We come back to how things are changing, how the future is changing, how work is changing. Part of this is stupid government tricks, of course. Yes, 30 hours work week has long been a socialist dream. Besides drinking their own ink – i.e. believing their own propaganda – the rats in their heads about wealth tend to spread to everything else. Since wealth is finite, then work is finite. (Well, think about it.) At least work on decently planned and properly efficient and NEEDED goods. (Why would you want luxury goods? Do you want to be better than other people? You want to have a lollipop? Did you bring enough to share with the entire country? I don’t think you’re properly committed to socialism, tovarish.)
Since work is finite, the only way to deal with unemployment is to put things in the law that make it impossible to work more than 30 hours. In places like France they simply pass legislation making it impossible to work more than thirty hours – which is another reason it’s an American socialist dream. You see, they’ve gone to France on vacation, and they’ve seen people lounging about with time to enjoy life. What they don’t see is the outdated appliances, the outdated houses and the narrow lives of common people, because they also normally stay in the best hotels and hang out in the rich areas – but Americans are so… ungovernable, that if if you just did that to them, they would work seventy hours, just to spite you. So instead you hide the 30 hour a week poison pill in the Health Care legislation. Employers who would be bankrupted by it, are then forced to dial back everyone’s hours to 30 a week (at least on paper. Look, I worked exempt positions before. Your hours are not what you put on the time sheet. Your hours are what it takes to get the job done.) In the bureaucrat’s mind (not in the real world) this means that the employer will have to hire a new employee for every three on the payroll. More jobs created. Everyone is up. Up everyone’s chocolate ration to two grams a week.
As I mentioned in Drinking Their Own Ink (I really need to tag these d*mn posts.) what actually happens is that everyone lies about it. People report thirty hours and go on working the normal forty or fifty or sixty. (Remember the reason the employer is cutting down people’s hours on paper is that he’s already so close to the bone he can’t afford the mandated boondoogle of minimum insurance which includes hypnotherapy and weight loss or whatever they consider minimum. Perhaps little Asian girls who run on your back for back pain. Who knows? It’s a government scam plan. You will pay for treatment for Brucitis Of The Cleaning Lady Knee even if you’ve never been in the same zip code as a cleaning lady.)
So, everything changes on paper, but not in reality. Except that analysts, bureaucrats and those of us who work with words, look at the figures on paper, confuse it with reality and announce that due to efficiencies and robotics and stuff we no longer need to work as long. Then the big government types start talking about this vast underclass who will never find jobs again, and which includes everyone but the top two percent or whatever, and who will need structures to support them the rest of their useless lives. How can you be against that? Do you want the useless to starve?
(Rolls eyes. Rolls eyes so hard that she should use a cup to contain them.)
I confess I would be far more impressed with this if I weren’t following the politics and the laws and seeing the pressures bringing it about, which have nothing to do with technology. I also confess that I MIGHT still fall for it if I didn’t happen to have a good enough memory to remember Carter’s administration. (Yes, I was in my cradle. Shuddup.)
The exact same things were said then, and the science fiction magazines were full of stories about how most people would be unemployed forever, because… because… because… CHEESE! Okay, they didn’t say cheese. That would have made way more sense. They said that back then – seventies, remember – our tech was just too darn efficient, and so all these low-level employees weren’t needed and therefore we were headed to a world where the majority would be unemployed like forevah. The kindly state had to take care of them or they would die – die I tell you, die!
Then came Reagan and near-full-employment and they forgot they’d ever said all that stuff and slinked off without even the decency of a “Never mind.”
Now it’s back.
Ignore them. Ignoring people who think that a vast majority of people “NEEDS” to be taken care of by an incompetent, massive, bungling bureaucracy is always a good idea. Look, these jokers aren’t even good at taking care of the few desperately needy people. You think they can take care of a majority of people in a way that doesn’t lead to massive atrocities? PFUI. Most people – even the truly needy – dependent on the government have to exert themselves NOT to be destroyed by clerical error.
No, robotics didn’t become that all-better in the last four years. Would that they had.
To some extent automated factories were already much, much better. Eric Flint last week was talking about the hell of assembly line work, but the truth is that the only places that remains are places where it has to by union rule. Back in 88 I knew someone who ran a plastics factory. It was just him (and I don’t think he’d ever finished high school) and a bunch of automated machinery. He poured the mixture in and he pushed buttons and voila, plastic spoons and forks and stuff just came flying out the other end.
This was sort of held back or perhaps dialed back by the commerce with China, where it’s cheaper to have five year olds carve the plastic forks from a plastic block (I’m joking, I’m joking.) But the tech is there and has always been.
The robots, they shall always be with us.
So… what about work? How will we deal with the vast army of unemployed people roaming the country side going “braiiiins.”
We won’t because as with zombies, they won’t exist. At least they won’t exist if our government stops making it a crime to start/run/make a profit at a business. And even if they continue their war on what you DID build, they still won’t exist. They’ll just be unemployed on paper, collecting welfare, but inexplicably very busy and perhaps driving Mercedes. (See Portugal and Greece for what people do when making a living becomes illegal. And that’s Portugal and Greece, not the US. If you ask in Portugal and Greece, I bet you that they’d say their reason for living is their – hyper extended – family. In the US people are likely as not to mention work. Even those who mention family tend to mean their nuclear family, and then after that work.)
What this law has the potential of doing is making us all contractors. Which means what is happening to writers is heading everyone else’s way fast.
Yesterday some of you in comments got rather lost in the weeds of “specialization versus generalist.” But, truly, that’s not what’s at stake.
Look, I’m a contractor anyway, so it’s a little different, but being a writer working for a house (or many houses) is sort of a limbo thing, since not only do you license your copyright to them, but they expect you to do all sorts of other things which makes you sort of a contractployee. What I mean is, the way things used to be, with the few gatekeepers and a lot of writers trying to sell, they could require you do all sorts of things beyond writing the book. I’m always highly amused by the people who say they’re now going traditional because “that way all I have to do is write.” Sure it is, if you want the book to tank so badly it leaves a dent.
Among the things I routinely did for my publishing houses were: paying someone to edit, so that if they missed something I’d catch it; paying someone to go over their edits to make sure nothing got changed in a weird way (and with Berkley this was a constant battle); working at publicity, including making publicity materials; paying someone (agent. Yeah, that worked) to verify the contracts and make sure that everything was right, and to negotiate for me for less than appalling covers (that worked too!)
So, I was already running a little empire of sub contractors. All that is happening now is that I’m adding another layer. I might, for instance have to pay someone to put the books in paper, since I can’t seem to figure it out (though I might experiment with my How To Write Interesting Books and maybe I can.)
As an indie publisher it’s the same thing, only I’m doing it on my own and adding artists. That’s it. But I also get a much bigger cut of the money, so it works out better.
The only other thing is that you have to look for work, and see the opportunities for work. And that’s the BIG, major difference. Look, not all work will ever be automated because work like wealth is infinite. If everyone automated everything we all do tomorrow, people would come up with new things they need.
Let’s not even go to buggy whips and candle makers. What about the typing pool? Every company used to have it, even in the eighties when I started working. Where has it gone? Are all those typists roaming the streets flexing their fingers in despondency?
No. Some are now computer design specialists. Some are serving coffee at Starbucks. Some are doing other things that, like those two, were not major employment categories in the eighties.
Open your eyes. Then (to quote Pratchett) open your eyes again. See what you’ve been ignoring. Don’t count on anyone to look after you. You do not belong to the Government, no matter what the government thinks. And if you did, yeah, they’d have to feed you but only to their standards, not yours. And they could choose to stop at any time.
I’m giving you the same guidance I give my kids, who, though they’re both in STEM degrees, cannot – of course – be sure of being able to do anything with them, because – beyond stupid government tricks – the tech is changing so fast:
Look for things people might pay you for. Then do them. Get good at doing them. In the future there might be no jobs, no “employment” as we have grown to think of it. But there will be work. And people will still pay for work that benefits them or makes their life easier. Now, you might end up working four contract jobs in ten hour increments and taking the income from those multiple streams to make a full living. I’m here to tell you it’s doable. (At least if you add the Jim Baen dictum “Don’t work for buttheads”.)
The future is wide open. You just have to make it yourself.
Sorry to be so late on this. I woke up to find out the marking wars were all over our living room and front hall. Normally I’d have ignored it – I don’t work on that floor – and cleaned in the afternoon, but the fug was that thick that I ended up cleaning the living room and waxing.
Part of this, I think, is that I’ve been away so much over the last week, they haven’t got their due petting.
Some days, I swear, living with this particular set of bewhiskered miscreants is like living with fuzzy Hells Angels. (No Hells Angels harmed in this metaphor. These are imaginary Hells Angels that exist only in my head, which is good because I REALLY would hate for them to pee all over my living room floor.)
Also — I’ve put content up in the subscriber space. And sorry to be late on all of these. The good news is that things are getting done, which means there’s fewer of them to do, so it must calm down at some point — right?
FURTHER NOTE: I’ll put up the promo post of ya’ll probably tonight. (And miss my free short story, but c’est la vie.) It’s that copious spare time thing.