How to compete with robots: work for free

A lot of people are worried about robots taking our jobs these days. It’s a valid worry so far as it goes, in that robots are indeed almost definitely going to take our jobs.

The thing is, in any sane society this would be great news. Freeing people from labor is a noble endeavor. The issue is that in our not particularly sane society, having a job is the main way that people acquire the resources needed for a decent lifestyle. This system needs to end. Whether it’s the basic income, or a more radical socialist transformation, it’s vital to get to the point where the average person can not just live, but live well, without any income from wages.

Some people worry that in this scenario people would be bored or unhappy because they’re not working. However, not receiving any income from wages doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything productive. Instead, we would see a gradual merger of work, play, hobbies, and volunteering. Pay would decline in the face of robot competition, and fewer and fewer people would bother to have paying ‘jobs’ at all rather than devoting themselves to their own interests. People would continue performing productive activities that are enjoyable enough to do without getting paid, while unenjoyable activities are taken over by machines. This is because in this scenario, there is exactly one way that humans could outcompete machines: price. Even if a machine is better in every way, so long as a human adds any value, they’re worth having if they work for free.

So that’s how I see the division of labor: humans handle the things we enjoy handling, robots handle the rest. Don’t fight automation; focus on the political challenge of making sure its fruits are shared equitably.

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