Our Jobless Future (March 2018)


Our Jobless Future (March 2018)

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The Dangers and Possibility of a Post-Work World

Capitalism loves automation. Since the beginning of industrialization 250 years ago, businesses have been replacing human labor with machines. For the last 60 years, globalization has shifted American labor to other countries. And now, the advent of artificial intelligence will eliminate even more jobs. 

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Date: Wednesdays, March 7, 14, 21, 28
Time: 6:30pm-8:30pm
Location: SE Uplift || 3534 SE Main St
$197 individual rate. $297 organizational rate. Space is limited to 15 students. 

Note: If you are using company funds to pay for your registration, please sign up at the organization rate.

"We are moving into an era of extensive automation and a period in which capitalism is just simply not going to need as many workers. It's not just automating in manufacturing but anything with a service counter: grocery stores, movie theaters, car rentals ... and this is now going to move into food service, too. What are we going to do in an era that doesn't need as many people? It's not a social question we've seriously addressed."

- Jennifer Klein, Yale University professor of labor history

Some economists argue that when traditional jobs are eliminated, new ones are created. But the long-term employment trends are bleak. In 2017, 40% of jobs were considered self-employment or independent contractors in the gig economy. By 2020, that figure will be 50%. Jobs as we’ve always known them — secure, consistent, and high-paying — are rapidly going extinct. Meanwhile, the “wage share,” the portion of national GDP that goes to wages and salaries (as opposed to capital and ownership), has shrunk to its lowest record level. Labor, as an input to the economy, is on a steep, and probably permanent, decline. Our system, because of both technology and capitalism, rewards those who own the means of production, not the ones who work in it.

Studies show that when a person loses their job, the effects on their lifetime earnings lasts for decades. What happens when the economy as a whole loses the need to employ people? This shift to a jobless economy will be tectonic, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. How will society face the challenge of people without employment income? How will people face a society that has zero need to employ them? How will you face it?

In this course, we will discuss these questions. We will consider how a jobless future could create unmatched disruption and suffering or limitless opportunity for human flourishing. On a personal level, we’ll discuss how not to be a replaceable commodity in a gig economy. Rather, you want to position yourself as a stakeholder in the emerging automated economy. We’ll strategize about how to do that.

Week 1: Globalization, Automatization, and the Future of AI. Ever since the first textile factories were putting skilled workers out of work, there has been a general anxiety about industrialization and the automation of work. We’ll discuss the history of labor productivity, declining wage share, and automation. We’ll explore how robotics and artificial intelligence will change economic production. Stephen Hawking, famous astrophysicist, predicts that the means of production will be controlled by the "machine owner" class and that without redistribution of wealth, technology will create more economic inequality. Is he right?

Week 2: Techno Optimists Strike Back. Every era has had dire warnings from Cassandras who warn about how technology destroys communities, jobs, and well-being. But yet humanity lives in a better world all the time. Only 50 years ago, 50% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Now, according to the UN, less than 10 percent do. This is all due to globalization, automation, and technology. The near future has the opportunity to be a time of unrivalled human flourishing, where people can truly live with purpose and meaning. So say the techno optimists.

Week 3: Universal Basic Income. Can we decouple the right of humans to live healthy, safe lives from the requirement that they sell their labor and time for it? This is the promise of universal basic income. Experiments are beginning now in Finland, California, and Canada to see what happens when people are given enough money to guarantee their basic well-beings. Do people become happier, more connected, and more creative, or do they lose motivation and purpose? Is universal basic income even a viable option as economic policy? Or does the social safety net collapse if everyone is in it?

Week 4: Participant Research and Essays on the Future of Work. What’s your prediction? How do you respond politically to a jobless future? How do you prepare yourself individually? The mass commodification of human services in a gig economy has already begun with TaskRabbit and Uber, and companies are already planning how to replace those jobs with AI and robotics. Research topics can range from tax policy to how to make yourself “valuable” in a world without labor.


Douglas Tsoi, JD, is the founder of Portland Underground Grad School (PUGS), a school for everyday life. Before PUGS, he managed a $4 million education and training program at the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. Previous careers include teaching high school history and ethics, as well as being a intellectual property lawyer. A nationally-renown education expert called Douglas, "The best teacher I've ever seen teach."