped up into a frenzy, demanding work instead of freedom to be whatever they naturally are, believing that simply working is an honourable thing to do, even if your job is meaningless, unproductive and a complete waste of our potential and physical material. It was always and still is, an advanced form of slavery.
Everyone has a desire to find and use their individual talents to help make life on earth more beautiful, only the money, ownership and control mentality that most are broken into has prevented that.
The people that have ruled by force, may delude themselves, believing that they have been doing a noble thing, creating order out of chaos, what they forget to include in their thinking is that they have always, and still today, deliberately cause the chaos.
To have a world that is pleasant to be part of, people must be free to do what they do because they want to, not because they will have food, water and shelter forcibly kept from them if they do not play the game that the few have created purposely so that they may control everything.
There are only three things that seem of real importance to me in terms of laws, or rules.
Everyone on the planet, without exception, no matter what they may or may not choose to contribute to society as a whole, must always, from birth to death, be provided with food, water and shelter, it rightfully belongs to them anyway just because they have been born here. And all information we have about everything must be always available to all.
After twenty years of this, we will have an intelligent world full of individuals that have no desire to act as cancerous tumours upon the planet.
Make this a basic set of rules and everything else will work itslf out.
There is no shortage of space or resources on this planet, this is simply a lie that is circulated in the mind of us all in order to create fear, which in turn leads to an easily controlled population.
I feel good today, and I'm really happy to have found the, World Future Society.
Thanks for the link.

Dear Alexanderisis, I'm in

Dear Alexanderisis,
I'm in !!
I'll locate the cow; butcher it and cook it to your liking. Of course, I'll milk the cow for you and grow the vegetables you are entitled to. I'll make sure the water is pure for you whenever you are thirsty.
For your part, you do what makes you happy.
OK. Really. I wouldn't do anything for you unless you were WORTH it.
Nor would anyone else. I doubt you are "worth it" to anyone.
So be creative; "help make life on earth more beautiful". But I bet even your mother is tired of taking care of you.

Because we are all, worth it.

"Dear Alexanderisis,
I'm in !!
I'll locate the cow; butcher it and cook it to your liking. Of course, I'll milk the cow for you and grow the vegetables you are entitled to. I'll make sure the water is pure for you whenever you are thirsty.
For your part, you do what makes you happy."

That's brilliant. If that is the contribution that you wish to make, then I'm sure many people will be appreciative of your chosen work.
While you are doing that of course, there are others who love to crunch numbers and think technically, they will be creating and assembling our technology, because they want to.
There will be others still who naturally know how to design our spaces so that they are a harmonious part of the environment instead of ugly blotches on the planet. And guess what, they'll do it because they want to.
I'm well aware that there are those who react quite angrily to the thought of a world without money, a world where we are intelligent enough to know that we are part of a whole and must take care of all the parts or we ourselves must necessarily suffer.
I feel sorry for those who allow themselves to be shot down for idealism, and for those who do the shooting.
There is no such thing as too idealistic, only people with too limited a mind to see the idealistic brought into reality.
I'm going to enjoy watching the future develop, and watching all the great changes take place.
And for those that feel angry at the thought of a world with no money, don't worry, whether you know it or not, you will be happier too.