The thing about paradigms is that they shift. Here in the U S of A we have just completed a presidential election cycle. Fully half of the country’s population is elated and the other half is disappointed. And the status remains quo. Each of the major political parties has its ideas on how to address the many problems facing the nation and, by extension, the rest of the planet. The common denominator is that none of them will work. They won’t work because we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift and the problems caused by this shift can not be solved by any method of governance currently being employed on the planet.
From our earliest beginnings mankind has seen many paradigm shifts. Our first ancestors were hunter gatherers. They made their living by finding edible vegetation or by killing animals and were not essentially different from any of the other omnivore species in their environs. Most of their waking moments were consumed in the task of finding food. A major paradigm shift occurred when they learned to harness fire. Meat processed by fire would keep longer allowing the hunter to bag larger game without the danger of it spoiling before it could be consumed. It also afforded the hunter free time to pursue other thoughts and to develop new ways of coping with the environment.
This eventually led to the next paradigm shift, the knowledge that seeds could be placed in the ground, tended and then yield a dependable source of food. Agriculture brought an end to the need to wander in search of new food sources and was the genesis of civilization.
The paradigm shifted again when animals were domesticated, easing the work load even further.
Fast forward through the centuries and we can readily identify the shifts as they occurred. The various ‘metal ages’, the rise and fall of empires, the industrial revolution, steam, electricity, flight, and now the era of instant communication. Each shifting away from the old paradigm brought with it a new set of challenges and, generally speaking, a further easing of mankind’s workload.
From the dawn of time up to the present we have always been able to cope with the challenges presented by the shifting paradigm and reap the benefits it brought. We are now on the cusp of yet another paradigm shift and the challenges it presents may just be more daunting than any ever faced before.
The problem is that we are increasing the number of useless people. I don’t use the term ‘useless’ as a pejorative but rather as descriptive. The individuals who are or soon will see themselves included in that classification are not bad people. They are not lazy or uneducated or unwilling to participate. They are merely the victims of a system that causes their usefulness to be eroded by advances in science, technology and productivity.
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution there has always been the quest to do things better, faster, cheaper and with less manpower. No one, it seems, ever stopped to consider what the final result of this quest would look like. We are now in position to glimpse that future and it is the next paradigm shift looming on our horizon.
I recently watched a documentary in which a single farmer, using one machine, harvested some 85,000 bushels of corn. This one man, operating a single machine, effectively replaced several hundred workers.
Robots are taking over many manufacturing chores. Some of them are even maintained and repaired by other robots.
Productivity increases allow many manufacturers to operate at maximum efficiency while employing far fewer employees. There is no incentive for any employer to hire back people who have been replaced by machines or made redundant through production efficiencies.
There has been a lot of talk about retraining displaced workers for ‘new’ industries. The fact is that any new industry would be subject to the same forces that caused the workforce shrinkage in the old industries. The obvious conclusion is that we will at some point have far more people than opportunities for those people to perform some useful task.
No system of government yet attempted by mankind has ever been modeled on the proposition that a significant portion of the population will not be needed to participate in meaningful work but must still be cared for, fed, clothed and housed. Developing such a system is the challenge that will face the next generation or the one to follow.
If no solution is found the result will be more class warfare, global unrest, poverty, and civil strife. In the meantime, those currently occupying the seats of government will merely be ineffectual caretakers of a disappearing paradigm.