Yesterday’s post was so bleak, I really wanna get something positive up here now, without just going all hopey-dopey. Happily, Today’s “Here and Now” featured a scholar addressing some of the same issues from a practical point of view. Some of the same concerns — have we reached the end of work, because people are so cheap and machines can make so much profit? — came up in this article in this week’s NYTimes Book Review. This father-son team is revisiting John Maynard Keynes’ idea that by now we would all be working no more than twenty hours per week — but living more fulfilled lives. (Irrelevant complaint about this review: apparently not one of these men realize how much housework and child care an energetic woman could provide with those “extra “twenty hours.)
Both authors come to about the same conclusion: people need money to live, and employers need people to earn enough wages — or, although they don’t say this, government transfer income — to function as regular customers. Brynjolffson sums it up in the dialogue between Henry Ford and the labor leader. Ford shows the organizer a room full of machines and asks, “How are you going to get your men to make cars as well and as cheaply as these robots do?” And the labor leader answers: “How are you gonna get all those robots to buy your cars?”
Was the labor leader right? The Times thinks there’s something to it. Turns out they need working Americans to buy all that stuff we pay them to make for us. Now that we can’t pay them for it, they’re feeling stuck. Maybe even a little interdependent.