democratizing distribution

One of the greatest issues that will face Canada in the next decade will be wealth distribution. While it is currently not a major problem, the disparity between rich and poor will increase. The main reason will be the emergence of a post-job economy. Almost all of our institutions and many of our laws are based on the notion of the job as the normal mode of working life. Schools prepare us for jobs. Politicians campaign on job creation. Labour laws are based on the employer-employee relationship. Amongst those Canadians who had or have a job are the few who also have a drug plan, a missing component from our universal health care system. The haves are becoming outnumbered by the have-nots.

When farm hands left their fields at the turn of the last century, replaced by tractors, they found better paying jobs in the factories clustered around cities. As manufacturing moved offshore or became automated, those who left would find jobs in information processing and the knowledge economy. But as we move into the network era, there is no visible sector that will employ people whose jobs are getting automated by software and robots. These people include lawyers and other white collar workers.

The emerging economy of platform capitalism includes companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple. These giants combined do not employ as many people as General Motors did.  But the money accrued by them is enormous and remains in a few hands. The rest of the labour market has to find ways to cobble together a living income. Hence we see many people willing to drive for a company like Uber in order to increase cash-flow. But drivers for Uber have no career track. The platform gets richer, but the drivers are limited by time. They can only drive so many hours per day, and without benefits.

wealth-redistributionThe job was the way we redistributed wealth and protected workers from the negative aspects of capitalism. As the knowledge economy disappears, we need to re-think our concepts of work, income, employment, and most importantly education. If we do not find ways to help citizens lead productive lives, our society will face destabilization. This is a challenge for government, as our institutions are premised on many assumptions that are no longer valid. Changing the worldview of politicians, public servants, and citizens will be a key part of addressing the issue of wealth redistribution. Old mental models will not help us much.

3 Responses to “democratizing distribution”

  1. tyelmene

    From my observations of emergent trends, everything about this post is exactly spot-on, except every word should have been capitalized and set in a bold red font! The coming societal disruption represents the greatest challenge of this decade. Yes, this work-to-meet-societal needs exchange will be fundamentally disrupted in this decade and the fallout from the disconnect it causes will be at least as bad as what’s infered here. But as in most things, the impending disaster is at least as much a fantastic opportunity. If we can decouple work from the sharing of surplus value created by automation, the citeznery will enjoy more from less direct toil. Thank you Harold for a very valuable warning!

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  2. Kumara S Raghavendra

    Being in Bangalore, which is India’s equivalent of the Silicon Valley, I see a lot of startups emerging, creating value for customers and investors. But a good majority of the job opportunities at these companies are very comparable to driving for Uber, with little to no skill addition and no clear long term career prospects. And yet, a lot of people are willingly taking up these jobs.

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