The solution to the robot “job apocalypse” isn’t just to invent new jobs – it’s also to revisit old ones that we’ve temporarily neglected.
The more menial, generic work is done by the machines, the more demand there will be for unique value and the human touch.
Sure, there will be new jobs we can’t yet dream of – just the way a premodern peasant wouldn’t be able to understand what a programmer is. But there will be another thing happening, too. We will resurrect craftsmen and artisans.
Suppose you can get perfectly decent shoes in excellent, consistent factory quality so cheap the price is only there to prevent people from taking 100 pairs at a time – just to regulate demand, while the stuff is virtually free in reasonable, justified quantities. Think 10 dollars per pair or so.
For people with disposable income, won’t that increase their demand for hand-made shoes from a cobbler, unique items with artistic value (and social status), made by an actual human with whom you have a personal relationship?
That was a rhetorical question. Yes, it will. Of course.
This principle applies over a broad range of goods and services, from furniture through clothing to house construction, jewellry, crockery, food, drink and building robots and computers. A cheap, mass produced, perfectly respectable utilitarian basis – and expensive special stuff made by master craftsmen for that extra value.
Think Swiss watches, which are in high demand despite there being technologically superior alternatives at a fraction of the price. Or precisely because of it.
As wealth skyrockets due to machines making and doing everything generic for next to free, the market for unique, custom, craftsy items with emotional value will explode.
You will, once again, have a cobbler, a tailor, a carpenter. And they will be much richer than their predecesors a hundred years ago. Because so will you – thanks to the machines. The best of them will be very rich – rockstars coveted by the super-wealthy, courted by oligarchs and schmoozed by superstars, with multi-year waiting lines. Michellangelos, Faberges and Monets of armchairs, slippers and jewellry.
The renaissance of craftsmanship among hipsters is a premonition – except people will actually be good at it due to competition and customers’ demand that the things actually do the stuff they’re supposed to, besides signalling ironic regressiveness.
And look at the profusion of DIY subreddits, how-to youtube videos and online guides. Clearly there is a deep urge in humans to make stuff, bubbling up precisely as our lives become more and more comfortable.
Oh, and craftsmanship will no longer be considered an inferior choice to college. It’ll be a legit, high-earning option.
Which means it will save higher education as well, by alleviating pressures to over-inflate enrollment. It’s impossible to avoid noticing that three quarters of univerity students, especially in the arts and humanities, have no business being there, and would be better fitted to low-level clerical jobs, hospitality and long-term unemployment (positions they will naturally gravitate towards even after they’ve obtained their Postructuralist Flemish Tapestry degrees).
I’d rather have a good carpenter than another bad lawyer. To say nothing of the gender-based unemployable trotskyists.
(As a clever young lady recently put it to a less clever one, “You’re not unsuccessful because you have a cunt, but because you are one”)
To make their countries look good in education rankings, politicians have force-fed academia with mediocre minds and immature idiots in pursuit of worthless fake degrees while saddling them with debt they won’t ever repay because they’re useless (both the degrees and the students). And it has fucked up universities – as well as students’ mental health.
Give those people an alternative in the crafts that is not socially shameful or culturally considered “inferior”, and they’ll jump at it.
To be clear, this is about opening up an alternative and letting everyone gravitate to their own best fit, and removing an existing distortion. It is the opposite of restricting choice or forcing anything. That’s what’s happening now, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Make the choice between university and trades a horizontal rather than a vertical one, or at least diagonal – the more practically minded people can build stuff, the more theoretically inclined can figure stuff out, and there can and should be a lot of overlap. I expect the line to naturally fuzz away, anyway.
Intelligent people making things is not a failure. It’s fruition.
The opposite attitude, that the practical is “low” and the impractical is “high”, is a vestige of the feudal notion that High Status People sit about writing poetry while anything practical is for the Vaguely Subhuman Peasants and Unworthy of The Time of a Gentleman. No, no, no. That’s a palace ideology justifying society-wide parasitism. Everything the wrong way around.
A speculative goodfornothing is neither a gentleman, nor “high status” in any sense except his own lack thereof.
A proper gentleman is a thinker, a tinkerer – a thinkerer – and useful to his fellows.
If you like handmade shoes, you should buy me a pair, because so do I.